Monday, August 23, 2010

I Will Accept No Bull from Your House...

Yesterday as the cantor intoned the Psalm, I listened to the familiar words waiting for this classic line with its double entendre.  Of course, the Lord is insisting that He will not accept the sacrifice of a male ox from the house of a people who have not kept faith with Him.  God cannot make fault with their sacrificial offering -- except for the fact that they have given to Him only what is already His.  What He seeks from them is eucharistia -- the sacrifice  of thanksgiving -- and faith which calls on Him in trouble and trusts Him to deliver them. (Psalm 50:1-15)

The other side of this expression is, well, you know its meaning.  I know what the Lord is saying here yet I also know the truth of its more vulgar side as well.  What Christians in America bring to the Lord is a load of bull -- there is no mistake here.  We come with our self-centeredness to make worship all about us.  I bet you think this song is about you but, of course, we do.  Too many of the songs we sing in worship are more about us than about the Lord.  I do not understand the patience and forbearance of the Lord who does not respond in kind to us for our unabashed self-centered ways.

We come with our arrogance as if God were merely a servant whose job is to come at our beck and call and make us comfortable, happy, at ease, and supply the good things we think are necessary for us to live full and complete lives.  We turn prayer into a shopping list and worship into a means of buttering up the Lord so that He can and will deliver to us the demands we bring to Him. I do not understand how the Lord can listen to our words and hear the thoughts of our hearts and still love us.

We come with our reason as a filter through which His Word enters our hearts and minds, putting off the things we find distasteful, disregarding the things we find unbelievable, and distancing ourselves from the things that we find offensive to our way of life.  We might believe in a God who comes in a human form but we cannot believe in a God who made all things in six days.  We might believe in a God whose mercy finally relents and allows everyone to be saved but we cannot believe in a God who is exclusive in Christ with His inclusive gift of salvation.  I do not understand how the Lord, whose ways are far above ours, can stomach the boundaries on faith which our reason places around us.

We come with our piety on parade as if God were impressed with what we have done.  I am not speaking of the genuine piety of faith but the piety which holds everyone else up to a perfect righteousness while excusing or justifying our own failings.  Our righteousness does not exceed the Pharisee but that has not kept us from believing that our righteousness makes us at least as good as others and certainly better than most.  I do not understand how the Lord allows us to trumpet our goodness, the goodness of mother earth, and the goodness of the human soul while ignoring His goodness and the goodness of His gifts to us.

But then the Lord acts not in the way of justice but the way of mercy.  I do not understand this either, yet it is my hope, my joy, and my salvation that He has not counted my sins against me, or stopped loving me because of who I am, or turned His back to me because of my arrogance.  It is the surprise of grace.  God accepts no bull from us but neither does he turn away from us because what speaks most loudly are our sins and sinful nature.  The Lord is not duplicitous nor is He a fool.  He is patient.  He is kind.  He is compassionate.  He is merciful.  He is gracious.  We do not understand all of this but it does not keep us from rejoicing in His gifts, returning to Him the song of praise and thanksgiving, and calling upon Him in the day of trouble.  We would do well not to presume that His patience or mercy implies He is ignorant, foolish, or uninformed.  It is that for now, in the day of salvation, His mercy speaks more loudly than anything else.  And it is to this faith responds, by the power of the Spirit, with the Amen to our confession of sin, Amen to His gracious forgiveness, and Amen to the grace in which we stand.

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