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Winter Quarter: Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 1: What We Bring to God
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 13, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Leviticus 22:17-25, 31-33
The Book of Leviticus is not one we Christians read! In fact, Sam cannot recall any sermon he preached from the book in 42 years served in the Conference – except, of course, the passage Jesus used in the summary of the Law – “love your neighbor as yourself (19:18).” By the way, James 2:8 calls this the Royal Law!!
The instructions given to “Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites” (22:17) about the different kinds of sacrifices and offerings seem utterly alien and totally unnecessary for us to bother studying. Why spend time on such? Yet, this is the lesson for today in many churches and denominations who share the Uniform Series of the International Lesson.
Leviticus is part of our Bible. When “the Lord said to Moses, ‘tell Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites’” – that includes us. Our Key Verse (Romans 12:1) is from that converted Pharisee, Saul (Paul), who reminds us sacrifice is still vital to a relationship with God. How so?
The instructions in Leviticus are grounded in the covenant relationship with God. The various sacrifices and offerings relate to the spiritual needs of people – then and now. The list includes: votive offerings (fulfilling a vow); freewill offerings (spontaneous joy); well-being offerings (for current needs like food); thanksgiving offerings (for a special occasion).
The offering must be the best! No blemishes. God deserves the best we have, and the gift we bring will give God pleasure. In what we give and how we give it, we are telling God how much we love and trust our Maker.
There is also another dimension, theological if you please. God is the wholly other One – apart from the creation. The Biblical call is for us to reflect God’s very nature, God’s holiness. God is at work among us because we are the people of God! Holiness is not a given, but is a work in process. (vs.32) God is forming us to be “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” (I Peter 2:9)
In the next section of today’s study (Leviticus 23:9-14), the worshipper is taught to bring the “first fruits” of the harvest. Before doing anything else, including eating, we are to offer our gift to God. For us, that means we bring our tithes and offerings as initial gift, not from the left-overs! In terms of taxable income, we give from the gross amount, not the net!
The next instructions (vss.31-32) are for the Day of Atonement, the most holy day of all the Jewish festivals. In the fasting and abstinence required, a person is given the opportunity to step out of life’s routines, focus on his/her life, and, in honesty, confess where sin and error have occurred. Practice this holy habit during the Lenten Season.
With instructions given about worship, proper sacrifice, and the way to observe a very special day, “Aaron, his sons, and all the people of Israel” are given a heritage of faithful obedience. These acts were put in place to be kept faithfully. The Hebrew people were to be holy like the God they worshipped. They were to be different from the world, so others would see the difference the covenant made in daily living. In the language of the Church, “they’ll know we are Christian by our love.”
Centuries later, the reason for these instructions had been forgotten and the people were going through the motion of worship, sacrifices and offerings. Both Isaiah (1:10-20) and Micah (6:6-8) state strongly what God wants is not the sacrifice and proper worship, but the worshipper and his/her righteous life to reflect the purposes of God: “to do good, to seek justice, rescue the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17) and “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
These two great voices for God spoke eight centuries before Christ and zeroed in on the reason for worship! We worship to align our lives to be in tune with God. Otherwise, we are discordant, “a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.” Worship is to honor God, and to become a people the world will recognize by a life-style that is characterized by what we do, what we say, and how we relate to people.
The last two scriptures for study this week are from the pen of Paul, Romans 12:-1-2 and I Corinthians 10:14-22. Take time to open your Bible and read! Paul has the same concern as Isaiah and Micah – how we live to show Whose we are!
Chapter 12 begins with the word “therefore.” Paul’s “therefore” alerts us to a summary of everything that has gone before. In this case, the familiar language of Jewish sacrifice is applied to our living. We are transformed to have a new mind to think differently from the world. With this new mind we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. In so doing we will discover what is “the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.” (12:2)
Likewise in the Corinthian passage Paul refers to the Holy Communion as a participation in the body and blood of Christ. In other words, we identify with the work and the mission of Jesus in the world! The problem in Corinth was they were trying to live in two worlds at the same time—pagan and Christian! They wanted to be Christian, but they still desired the benefits of relationships with their non-Christian neighbors by worshipping in the old way with idolatrous offerings and sacrifices.
In similar fashion, we contemporary Christians struggle with our lives. We find it very difficult to be “in the world, but not of it!” Or as Paul declared, “not to conform to the world.” Or as one translation states it, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” (Phillips)
So the laws of Leviticus, seemingly outdated and non-binding, have the same purpose as Jesus’ Royal Law – “love God and love your neighbor.” In both, the purpose is to bring us into a relationship with the Covenant God, where we can live lovingly, obediently and sacrificially under the wings of grace.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.