Sunday school lesson for the week of November 9, 2014
By Rev. John Brantley
Lesson scripture: Ezekiel 43.13-27
13 These are the dimensions of the altar by cubits (the cubit being one cubit and a handbreadth): its base shall be one cubit high, and one cubit wide, with a rim of one span around its edge. This shall be the height of the altar: 14 From the base on the ground to the lower ledge, two cubits, with a width of one cubit; and from the smaller ledge to the larger ledge, four cubits, with a width of one cubit; 15 and the altar hearth, four cubits; and from the altar hearth projecting upward, four horns. 16 The altar hearth shall be square, twelve cubits long by twelve wide. 17 The ledge also shall be square, fourteen cubits long by fourteen wide, with a rim around it half a cubit wide, and its surrounding base, one cubit. Its steps shall face east. 18 Then he said to me: Mortal, thus says the Lord God: These are the ordinances for the altar: On the day when it is erected for offering burnt offerings upon it and for dashing blood against it, 19 you shall give to the levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who draw near to me to minister to me, says the Lord God, a bull for a sin offering. 20 And you shall take some of its blood, and put it on the four horns of the altar, and on the four corners of the ledge, and upon the rim all around; thus you shall purify it and make atonement for it. 21 You shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and it shall be burnt in the appointed place belonging to the temple, outside the sacred area. 22 On the second day you shall offer a male goat without blemish for a sin offering; and the altar shall be purified, as it was purified with the bull. 23 When you have finished purifying it, you shall offer a bull without blemish and a ram from the flock without blemish. 24 You shall present them before the Lord, and the priests shall throw salt on them and offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. 25 For seven days you shall provide daily a goat for a sin offering; also a bull and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be provided. 26 Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it, and so consecrate it. 27 When these days are over, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being; and I will accept you, says the Lord God. [NRSV]
Focus: The practice of worship through offering
Reflection: Every Sunday is Stewardship Sunday. Some would say that even a seasonal emphasis to focus on financial matters is uncomfortable to some potential givers. “All they want is our money,” is the excuse given by some folks because it is indeed a true experience.
I once had a fellow who wanted to transfer his membership to our church but he didn’t come forward during the last hymn as we discussed. After the service he said he didn’t step forward because he didn’t bring his W-2 forms – as required at his previous church. It is no wonder we have taught people little about sacrificial giving or what God expects from us.
For those who want financial campaigns and the requests for supporting the ministries of the church to be clean and neat, they would be astonished at the fiery crime scene described in this week’s text. How could God find all these offerings acceptable?
In the context of the whole chapter, worship included sacrificial giving. Giving offerings that have no benefit to us are lifted up as the highest offerings, for they are God’s alone.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I didn’t get anything out of worship today?” I would suggest that they are closer to praise God and making sacrificial offering than they dare acknowledge. These burnt offerings in size, quantity and repetition speak to worship being directed toward God and not us.
The closest experience I ever had to understanding animal sacrifice came on the evening I came to terms with choosing divorce. In the moment that uttered that the marriage was over and the only choice left was to end that covenant an enormous deer jumped into my windshield as I made my way to Wednesday night dinner. That animal died in my arms as I found in exchange a presence that God still loves us and Christ died for us.
Homework: Make a sacrificial gift this week. Make it anonymous, not for tax credit, not for recognition. Make it generous and don’t put it off. Make a gift to God that is worthy of the love you have been shown.
Prayer: Forgive me where I have made your gifts mine and free me to give myself to you that I might be a living sacrifice for your glory and praise.
Rev. John Brantley is pastor of Rock Springs UMC in the North Georgia Conference. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.