WHAT SHALL I OFFER TO THE LORD?
TODAY Holy Scripture answers the questions we ask each Sunday: What shall I offer to the Lord for all His benefits to me? It is a rhetorical question to be sure, but one we should take time to ponder.
The Offertory is the first element of the Liturgy of the Sacrament. In it we bring our offerings to the Lord, which he receives, blesses, multiplies and gives back to us a hundredfold. We bring bread and wine, He gives back His own body and blood. We bring earthly gifts, He gives back heavenly ones by which the church is supported and charity given, but we should be careful to do things in the right order. We love Him because He first loved us. We give to Him because He first gave to us, because as we sing in the hymn, "All that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord from thee."
The Offertory is nothing new, but has been part of Christian worship since the church of Cain and Abel, and today's Old Testament lesson has much to say to us about it.
The first thing we learn from Genesis chapter four is that there was a regularly appointed day for worship, just as there is today. This is vital because man does not, and man cannot live by bread alone, but rather by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and the church is the place this "benefit" is given. You cannot live by bread alone, because you are not comprised of flesh alone, but also have a living soul and it can be nourished only by the Bread of Heaven.
We learn, too, that both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord. Cain who was a farmer gave produce from the ground, and Abel who was a shepherd offered a lamb from his flock. Because we don't live in an agrarian economy, we give our offerings in the form of currency, which represents our labor, but please understand that we don't bring offerings because of their practical necessity, or gather them into the church because it is a convenient time. No! The offerings we give are an act of faith, of worship and of love by which we acknowledge that God is the giver of all good gifts for both body and soul.
Further, the gifts offered must not only be gathered, but they must also be brought forward to be specifically blessed, dedicated and offered to our God with praise and thanksgiving for the Great Gift He gave to us: His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, whose blood shed on the cross and poured into the ground like Abel's redeems earth from death, and makes us glad, now and unto the ages of ages. All of that is what is going on when we sing: What shall I offer to the Lord for all His benefits to me?
Yet we quickly discover from Cain and Abel's church that there is more to the Offertory than the mere gifts. We find in our story that Abel's gift was accepted and that Cain's was not, but why? Did God prefer animals over produce? Not at all. In the fiftieth Psalm the Lord says, "Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me." No it wasn't the nature or the size of the offerings but this fact alone: Abel had faith, and Cain did not!
How about you? Do you have faith? Do you believe that the suffering and death of Jesus prefigured by the death of Abel, was for your sins so that they might be dissolved, deleted, and ever put to rest? Such faith is central to the Christian religion. With it you are saved, without it you are not.
Yes, faith! Trust! Reliance! Utter dependence that in spite of your many transgressions, each of which has the power to eternally condemn you, that you are not condemned along with the rebellious devil, but saved; saved by grace, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.
That brings us to the other quality needed to make a right offering to the Lord: humility. For before you can believe, you must first repent. You must first humble yourself before God. The tax collector did, the Pharisee did not. The tax collector came to church that day burdened by his many sins before God. He had done nothing to offend man. In the eyes of the law he was squeaky clean, but not before God. He knew, not only that his debt was too great to pay, but that he had no currency that God would accept, so he did not ask for a deal or for terms, but rather for mercy, and he got it! So do you! Indeed we live before God on no other terms.
Jesus is the mercy seat of God. When He died, the grand and ancient curtain in the temple which hid the mercy seat from view, was torn wide open and a new mercy seat was revealed: Jesus on the cross, which though He is seated in the heavenly places, is still the mercy seat of God. His blood, spilled to the ground like righteous Able, gives life to the earth and to all who dwell therein. You are those people.
What shall I offer to the Lord for all His benefits to me? Faith? Yes. Humility? Yes, but more besides. St. Paul teaches us today that we are God's workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus for a life of good works. That is our purpose for living, Fellow Baptized, for a life of good works, and the one that commends itself to us today is the one we learn in Genesis, because you see, you are indeed your brother's keeper. Only be sure not to do that good work in the smothering way that culture teaches, but in the way we learn from Christ, who is our true Brother and who keeps us ever safe. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras