My dad didn’t cook much when I was growing up. In fact, he basically fixed three things: homemade corn meal mush, homemade, hand-rolled tamales and hickory-smoked, grilled beef roast. He didn’t make them very often and they were a BIG deal when he did! That meant my mom did the bulk of the cooking. (Until we were a bit older, at which time, since they both worked, she made each of us take a night of the week to make dinner, to take some of the stress off her!) So, when Mom cooked, it was pretty much A. a day ending in “Y” and B. delicious, simple, everyday fare! When Dad cooked, it was an all-day event!
Regardless of whichever of his three “signature” dishes he made, they took FOREVER to make. And when I say “forever”, I’m hardly exaggerating. Mom would sweep in from a long day at work and whip something up- easy, peasy, one, two, threesy. Dad would set aside a Saturday and monopolize every square inch of the kitchen! Don’t get me wrong- all three of his dishes were good, they were just time consuming!
The roast, for instance, went like this. He would start the night before, marinating it overnight in his “special marinade”. Then, on Saturday afternoon, he would get the cylindrical, metal charcoal starter he had custom-fabricated by a machine shop (no kidding!) out, pack it with newspaper and charcoal and get it started. Then, he would dump the coals in the rather tiny built-in charcoal grill that stood on our patio. Once that was all ready, he would put the meat on. He had a series of panels (ALSO custom fabricated) that he would slide in on different sides of the grill to deflect the wind JUST right! Then, he would grill. And grill and grill. Did I mention…grill? It took a LONG time for that roast to cook!
Then, he had to add the chunks of hickory wood that he had gone out and cut by hand and had soaking in a special container in the garage. The wet hickory wood would smoke up a storm an infuse that hickory flavor into the meat. The smell of that meat cooking and that hickory smoking was amazing! The end result was A, delicious and B. not ready until usually 8:30 or 9 at night! We all knew NOT to plan…well…ANYTHING on the night he decided to make his roast.
Today, we begin a brand new sermon series called The Five Sacrifices. It’s based on a list found in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. It is sometimes called the Five Offerings and includes some powerful views on connecting with God. It is also seen as a bridge to God’s gift of His Son as found in the New Testament Gospels. These “offerings of the law” serve a threefold approach- 1. they provide a way to make and keep a right relationship with God, 2. they are a metaphor for Jesus’ sacrifice for us and 3. they are a pattern for our own approach to God. Today, we start with the first sacrifice, or offering, called The Burnt Sacrifice. It is seen as the first step toward loving God more perfectly. And is found in the first chapter of the book-
The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. You are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.’”
This sacrificial system of offerings was ordained by God and placed at the very heart of Jewish life. Through the never-ending glow of fire at the altar of sacrifice, God was burning into the hearts of the people an awareness of their own sin- a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice of Jesus. It started with the burnt sacrifice. The burnt sacrifice was to be completely consumed by the fire- none of it was to be eaten. And it was very important that the altar fire never went out. It was to be an eternal flame.
The common Israelite worshipper brought a male animal to the door of the tabernacle. The animal had to be perfect- without blemish. The innocent animal stood in for the sinner and the burnt offering was done to make up for the person’s sins. Again, the whole animal was consumed by the fire, with the pleasant aroma rising to God
From our Christian perspective, it also served as a metaphor for Jesus, Who gave Himself as a sacrifice to God on our behalf. This burnt offering is the first of three that were seen as voluntary- they were known as “ascending offerings”, they were all three offered by fire and their ascending fragrance brought delight to God.
They mark a progression of closeness to God with the first offering mentioned being the closest to God and the last one being the first step in approaching God. We might perceive that as a backwards approach. But that’s not all that unusual in the Bible. God usually begins from His perspective…not ours. This first sacrifice- the burnt sacrifice- sits here at the beginning because it indicates complete surrender to the process- to God.
Complete surrender- that is a challenging place to be. We are NOT taught to completely surrender to…anything in this country. We rebel against injustice. We rebel again the political system. We rebel again…almost everything. And in many of those cases, we have good reason. Why? All of those are human institutions. They are contrasted and supported by us marvelously flawed humans. History has taught us that it is a slippery slope to completely surrender to human institutions.
But that inherent distrust, warranted though it is, often causes us to also not be willing to trust in God. We have a hard time parsing out God’s influence on our lives versus the constant barrage of everyday life. And so, we are reluctant, often unwilling to completely surrender to God. We lose control when we do that…right?
But the truth is this- “control” is simply an illusion. We have NO control over life. Period. Don’t believe me? Talk to ANYBODY who thought they had everything “under control” and then received an unexpected health diagnosis or suddenly lost a loved one. We have NO control over life. What we DO have control over is how we react. And today’s Scripture, today’s sacrifice, tells me that how we need to react to the uncertainty of life is through surrender to God- complete surrender.
The burnt sacrifice- the burnt offering, if you will- as found in the Book of Leviticus, is all about complete surrender. We offer the best that we have- the “livestock without blemish”, so to speak- to God, to be completely consumed by the sacrifice, raising a pleasing aroma to God.
And there are two keys pieces of what I just said that I would want you to carry away from today. The first is offering the best that we have to God. We tend to give God our leftovers- the time that we DON’T spend doing…everything else. The attention that we don’t pay to…everything else. The resources we don’t spend on…everything else. God often gets whatever we have leftover at the end of the week, the month, the year. Instead, we should give Him the BEST that we have offer. We should give Him the firstfruits. We should give Him the livestock without blemish.
I said that there were two things I wanted you to carry away from today. The second one is that pleasing aroma. Is there anything like walking into the house, or a restaurant, or the church dining room on a Wednesday evening, and smelling that pleasing aroma? The pleasing aroma of good food cooking is more than just a nice experience- it transports us to a different time and place. It changes our mood. It creates a totally new and uplifting environment. THAT’S what we want to be to God. We want to be a pleasing aroma that brings Him joy- reflecting the joy He offers to our lives.
Give Him your best. Offer Him the livestock without blemish. Be the pleasing aroma that He wants you to be. Be the burnt offering- in the best sense of that term and its understanding- fully consumed and totally surrendered to Him.