“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1
When we hear the word “worship” in our modern church culture, many people today think of music and singing. The people who lead the music are known as “worship leaders.” When it is time to sing, someone will say, “Let’s worship now.” I will readily admit that this drives me crazy. It’s not that I don’t like music or singing. Quite the opposite in fact. But why have we reduced “worship” to only this one act? I have always said that our worship includes everything we do throughout the church service. Certainly singing praises to God is worship, but so is listening to Scripture and the sermon. Saying the prayers and reciting the Creed are worship as well. And of course the Holy Eucharist, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is worship.
However, there is a part of the service that we sometimes forget about. The offering. It is easy to look at this portion of the liturgy where we take a collection as purely practical. The church has to pay the bills, so everyone is asked to chip in a couple of bucks and we’ll move on to something more important. I want to challenge you to look at it in a different way.
To do this, we need to go back to the Old Testament, way back to the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. During this time the tabernacle is built. This will be the mobile place of worship for the people of Israel for hundreds of years until the temple in Jerusalem is built. Worship at this time did not revolve around great music, a gifted preacher, or even a sacramental meal. For ancient Israel, worship was first and foremost about offering sacrifice to God.
Volumes have been written on the theological meanings behind the Jewish sacrificial system, but I’d like to focus on what sacrifice does for us in general. To “sacrifice” means to give up something of value for the sake of something that is considered to be more valuable. When I proposed to Lisa I spent months saving up for a diamond ring. I can still remember writing the check out to the jeweler and thinking that I had never spent that much money on anything in my life. It was my money, and I could have bought any number of nice things for myself with it, but proposing to the love of my life was far more important than any of those other items, so I gave that money joyfully to the jeweler. That sacrifice in turn helped to strengthen my love for and commitment to my future wife.
When it comes down to it, that is really the point of sacrifice. When we are willing to give something up for something greater, it draws our hearts closer to the greater good. That is why sacrifice is so important to worship. Sure, singing is great, but what do we lose of ourselves in it? What are we asked to give up? If we are talented singers we may even feel that we are gaining something from it. But if Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, to pick up our cross and follow him, that means we are being called to sacrifice, to let go of something for the sake of something better.
Anglican worship seeks to balance the proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacrament, but the fulcrum point between these two acts of worship is the offertory. During this time we offer our gifts up to God. We are fed by the word and we are fed by the sacrament, but those things mean nothing if we are not willing to sacrifice something of ourselves to draw our hearts to the Lord.
One of the things I’ve learned in almost 20 years of ordained ministry is that the people who complain the most are usually the ones who are willing to sacrifice the least. If we are unwilling to truly give something up for God, if we are not willing to make a sacrifice that hurts, we will never be satisfied with the other aspects of worship. We become consumers, looking only to get something out of the liturgy, the music, or the sermon. When we give sacrificially of our time, talent, and treasure to the Lord, it changes our attitude completely. We begin to see worship not as something that primarily feeds us, but rather something we give to God. We learn to trust him with all that we have. We learn that giving up is the only way to truly gain the kingdom of God.
As we approach the Lenten season, I’d like to challenge you to begin looking at sacrifice as an act of worship. Don’t come to church looking for what you can get out of it, but rather asking yourself what you can contribute to it. If you are not already serving in a ministry at church, look for some place where you can be more involved. Sure, this might require making a commitment to be at worship on Sunday morning more regularly, but perhaps you are being called to give up the option of staying home or going away on the weekends. If you are not already giving financially to the church, consider pledging a weekly or monthly amount. This ought to be more than just tossing a couple of bucks in the plate as it goes by. It should hurt. A true sacrifice will require giving something else up so that God can draw your heart closer to him.
When it is done properly, sacrifice is always difficult. That is the point. But take to heart Paul’s words in the 12th chapter of Romans. Present your body, your whole self, everything about you, as a living sacrifice to God. Offer yourself up to him for his glory. Not only will this shift how you worship on Sunday morning, it will transform every aspect of your life as well.
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.