Psalm 50- Sacrifice and judgement



I wanted to spend some time focusing on the Psalms in the next few weeks.

The assigned readings for each Sunday always give us a reading from the Psalms. We often leave them out to shorten the service a bit. I’m not sure that is a good enough reason to leave them out. Regardless, (maybe out of guilt for neglecting them) I figured we could focus on the Psalms for the next while.

Of course. the Psalms are very connected to King David. David was said to be a musician and is first introduced into the King’s court as a musician. But, not all the Psalms are written by David. For example, today’s Psalm 50 is a “Psalm of Asaph” who was a priest at the time of King David.

We know that Jesus knew the Psalms intimately. Some Psalms are so associated with Jesus we can’t imagine them apart from him. For example, when we hear the words, 
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
 we think of Jesus on the cross. But Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. Other lines from that Psalm that we read on Good Friday are, 
“All who see me mock me… My hands and feet have been pierced… they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
 It’s hard not to forever connect that Psalm to Jesus and his crucifixion.

The followers of Jesus continued this love for the Psalms carried over into the New Testament. The Psalms are the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. … So, it’s not surprising that the Early Church spent a lot of time with the Psalms. In the Psalms they saw a very symbolic world to explore. In the Psalms, the Early Church saw the "king" and the "Lord's anointed" as referring not only to David, but to Jesus. In the Psalms, they overheard the prayers of Jesus. "Israel" is the Church.    

They also saw the Psalms as having a therapeutic value- they brought healing to the soul when one engaged them seriously. They were a mirror that reflects the inner movements of the soul- your anger, your desire for revenge, your feeling of abandonment, your joy, your sin, your forgiveness. During the Reformation John Calvin called the Psalms 
“‘an anatomy of all the parts of the soul'; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror".
 The Psalms show you these parts of yourself and help you to bring them to God for healing. 

The Church thought the Psalms were so important that the Second Nicene Council in 787AD declared that all bishops would have the Psalter memorized so that they could examine the prayer lives of their clergy.

The Psalms have been a very important part of the church for a very long time.

That’s some information about the Psalms in general, and now I’d like to turn to our Psalm. Psalm 50 describes a court case. God calls the heavens and the earth to attention as witnesses. God’s patience with human sin has ended. God’s perfection shines forth to bring judgement. Before him is a devouring fire and around him is a raging storm (which make us think of Mt. Sinai). This is the God of the Covenant, the perfect Creator, who is coming to make a judgement on his people.

God says he wants his “faithful ones”, who made a covenant with him, and who offer sacrifices to him, to be gathered to him for judgement. … As we read this we should see ourselves being called before him. We too, are inheritors of the Covenant. We have a baptismal covenant that we are accountable to, and we are also accountable to the universal moral code that is woven into reality, which many in the Early Church believed was accessible through one's conscience to a greater or lesser degree. To break a covenant has consequences, as does breaking the moral code- for individuals and societies.

God introduces His issue by saying, “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt-offerings are continually before me.” He is essentially saying, “you are very diligent in offering sacrifices”. God points to something deeper going on.

Human beings have been offering sacrifices for a very long time. I think until a couple thousand years ago it was pretty much a universal human practice. In many places it continued until very recently. Humans sacrificed animals, even other humans, as a part of encountering spiritual powers. It was sometimes believed that the divine beings were being fed, or were being given a pleasurable experience, through the sacrifice. In some way the sacrifice caused the divine power to act favorably towards the one making the sacrifice. And we see this within the Bible as well, which had a heavy emphasis on sacrifice. Those temple sacrifices ended when the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, just 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

… But, what does God say in our Psalm regarding sacrifice? (And this is 1000 years before Jesus, so sacrifice was still a big part of the worshiping life of the people of Israel). What does God say? 
 “I will not accept a bull from your house, / or goats from your folds. / For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. / I know all the birds of the air, / and all that moves in the field is mine. / ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, / for the world and all that is in it is mine. / Do I eat the flesh of bulls, / or drink the blood of goats?”
God is basically saying that all the animals belong to Him anyway, and besides that, God doesn’t eat or drink flesh and blood. … This is a pretty shocking statement to say to a society that is deeply committed to the practice of animal sacrifice.

There are other places we read this in the Bible.

The prophet Micah (6:6-8) says, 
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The prophet Isaiah (1:11, 13, 16-17) echoes this, 
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. … bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. … Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Our Psalm tells us to 
“offer to God a Sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High” and to order your way rightly (50:14, 23). … All of these passages are moving from an outward kind of sacrifice to an inward kind of sacrifice. The danger of a ritual is that we can just go through the motions. We can offer the sacrifice and be thinking about something else. We can rattle off the Lord’s Prayer without hearing the words. We can receive the Eucharist, but not be mindful of the moment and what it signifies. … This is not necessarily saying that the ritual is bad or pointless. We are being asked to be mindful of the significance of what these acts point to. Jesus says, "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit" (Lk 12:35). Be attentive to what the ritual is pointing to, rather than letting your mind wander, or you might miss the Master who has come to meet you in that moment. 

The ritual is pointless if we are not being inwardly attentive and transformed. The passages tell us that there is a moral code that we are to live out- 
“do justice, … love kindness,… walk humbly”  “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” “offer a Sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows” and order your way rightly. 
These are calls to be holy people- And that requires sacrifice- we have to sacrifice our ego to walk humbly. We have to sacrifice our comfort to walk among the oppressed. It is a sacrifice to choose kindness when you are a powerful person. It is a sacrifice to keep your vow when it would be convenient to back out of an agreement. It requires sacrifice to say "no" to your impulses and immediate desires so that you can order your life properly. … Sacrifice is necessary and important. We are to pick up our cross and follow Christ, not to do exactly what he did- his was a more profound sacrifice, but if we are to be his people, surely we are called to be people of sacrifice too. The ritual stuff is the easy part- that is important, but it’s pretty meaningless if we don’t engage what it signifies with the whole of our being.

We can be very good at the act of worship, but let's not miss what the worship is pointing us towards. There are consequences for empty worship and ignoring the moral code. There are consequences to a inattentive life- it is to be sleeping when the Master arrives. … True worship is pointing us towards holiness- which is friendship with God and harmony with God’s way of ordering the world. AMEN

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