Summary: Does the way we worship impact the way others see God?
Black Market Sacrifices
Cascades Fellowship CRC
July 11, 2010
After choosing the title of this sermon I began looking for an illustration that captured the sense of what I meant by a “black market sacrifice.” And to my great distress I found one – kind of. The search for an illustration became the illustration. Confused? Let me explain.
When I prepare for a sermon I will often read several sermons from other preachers, scratching for ideas to illustrate the message. Sometimes, I strike gold and find an illustration so good that I repeat it here word for word. At such times, I am careful to indicate where the illustration came from. Even if I paraphrase someone else I try to make it clear that the thought did not originate with me. The point is; I try to give credit where credit is due.
Now, while the art of plagiarism is the genius of the preacher – by the way, I think it was Billy Graham that first said that – there are ethical limits. Beyond such limits the pastor is in danger of deceiving his congregation and offering to them something other than a careful, researched, Spirit-led sermon. He leaves his congregation to presume that he has done his work, when in fact he is simply co-opting the work of another.
Let me be clear, most pastors – including me – have no difficulty with someone else using one of his sermons. Copyrighting the proclaimed word is about like saying you have the Holy Spirit in a bottle. But from an ethical and moral standpoint – from an earning your wage perspective – it is disingenuous of any pastor to submit as his own work a sermon that borrows (or I should say steals) heavily from the work of another without giving proper credit. Such an offering is a black market sacrifice.
So you can imagine my chagrin when I read through 4 or 5 sermons and found out that I really only read two! Now, I am not going to name the offenders, but I am going to credit the two sources for the other three sermons. Of the sermons I read, two drew heavily – one being almost a direct quotation in its entirety – on the work of Tom Walker. His work can be found on the internet at www.preacherscorner.com. The other sermon that was heavily plagiarized was one written by Ray Stedman, found at www.pbc.org.
What an ugly little surprise! Five sermons – all of them named “Strange Fire”- and out of the five three of them in essence are “strange fire.” What is really sad about this is that the three guys who borrowed so freely from others had the gall to post their plagiarizing sermons on the internet as their own work! Unbelievable! Preachers, offering black market sacrifices.
But we are not here this morning to talk about the problem of plagiarism from the pulpit. If you are interested in the topic there are scads of articles on the internet – some of them likely plagerized. No the plagiarism issue is merely a symptom of a larger issue – offering “unauthorized” or strange fire before the Lord.
Our text this morning is a little hard to swallow. I mean at first blush, everything seems to be going according to plan. There seems to be nothing amiss in the first line or two of chapter 10, “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense.…” In our minds eye we see the sons of Aaron getting ready to enter the holy place as they would on any other day, but then we are caught off-guard by the next line, “…and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.”
Now I don’t want us to miss how jarring this really is in the text. I want you to imagine that you are the first readers of Leviticus or better yet, the people who lived at the time Leviticus records – that you are part of this moment in sacred history. So that you can imagine it more fully, let’s go back a bit in the story and review the final chapters of Exodus and the first chapters of Leviticus.
Exodus ends with an accounting of the Tabernacle being built. At the very end of the chapter there is this incredible scene where the glory of God descends upon the Tabernacle and fills it from corner to corner. God’s presence is so thick and powerful even Moses cannot enter.
The early chapters of Leviticus then focus on the sacrifices that atone for sin, purchase peace with God and purify Israel so that the people are able to live with God in their midst – so that they are able abide in the presence of God. Without the atoning sacrifices and the rites of purification God’s holiness would consume his people – that which is holy cannot coexist with what is sinful or profane. To dwell in God’s presence one must be holy as he is holy.