Summary: Many of the failures of todays world to enact the gospel are the result of human pride. Only by God’s grace through self-denial can we hope to overcome

20 June 2002 Evening Prayer

St John the Evangelist Cold Lake

Psalm 85

1 Samuel 2:27-36

Matthew 18:10-20

An anonymous man of God prophesies to Eli about his fate and the fate of his sons for their failure to follow God – you see Eli’s Sons are taking more than their share of the sacrifice and are growing fate off of what should have been sanctified to God. As a result of this betrayal, Eli is told that his family will be reduced to beggars.

I have often wondered about the reason for our Lord’s demand for offerings of burnt flesh so often described in the Old Testament. The pagan practice was to make these offering so that that particular God may eat and be satisfied. We find this description of Yahweh no where in the Old Testament – but rather that the scent of the offering is soothing to Him. Indeed, our present tradition of using incense in service finds some of its historical roots in burnt offerings – in the Compline service we also hear the words, let my prayers rise to you like the incense, the lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice. Yahweh does not demand these offerings because he needs to eat but for much the same reason we make our offerings of alms and oblations now – it is a form of personal sacrifice in God’s honour.

This concept of personal sacrifice is the one that I want to develop tonight.

Our modern world spurns the idea of personal sacrifice for the most part. In many places it seems as if the idea of self-sacrifice for a greater cause is almost laughed at as an anachronism, a feature of a distant past that has no place in a modern enlightened society. This manifests itself in many ways….

To end an argument quickly and happily usually takes one of the parties to apologize – even if they weren’t the one that started the conflict. I can speak personally that this can be a very very difficult thing to do, especially when I know that I am the one who is in the right! Wow, that moral high ground sure feels like a good place to be, doesn’t it?

That moral high ground is the cause of much conflict on national scale in our world today.

As we as Anglicans have experienced most recently, the issue of same-sex rights are likely going to be the most divisive issue our church has dealt with in decades. I suspect that it will make the entire ordination of women topic look like a kindergarten reader. What is the basis of these demands for equality – is it the resolution of long-standing oppression, or is it an expression of hurt pride and a lack of humility? I will leave that discernment to you.

I’m not going to listen to that Priest – he hasn’t been alive as long as I’ve been going to church.

What links these situations together, and how does this relate to self sacrifice?

Before someone willing gives of themselves freely and unconditionally they need to have a handle on what I consider to be the worst of all the sins – pride. For it is pride that manifests all of these examples: it is our pride which holds back a quick apology; our pride that makes us assert our rights over the tenants that scripture and the holy church has laid out for us; it is pride that assures us that we are smarter or wiser than anyone else who we come into contact with.

It is our pride that allows us to start reasoning by saying, ‘well, you know the bible isn’t always fully true.’ And finish by saying ‘these scriptural verses are not relevant to our situation, after all they were written by people in a radically different culture a long long time ago.’ It is pride which leads us from the church of God, to the church of Man.

It is pride which stops any sense of self-sacrifice from making our world a better place to live. It is pride which will eventually lead us far from God, and far into the comfort of our own self-assurance and our own intellect.

Eli’s sons stole the offering because they thought it was their due. I remember a past boss of mine who had just returned from a very trying United Nations deployment to Haiti telling a story about the cult of ‘I deserve this’. What he said was that the day you start justifying your actions with the reasoning ‘I deserve this’ is the day that you start to fall prey to the sin of pride. There have been more than a few people in prominent places who have fallen to this reasoning and, I expect, many more who have not yet been found out.

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