S (Scripture): Psalm 51
Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased.
A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.
Do good things for Zion by your favor.
Rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.
Then you will again want sacrifices of righteousness—
entirely burned offerings and complete offerings.
Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.
O (Observation): The psalmist is living in a time that is after Jerusalem has been sacked by foreign powers. Perhaps the people of God see this as part of the fact that they have steered away from God. But the psalmist knows that – even while in their time of trial – God still listens.
The Law guided God’s people as they transitioned from slavery in Egypt into living in the Promised Land. But somewhere along the way, God’s people lost sight of the purpose of sacrifices.
The sacrifices were a way of acknowledging that God is sovereign and rules over all. The produce of the land and the animals sacrificed all belonged to God already. The sacrifice acknowledges that the individual is giving to God what is already God’s.
God’s people lost sight of these things…to the point that the psalmist recognizes this: If God doesn’t have all of me – my broken spirit – then God doesn’t need my animal sacrifice. God wants my heart and contrition, first.
Then…having given my broken spirit to God, who can heal me…then, and only then will God go back to accepting my sacrifice.
A (Application): Are you Spiritual or Religious? This question popped up a few years ago as people started leaving “The Church” in search of something that truly affected their lives for the good. The Christian Church in America had perhaps become more religious – focusing on rites and rituals and putting forth truths and knowledge between “right and wrong” – and had become less concerned about the spiritual aspects of our lives – like having a heart receptive to loving God and neighbor, discerning one’s purpose, discerning God’s presence in the world. In other words: just follow these steps and you’re “in.”
The Church is great at rituals and rites and declaring truths…and pointing out others’ wrongs. Has the Church become a place where we only foster these practices?
What about the Church raises the Spiritual aspects? Are we finding meaning and solace when we worship and gather? Are we sensing what direction God is leading us?
Seems to me that the Church can be both Spiritual AND Religious. The hard part is that to be both, it takes a contrite heart, a broken spirit, as mentioned in today’s psalm. The positive aspects of Religion include being connected to a larger body of people, being connected to God, and being connected to traditions that are meaningful and remind us of our connection to God. The Church can be spiritual by reminding us that God is present in and around us. And perhaps when we start drifting too much into the “religious” category, without regard for the “spiritual,” maybe it is time to step away from the rites and rituals…and find ways to BE with God. That can start with a humble heart.
P (Prayer): Lord, you know our Spiritual and Religious selves. Gather us in to see how we can find meaning and insight in our rites, rituals, and traditions. Amen.