Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, "Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart." - Psalm 40:6-8
The Bible gives apparently mixed messages about worship practices. An enormous, even exhausting amount of detail comes in the teachings of Torah, the first five books of our faith's library. Then we hear from the Psalmist (and Jeremiah, and others) that the earlier instructions are not leading us to heal the world, as our Creator wishes. They disparage sacrifices and temple offerings. Later still, the author of Hebrews will declare that sacrifices are worthless, incapable of removing sin.
A hasty reading of Psalms and Hebrews can even lead a Christian to think that the old ways have no value whatsoever. I suspect that would be a mistake.
A cartoon circulated recently, of a prophet pointing towards a mysterious manifestation of light. The prophet's followers focused not on the mystery, but on the pointing finger. Oops.
What if we read the stories and instructions of the Bible as a prophet's gesture and invitation? An intimate and communal invitation, given to each person and all peoples, to step out of our worldly routines and into a strange space of shalom: wholeness, harmony, justice, and joy.
If some invitations don't speak to us, those might be intended for neighbors with a different experience of the Holy One. We might even see that a new invitation doesn't replace the previous ones. Instead, it widens the circle of the invited.
God of mystery and intimacy, grant me the grace today to see the ways you are inviting your children and your creation into a deeper awe, a renewed purpose, a revitalized wonder, a fresh hope. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.