Sunday Message for 18 November 2018: “Stop Animal Sacrifices!”

Today’s message comes from Hebrews 10:11-25, which highlights the new covenant that God seeks to establish in peoples’ hearts and minds, rather than through sacrifices or ruinous religious rules.

Once upon a time there was only the Old Testament Jewish law, dramatized by the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai. Then over centuries a seemingly endless list of commands and commentary arose, created by priests, and constituting a dysfunctional industry of religious rules. This vast compendium of Old Testament dogma was peddled as God’s will forever. But as is often the case with rule-based religion, an abusive, institutional bureaucracy arose where scribes and other privileged specialists profited from the onerous regulations. The gist of all this was that God finally had enough of the insanity and sent reformers, prophets and finally Jesus to make things right.

Time for change; a new way for a new day. The book of Hebrews discusses the new covenant intended to supplant the barbaric ritualism of animal sacrifices, prevalent in most of the ancient world. God’s enlightened covenant, still valid today, is based on Jesus teachings, which surpass mechanistic religion. Despite incomplete implementation of Jesus’s teachings. the Christian view is typically that animal sacrifice misses the point and is no longer necessary. “For by a single offering he [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” Hebrews 10:14. Whereas the Old Testament required perpetual animal deaths, perceiving Jesus’ sacrifice as final renders further animal sacrifices irrelevant and wasteful.

The Hebrews text further reveals that Jesus came with a different emphasis: “ ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds’ “ Hebrews 10:16. This means that instead of relying on holy writings and their voluminous commentaries, God’s Spirit would reside within every person willing to embrace the divine. The encouraging news is that this is valid today. No longer should animals be butchered and slaughtered for rituals. No longer should status-seeking priests and their institutional justifications exploit people. Regrettably, forms of the old strangulating religion continue around the world. Sadly, many belief systems still propagate a prison-like structure within which followers sacrifice their freedom, dignity, and ultimately their humanity for the sake of a toxic faith.

You and I can be thankful that God’s covenant through Jesus still prevails. This means that those who are aware of and willing to receive redemption through God’s presence have all that they need for a vibrant and wonderful life. You can claim God’s promise and not fear intermediaries who try to stand between you and the Almighty. Inside you is the love of God’s light and life. God accomplishes for you and other faithful believers what no religious laws could ever achieve. Accept your role as God’s child and boldly proclaim your liberation from whatever holds you back.

After his time on earth, Jesus’ message grew ever more popular, providing the people trapped within the old, sacrificial system a revised, more humane and rational belief system, which developed into what we now know as Christianity. But don’t let your guard down because there is still much bad religion out there eager to impose its life-choking structure, through harmful rules and faith litmus tests. You and I are emboldened to call-out the perpetrators as we help lead ourselves and others into the Promised Land of God’s transformed covenant of compassionate love.

-–Reverend Hoxey