The Paradox of Sacrifice And Gratitude

At the very heart of the timeless Christian faith is the Eucharist. And you’ve heard me say many times before that the word “Eucharist” has its root in the Greek word for “thank you.” The very center of what it means to be a Christian isn’t some cultural habit “I’m Christian because I was born in a Christian family.” It isn’t in some political allegiance like insisting we are a “Christian” nation. Nor is it the happy accident of your birth. While all of the above can and will give you a “head start” (for which you must be grateful), the key to being Christian is being grateful!

And gratitude REQUIRES Sacrifice!

Look at Genesis 8:4-21. We’ll just quote the passage below:

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go forth from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh – birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth – that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.” So Noah went forth, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. And every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves upon the earth, went forth by families out of the ark.

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”

Noah and his family and all on the ark had weathered the storm and the flood. They had obeyed God and the consequence of their obedience was their salvation, their lives. It was in “passing through” the waters of the flood that saved them. Their salvation was scary and terrible, as they were going through it, but now the floodwaters have passed and the ark was on dry land.

But notice what happens when the flood ends. First God speaks. As always, God takes the initiative to lead, instruct, and guide His humanity. He tells Noah and his family to get out of the boat and get to multiply on the earth. Just as God commanded Adam and Eve to “tend” the earth and be fruitful, so He commands Noah to do the same as He “reboots” His humanity.

The curious response of Noah is very instructive to us today. What does Noah do after hearing from God? He builds an altar! Noah’s response to God’s salvation, to God’s instruction, to God’s purpose for His humanity was to perform an act of gratitude. Noah’s motivation in his relationship with God certainly was fearful as in deep awe of God’s presence, but fear isn’t the primary motivator here. Noah’s motivation in his relationship with God certainly included deep mystery and even confusion about why God did what He did, but confusion wasn’t his primary motivator here. No, Noah was motivated by gratitude, so he does what Adam failed to do. He does what Cain failed to do. He does what all of humanity failed to do before the flood; he worships God in gratitude for God’s salvation. And he does so with an offering that pleases the Lord so much that God reveals to Noah that He will never again destroy the earth with water.

But that’s always the consequence of gratitude towards God: Deeper intimacy with God always leads to a deeper knowledge and greater gratitude as well.

Today, what regular practices in your life display your gratitude towards God? You do understand that God doesn’t “need” your gratitude at all. No, the benefits of a life of gratitude toward God are always one-sided – mine! And it requires me to sacrifice my pride to reach authentic gratitude. As we learn the path of a grateful life, we watch as our hearts grow more accustomed to God’s Presence and we know Him better. It’s what results from being Orthodox on Purpose.

P.S. O Lord, how wondrous are Your works. In wisdom, You made us from Your love for us. My life is cluttered with so many distractions that make me inattentive to the need to offer You the “sacrifice of praise” in my words and actions. I am so overwhelmed by life that I struggle to keep Your goodness before my eyes. Even my prayers sometimes fall into mere rote repetition and I pass through my religious acts unchanged by the power of the wisdom contained. O God, help me, and save me so that, remembering Your Name and Your love, I will finally become myself! Amen

One comment:

  1. Love Fr. Barnabas’s illustration “You do understand that God doesn’t “need” your gratitude at all. No, the benefits of a life of gratitude toward God are always one-sided – mine!” He makes it so clear to understand the concept that God doesn’t need anything from us to make Him happy. Perhaps in the same way, our confession to God benefits our heart instead of God needing our apology. What a paradigm shift! Thank you for explaining it so well.

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