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Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23

An Acceptable Sacrifice

Words. They are everywhere! Doesn’t it sometimes seem like they are wasted uselessly, or worse, used as weapons of emotional, mental and spiritual violence? They could be such a powerful source of healing and nurturing.

I have a friend who was verbally abused as a child and teenager. Every day words of criticism were spoken over her, telling her she was not good enough and that nothing she did was right. Only by a miracle of Christ’s transforming love has she survived such an upbringing and developed an ability to speak life-giving words into the lives of others.

Another friend has not experienced such transformation. Unhealthy environments and unwise choices have led her to continuously speak spiteful and critical words to those around her. This has isolated her from those who would most want to help and love.

Words – they are used in a plethora of ways and seem to always be present. So it would truly be a wonder if we would practice this word spoken in Psalm 50, verse 7: “Hear.” Would we hear? Would we listen? God has made quite a commotion in the passage leading up to this word, summoning the earth through the shining sun, devouring fire and mighty storm. God has a message to speak, so listen everyone.

It’s not a happy message. God seems to have a rebuke in mind. And though our lectionary passage skips over quite a few verses here, it’s important to note what they have to say. They tell us God is not very interested in typical sacrifices given thoughtlessly. God certainly doesn’t need them, but desires something different, which we’ll get to eventually.

But first, what is the rebuke? We find much of it is related to words. In v. 17, God says, “you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.” Here is disregard for God’s words, a refusal to receive discipline and correction. As a result, the people’s words reciting covenant relationship with God are useless and empty.

In v.19, we read “you give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.” It would seem careless words are spoken which result in evil, deceitfulness and lies. Even more specifically in v.20, God points out “you sit and speak against your kin; you slander your own mother’s child.” The sin of slander is named outright, committed against those who are supposed to be one’s own brother and sister.

Who of us could escape this rebuke? Could we find someone who never disregards the words of the Lord, and who speaks words that are a perfect balance of grace and truth? I suppose it is possible. I know some pretty amazing people. But I’m just going to guess our brother James is onto something when he wrote “no one can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). Perhaps everyone ought to pay attention here.

What is the answer? How do we battle words of evil and deceit – whether they come from our own mouth or another’s?

The passage gives us the answer, and if we are not careful we will think it too trite or simple and will fall again into disregarding the words of God. In two places within the psalm comes the exhortation: bring a sacrifice of thanksgiving (v.14, 23).

What is a sacrifice of thanksgiving? Is it simply a use of good manners, a matter of saying “thank you” when we receive something from someone? (I will rejoice with everlasting joy the d