Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lessons on Sacrifice From Cain and the Hypocrites

Moses records that Cain made a sacrifice of fruits and vegetables, which the Lord rejected.  On the surface, it seems easy to commiserate with Cain:  he was a tiller of the earth, after all, he may have been giving up a lot in burning those vegetables.  The truth, however, is that it was an inappropriate, uncalled for sacrifice that was completely outside the law he had been taught since childhood--and he knew it.  It says that Satan commanded the sacrifice, not God.  So Cain, under direction of the Adversary, offered something he knew was not acceptable, that he knew would do him no good, and then he got mad when God didn't bless him for his sacrifice.  It wasn't a sacrifice at all;  it was a show, and a provocation.

That's not actually terribly uncommon in human behavior: making a show, pretending to be obedient or to be offering service, when in fact there is very little in the way of holy sacrifice in our hearts at all.  There are often times when we'll put everything, anything at all on that altar, except the things for which God has actually asked.  I'll give you anything, Lord, anything but my heart.  No way am I offering up my broken heart.  We want to appear obedient, to receive the approval or praise of others, we want the blessings of holiness without the price that righteousness demands.  All too often, we are hurting or angry because there is disobedience, pride, or selfishness in our hearts, and so we find ways to be provocative while appearing nominally obedient, or even trying to convince ourselves or others we are in fact making tremendous sacrifices to be obedient, so that we can have our deceptively selfish offer rejected and feel validated in our anger or hurt.  That's certainly what Cain did, and look where it got him.  Look where it got his brother.

This kind of unholy sacrifice poisons our hearts and our relationships.  When the Savior chastised those who were demonstrative in their fasting, it was not fasting that was the problem--it was the reason for their fast, manifest in the manner of their fast.  They weren't trying to draw closer to God or bring blessings to their community, they were seeking the praise of men. If the fast wasn't done gratefully and quietly, it wasn't a holy fast at all--it was merely going hungry so they could prove to everyone how righteous and devoted they were.  Well, as the Savior said, they have their reward:  a bit of approval, perhaps, or hollow respect from people whose opinions don't actually matter.  Bully for you.  When you make sacrifices for someone, it does you or them little good if you then are constantly focused on (and constantly reminding them) of all the sacrifices you make for them.  By engaging in such self-pity and self-righteousness, you show that your sacrifices aren't actually freely expressing your love and devotion to them; you're emotionally bullying them, holding them hostage to what you've supposedly done for them.  As long as you're keeping score, you're losing. If you sacrifice with a "sad countenance" and showing to the world a "disfigured face" so that everyone will know how selfless and righteous you are, you are focused on you, and you have your reward.

It would be better for you--and certainly for those you claim to serve--if you would follow the Savior's instructions to "anoint thy head" and "wash thy face" so "thou appear not unto men" to sacrifice.  When we sacrifice grudgingly, or merely to make the appearance of sacrifice, it doesn't sanctify us, it merely inconveniences us.  Those things which are offered truly selflessly, out of love, out of the joy of giving, are those which enlarge and sanctify the soul.  Don't serve your neighbor so that when you need to borrow his snow shovel you can hold that service over his head should he hesitate.  Serve your neighbor because you love him and its the right thing to do.  If you stick a smile on your face and stop thinking about how hard it is, and instead forget yourself and willingly place your whole heart on the alter to the Lord and offer your hands to those around you, it will get easier, your love will grow and the sacrifice will bring you true joy as your soul is sanctified.  That's what sanctification is after all: being drawn more closely and more securely into God's tremendous love for us, and for each of his children.

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