We just rounded the corner of the Thanksgiving holiday. So many feasted. So many fixed the big turkey and dressing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and all the rest. So many talked about loving the leftovers, those turkey sandwiches and reheated sides. And for us, in this setting, leftovers are good.
But, leftovers are not what you serve when your guest is somebody special. You could not imagine having an honored guest over to your home and telling him or her, “Just scrounge in the fridge; we’ve got leftovers.” If you were meeting your favorite athlete, actor, or musician, your favorite preacher or author, you would not tell them to just slap a sandwich together with whatever they can find. When you are wanting to do something special for a guest, you try in general to give them your best. And giving your best is not usually giving them leftovers.
As a side note, I think we would be a better people if we became a little more comfortable not being fancy in our fellowship. Maybe we should be a bit more comfortable with leftovers. We would do well to learn to serve simple soup and bread, sandwiches and sides, instead of trying to impress each other. The church should be a family, a close and familiar group, who is comfortable being simple with each other. If we were more simple, we would host more people, be in each other’s lives better, and enjoy more of the fellowship God wants us to enjoy.
But with that aside, we all know that, when we are wanting to give a guest something special, we make sure things are right. We prepare our best dishes. WE serve on the pretty plates. We pick up the toys off the floor. We treat our guests like they are important.
How sad, then, that people who are supposed to be the people of God do not give their Lord the same consideration. Take a look at these words from Malachi 1, and imagine the audacity of Judah in the fifth century BC regarding the things of God.
6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.
After the return of Judah from the Babylonian captivity, the people still had a long road to get back to worship in the temple. The rebuilding of the temple took time and effort. The rebuilding of Jerusalem took time and effort. The return to the word of God and right rituals took time and effort. Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi all had major roles to play in calling the people to do what was simply right before the Lord.
But by the time Malachi is preaching to the people of God, the people had begun to give God only their leftovers. They were bringing second-best or even tenth-best to worship. Instead of offering the spotless animals required by the Lord, the people were offering what they could spare, the ugly animals, the blind and lame animals, the ones they did not want reproducing in their flocks. And the Lord is not pleased.
In the text, the Lord says that these people have despised his name. They have not honored him like a father or a master. They have not given him the same level of respect they would give their governor. And the Lord was not going to allow that to stand.
While we could stay here and talk about what was wrong with the people of Judah, we need to think about ourselves. It is not so important what they were failing to do. Instead, it is far more important that we figure out if we are doing the same.
So, here is the question for us all. Are we giving God our leftovers? Are we giving God only what we determine we can spare? Are we giving the Lord only the time, the energy, the offerings that we generally want rid of anyway?
Ask yourself how easy is it for you to skip time for worship? How easy is it for you to decide that you are too busy, too tired, too in need of a break to simply make it to church. Is that not giving God your leftovers?
How about your participation in the spiritual disciplines? Do you read the word? Do you pray? Do you meet with Christians to talk about the word of God and obedience? Are you giving God your best?
How about relationally in the church? Do you give to the church financially for the support of the work and as an act of worship? Do you work to develop friendships in the body? Do you help others in the body by investing in their spiritual health? Are you open enough with a few others in the body so they can invest in you?
All in all, are you giving the Lord your best as you follow him? Remember, every week, you have the honor of a real meeting, a real audience, with the King over all creation. God allows you to stand in his presence, sing his praise, and hear his proclamation. God allows you to eat and drink to remember the body and blood of his Son who gave his life to save your soul. God gives you the privilege of bowing with fellow believers to seek his favor and present him, the King, with your petitions. And that is just Sunday morning.
During the week, The King of kings has given you a family to reach out to, to care for, to laugh with, to encourage, to counsel. God has given you people to love and so demonstrate to a watching world that we really are his disciples. God has given you people to call you to holiness and for you to call to holiness. God has given you people to help and so show his kindness. God has given you people to unite with as we collectively become the bride of Christ.
Friends, I know this all is piercing, at least it is for me. But my heart here is that we would not only be convicted. My heart is that we would see the great honor and joy that it is to give God our very best. He is worth more than our leftovers. No, our relationship with God is not founded on our ability to give him anything. Our relationship with God is all of Grace, unmerited favor. We all have different capacities to give and to serve as we go through different stages of life; so what you might be able to do has nothing to do with what another can do. But why would we not, in the light of that grace, desire to give our Lord more than and better than simply what we think we can spare?