(Leviticus 16: 1-28)
The Blame Game. Something goes wrong and you immediately begin looking for someone to blame, before they start looking at you. You have to find a scapegoat, somebody to hold responsible. Somebody to take the fall. A lengthy and expensive inquiry is conducted, fault is assigned, and resignations are demanded. The responsible person is exiled, and life goes on as if nothing happened. Unfortunately, no solutions were sought during the inquiry and no lessons were learned, other than how to avoid being the next scapegoat.
And who knew the finding of a scapegoat to bear the responsibility for wrongs was so biblical? In our scripture lesson for this morning we learn about the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is the holiest day of the Jewish year, and it’s when God seals the fate of the Jewish people for the coming year. The entire day is spent fasting and praying to God for forgiveness and a good year. In Leviticus, chapter 16, we get some insight into the ritualistic underpinnings of the Day of Atonement. We learn that Moses’ two nephews, sons of his brother Aaron, had died when they tried to approach the Lord. God is getting a message to Aaron through Moses and he tells him to tell Aaron to come to the Most Holy Place and gives instructions on how to enter and approach God. God says to have Aaron bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, and then gives instructions on how to prepare himself and what to wear. As a representative of the Israelite community, he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering and to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats; one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat. The goat that is offered up as a sin offering for the people is to be slaughtered and, in this way, he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. When Aaron is finished making atonement, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites, all their sins, and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
This Old Testament scripture, part of the Torah, is interesting as it tells us a couple of things. It’s big on ceremony, pomp and circumstance which is okay as it is meant to honor God, but I want to focus on the two goats that are chosen by lot to either be a sacrifice to God or a scapegoat shamed into bearing the sins of the people. The chosen goat is driven out into the desert, carrying the sins of the people, never to be seen again. Atonement has been made and everything is okay. Yet the sin persists, nothing has changed, no lessons learned, and you’re back at the same time next year to make atonement and choose a new scapegoat.
This is why we Christians are so big on the New Testament which represents a shift in owning up to our sins and taking responsibility. Jesus came to bear our sins once and forever meaning that an annual ceremony is no longer necessary. It was Caiaphas the high priest who said during the hatching of the plot to have Jesus killed; You know nothing at all. You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish. (John 11: 49, 50) Jesus came to earth to live and walk among us, to set an example of how to live a life in God’s continuing service. By being our sin offering, our one-time atonement, Jesus is telling us he doesn’t want us to dwell on the past. He wants us to seek his forgiveness and then focus on the future, focus on our changed behavior. And this is what the Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, is talking about in Romans 3: 21-25, when he said; But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace thought the redemption that comes by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. We’ve all fallen short, but there’s room for improvement. Heaping your sins, your wrongdoings on a scapegoat won’t make you a better person, the kind of person God wants you to be in His service.
God wants problem solvers, not problem absolvers. Focusing on assigning blame is a waste of time if you don’t look earnestly at identifying and addressing the root cause. Firing a police chief or demanding the resignation of the mayor doesn’t solve the problem, unless they are the problem. Replacing them with someone else doesn’t make the problem go away unless they have workable solutions to the problem and the ability to implement them. It’s like beating a dead horse. Nobody tries to figure out why the horse is dead. They just beat the horse harder, get a bigger whip, change riders and so on. It’s not until you examine the horse, perform an autopsy, that you finally figure our what is wrong, at which point you either look for a scapegoat for killing the horse, or a solution that doesn’t kill the next horse. As Christians, we should demand that our energy and resources be devoted to problem solving and not problem assigning.
We are entering a political cycle where we’ll be choosing local, state and national leaders and we have to ask ourselves; do we want more of the same? Or do we want lasting change, change that takes work, commitment and time? We can’t allow ourselves to become distracted by the blame game. There’s too much at stake. Social media and the news outlets are all fixated on finding the scapegoats and not the root causes of the problems. Like the rioting and looting we’ve all watched on our televisions, after the fires are out, all you have left is a burned-out building. The question is: what do you rebuild and who builds it? What do you build in its place and who does it serve? This is where we come in. We use our voice and our vote by seeking out those who will bring lasting change. We don’t want to be back here next year and the year after that and the year after that, for another Day of Atonement. We’re not interested in another exhaustive search for the next scapegoat only to be driven out into the desert never to be seen again. We want to move forward building up the kingdom here on earth to benefit all God’s children and to truly honor and glorify God with a genuine sacrifice of ourselves in His service.
As Abraham Lincoln said on June 16, 1858, 152 years ago; A house divided against itself cannot stand. Until we change our attitudes nothing changes from year to year other than the scapegoat. You get what you unfortunately deserve. So, as Christians, it is incumbent upon us to raise expectations, to demand accountability not only of ourselves, but of others, and to expect results, the kind of results that bear fruit and advance the cause of Jesus Christ in loving and serving the least, the lost and the last. That’s how we really make atonement.
Please pray with me.
Merciful and just God, how great is thy faithfulness. Your compassion for us, your imperfect children never fails us. All nature witnesses your mercy and love. Through your unlimited and endless love, you have pardoned us of our sins and have given us a peace that endures. Your presence in our lives cheers us and guides us in the way in which we go. You give us strength for today and a bright hope for tomorrow. The blessings are all ours and with the new mercies we see each morning, move us to lead lives worthy of your great faithfulness. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.