Friday, April 14, 2017

A Living Sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2; I Peter 2:4-6) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In the popular 1990’s television series “Seinfeld,” George Costanza attends a child’s birthday party at the apartment where his girlfriend, Robin, lives. A clown is providing entertainment. George suddenly says, “What’s that smell? Is that smoke?” He hurries into the kitchen, turns and runs out in a panic yelling FIRE, knocking over the clown, an old lady with a walker, and a couple of kids. “Get out of my way!” he screams, as he opens the front door of the apartment and races outside. In the next scene, George is getting oxygen from a paramedic.

Suddenly, the clown runs over to George and says, “There he is! That’s him!” Several angry children and moms gather round. “That’s the coward that left us to die!” The clown tries to hit George with an oversized show. George replies, “I was trying to lead the way. We needed a leader, someone to lead the way to safety.” Robin objects, “But you yelled, ‘Get out of my way!’” “Because as the leader,” George continues, “if I die, then all hope is lost.  Instead of castigating me, you should be thanking me.

But I saw you push the women and children out of the way in a mad panic.” Robin yells. “I saw you push them down. And when you ran out, you left everyone behind.” George refutes, “To the untrained eye maybe, I can fully understand how you got that impression. What looked like knocking down was a safety precaution. In a fire, you stay close to the ground. Am I right? That’s why I pushed them down. I risked my life making sure the exit was clear.” The fireman looks at George and says, “How do you live with yourself?” “It’s not easy,” George replies.

Our culture is ambiguous; it sends mixed messages. On the one hand, it says that the goal of life is materialism, fame, status, power, wealth, pleasure. These are the values one should aspire to.  We see examples all the time of greed, avarice, narcissism, and selfishness.  We hear people say “me first” “live for yourself,” and “my individual rights above everyone’s.” He who dies with the most toys wins reflects our culture. Our culture further confuses celebrities with true heroes. But is being famous and wealthy, the same as being a hero or being a role model? Of course not, because sacrifice is about character and dedication toward others. Having intelligence or talent has nothing to do with a sacrificial life.

On the other hand, sacrifice is an American value, grounded in our Judeo-Christian ethic. Our culture also promotes the high values of altruism, self-sacrifice, commitment, big-heartedness, service above self. We see these values manifested in people’s generous giving to charities, in service clubs, in organizations, in churches, in the outpouring of generosity to victims of natural disasters around the world, in the sacrifice of the men and women in the military, in community-wide searches for missing persons, in volunteerism, and in runs and walks to raise money for worthy causes like cancer, autism, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. We see it in the generous aid our government provides to countries around the world.

Think about this question, “Can you sacrifice too much for someone?” Are there limits? I’m not speaking about donating a kidney, or financially helping someone with their education, or even giving your life for someone in danger.  I am speaking about situations I’ve seen over the years, as a pastor, where grown children and grown grandchildren take advantage of their parents or grandparents.  They continue to ask for money for this or that reason. They just keep asking and pressuring and make parents or grandparents feel terribly guilty. Asking can become a form of manipulation. It can drain the resources of the giver. It enables underachievement rather than inspiring motivation and ambition. Sometimes, the hardest word to say is “No” rather than “Yes.” Saying no takes courage, strength, and prayer.

Who has made a sacrifice for you? The truth is that everyone here this morning has benefited from someone’s sacrifice: their time, their resources, their wisdom and knowledge, their patience, their talents and skills, their protection, their sympathy, their encouragement, their love, their faith. People who sacrifice for us inspire us to want to do the same for others. Thank you Lord for the sacrifices of others on our behalf. Can I get an AMEN?!

From a Biblical and faith perspective, the willingness to sacrifice stems from the desire to please God; it’s an expression of love, of thanksgiving to God, of a desire to serve Christ. It shows that we know who we are—persons made in God’s image and persons forgiven and redeemed by God’s amazing grace, through Christ’s life, death on the cross, and resurrection.  Yes, sacrifice is indeed a noble value of our Judeo-Christian tradition.

Romans 6:13 says, “Give yourselves completely to God, every part of you. You want to be tools in the hands of God to be used for His good purposes.” I Peter 2 says, “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ.” Romans 12 says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

In Old Testament times, priests would sacrifice animals in temple worship. They would kill an animal, place it on the altar, and offer it to God. In the Prophetic Tradition of the Old Testament, in prophets like Isaiah, Micah, and Amos, God also summoned the Jews to live sacrificial lives: “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.” Early Christians began to curb animal sacrifice, and after the Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in 64 A.D. the early Christians heard Jesus’ call to offer themselves as living sacrifices, daily laying aside their own desires, to follow him, putting their energy and resources at God’s disposal and trusting in God’s guidance. God calls us, you and me, to be living sacrifices, that He might accomplish His purposes through us.

Superficial love never requires sacrifice. Genuine love always requires sacrifice. You cannot truly love somebody—your spouse, your friend, your child, your grandchild, your neighbor, you cannot love God—without sacrificing, without a cost, without giving up something.

Do you ever feel unappreciated when you give of yourself, when you sacrifice for someone, when you do the right thing? You start thinking, “Why bother? What’s the use? Why make the effort? Nobody cares. Nobody notices. No one says ‘Thank You’.” When you sacrifice to help other people, know this, God sees your actions. God knows your attitude. The Bible says God sees your witness, God remembers your witness, and God will reward your witness.

I read a story about a doctor in Birmingham, Alabama. On January 28, 2014, in the dead of winter, Dr. Zenko heard that a patient at Trinity Medical Center had taken a turn for the worse. The patient needed surgery, no other surgeon was available and the patient had a 90 percent chance of dying. Driving wasn’t an option because of the snow and ice. Emergency personnel were busy.

So the 62-year-old doctor faced these brute facts and proceeded to take action. He put a coat over his hospital scrubs and started walking, six miles in the snow, from Brookwood Medical Center to Trinity Medical Center. Along the way, he fell and rolled down a hill, but got back up. He finally arrived at Trinity, performed the surgery, and saved a patient’s life. In a later press conference, the doctor was asked why he did it. He said, “It really wasn’t that big of a deal. Any good doctor would have done the same thing. The patient was dying and that wasn’t going to happen on my shift.” Why is it that people who sacrifice for others are often so humble?

What contributions are you going to make with your life in the years you have left? What is it that gives significance, meaning, and purpose in a life? Giving your life away is the greatest thrill of life. It’s the secret of significance. It’s the key to happiness. The truth of scripture is clear: to save our lives we must lose them, in giving we receive, in dying to self we find true life, in servanthood we find greatness.

How can we learn to be a living sacrifice? First, worship God! Prayer changes us. Worship changes us. God’s Spirit changes us. Psalm 50:23 says, “True praise to God is a worthy sacrifice.”

Second, love and serve others! Jesus gave His life for us. Because Christ first loved us, we too should love one another. I John 3:16 says, “We ought to give our lives for each other.”

Third, share Good News with others. Share your faith with others. Hebrews 13:15 says, “With Jesus’ help we will continually offer our sacrifice of praise by telling others the glory of His name.”

Following Jesus opens up a new way of life. Where in your life today is Christ calling you to make a sacrifice? Amen!

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