It might be suggested that making sacrifices is not an unfamiliar concept. We all do it to varying degrees. We make sacrifices to insure our children and grandchildren have a good start in their lives. We provide clothes, food, educational supplies, future college savings and much more so they will receive what they need to succeed and live good, healthy lives.
Making a sacrifice isn’t dependent necessarily on our ability to do so. In fact, one could argue the concept of sacrifice does suggest there is no ease in doing so. We all, no matter where we live or what we have, if we are intentionally good parents and grandparents, we give and do what we can to the best of our ability. We don’t hesitate to do whatever is required to insure the lives and future of our children and their children.
We could say we sacrifice in the same manner as many creatures in nature. Birds and animals feed their young and then train their young to feed themselves by providing live prey so the young can test and strengthen their own hunting skills. Often a hungry parent, rather than eating first may put food in the mouth of his or her young rather than consume the food to insure there will be successive generations to follow. We do the same if our intention is to insure a generation of our young will follow, grow, produce and succeed. To be a good parent, includes a wiliness to sacrifice whenever necessary.
When Paul was writing to the church in Rome, he was well aware he was following in the steps of the One who had sacrificed everything for generations who would follow. Paul thought of himself as a parent, founding father of the little Christian communities, which had sprung up as a result of the “good news” message he had shared with those who lived in the varied areas where he traveled. For Paul, born a Jew in the line of many Pharisees who had come before him, born into a family in which Roman citizenship was a given he, understandably, got caught up in his zeal to put down what he thought initially was outright rebellion against his religion and his loyalty to the Roman Government. His persecution toward those called “Christians” was frightfully well known until the moment Paul had his own Jesus Christ experience. Thrown to the ground, blinded by a light more brilliant than any he had known before, shocked into silence by a voice from above, this was a moment of redemptive conversion. Paul would never be the same. He gave his life over to a new truth, a new way, which proved to be for him the only truth, the only way, which made any sense at all. What did he give up? Well, he gave up his family, his position, the faith he had been born into and his assurance of Roman Royal favor. All gone; all sacrificed for the higher truth, which was and is Christ crucified, sin forgiven, life redeemed.
We can only assume Paul had some inner revelation which would cause him to see and know Christ as the living sacrifice, which God through Christ made to insure the health, wholeness, healing and life of God’s beloved children – of you and me. “Through Christ,” says the Dean of The General Theological Seminary in New York, Ward Ewing, “God reveals the nature of divine love – a self-giving love that suffered death on the cross for us, even though we do not deserve this love.”
Love is really about relationship, isn’t it? It’s about the way we interact with others and, for us; it begins with a deep awareness of how much God first loved us into being. It begins with a realization that we are given life itself and asked to respond in love, to invite others to receive God’s gracious love and forgiveness.
The way we love God is to live in relationship and love one another and sometimes that is very hard to do. I’ve just finished reading a book by Fox News Commentator Bill O’Reilly entitled “Killing Jesus”. It is an amazing historical account of the life of Jesus beginning with Old Testament prophecies, which ultimately guide Christ’s life and will lead eventually to Pilate giving assent to crucify Jesus as a criminal and an enemy to Roman power. Again and again, what became clear in this account are the sacrifices Christ made as he lived out a life of faith. It wasn’t an easy life but it could have been. Jesus had a trade, a mother who loved him, the respect of his father, a faith in God, a place to live, everything necessary to have a lucrative or at least, sufficient life. Instead, his lifespan was shortened by many years and why? Because Christ knew his final act of faithful attendance to fully loving even his enemies required a personal sacrifice; it required a willingness to give up his life for all, friends, followers, the Jewish hierarchy, the Roman authorities, you and me as well as all the generations who will follow us. The great sacrifice – one begun in love and one, which would ultimately end with Christ willingly giving up his very life as a final act of love.
We often think of God as our Father in heaven, our divine parent and in the way of parents that is, good parents, God offers God’s own life in Christ as an ultimate sacrifice for us simply and totally, out of love. Through Christ, we are not left on our own struggling to find meaning and hope for our lives here on earth but instead, we’re offered complete reconciliation. What does that mean? It means we are freed from death and sin the two most devastating powers of destruction, which can only lead to wasted lives, lives without purpose. Instead, we receive hope, new hope to enter into a new relationship with God and through Christ with others – a relationship blessed by fruitful purpose. Christ gives the ultimate sacrifice, an intentional sacrifice, which provides us with an ability to live a life of intentional relational connection.
Bill O’Reilly’s book states without apology “To say that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential man who ever lived is almost trite. Nearly two thousand years after he was brutally executed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God. That includes 77 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Gallup Poll. The teachings of Jesus have shaped the entire world and continue to do so.”
The great sacrifice made so willingly by Jesus Christ on our behalf continues to impact and influence our lives and, no doubt, will impact and influence the lives of those yet to be born. We have a part in this: our role is to learn who Christ was and is, to live in alignment with the teachings for which Christ lived, died, and rose again and to share what we can…our great sacrifice…our lives and our faith with all whom God places in our paths. It is a journey of faith. It is a journey leading to new hope. And, I believe, it is a journey no one person or belief system can alter. God always has the last word and, without a doubt, Christ is the first and the last word of life. Amen.