Sacrificial Living

Today is “Dedication Sunday,” and there are things that I love and things that I don’t love about this day. One thing that I love is that I get to to tell my bacon and eggs joke. Do you know how bacon and eggs demonstrate the difference between involvement and commitment? Because the chicken is involved in getting your breakfast to you, but the pig is committed to it!

Of course we are assuming the egg is unfertilized. I’m not sure that the pig was all that excited about the idea, either, and I would guess that if given the chance the pig would decline the invitation. Christian faith is, however, an “all in” kind of thing – or at least that is the description we get in scripture.

Our passage from Isaiah was written to a conquered people to demonstrate the hope that remained in their identity as the people of God. The “Suffering Servant” demonstrates perseverance and faith as a testimony to the people, but also as an example to us. Perhaps we could boil it down to say that faith does not protect us from evil – it simply helps see us through to the other side.

The Suffering Servant is not simply an example of tenacity, though. Earlier in chapter 49, God recounts the sin of Israel and names their self-centeredness as the cause of their captivity. Then in 50:2 we find one of my favorite claims in scripture. God says, “Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?”

Surely the Lord of all creation is not limited by my sinfulness, even if I still have consequences to pay for my actions. Of course I can endure ridicule and derision, if I am placing my faith in the One who is ever faithful!

Those are easy words to say from a pulpit while looking out at people who love me. It is not so in other places. On this day as we once again dedicate our lives to the ministry of Jesus Christ, there are still Christians being martyred for their faith in distant lands. On this day there are people in our community who are turning their backs on the church. On this day there are members of our Presbytery – with whom we are partners in ministry – who are in Cuba, worshiping the Lord and preparing to install solar powered water filtration units.

On this day, the ministry of the Synod of the Sun and of the Synod of the Living Waters become knit into flesh and blood through members of our Presbytery who love the Lord with all of their hearts, with all of their minds, with all of their souls, and who are seeing to their neighbor’s needs before their own because they are standing on the edge of the Kingdom of God – in Cuba!

How about us? How close to the edge of the Kingdom of God are we standing in the church today? The words of Jesus remind us to be comforted in the fact that the Lord is but one God, and truly there is no other. And because the Lord is one, there is no other source for our devotion – except to reflect our devotion to God in the character of our relationships. And the unnamed scribe said, “This is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Caring for others in the same way as we care for ourselves requires sacrifices. You simply can’t do everything you want to do while considering the needs of others. That’s probably a good thing. The words of Paul remind us to be living sacrifices.

As I reflect on these words it reminds me of the story of Moses and the burning bush – a bush that burned but was not consumed. I think that is an essential task for those of us who follow Jesus. How do we live in a way that is ultimately concerned with the other without getting burned up or burned out?

I don’t have a five point plan for you on this, but I believe our scriptures may help. The first idea that comes to mind is to recognize that following God does not protect us from ruin. Sometimes we will suffer. I don’t believe God wants us – or needs us – to suffer. It’s just part of being limited by time, ability, and our own attempts at controlling the inevitable. The question is not will we, but are we willing to suffer?

I don’t necessarily mean martyrdom, although Christian faith does involve a constant death of self in order to experience resurrection. I mean letting go of our expectations of God in favor of God’s expectations for us. That’s what today is really about. It is not about making a financial commitment to the institution of the church. If that’s all it is, well then we might as well be the Kiwanis Club. Yes, I know the church needs money for paying the lights and the staff, but that’s not why we give. We give because it demonstrates what we value. We give because Christian Faith is not about one aspect of our lives, it is about every aspect of our lives. And today is about dedicating (or rededicating) our lives to the opportunity of loving as we have been loved.

Of course, some of us may leave our sword arms out when we come forward today. Maybe you’ve heard this story before, but the story goes that Ivan the Great, the fifteenth Tsar of Russia, married the daughter of the King of Greece. She required that he embrace the Orthodox Christian faith, and he and 500 of his soldiers were baptized in great fanfare. Well, the story goes that there was some conflict over whether or not a baptized Christian could willfully kill someone, and so the soldiers were all immersed with the exception of their sword arm.

Today we are invited to put our whole selves in, as we commit to loving God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our strength. One way of demonstrating that commitment is with a financial commitment to the church. What is more essential is the commitment of our hearts, and the connection between our desire to love, the needs of our neighbors, and the sacrificial living that glorifies God and fills our souls.

That kind of love transforms you. It changes priorities that you may not even think need to be changed. That’s what happened on a football field in Olivet, Michigan. You may have seen this viral video, but the team conspired to get the ball all the way to the goal line – without scoring. Then on the next play the team encircled a player named Keith, a boy with special needs, and paved the way for him to score a touchdown in a contest reserved for the strongest and most powerful.

It may not sound like much, but to Keith it was an opportunity he could have never realized on his own. What’s more, the player interviewed to tell the tale through tears said that he recognized through one simple act of selfless love that nothing matters more than doing something to “make someone else’s day.”

He was transformed. They were transformed! They were standing right on the edge of the Kingdom of God, on a football field. And so are you – right here, right now. The edge of the Kingdom of God is breaking forth in Cuba, in Michigan, and even right here in Lafayette, Louisiana. For that to happen, all it takes for us to do is to persevere in our belief that God is active and present, to let go of our expectations in favor of God’s, and to express our love for God through every chance encounter! That is the type of commitment I will make today. I invite you to do the same, and to God be the glory – now and always, amen.
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