A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sermon (November 11) - "No Small Sacrifice"

It’s very appropriate that Veterans’ Day falls on a Sunday this year, a day when our Hebrew’s scripture passage focuses on the theme of sacrifice.  Today we honor and pay tribute to those who have served in the armed services and who have sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom.  Their service to our country has been no small sacrifice.
This Veterans’ Day prompts me to examine my own life and ask myself the question, “How willing I am to live sacrificially for the sake of others?”  Today is also a sobering day because like Memorial Day and the church’s All Saints’ Sunday which we observed this past Sunday, Veterans’ Day reminds us that life is short.
Sometimes, we think that the goal in life is to simply live as long as possible.  But even if we do everything that we can to be healthy, we are still faced with our mortality.  It doesn't matter if you spend two hours a day sweating at the gym . . . It doesn't matter if you take every vitamin found in a drug store . . . It doesn't matter if you never let a cholesterol-laden piece of food cross your lips . . . It doesn't matter if you obey every safety regulation ever written for any product . . . It doesn't matter if you drastically reduce the stress factors from everything you do . . .
We won’t live forever.
There is an old story about three friends one afternoon who were vaguely contemplating the inevitability of their own deaths. They posed the following question to themselves: "When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?"
The first guy said, "I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man."
The second guy said, "I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow."
The last guy replied, "I would like to hear them say: 'LOOK!!! HE'S MOVING!!!'" 
Death is inevitable, no matter how much we try to deny it or not think about it.  The author of Hebrews is careful to point this out from our scripture passage this morning when he writes that it is established that everyone will die at some point. He’s not writing this to ruin our day and put us into depression but to help us keep things in perspective and to make every day count.
Our veterans who we recognize today remind us of the importance of living sacrificially for the sake of others. Recently, I officiated at a funeral of one of our members who was in the Army during World War II.  His son shared a war story with me about his father.  A German pilot had been shot down and he had to eject from his plane.  He landed in a nearby orchard and was hiding there.
His dad was to find this German pilot which he ended up doing.  He faithfully carried out his orders but he also saw this German pilot as a fellow human being and they even got to know each other by sharing stories. Not only did his dad risk his life for his country, but he did so in a very honorable and humane way. This little story and many others are why we are honoring our veterans today.  The sacrifice they have made and are making is no small sacrifice.
The writer of Hebrews also points us to the ultimate sacrifice that was made through Jesus Christ.  He writes that Christ sacrificed and died to bear the sins of many.  It’s because of what Jesus Christ has done for us that we have forgiveness and new life.  That’s why we gather here on Sunday mornings.  We give thanks for all that Jesus Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection and then we are sent from this place to serve in sacrificial ways in his name.
When we remember that what Jesus did for us was no small sacrifice, we can’t help but to live sacrificially for others.  This is why I am so thankful for the author of Hebrews so that we will never forget what Jesus has done for us.
I can see the many ways that you are responding to what Christ has done in your life.
About three weeks ago in between worship services, one of our Sunday School teachers hands me a stack of get well cards made by one of our elementary classes that morning. She gave these to me to give to the people I visit at the hospital.  I can’t even begin to tell you what that meant to those who received those cards.
Last Sunday, I told somebody that two of our members are receiving hospice care.  This person asked me for their names.  And he said, “I don’t need the last names, just the first names so I can pray for them this afternoon.”
Yesterday, several teams of people were sent out from our Second Saturday outreach ministry and they raked leaves at a lot of homes in our community just to let people know that God loves them and that we care about them.
Maybe you have noticed on some recent Sunday mornings that there are people in our church who are serving as greeters as we leave from worship.  What a great lasting impression this is as they remind us that God’s love goes with us.  And all of this is an addition to all of the wonderful greeters that we have before our service begins.
A couple in our church invited me out to lunch a week or two ago.  They want to give the church a sizable amount of money in memory of a loved one.  And they graciously told me that they want this money to be used in ways that will help our church to expand and grow.  During lunch we came up with some great ideas on how their gift might best help our church to live out our vision and purpose.
As of Friday, we have received over two hundred 2013 commitment forms expressing how we will be offering our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness for the coming year.  We’re still receiving these forms in the mail. 
I want you to know that every prayer, every time you attend worship, every gift you put in the offering plate, every way you serve through the life of the church, and every time you share your faith with someone, it is no small sacrifice.  Like the author of Hebrews, you are helping people to know of the sacrifice Jesus was willing to make when he died on a cross to take away our sins.
It’s amazing what a difference these sacrifices can make in our church and I want to thank you for the many ways that you are going out of your way to live out your faith.
Our Hebrew’s scripture reminds us that life is short and one day, our time here will come to an end.  But even when that time comes, because of what Jesus Christ has done, we can have an assurance that we will be with him forever.
An illustration that is often used at funerals is from the Christian author, Norman Vincent Peale. It's a story of a conversation between a mother and her unborn child in the eighth month of pregnancy.
The mother cradled the child with her hands. If she could carry on a conversation, it would go something like this:
"My little one, soon you are to be born. Another month or so and you'll come out of the womb into life. Your father, your brothers and sisters, and I can barely wait for that moment of birth!"
The little one, if it could, would probably argue back, "I don't want to be born. I like it here. All my needs are met. It's dark, warm, and comfortable here. Don't talk to me about birth!"
The mother would respond, "But my little one, it's beautiful out here. There's sunshine, flowers, laughter, dancing, friendship, and music. It's so much better! In fact, it won’t be good if you stay in there too long."
And the little one would argue back, "I don't know anything about any of those things. All I know is that in here all my needs are met. I'd rather have what I know than what I don't know!"
The mother would never convince the little one that to stay in there too long would actually be ghastly.
Then Dr. Peale would pause and say, It's now 70, 80, 90 years later. That little unborn child is now a man or woman. The conversation continues.
This time, not with his mother but with his Father, his heavenly Father who tells him,
"My son, I love you. I've mode provision for you beyond this life. I've come in the person of Jesus Christ to die for your sins. I know life is awesome, but it's also a passageway into my presence. I tried to describe to you in the Bible the life that is better than any life you have experienced on earth. It's a quality life. Although I've used my best descriptions, analogies, and metaphors to somehow help you anticipate it, it goes beyond anything you've experienced. Trust me."
The old argument goes on the same way it did decades before when he was in the womb. "I don't understand what you're talking about. I like it here. I don't want to die. I have a hard time believing that it would be any better!"
Once again he's having a hard time trusting someone who really knows better than he does.
Holding on to things, to your safety, to yourself, to your present, to your identity, to your resources, to your security: these are all non-Jesus. The ways of self-expenditure and sacrificial living for the sake of others are the ways of Jesus.
Are you, am I, like the child in the womb? Are we prepared to claim God promises? Will you trust God?
Acts 13:36 summarizes King David this way: "For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep." In the words of a wonderful benediction, "May you live until the word of your life is fully spoken."
Would you repeat that after me: "May I live until the word of my life is fully spoken."
When Jesus died on the cross, the word of his life was fully spoken.  His death, like the way he lived was no small sacrifice.  And there’s no reason why the same can’t be said one day about you and me.

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