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First Reading = Luke 6:27-38
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
This is the last sermon in our series about real relationships. Last week we heard how real relationships have to embrace conflict directly and quickly. Triangles are great for engineering and terrible for human relationships. This week I thought we could have a nice, light topic to end the series, so I went with sacrifice.
Now, obviously Jesus sacrificed for us. That would be way too obvious to focus on today. Instead, I want to focus on sacrifice within our earthly relationships. Why should we sacrifice for others? Why should we go out of our way for others? Let’s find out.
Sermon Text = 1 Corinthians 9:15-27
15But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! 16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
24Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
Feeling for Others
Well a few weeks ago I scoured the Internet trying to find out how well some men with impressive-looking mullets could sweep some ice. And I was so disappointed to find out that my team had lost a heart-breaker in the bronze medal game. I even groaned out loud. Another medal opportunity lost for good ol’ Team USA.
Now, you might wonder how I came to care about Olympic curling. And, honestly, I don’t. I only care because they’re on Team USA. Is it a kind of silly-looking sport that I have virtually no knowledge of? Yes! Did I care enough to track down the results and verbally groan when I found out we lost? Yes! Why? Because that’s my team! Team USA!
In a similar fashion, I keep tabs on the latest news coming out of the Denver Broncos organization. Do you know how many times I went out of my way to learn about the Broncos before I moved here? Never! I didn’t care. But now that I live here, they are at least on my periphery of caring.
And I do have to issue you a formal apology on that. The Broncos won the Super Bowl three months before I moved here, and I have clearly brought bad luck because they’ve stunk since I came. So please accept my apology on that. My Texas Longhorns have stunk longer than that, though, so at least I spread my bad luck around evenly.
I care about the Broncos because this is my town and they are this town’s football team. I care about Team USA curling – mullets and all – because they’re on my country’s team.
In our text today, Paul says that he has become very skilled at becoming a true fan of other people’s teams.
To the Jews, he is a flag-waving Jew. He knows what excites them. He knows what upsets them. He cares about the things they care about.
To those who feel like their faith is defined by rigid rules, Paul can speak their language. He knows how to speak to them. He knows what trips them up. He cares about the things they care about.
To those who feel like life is just a party so live it up while you can, Paul knows how to get their heads nodding in agreement. He knows their desires. He knows their fears. He cares about the things they care about.
He can identify with the weak. He can identify with the strong. He knows what motivates so many different teams. In fact, he says he cares just as much as if he were on that team himself. If we’re cheering for the Broncos, Paul knows how to reminisce about the Orange Crush and Elway and Manning and the No Fly Zone. He puts in the time to learn about the team, and then he truly cares.
That’s what it means when he says in our text today, “To the Jews I became as a Jew…to those under the law I became as one under the law…to those outside the law I became as one outside the law…”
This does NOT mean that Paul changed his behavior and values depending on the circumstances. In fact, when Paul saw Peter behaving differently with different groups of people in Galatians 2, Paul called him out to his face. No, this means that Paul taught himself how to care so deeply and understand so deeply that he was practically on their team.
But he cared without compromising his values. He cared and empathized and felt deeply for others without becoming a chameleon. The effort he put in to truly understand and feel deeply for others? That’s what he calls making himself a slave to all.
Several years ago, I was in someone’s office who had a long-time personal assistant. As we were talking, a light knock could be heard before the assistant came in. She brought coffee made just the way he wanted it. She reminded him that he had another appointment in about fifteen minutes. When I emailed him a few weeks later, she answered on his behalf. She had learned what helped him the most, and she knew him well enough that she was entrusted to speak for him on email. That attention to detail is what Paul is talking about. He put in the time to become as well-versed as someone’s personal assistant. Side note – it would be really nice to have a personal assistant. Gotta work on that! If only they didn’t want to be paid…
That’s how Paul developed real relationships that brought people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. He got to know them so well, he was like a personal assistant who didn’t even need to be asked to do something. He just knew already. The time he put in to understand people at that deep level? That’s a form of sacrifice. He gave them his most precious resources – time and attention. He sacrificed those precious things for others. And in so doing he modeled the sacrificial love of Christ.
The Emperor Julian was a fervent critic of Christians in Roman society in the 300’s. He wrote a letter criticizing how the church operated. He wrote angrily… “These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes….Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods.”
In other words, Julian was crying out, “How dare they sacrifice for others! That’s neither right nor fair! They’re making my gods look bad!”
Have you gotten to know anyone outside your family so well that you could practically be on their team? Would Emperor Julian be mad at you because you’re devoting yourself to compassion that brings people into a relationship with Jesus? Would Paul look at what we’re doing and think we’re going far enough to understand and feel what others feel?
In short, are we demonstrating truly sacrificial love in our relationships?
Sacrifice is Hard
Augustine of Hippo, the great North African bishop, defined sacrifice as “the surrender of something of value for the sake of something else.” Which begs the question, what are we willing to sacrifice, and for whom?
My wife and I worked out a system long ago where we can call each other two times in a row to indicate an emergency. No matter what we’re doing, we should pick up that second call. That’s giving someone else the power to interrupt you – that’s a form of sacrifice.
There are some phone calls I will pick up, even if it’s not a convenient time. That’s a form of sacrificial love.
When there are new births in this church or difficult deaths and people rally to bring meals? That’s a form of sacrificial love.
When someone’s tired, but they said they would lead Bible study tonight or go to the youth group meeting so they do it anyway? That’s a form of sacrificial love.
To use Augustine’s words, whenever we surrender something of value for someone else, we’re demonstrating sacrificial love. This doesn’t have to be on the level of Jesus on the cross. It can be listening to someone complain even if you’re tired. It can be calling someone who is going through a rough patch even if you’re busy. It can be intentionally meeting someone new at church instead of just chatting with your normal crew. It can be intentionally choosing a good attitude while you’re running errands even when you feel annoyed or angry at life.
Samuel Craig delivered a sermon in the 1950’s about imitating the incarnation of Jesus. He said, “Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies.” Whenever we are willing to forget ourselves for the sake of others, that’s a form of sacrificial love.
So what are you willing to surrender for the sake of someone else? Where are you willing to forget yourself for the sake of someone else. That’s sacrificial love. It can be very small or so life-altering it makes Emperor Julian furious at your compassion or really anything in between.
But this is what it all boils down to. Sacrificial love in a relationship means it’s not about me. Sacrificial love in a relationship requires us to put aside our own priorities. Sacrificial love in a relationship requires giving something we value – our time, our attention, our energy, our emotions – to someone else.
Jesus said in our first text today that this kind of sacrificial love even extends to our inner thoughts about a person. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Sometimes it might require sacrificial effort to not judge, to not condemn, to not hold onto past hurts. That’s sacrificial love, too.
Sisters and brothers, having real relationships requires moving beyond ourselves. It requires being on someone else’s team. It requires giving your valuable time, energy, attention, and emotions. It even requires an inner attitude, Jesus says, that does not condemn or judge others. That’s sacrifice. And it’s very difficult. The effort we put into it is actually a form of sacrificial love toward Jesus.
I’ll close with this quote from Albert Schweitzer as he reflected on his call to be a doctor in the jungle. He wrote, “Anybody who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll any stones out of his way, and must calmly accept his lot even if they roll a few more onto it. Only force that in the face of obstacles becomes stronger can win.”
May our sacrificial love contain that kind of force. Emperor Julian would be so mad at these compassionate Galileans if we did. Amen.