By James R Uhley, Horizon Presbyterian Church, Phoenix, Arizona
Summary: There are those who can never give themselves to God for fear that God will ruin their fun. They doom themselves to a life without knowing the meaning of sacrifice, without doing holy and sacred things. They doom themselves to smallness, hoarding things that will be dust in the life to come.
I Surrender All (Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #309)
A ring, a ring of roses,
A pocket full of posies.
We all fall down.
This rhyme originated in 1666 when the Great Plague hit the little English village of Eyam. It tells of the rosy mark that appeared on the chests of plague victims, the flowers people superstitiously carried to ward off the disease, the convulsive sneezing caused by the illness, and finally, the death that brought everyone down.
It all began when a tailor received a bolt of flea-infested fabric. When the epidemic began, the wealthy were the first to flee the village. But after people began dropping dead, everyone began to leave. William Mompesson, the 28-year-old village rector, begged the people to stay and keep the plague from spreading to other villages. The village was ringed with stones, showing the limits of the quarantine. The people listened to the rector, and stayed as an act of faith. Mompesson stayed with his people praying for their recovery and comforting the grieving. When the plague had run its course, 259 of the 350 were dead, including Mompesson’s own wife. Even today many gather to give thanks for the people of Eyam who offered themselves to God’s service and sacrificed themselves for the sake of others.
What is sacrifice?
Today the word sacrifice has lost much of its meaning. Going on a diet these days is a sacrifice. Saving for college is a sacrifice. Working to win is a sacrifice. Today sacrifice means the delay of gratification for a good thing to come later. The original Latin word sacra means sacred or holy and facere means to make or to do. But how often does our sacrifice have anything to do with God?
In ancient times, a sacrifice was a gift to deity. Blood sacrifices involved the giving of the life of an animal. Burnt offerings or sacrifices involved either grain or meat consumed by the fire. Some sacrifices were made for a specific purpose. For example, on the Day of Atonement, sacrifices were specifically made to seek forgiveness for sin. Sacrifices were required for all Jews as marks of faithfulness. To refuse to offer sacrifice was to break the covenant, to be ungrateful.
Most sacrifices today have nothing to do with God. They have only to do with us. However, although most of our sacrifices are indeed self-centered, they can help us learn and understand a greater and better sacrifice. In learning to give something to others that requires some delay of our own gratification, perhaps we can learn the true meaning of sacrifice.
Hebrews tells us that there is now no need for us to offer sacrifice for our sins. All the sacrifices of the Old Testament that sought to atone for sin were ineffective, but they pre-figured the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice that would permanently take away the sins of the world. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, God’s promise: I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more, has been fulfilled. So now there is no need to offer the blood of animals for the sins of our souls. Now we can enter the holiest place, God’s presence, knowing that we are accepted because when we were sick with sin, Christ came and healed us, at the cost of his own life.
Our response to the perfect sacrifice
His sacrifice was perfect for it was offered freely and it was offered in love. His sacrifice was pure because He had no sin. His sacrifice was powerful for He was the Creator of the universe that surrendered to suffering. His sacrifice was eternal for He was not just a man, but also the eternal God. There is no sacrifice that we can offer to make up for our sins. God’s great gift in Christ was a sacrifice we cannot make. But because of this gift, those who have benefited from it desire to make a response. We want to say thanks.
Paul appeals to the Roman Christians to give their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. This is spiritual worship. Spirituality is about surrendering our concrete selves, the bodies we live in, to God. Spirituality is not all in our heads. It is not all about prayer or positive thinking. It is also about bodies that serve God. It is about offering all our appetites to God. It is about what we eat and drink, what kind of shape we keep our bodies in, what we do with our energy.
A second sacrifice we can make is in the renewing of our minds. This is not the renewal of a good night’s sleep, but the restoration of God’s intention for our ways of thinking. Wise with God’s wisdom, filled with values that please God, our thinking can be transformed. Computer programmers say Garbage in, Garbage out. Our minds are the same way. The renewing of our minds is not a restoration of childhood innocence, but a renewing into the mind of Christ. The study of and meditation on God’s Word result in the renewal of our minds.
A third sacrifice we can make is using our gifts for God. How are we using our gifts to build something greater than our own little kingdoms? Gifts of organization, vision, teaching, kindness, and all the other talents and abilities we have been given can be a sacrifice, a holy gift to God.
A fourth sacrifice we can make is to love one another. Loving one another becomes a sacrifice when it isn’t easy, when others do something we don’t like, when we find others distasteful, not our kind of people. Loving and being loved is what makes life worth living, but we are also told to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to forgive those who use us. Paul gives practical advice when he says, Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are (Rom 12: 15, 16, NRS).
The fifth and sixth sacrifices we can offer are our worship and our sharing. The author of Hebrews exhorts us, Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb 13: 15, 16, NRS). And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10: 24, 25, NRS). Paul writes, Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers (Rom 12: 11-13, NRS). There is a reason why worship and sharing are so closely linked in the Bible. What we do to those created in God’s image, we do also to God. When we don’t share our resources with one another, we deny the mission of God. When we don’t join together to worship we forget to give, and we become self centered, thinking of a million reasons not to share.
Sacrifice is difficult. It involves surrendering power, facing fear, accepting discipline and the pain that always comes with it. But we cannot prepare for the city of God, we cannot learn to love, we cannot be transformed without the difficulties of sacrifice. When we give ourselves to God, we are part of God’s team. Sacrifice is spiritual worship. It praises God, it blesses our neighbors, and in the long run, we are blessed by our own sacrifice because of the kind of people we become.
There are those who can never give themselves to God for fear that God will ruin their fun. They doom themselves to a life without knowing the meaning of sacrifice, without doing holy and sacred things. They doom themselves to smallness, hoarding things that will be dust in the life to come. Because they cannot give themselves to God, they will never know the height and breadth and depth God’s love can reach. The sacrifice God desires is that we give our whole selves over to Him in love. We are called to love Him, His church, one another, and the world. And the only question is, Can we make the sacrifice?