ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH NOVEMBER 8, 2015
Hebrews 9: 24 – 28; Mark 12: 38 – 44
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
At this time of year we are called to remember those who fought for our freedom – those who risked their lives and those who gave their lives for the well-being of others. As Christians, our primary remembrance of someone who gave his life for others, is of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As we read in The book of Hebrews, Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9: 26) Up until that point it was believed that humanity was made right with God by shedding the blood of animals. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would go annually into the Holiest of Holies in the temple to give an offering of “blood that was not his own” (vs 25). As the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus shed his own blood on the cross for our salvation. Jesus’ intervention didn’t stop there. Jesus is now in heaven, where he appears “in the presence of God on our behalf.” (vs. 24). He is the eternal bridge between ourselves and God. Jesus intercedes for us face to face with God. And Jesus work is still to be completed. Unlike we mortals who die once and are judged, Jesus “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (vs. 28) As those whom Jesus has saved we are called to follow his example. We are called to offer ourselves to God and to lay down our lives for the benefit of others. On rare occasions, such as war, this self-sacrifice is often literal – people die. And those who don’t actually die, offer themselves so fully that they hazard death and some return with permanent wounds. We might say they come back from war as “living sacrifices”. The story of Abraham and his son Isaac give an illustration of what is meant by that phrase, “living sacrifices”. Isaac was brought up the mountain by his father and laid on an altar to be sacrificed. Then, as his father was about to plunge the knife into Isaac’s chest, God intervened and provided a goat in Isaac’s place. While Isaac wasn’t physically or literally killed, he did die in a metaphorical sense. As far as Abraham or Isaac knew, right up to the last second, Isaac was as good as gone. He had looked death in the eye and said goodbye to this life. When Abraham cut the ropes off Isaac’s body to help him off the altar, Isaac climbed down not as a dead sacrifice but as a “living sacrifice”.
As Christians we are urged to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12: 1) A woman asked her minister what that scripture meant, “how do we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice?” The minister took out a sheet of blank, white paper and said, “Put your signature on the bottom of this page.” The woman was puzzled but did as he asked. “Now,” he said, “God will fill out the rest of the page with a contract stating what he wants you to do with your life. That’s what it is to be a living sacrifice.” Being a living sacrifice is giving our lives into God’s hands and allowing him to do with us whatever he chooses. It is giving God everything we have – even our livelihoods, even our lives, if that is his wish.
We read of another person who became a living sacrifice in the gospel of Mark. Jesus was sitting by the synagogue watching people drop their offerings into the donation box outside the sanctuary. Rich people came by and made generous donations. But the person who impressed Jesus the most was a poor widow. She only dropped a couple small coins in the box – nothing anywhere near the scale of the top givers, but Jesus pointed her out as an example because “this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12: 43 & 44) Jesus wasn’t looking at the dollar amount the people had given, he was looking at the percentage of income they had given. If a billionaire had given one hundred million dollars he’d have donated 10% of his holdings. If a millionaire had come in and donated two hundred thousand dollars he would have given 20% of his assets. No question these are incredibly generous donations and much larger than two pennies. But Jesus was impressed with the woman’s generosity because she gave 100% of her wealth – as little as it was. She went home with no cash in hand, not even enough to buy bread for dinner. It wasn’t possible for her to give any more, she gave all she could. She gave all she had. It is that spirit of giving our all to God that makes us “living sacrifices”. In that sense, following Jesus or being a “living sacrifice” is like the Hokey Pokey dance – you don’t stop until you put your whole self in – an arm or leg is good, but God really wants our whole beings – heart, soul, mind and strength.
In the early 1800’s a minister of a small congregation in Scotland was asked to resign because there had been no conversions in the church for an entire year. “Aye,” said the preacher, “it has been a lean year, but there was one.” “One conversion?” asked an elder, “Who was it?” “Wee Bobbie,” replied the pastor. They had forgotten a lad who had been saved and had given himself in fully to God. It was “Wee Bobbie” who, in a worship service, asked the usher to put the offering plate on the floor. He then stepped into it with his bare feet, saying, “I’ll give myself—I have nothing else to give.” Wee Bobbie grew up to be known as Robert Moffatt who, with his son-in-law Dr. David Livingstone, served as a missionary in Africa.
Living sacrifices not only give their all to God, like Jesus they risk their own lives for others. The story is told of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, capturing a wealthy prince and his family. When they came before him, Cyrus asked the prisoner, “What will you give me if I release you?” “Half of my wealth,” the prince replied. “And to release your children?” “Everything I possess.” Cyrus smiled slyly and said “Then what will you have left to barter for the release of your wife?” “Your Majesty, I will give myself.” Cyrus was so moved by his devotion that he freed them all.
The prince valued his wife above himself and was willing to give up his very life for her. But the story doesn’t end there. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, “Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!” With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, “I didn’t notice. I could only keep my eyes on you- -the one who was willing to give himself for me.” The world offers many things that tantalize but once we know Jesus, who was not only willing to give himself for us, but who gave himself for us, nothing else can draw our attention or steal our devotion.
Jesus inspires us to be like him. Today as we remember the people who served as “living sacrifices”, let’s recommit ourselves to being “living sacrifices” ready to give our all to Christ and, if needed, our lives for others.