Genuine Sacrifice

Genuine Sacrifice

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve noticed a certain
trend among people who are publicly introducing others to various audiences.
This is especially true if the person making the introduction is expecting and
encouraging the audience to respond with applause. Instead of saying, “Please
welcome John Smith,” or “It’s my pleasure to introduce to you Mary Jones,” many
now say, “Let’s all give it up for Karen Brown.”

The implication in that language is that, by applauding
the presence of the one who is being introduced, the audience is offering
something—they are giving a ‘sacrifice of praise,’ as it were.

Now, there’s nothing inherently sinful in applauding
those we appreciate, nor is there anything inherently sinful in using the
words, “give it up for” whomever is being introduced. Wholesome entertainment
is one of God’s many gifts to us, and it’s also perfectly good to show
appreciation and admiration for the talents of others, provided we don’t cross
the line and idolize them. As Christians, it is part of our calling to ‘give
it up’ for others, too. We are to show our love for God and for our neighbors
by willingly sacrificing our own selfish interests for the needs of others.

Now, we might not give a moment’s thought or have any
pangs of reservation about offering up a ‘sacrifice of praise’ by applauding an
entertainer or some other public figure we admire. Clapping your hands,
whistling, or even shouting your approval is hardly a big deal, is it? It
doesn’t require a lot of effort or energy, and you’re not likely to experience
any sort of difficulty or suffering for it.

But what if I were to ask you to really ‘give
it up’ for God or for someone else? To truly have to sacrifice something you
hold near and dear? Could you do it? Or would you hem and haw and waffle,
hoping that I’d get distracted or impatient, or that the subject would get
changed before you had to make a decision to make that sacrifice?

I imagine that for most of us, our willingness to make
sacrifices for God and others depends on the level of discomfort or
inconvenience we would experience. Could we do without that resource, or that
habit, or that relationship? What effect would the sacrifice have on our
lives? Could we adjust without a lot of difficulty? How would others view
us: as principled, devoted disciples, or as naïve fools?

If you stop and think about it for a minute, unless
there’s a significant risk—and a significant cost—any ‘sacrifice’ you or I make
isn’t going to be worthy of the term.

The question then becomes: What’s your
threshold of risk and cost, for making your sacrifice for God and

Not many of us are going to be put in the position of
Abraham, our faith tested by the Lord in being directed to sacrifice the very
life of someone we love—someone upon whom all our earthly hopes and dreams
rest. Abraham’s hopes and dreams, however, rested not just upon the physical
life of his son, but on the promises of God.

Nor are we likely to face a martyr’s death on account
of our faith in Jesus Christ like Stephen, or Paul, or Peter, or Polycarp, or
Ignatius. They, like Abraham, had a level of trust in the Lord that gave them
confidence even in making the ultimate sacrifice a human being can make—willing
to accept death rather than surrender their beliefs or compromise their

Sometimes, however, sacrifices aren’t quite so
dramatic, even though they might be just as dangerous. We see such sacrifices
in today’s scripture readings. The widow whom Elijah met at the gates of Zarephath
seemingly had nothing to offer the Lord’s prophet but a cup of water. She had
other modest possessions, though: A handful of flour, a bit of oil, and the
few dry sticks she was gathering as they spoke. When she heard the word of the
Lord which Elijah spoke to her, however, her heart was turned from despair to
sacrificial giving. Facing starvation, she trusted in the promise made by this
man of God. She surrendered what had once been her last earthly hope, and
instead hung all her hopes upon the words of Yahweh.

A similar situation is found in our Gospel lesson this
day. As Jesus visits the temple in Jerusalem and teaches His disciples, He
makes several observations. He contrasts those who seek worldly wealth and
attention with the poor widow who comes to the offering box with little to
offer, but much to sacrifice. Like the widow at Zarephath, this widow of
Jerusalem gives what little she has—but every bit of it—to the work of the

And in our hearts and minds, the never-ending wrestling
match begins once again: In this corner, our faith nods in amazement. “What
faith these women had!” we marvel. With nothing left to lose and no visible
hope, these women have thrown themselves before the mercy seat of God. In the
other corner, we shake our rational worldly heads and snort, “What fools they
were; they should have at least enjoyed what was left of their lives with the
little bit they had.”

And so, we come back to the question: What are you
willing to sacrifice for God and neighbor on account of your faith? By your
presence here, you’re showing that at least you’ve got enough faith to give up
a couple hours of your time, at least this particular week. Some of you will
be back again next Sunday, and others we won’t see for weeks or months. But
before you get all self-congratulatory on having made the effort, realize
this: It’s here in the Divine Service—yes, it’s the Divine Service, not the
“church service”—that God is serving you, giving far more to you than you are
ever giving up for Him. You’re really not sacrificing a whole lot of what’s
truly important in order to be here, are you? If you think so, think again, if
your pride will let you.

What then, for you, defines sacrifice? Would it be a
sacrifice to spend as much time each week reading and contemplating and praying
over God’s Word as you do answering email and texting and navigating Facebook?
Is sacrifice putting as much thought and effort into preparing a Sunday School
lesson for smiling young faces and eager young minds as you put into your
presentation for work or school, or even making your picks in the office sports
pool? Is sacrifice putting as much of the resources and abilities God provides
you into spreading the Gospel as you put into spreading your influence, spreading
rumors, spreading your retirement investments, and spreading your waistline?

What is your sacrifice? I can’t define your
sacrifice, any more than you can define mine. You have to let God’s Word and
the work of the Holy Spirit upon your heart govern that by putting away all
your sinful resistance and selfishness.

What’s more, I can’t force you to sacrifice what you
ought—or how you ought—by badgering you or making you feel guilty
about it. If what you give of yourself and of what God has given you is done
out of compulsion or under duress, it’s not sacrifice, it’s extortion. A
meaningful sacrifice can only be given voluntarily, out of a sense of love
rather than a sense of fear, or guilt, or even obligation. That’s why God
loves a cheerful giver, not a reluctant giver, and certainly not a begrudging,
resentful giver.

Elijah didn’t force the widow at Zarephath to give up
the last of her flour and oil to feed him. He brought her God’s promise of
bountiful love and divine providence, and she received faith to trust in that
promise and to sacrificially love both God and her fellow man.

No one was demanding that the widow Jesus saw in the
temple give up the last of her remaining worldly wealth, either. She not only
put everything from her purse in that offering box, she poured herself out that
day, too. That’s love. That’s trust. That’s sacrifice. That’s faith.

In a few moments, we’ll confess our faith, too, using
the words of the Nicene Creed. We’ll say once again of Jesus, as we have done
so often and too often in a dead, thoughtless monotone, “Who for us men, and
for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit
of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

Some have asked why people sometimes bow or genuflect
during that portion of the creed. In part, it’s a visual expression that we
are acknowledging that by coming down from heaven and becoming a human being
for us, the Son of God was giving up something. He was sacrificing for you
from the moment Gabriel spoke to Mary and the Holy Spirit brought that
miraculous new human life into being, deep in her virgin womb.

But that was just the beginning of His sacrifice for
you. Even though He was sinless, for you He willingly submitted Himself to
being baptized so that He—the Word made flesh—would sanctify the waters of the
earth, including the water by which you were once cleansed and connected to the
eternal Word.

For you, He faced both the best and the worst the
devil had to offer, and resisted the temptations for power, glory, wealth,
comfort, and pleasure that you and I often aren’t willing to sacrifice. He
sacrificed the approval of others by speaking the truth when pleasant lies
would’ve won more friends, and He remained silent when a word from His lips
could have not only destroyed His enemies, but blotted them from existence

Finally, as the author of Hebrews wrote in today’s
Epistle lesson, “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to
put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

Jesus. Sacrificing Himself. To put away sin. Once,
for all. That is sacrifice, brothers and sisters. That is the voluntary
giving up of something wonderful, important, precious, and even perfect, for
the benefit of others. Not because of what it gained Him, for apart from Jesus,
we are worthless.

Rather, His love is so great for you that He was more
concerned with what His sacrifice would gain for you. A completely
unfair, completely irrational, completely unreasonable, and completely unjust
verdict of “Not Guilty” when at the end of your life, He appears on your behalf
in front of the judgment seat of God.

In the mean time, we wait, here in this holy place
made with human hands, a copy of the true things of heaven. We will soon join
together here at His altar—a place of sacrifice—and here you will receive the
body and blood of Jesus. You will eat and drink of the very body sacrificed on
the cross once and only once to bear the sins of many, the sins of all,
even your sins. And in your receiving of Jesus Christ, you will also gain
the blessed fruits of His sacrifice: The forgiveness of your sins. Life
beyond your death. Unity with God and with the company of heaven. The
strengthening of your faith to continue to grasp, enjoy, and share the good
news of those blessings with others.

Elijah and the widow at Zarephath waited on the Lord
to send rain. The widow in the temple waited upon the Lord to rescue her from
her earthly poverty in the great richness of her faith. And so, we wait for
His coming as well—depending all the while on Jesus’ perfect sacrifice alone.

In the name of our sacrificed Lord and Savior, Jesus
Christ: Amen.