(Jesus said,) “I am the true vine, and God is the gardener....Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a (person) remains in me and I in (them), (they) will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to God's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As God has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15).
Home » »Unlabelled » Love: Sef-Sacrifice
Monday, June 29, 2009
(Jesus said,) “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John -14)
“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that they lay down their life for their friends.” The highest honor our military bestows, the Congressional Medal of Honor, is frequently awarded to a member of our armed forces who died saving the lives of others.
However, self-sacrifice certainly does not have to be the sacrifice of life itself. Many of the real-life stories that touch us the most do so because they speak of everyday love and self-sacrifice: a mother who works two or three jobs to put her daughter through college; a husband or wife who puts their own dream on hold and moves to another town or across the country to support the dream of the other; the oldest sibling who drops out of school to assume responsibility for younger brothers and sisters and keep the family together.
Love on a self-sacrificial level is also a sacrifice of time, energy, or the material resources of life. With this in mind, what are some instances of self-sacrifice that you may already offer, perhaps without stopping to realize that they are self-sacrificial?
I know that some of you have spent days of your Christmas or Spring Breaks repairing or rebuilding
homes destroyed by hurricanes. I know that some of you returned only a few days ago from a trip to Gulf Coast , where you worked to enrich the lives of those in a girls’ home. I know that this very week some of you have spent hours of your days here at the church working with and playing with our youngest friends and neighbors in Chile . These are only three FBC activities that come quickly to mind. You may get involved in cleanup days at the lake. You may spend time making sandwiches for an area soup kitchen, or sorting clothes for distribution to the less fortunate. You may tutor little kids in English or science or math at a school or community center. You may have worked last year in voter registration drives, or perhaps you canvassed neighborhoods for a cause about which you are passionate. Vacation Bible School
Perhaps these don’t seem like acts of self-sacrifice to you, but they are. Do not sell yourself short. Do not think that self sacrifice is the realm only of the saints, the martyrs, the acclaimed heroes. Perhaps you only wanted to help others, help the planet, help a cause. But you are offering them—the others, the planet, the cause—the most precious and irreplaceable gifts you have short of life itself: you laid down your time, you laid down your energy, you laid down your skills for them. Perhaps these few examples of self-sacrifice will help you realize, if you haven’t already, that self-sacrifice is found just as truly in the small, daily gestures as in the grand, heroic deeds. Even if you don’t yet recognize yourself in them, perhaps these small examples will encourage you to practice self-sacrifice. You can live and are living lives of self-sacrifice.
Let me encourage you to be steadfast. The people around you, whether in
or in your classes at school or at your job or in Austin , are blessed by God through you. Our society and our planet are blessed by God through you. Because whether you realize it or not, whether you intended it or not, you are giving and sharing God’s love for them by following Jesus’ command: “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their lives for their friends.” Chile
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I know many of you, and probably all of you in some way, have already demonstrated self-sacrificial love for others, giving your time, your energy, your skills, your passions—to make your family, your community, your world, your habitat a better place. You can, and many already do, live this way, sharing God’s love intentionally or otherwise. This is good. This is needed. I know you are already living in God’s kingdom and it is a remarkable thing.
Yet consider another perspective on loving self-sacrifice. One that transcends individual lives, political ideologies, national boundaries, even religion itself. I am not speaking now of a sacrifice of the externals—time, abilities, passions, even life —as commendable as these are. I am speaking now of a sacrifice of, quite literally, our selves. To phrase it another way, I am speaking of ego-sacrifice.
We just about never, that I know of, phrase it this way in Christian teaching. We may say along with Paul that, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians ). We may ponder the paradoxical words of Jesus: “If anyone would follow me me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark -35). We use church-talk about being born again and walking in newness of life. Yet more contemporary language might talk about denying our egos, the most literal form of self-sacrifice.
As an aside, for us to sacrifice our egos and have that mean anything, oddly enough we must have healthy egos to begin with. We must be whole, and then this self-sacrifice really counts for something. So all this presumes we are in more or less some state of wholeness. Then what might self-sacrifice, dying to self, or death of the ego, be like?
Our egos think the cosmos revolves around them. Sometimes gradually but sometimes all at once, we come to recognize this lie. We are not the center of the universe. We are not even the center of our selves. (Now this is important so be reminded: this is the realization of a healthy ego and one that knows it is beloved of God—otherwise the ego sacrifice will not hold the wonderful beauty and power that it should. As the spiritual teachers sometimes say, the greatest truths are paradoxical. So, be assured of God’s limitless love for you no matter what. But that is another discussion and I digress.) … We come to discover that we are not the center of the universe. We recognize we are not even the center of our selves. And with this recognition everything changes. We understand that though we may be but drops of water, we are a wonderful, unique, glorious part of the mystery of God’s ocean. In God we live and move and have our being. We share in God’s creation even as we are part of it.
If ego-sacrifice doesn’t make much sense, take just a second to think about who you are. Define yourself for yourself… We could have a group party chat, but in the interests of time let me give a typical sort of response. “My name is Marshall Smith. When I was your age I went to
. Now I am married and have one son. I work at the First Baptist Church of Austin.” Do any of these statements tell you who I am? Nope. They tell you about my relationships. My name was given to me by my parents—a relationship—and I was named after my grandfathers—more relationships. I went to a school founded long ago by others, where all the buildings were built by others, I lived in a dorm with others, then I lived in ratty houses with others, and all the while I was taught by others who had in turn been taught by others at other schools. A whole bunch of relationships. To say I am married with a child doesn’t really tell you who I am; it just gives a label to my relationship to two other people. That my paid job is in this church doesn’t really help tell you who I am, either. It only speaks of many relationships with those who employ me and sometimes need my help. Ann got me up here tonight, and that’s a relationship, too. Baylor University
Try to describe yourself in terms that don’t involve some one else, or some place else or some thing else. I’m almost willing to bet you can’t. Anything you can say about yourself, anything, only places you in a relationship. You may say, “I like to go to Beresheth.” Okay. Let’s look at that statement. Ann started Beresheth. One relationship. The church hired Ann. More relationships. Somewhere someone, maybe God, convinced you that you wanted to be here tonight. More relationship. Right now you are sitting on a chair built by workers in a furniture factory in
, watching pictures and words made by others, projected by a machine built by people in Idaho , onto a wall in China built by workers forty years ago. More and more and more relationships. Enlarge the picture some: you breathe air manufactured by your home planet and feel the summer heat produced by our local star. You live in a cycle of night and day produced in large part by the gravitational effects of earth’s moon, and life exists on our planet at all only because billions and billions of years ago distant stars synthesized atoms and then exploded these into space. As Carl Sagan says, “The earth and every living thing are made of star stuff.” Cosmic relationships, ancient beyond imagining. We are not the center of the universe, not even close. Austin
And yet here you are tonight, unique and precious beyond imagining. Far more wondrous than words can tell, and special in the heart of God. So you see, this self-sacrifice, this ego-sacrifice means we give up nothing for there is nothing to give up: for what are our selves after all but a wonderful complexity of relationships? Nevertheless, coming to own this self-sacrifice in a personal way opens us up to a life deep in God beyond easy reckoning. When we shed our ego-selves we discover, paradoxically, that we are more real than ever we imagined. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,” Jesus said, “but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Why does this self-sacrifice, this ego-sacrifice, really matter and why should we care? When we let go of our ego-selves love has boundless room to grow inside us, and we know, we own the truth that we are kindred spirits, all of us. Living like this in God’s kingdom, we come to understand that who we are and what we do is all about relationship: relationship to God and to others. Love grows, because how can we not love others, everywhere, with whom, we come deeply to know, we are in relationship. And the truth of this love, we know we must share with others.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a (person) remains in me and I in (them), (they) will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to God's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As God has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
This word was offered by Marshall Smith at Beresheth on June 25, 2009.