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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

“Living Sacrifices”

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost


From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.


Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”


Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”


Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple 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 will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Matthew 16:21-26


In our Gospel lesson we heard Jesus begin to explain His plan to go to Jerusalem, suffer and die, and be raised to life again. And then we heard Peter rebuke Him. It’s kind of hard to imagine anyone, even Peter, rebuking Jesus. Can you picture him taking Jesus aside and scolding Him? Reprimanding Him? Today we’d say, “Chewing Him out!” It’s kind of hard to imagine, but if we’re really honest, we’ll have to admit that Peter speaks for all of us when he doesn’t like Jesus saying He’s going to suffer and die. Because it means that if we’re going to follow a God who suffers, we’ll probably have to suffer, too! And sure enough, Peter and we were right. For as soon as Jesus puts Peter in his place, He says, “Those who want to be my followers must first deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow me.”


What Peter probably figured out right from the beginning was that he would have to sacrifice. Paul carried the thought a step further in his letter to the Romans when he said we should “offer our bodies as living sacrifices,” which may be one of the main problems people have with Christianity today. Being a Christian isn’t for sissies, because being a Christian requires sacrifice!


“Sacrifice” isn’t a word we use much these days, is it? When was the last time you used it, or thought about it in terms of your own life? When was the last time you sacrificed anything for anybody? I’ll tell you where I think you hear the word most often in this country: in baseball!


When I was in high school, we listened to Detroit Tigers games on the radio whenever we got the chance. I can still hear Harry Heilman, all excited, saying, “There’s the windup, and the pitch to Greenberg. He swings. It’s a long fly ball to center field. Lake is holding at 3rd base. There’s the catch, and Lake is heading for home! There’s the throw to second – and the throw to home – Lake slides – he’s safe! Greenberg gets a sacrifice fly!


The batter sacrifices for the man on 3rd. What a great idea! You’re out, but you helped someone else score a run. Baseball is one of the few sports where you can lose, and the team can still win.


Have you ever heard how comedian George Carlin contrasts the hardness of football with the softness of baseball? He says, “In football you tackle! In baseball, you catch flies. In football you punt! In baseball you bunt. Football is played on a gridiron! Baseball is played on a field. In football you score! In baseball you go home. In football you kill! In baseball you sacrifice.”


Baseball might actually be the only sport where you hear this word. And it’s one of the few places anywhere that you hear it, in our self-centered, take-care-of-yourself, don’t-worry-about-anybody-else society. In contrast to football, sacrifice may sound like a sign of weakness, but I wouldn’t have called Ty Cobb a sissy – not to his face, anyway. 😊


Baseball’s one thing; life is something else. Who sacrifices anything anymore these days? Who really denies themselves, and takes up crosses anymore?


Well, in all fairness, we do make some sacrifices. We sacrifice for our children so they can go to school. We sacrifice here so we can buy something there. We sacrifice a snack now so we can eat dessert later. And at fitness centers, or on home treadmills, many present their bodies as living sacrifices. So, we do sacrifice for ourselves and for our own.


But who sacrifices for other people anymore? All kinds of people when you think about it. Mother Theresa comes to mind right away, and people like her who literally sacrifice their lives for others. And if it weren’t for thousands and thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives in the armed forces, we wouldn’t have the freedom we have, nor enjoy our standard of living. And then there are firemen and policemen, and paramedics who make great sacrifices to help others – and doctors and nurses and teachers – and you can think of others who do sacrifice time, money, safety, or life for others. So, it's true, isn’t it, that occasionally we find ourselves in a position to sacrifice ourselves for others. But who ever sacrifices for God anymore? We don’t think much about sacrificing for God, do we?


We read about a lot of different sacrifices in the Old Testament. Some of them are terrible, like the Philistines offering children as burnt offerings to their god, Molech. Some of them are wonderful, because they are grain offerings or animal sacrifices made to the true and living God – wonderful because they were pictures of the sacrifice God would make Himself, in Jesus on the cross.


That was a dramatic reversal, saying that no more would people offer up sacrifices on altars to God, for now God had offered up a sacrifice for people! That’s why John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And because of God’s sacrifice in Christ, we no longer offer animals on bloody altars, but in response to God’s love in Jesus, we offer ourselves!


So, the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to Roman Christians, “I urge you, … in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”


What does it mean to be a “living sacrifice” to God? It means listening and caring when others are hurting. It means giving until it hurts, and then giving more until it feels good, since everything is God’s anyway. It means putting God first, above everything else in our lives, which means above work or careers or cars or houses or sports or television or video games – or anything else in all creation. Being a living sacrifice, denying yourself and following Christ, means putting all those things on the altar of God if they stand in the way of God’s purpose for your life. In Martin Luther’s words it means, “Letting goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” It means doing something courageous in your life – stepping out and making a difference for others, because in the end your whole life belongs to God. Like I said: being a Christian isn’t for sissies, because being a Christian requires sacrifice!


Who knows how many people will come to new life through the witness of your living sacrifice? What will it be for you? More committed service in your job? Or in the church? Or at home? Only you and God can decide. Whatever it is, just do it! Present your body as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable. Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Him. As the old hymn puts it, “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee.”


May God help us make our lives living sacrifices for Christ.


Amen

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