Friday, November 29, 2013

Why You Must Sacrifice

The gospel was about the rich man who gave what he didn’t need as offering in the temple, and the woman who gave all that she had.  The woman sacrificed, but the man gave from what he didn’t need; he might as well have been offering his garbage; his sacrifice meant little to him.  In some real way, it hurt the woman to give, and it seems a natural question to ask:  Why would she want do that; why would she to hurt herself?  And perhaps even more importantly, why would God want her to hurt herself?  Why does God ask for sacrifice from any of us?
I’ve written here that, well, I have more money than I need.  In truth, I have more of many things than I need, from the size of my house and car to the amount of chili I made using all those tomatoes from my garden.  (I could live many weeks on the dozens of containers of chili now sitting in my freezer.)  And so what am I to make of this gospel, this call to sacrifice?  What are YOU to make of it?
Is every rich man to give away all his riches, and then live as a poor man?  Certainly there are some poor people who think this would be a wonderful thing.  And there are also many hypocrites, especially it seems in government, who think the rich should either give or have everything taken from them --- but for those in government that never seems to apply to them.  I’m often led to imagine those in government are acting as children, taking money from the rich and giving it in “fairness and justice” to the poor, and all the while saying: “Okay, let’s divvy this up fairly.  Here’s one for you, and two for me, and one for you, and …”  Those in government who distribute others’ money to the poor never seem to forget to say: “and oh yes, of course there is this here for me.” 
That taking from others isn’t a sacrifice on anybody’s part, nor is it “fairness and justice.”  But back to the original question again:  Why should we sacrifice?
The parable of the poor widow’s sacrifice gives the answer, indeed it is the answer hidden in every parable Jesus ever preached.  Why must you sacrifice?  Because sacrifice is giving from yourself, giving from what you want and desire, and perhaps even need ---- and perhaps even to the point of giving your very life.  And why should you do this?  There is only one answer:  for love.  To sacrifice is to show love.  Sacrifice is taking what is mine --- (and I want it!!!) --- and giving it to you.  It is saying I love you more than myself.  And a sacrifice we make for God is our telling Him: “Lord, I love you more than myself.”
During the mass, when the host and then the chalice are raised in offering, in remembrance and participation in the sacrifice of Jesus, I think of the words said by the priest, and how we are participating in Jesus’ sacrifice, in love.  But usually when the host is raised my thoughts go out to God, our Father, and HIS sacrifice:  He gave His only Son, in sacrifice (in love) for us.  Our heavenly Father gave the ultimate sacrifice of the universe, of all eternity, for love of me.
And He gave that ultimate sacrifice, for love of you.
When the chalice is raised, I see Jesus’ sacrifice of His Blood, His bleeding out of His life, in sacrifice also.  For love of me --- and you --- also.  And I am there, participating with Him, in some way I am sacrificing too, for the love of God, and for the love of my neighbors around me.
Because of what he did, I do.  That is why I sacrifice, in love, and so should you.
So what should I sacrifice, is a question many ask; how much?  I think that is a question we have to answer individually, and it has to do with our calling in life, what God created us to do with our lives.
I can logically see why the gospel didn’t say that every rich man should give all his riches away and join the ranks of the poor:  because if the gospel were successfully followed to its logical conclusion, then there wouldn’t be any rich men anymore, nor needs for those Gospel words.  And then not too long afterward, there might not be many poor men either, as all starve to death together.  We’ve seen that very gospel interpretation preached in some cults, where all the members starved and then killed themselves, thinking this was God’s will.  They were wrong.
For me, I think another parable, the parable of the talents, tells the other side of the coin of sacrifice for God.  It tells not only of what you must give to God and neighbor, money and sacrifice --- and love, but also what you must DO for God and neighbor.  Some people are given more talents than others, and God expects them to use them.  If you have management talents, you are expected to manage, not travel to Africa to feed the poor.  If you have teaching talents, you are expected to teach children how to grow into loving, responsible adults who can effectively use THEIR talents.  And if you can effectively invest money, you are expected to invest it for the benefit of many men, and not just to spend it all away on a few --- and least of all on yourself alone.
How important did God think sacrifice was?  Go and read the beatitudes.  God said for you to love your neighbor.  Sacrifice for him.  Use your talents, but don’t think first of your wants or even your needs, but rather those of your neighbor.  Be realistic in distinguishing your needs from your wants, your desires for the best “because I can afford it,” or “I deserve it.”
Sacrifice which becomes natural in our lives starts with our looking at our lives, honestly.  Do you really need the biggest house, or the most costly clothes, or the finest hotels or the costliest meals?  Do you need these things, or just think of them as justice for you?  Do you need to have your way, prove you are right, get angry at “those stupid people,” or be irritated at “those constant beggars” around you?  Do you need to do so many things that really don’t benefit you in God’s eyes, or that hurt your brothers?  Sacrifice isn’t just to not eat meat on Fridays or to donate a dollar to the collection plate, sacrifice is to forego these things I feel I need, for the love of God and of my neighbor.  Sacrifice is suddenly realizing that so many our needs are really only our wants, and most of these are merely symbols of what we really what:  to be loved.  Our sacrifice is our giving to others in love, so that love may be returned to us. 
And then, we shall have all our hearts desires.
All the “bests” you could possible desire will be given to you, in heaven.  You don’t have to reward yourself now.
Sacrifice now.  Love now.  Heaven awaits --- it really does.
And for this, we give thanks.
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We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft refreshing rain:
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heav’n above,
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord for all his love.
I read that hymn Wednesday morning, but it seemed a perfect Thanksgiving Day prayer.  It opens describing me, and you, and what our lives should be: plowing and scattering seeds.  This means we don’t focus on doing good things, nor should we expect good things to be OUR result.  We merely prepare our lives, and those who then enter our lives, for God’s work; He is the one who will create the good results.  Ourselves: we live humble lives, giving, praying, and loving, and then --- and most importantly --- trusting.  And God will bring the rains of blessing on our efforts.
But being naturally selfish, we may ask: What will God do for me, in my life?  Doesn’t it seem just that I be given some peace, some love, and yes even some earthly rewards, for my trust? 
Yes, you will see rewards.  What you will see, is your children grow in faith, strangers you meet give praise to God FOR YOU, and churches and charities you sacrificed for and donated to will flourish, and many more will be helped than you alone could have accomplished.  And the Holy Spirit will descent upon you, and give you peace.  Riches, no you will have none beyond what you need to do His will.  Jesus came and lived among the poor, but: The Lord makes poor and makes rich (1Sam 2:7).  Don’t you see:  He loves us all, equally, rich and poor, and yet each one specially.
You may have wealth, but the God Who has wealth beyond imagination, walked among the poor.  Why must you sacrifice?  To be like Him, my friend, to be like Him.
We must trust, give praise, and yes even thank God, in our sadness, in our pain, and in our feelings of being unloved and our aloneness.  We plow the field and scatter the seed by our actions, even when it is bone dry and we can’t imagine anything growing there, trusting in the great harvest to come.
And we give thanks.
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I love it how sometimes the right words just flow from my mind and give me peace. And I also love it how on some very special, very rare occasions as I sat in the church the sun has suddenly shined through the window, right on me, right into my face --- as it just did now.  And I can feel God’s heat.
And may God be with you this day, and may you also feel the heat of His love, in all that you do.   

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