Sermon Archives

Sunday, January 22, 2017
The 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (3 Epiphany, Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Jesus' Love Begins With Sacrifice

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You may have noticed, once or twice, that Jesus’ love, that is God’s love, gets a bit of attention on occasion in the Church.  We are right to remember, or be reminded now and again, that love, divine love, holy love, is the principal message of Jesus and our greatest hope, not only as a Christian community, but as a society, local and global.

But it bears repeated, that this love is unlike any other love we know.  This love, that is, Jesus’ love is not the saccharine love we seen in romantic comedies and greeting cards.  Remember, just for a moment, the love with which Jesus lives his life –

  • His is a love that remarkably compassionate, healing the sick and the outcast wherever he encounters them
  • His is a love that invites sinners and tax collectors to his table, the same table he shares with his closest friends and even the Pharisees and religious elite
  • His is a love that takes action to heal a widow’s son and centurion’s daughter
  • His is a love that unbinds a dear friends and welcomes the stranger Zacchaeus to his community
  • His is love that meets an inquiring Nicodemus in the dead of night and feeds the masses at the end of a day
  • His is a love that stands between a woman caught in adultery and her accusers; and challenges her to sin no more
  • His is love that feeds his betrayer and washes the feet of the one who will deny him.
  • His is a love that sheaths Peter’s sword and heals a soldier’s wound
  • His is a love that accepts God’s will in place of his own
  • His is a love that takes up the cross to love us to the end
  • And so, his is a love that is characterized by no greater act than death on the Cross

This is no ordinary love.  Rather, this is the remarkable love of Jesus.  This is eternal love of God.

This is the love of which 16th century bishop and spiritual guide, Saint Francis de Sales writes: 

Consider the Eternal Love God has borne you, in that, even before our Lord Jesus Christ became Man and suffered on the Cross for you, His Divine Majesty designed your existence and loved you.  When did He begin to love you?  When He began to be God, and that was never, for He ever was, without beginning and without end.  Even so He always loved you from Eternity, and therefore He made ready all the graces and gifts with which He has endowed you.[1]   

This is the wondrous love we seek to know and to make known here at Christ Church.

But we must ask, how is it that Jesus comes to that fateful choice in Gethsemane?  How is it that Jesus comes to love not only his friends who betrayed him, but even those soldiers who mocked and scourged him, with such abundance that he took up the cross for them?

We would be wise to note that this act of sacrificial love was not his first.  While it is by far his greatest act of love, it was not his first, nor was it even his first act of sacrifice.  Rather, the cross was the culmination of a life of sacrifice, the culmination of a life characterized not only by love, but by giving up for God’s mission and call.

Consider, for a moment, all that Jesus gives up on his journey to the Golgotha:

  • He gives up his home and boyhood community in Nazareth – a community who rejects his message and life
  • He gives up, too, the gifts of power and wealth that are offered to him
  • Along the way, he gives up the religious community that shaped him and the religious elite who accuse him
  • So, too, will he give up the comfort and security of a home and community for a life of wandering teaching
  • In the end, he will not only give up his life, but his friends and his family and even the crowds who had gathered in masses to hear him and to cheer him . . .

And yet, none of these compare to the first thing he gave up in his journey to the Cross and to the grave.  Before it all began, before he was baptized, before he made his way to the temple as a young boy, before even he was proclaimed the light of the nations and the glory of Israel – before all that, Jesus first gave up his divinity to dwell among us. 

Before it all began, Jesus sacrificed.  The cross that he took up, and the life that he gave up, were simply the culmination of a life of sacrificial love that began with the incarnation itself.

And this must be our journey as well.  If we are to live the Good News of Jesus Christ, if we are love like Jesus loved, we must learn to love with the same sacrifice that Jesus himself lives and dies.

And just as it began with Jesus, so it is with his disciples.  The life of discipleship begins with sacrifice; it begins with giving up.  Consider Saint Peter and Saint Andrew and Saint John and Saint James in today’s reading.  The moment they begin to follow Jesus is the very moment they choose to sacrifice, to give something dear up for his love.  And so they give up their nets; they give up their families, they give up their income and prosperity, they give up their security and their comfort and their homes, and begin a journey to learn how to love as radically, as remarkably as Jesus. 

Over the course of the coming years they will give up even more.  They will give up their religious community as well.  They will give up their preconceptions of the Messiah and of God.  They will have to give up their hopes for religious and public power and wealth as not only of them will sit at Jesus right hand or left when he comes into his glory.  And each of them will ultimately give up his life – Peter crucified in Rome, Andrew crucified in Patras, James executed at the hand of Herod, John alone and in exile.

We are right to speak frequently of God’s love, for it is his love that inspires us to love in return.  But we mustn’t forget either the sacrificial character of his love, nor the practice of personal sacrifice that enables us to live his sacrificial love as well.

And that is what we are here for.  We are here as a community to know and to live the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And so we are called into a life of discipleship, a life characterized by daily and increasing sacrifice in order that we may, increasingly ourselves, live the sacrificial love of God.

We do this week in and week out as we make a commitment to gather in worship.  In this weekly discipline we not only give up of our time, critical as that is, we are invited to give up our own divinity.  We are invited to lay down all of our images of personal greatness and grandeur and our near constant self-perception of personal righteousness – week-in and week-out, we gather to lay at the foot of this remarkable altar all that makes for our self-worship, as we gaze again on our one Lord and Savior who is worthy of all worship and praise.

And yet, even this weekly discipline of corporate prayer is meant to lead us into a life a daily devotion and worship as we week to live God’s sacrificial love each day of our life.

And so I invite you, as we begin a new year, to make a deeper commitment to the life discipleship.  If you have not already made a personal commitment to regular, weekly, corporate prayer, I encourage you to begin there.  Make the discipline of corporate worship a weekly commitment in your life.  If a Sunday morning isn’t possible for some reason – as life demands occasionally require – join us on Saturday evening, or if for any one of our weekday services. 

And if a weekly commitment is already old-hat, I encourage you to begin a daily practice of prayer, reflection, and worship.  You’re welcome to join me here each weekday for Morning and Evening Prayer, to take a personal form of daily prayer.  Whatever its form, we are encouraged to move beyond our weekly prayer to make our worship of God a daily practice and renewal.

We are called, as well, to give up of our myriad commitments to our self – our play, our fame and power and image, and even our family to some extent – in order that we might serve others.  And so we are called as well to a life of service within this community and beyond, to take up an active ministry to others gathered here – not because they are our dear friends, but because even in these walls need exists – and beyond, because God calls us to sacrificial love for our neighbor.

Of course, it is not only our time and our talent that we are called to give up in sacrifice to God and our neighbor.  Perhaps most radically and most critically, we are called even, to sacrificially give up of our wealth!  Yes, we are called to pledge, to make an annual, unrestricted, financial commitment rooted in gratitude and generosity, to support the ministry of Christ here in this place.  And so, if you have not already done so, if you have not already made such an intentional, annual financial commitment as a pledge, perhaps you have a history of giving when you feel moved, or perhaps you have a practice of placing a little of what you have in the plate each week, I encourage you to take the next step in Christian discipleship and sacrifice, by doing just that.  Consider the great gift of God’s love for you and make a financial commitment to support God’s ministry here.

But even here we are called to keep going.  For those who have already made a habit of an annual pledge of gratitude, we are all encouraged to take a further set in our discipleship and become sacrificial givers, that is tithers, for the ministry of God. 

We do all this, not simply because the church has a need, but because we each have a need to learn to give up, to sacrifice, our power, our control, our greed, and our near un-ending dependence on ourselves and our wealth.  We are called to tithe in order that we can begin to know the challenge and joy of sacrifice not only for those whom we love, but even more, for those whom we do not know.  Sisters and brothers, even a tithe is not meant as an end in our generosity or our sacrifice – the only end is the totally of our life given to God and our neighbor.  But we must begin somewhere; we must learn to become sacrificial in all aspects of our life, our time, our talent, and, yes, our treasure!

Friends, God is love; life-giving, eternal love.

The mystery of that love, however, begins in sacrifice.

May we know and live the Good News of Jesus Christ.

[1] Saint Francis de Sales, An Introduction to the Devout Life. Part V, Chapter 14.