This is one of my early sermons, preached during Holy Week of 1993. This was also the first sermon where I was blatant about my admiration for Prince. Remember this is an early sermon, so it may seem rather rough.
My scripture this morning will be taken from The Gospel According to Luke, the 22nd chapter, verses 1 through 22, but I will only read from verses 14 to 22.
And it reads:
(14) When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. (15) And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (16) For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." (17) After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. (18) For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." (19) And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (20) In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (21) But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. (22) The Son of Man will go as it had been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him."
The theme of my sermon will be:
Let us pray:
O heavenly and most gracious father. We are so very thankful that you have allowed us by your grace and loving care to allow us to come before you to worship you and your Son Jesus Christ during this Holy Week. We open our minds and hearts to receive the many blessings that you have bestowed upon us for all of these years. Lord, we know that we are not perfect, and we know that you love us in spite of ourselves. We thank you and praise you for giving us grace in spite of our sinful and wrong nature. We ask that you come into our hearts this evening and invade our minds. Let us receive the message that you have prepared through me and for your greater joy and benefit. We are most thankful, Lord, that you sent your only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, down to this wicked Earth, to absolve us of the many sins that we have committed unwittingly and wittingly against your good name. So, Lord, we take this time just to thank you and bless those that are here tonight to hear your word and praise your good name. Please let the words that come from my mouth, the thoughts that are in my heart, and the message I bring to your children, be acceptable in your sight. In your son Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
I must admit that at first I was having a hard time coming up with a theme for this evening. I searched and searched the scriptures, found the right verse, but still could not come up with an appropriate theme. But, they say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and my subject came to me.
One of my good friends is a Muslim, a member of the Nation of Islam. When we talk, it is never the same polite conversation that most of us have with our friends. John and I always have very deep theological discussions and it may start innocently enough, but it always transcends into something deeper. I guess you could say, that despite our religious affiliations, we serve, in some manner as each others spiritual guide.
Last week, I was telling him how I couldn't get tickets to the Prince concert when they went on sale. We then went into a discussion on Prince and his music. Some of you know that I consider myself to be one of the worlds biggest Prince fans. And although there are some areas that are distasteful to some, I concentrate on the music and the lyrics of what he puts out. John and I began talking about a song on his last album entitled, "The Sacrifice of Victor." The next day when I was listening to that song in my car, listening to the lyrics, like a flash of light, the subject of my sermon hit me.
The song is set in a church, the preacher is telling his life story. He tells about the difficulty of his childhood, the way his mother would protect him from a physically abusive person, being bused into an all-white school, and how his friends reacted to Dr. King's assassination by getting high instead of realizing what has happened. He comes to realize how important education is and gets serious about it, and a woman stresses to him the importance of having discipline in his life. One of the most striking lines in that song is the title of my sermon, "What Is Sacrifice?"
Now, if we think about that one line, "What is Sacrifice" and apply that to the scripture I just read, and the events that lead up to that event, we know what a sacrifice is.
When Jesus uttered the statement, "But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table," he was preparing the disciples for the fact that he would be leaving the earth. He was preparing them for the fact that one of their own would be responsible for his physical death. He knew that in order to save man, he had to sacrifice for man. He laid the ground work for what would be the most sublime sacrifice and man before or since has undertaken.
And let us not forget that while Jesus was on the earth, he was in human form. He was similar to us. Therefore, he could not have been all too happy with the prospect that he was going to be betrayed, unjustly tried and prosecuted, disrobed, subjected to humiliation and forced to leave this earth. And he knew that was going to happen when he made that statement. And even when he was on the cross, he made the statement, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." While he was hanging on the cross, he forgave those who were in the actual process of killing him. He made the sacrifice with little regard for himself, for the betterment of all of us, so that we might live a better life.
I said forced to leave this earth because while Jesus was on the earth as a man, he was still the Son of God. Jesus is not really dead, in the sense that we are familiar with. One fact is that he resides in the hearts and minds of those who follow his teachings and his word. The other fact is that he now resides on the right hand of the Father in heaven. Therefore, while in our limited ability to understand death, physically, yes he is dead. But on every other mode of understanding and the other plane of existence, he is still very much alive. But the fact still remains that he had to make a sacrifice..
And that's the point. Jesus sacrificed for us, so what are we willing to sacrifice for him? What can be so almighty important that we can't give up a thing or two in tribute to the savior who gave his life for us. He gave up something that most of us do not truly appreciate. We don't appreciate it because the things we give up or have given up for Lent, once Lent is over, we go right back to those things. And realize something, if you gave something up, you really didn't need it in the first place. That, however, does not apply to food, for we all need that. But the alcohol, the cigarettes, the foul language, the candy, all of those things are not, I repeat not necessary to our existence. They have no intrinsic value in our everyday lives. Most of those things actually do more harm to us than they do good. But yet, we persist.
There is also another interesting quote from Jesus in these scriptures. Moving ahead to the 23rd chapter, the 42nd and 43rd verses, Jesus is on the cross when one of the criminals says to him, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus replies, "I will tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Again, while facing eminent death, Jesus still takes time to comfort another person.
But also remember this: Jesus was comforting a criminal. Jesus, the one who admonishes us to live the correct and proper life, was taking the time to comfort a convicted criminal that he was going to paradise with Jesus. This tells you that if there was hope for that man, there is indeed, truly, hope for all of us.
We have to take that statement and apply it to our everyday situations. Often we are called on to do things that we really do not want to do. We are asked to perform duties that would not be in our normal scope of things to accomplish. These things may cause us some sort of discomfort. Meaning, we may loose money, time off our job, distractions from our family or any number of things. This is what we call a sacrifice.
What we have to do is evaluate whether or not what we are asked to do conforms with what we would like to see accomplished. We do things depending on what is important in our lives or what means the most to us. Sometimes it comes down to who is asking us do perform a certain duty. We all make time for what we want to do and are happy to do it. It is the things that we don't have time for, or the things that we don't want to do that often causes us the most problems. In short, a sacrifice is something that we don't want to do, but we do without thinking of the consequences of what could happen to us on a personal level.
In acknowledging those who make sacrifices on a regular basis, the first group of people that comes to mind are our parents. Often they scrimp and save to put us through school, to make sure we have decent clothes to wear, food to eat, and maybe a few other things we know we didn't need, but just had to have because we saw it on TV or one of our friends had one. So they went without to give us what we thought we needed. And most of us never appreciated it.
But on the other side of this equation, there are those parents who, when they make sacrifices, want to constantly remind you about it. They want to make it appear as if the sacrifice they made was so monumental, that your life would not be the same without it. They beat you over the head with their stories of what they gave you and how you don't realize what they gave. The worst times is when they do things for you, that you did not ask them to do, that you could have done yourself, then they hit you with the guilt trip of what they did for you, even if you didn't ask for it, because that is their job as a parent.
A sacrifice is only a sacrifice when you do something for someone that no else can really perform. A sacrifice is only a sacrifice when you do not use it as ammunition to make someone feel guilty for what you did for them. A sacrifice is only a sacrifice if you do it out of the goodness of your heart, or because you feel very strongly about what you are doing not because you expect to get something in return. Anything else is not a sacrifice, it is a favor.
Everyone at one time or another makes sacrifices for something that they believe in. We here as ministers and those of us who are aspiring to be ministers, often are called upon to make sacrifices, almost on a daily basis. Not all of us see the sacrifices that the other makes. Not all of us appreciate the sacrifices that are made. Often time the sacrifices that we make are taken for granted, and all of us are guilty of it.
Whenever someone takes on a leadership role, be it in the church, at work or in another area of your life, you must be willing, to coin a phrase, put your money where your mouth is. You must be willing to put up with the people who annoy you, who bother you for no reason but to bother you. Those people are the same people that if you don't do it their way, they will accuse you of trying to make them fail in what they are doing. The sacrifice comes in when you allow people to affect you in a manner which you would not normally put up with. And because you are in that leadership role, you have to take it.
On Sunday, some of us were reminded of the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King. Now everyone has glorified and martyred Dr. King making him out to be what he wasn't, both on the good side and the bad side. But the bottom line is that Dr. King had an inkling of what it is like to sacrifice for something that you believe in. For the sake of the black community as a whole, he was made to spend time away from his family, his friends and all of those who cared about him. In turn, he surrounded him with those that would help him in his cause. These people were cause to do the same. Dr. King, in essence, dedicated his life to sacrifice.
Dr. King could very well have stayed in Georgia, kept his church and still have become a very successful minister right there in Atlanta. Had he done that, he probably might be alive today, and the HBO special which aired on Sunday would not even have been made. But he didn't, and he is dead. He put his life in jeopardy on almost a daily basis for something that he believed in.
Not that I'm trying to compare Dr. King to Jesus, but the basis of both of these men's dedication to the cause, Dr. King to the cause of blacks, and Jesus' to the cause of the world is significant. We need more people who are willing to stand up and make a sacrifice.
Could any of us have sat at the very same table with a man who we knew was about to betray us? Could any of us be able to accept a kiss from that man? Why would we tell someone else that they would deny us three times, and then walk off? Could any of us as we were about to die, take time to comfort someone who we have never met before? Could any of us find a cause that we are willing to die for?
We must begin searching for the different types of sacrifices that would help us to live up to the example that Jesus has set forth for all us. There is a saying that goes, "A man who is not willing to stand up for something, will fall for anything." In other words, if you are not willing to make a sacrifice, you will be a sacrifice.
In searching for the type of sacrifice that would bring honor and glory to God, we must eliminate the unnecessary sacrifices or force people to sacrifice for your own reason. A sacrifice is only a sacrifice if you truly believe in what you are doing. It is only a sacrifice if something is accomplished by your actions. It is not a sacrifice when you brag to everyone about the sacrifice you have made. You can not force yourself to be a martyr. That is only something that God can set in motion for you.
One of the things that always gets me is that this whole season of Lent and Passover and Easter, is that it is all based on sacrifice. The sacrifice that Jesus has made for all of us and how it is gone unappreciated by the common person. Even some people involved in the ministry do not always fully understand what is involved in the sacrifice of that type of nature.
However, going back to the song, "The Sacrifice of Victor," in the song, the central character is continually telling us that joy is around the corner. He says that sometimes, we have to leave the ones we love. He tells us that all you can do is the best you can. He tells us that you have to make it through the bad times in order to make it to the good times. He tells us that we may get tired, but we have to keep walking down that road. So no matter what the sacrifice, no matter how hard it gets for you, you just have to keep on, and you will get there.
Throughout this season, we must keep in mind that Jesus did sacrifice, not for himself, but for all of us. He has made it possible for us to continue striving to get to the plateau where sacrifice will no longer be necessary. He tells us that joy is around the corner, and if we just persevere, we will make it through.
So we need to look for the sacrifice. We need to make the sacrifice. We need to insure that those that have gone before us have not done so in vain. We also need to recognize those that sacrifice for us. We need to keep in mind that some sacrifices do not have to take place. Jesus did not have to physically die on the cross for us. He did not have to promise us he will return to bring us to greater glory. He did not have to do any of those things. In return, we should be ever thankful of him, and those he has sent to us, both publicly and privately, who sacrifice for us everyday. What good is a sacrifice if it goes unnoticed or unappreciated? How can we be true and proper Christians if we aren't willing to give up things that are not essential to our everyday lives? A sacrifice is a commitment to yourself, your neighbor, and to God that all we have been given has not been in vain.
Look for the sacrifice. Walk down that road. Remember that joy lives around the corner. Remember that there is no greater honor to our Lord, Jesus Christ, than to sacrifice something as unselfishly as he sacrifice for us. "What is Sacrifice?" Only we, together, can answer that question.
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