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Epiphany 4B Sermon
Hosea 6:4-6; John 12:20-26
January
28, 2018

 

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Stewardship Sermon, “Winter: Sacrifice”

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

When we first determined the theme for our stewardship emphasis for the year, the stewardship committee was inspired to follow the seasons and focus on something from each of the four that would have meaning for our discipleship. Winters in Ohio can tend to be cold and snowy, and we have had our share of both of those so far this year! This Friday will be Groundhog’s Day, the halfway mark through winter, and we will certainly have more cold and snow in the next six weeks or so. Winter is a time when seeds lie dormant and grass and other plant life ceases to grow. It only seemed natural to talk about things that sacrifice themselves in order that new life might eventual burst forth, like the grains of wheat in John 12.

I wonder what those early people thought when they first experienced a winter. When the leaves fell off the trees and everything died around them, they must have wondered if it was ever coming back! I know I would have wondered the same thing. But we know – we know that there will be new blossoms on the trees and the grass will spring back to life; the crocus, daffodils and tulips will crack through the ground and turn beautiful shades of purple, yellow and red. This season is one that reminds us that the circle of life involves death … or at the very least, the letting go of something that once was.
Sacrifice is a word that describes Jesus’ life, especially his death on the cross. He regularly called his disciples to take up their crosses, lay down their lives and follow him. He knew and trusted that this life is not all that we hope for. There is something much, much more joyful than this life. No matter how happy or sad we may be in this life, it is only temporary, and death will come to everyone and everything. As a matter of fact, we Lutherans believe that in our baptisms, we are already dead; knowing that, we seek the life that really is life – life that is promised for an eternity, but can also be experienced here and now. It is a life that does not regard this existence as the end all - as a matter of fact, we understand that the model Jesus made of his life is one which risks all in this life in order that eternal life might be shared here and now. It is a sacrifice that comes from a deep love for those around him.
In our first lesson, God says through the prophet Hosea that he desires steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. The people of God in Canaan had intermixed with the people already living there, people who had many fertility gods and religions that they prayed to. In order to hedge their bets, many of God’s people were not only offering sacrifices to Yahweh in the temple, but were participating in the cultic practices of the fertility gods, which often included sacrificing of one’s own first born child in order to appease the gods, or offering children for cultic sexual practices in the community. They did not trust in Yahweh to provide for them; they felt it was necessary to join their neighbors in praying to the stone idols to help them, even though they were powerless.

The sacrifices that God’s words are criticizing are not the actions that we raise up, like Jesus’ death on the cross. That sacrifice is a supreme act of steadfast love and mercy. No, the ones that God is criticizing are the ones which happen in the temple and have no connection to the everyday lives of the people. In the temple sacrifices the people were involved in God’s presence in the world, but they were not committed to his saving actions in their lives.

There is a difference between being involved and being committed. One way to think of that difference is to think of your bacon and eggs breakfast – the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed! Now that might sound a bit crass, but that is the truth of the matter. And that is the same picture that we get of Jesus in his ministry and crucifixion. The Pharisees and other religious authorities are involved in the lives of the people. Mostly they are involved with their criticism and corrections of the ways that the people are breaking God’s law in the Torah. They don’t really care about the people. Their actions are mere lip-service, the carrying out of religious duties which have no connection with what God cares about.
But Jesus, he is committed to the people. He knows that God has a special place in his heart for the poor, the hungry, the widow and others who suffer because they do not have power in this world to stand up either to the Roman people or the Jewish leaders. So he will not let anything get in the way of giving of his own self in sacrifice and commitment to the least of God’s people. He will not let any laws get in the way – Sabbath laws, the laws of nature, the laws of community or the laws of politics, just to name a few. He heals, feeds, touches, corrects and shows mercy indiscriminantly. He is committed. He is sacrificial. He shows steadfast love instead of lip-service sacrifice. And he does all of that knowing that even though it may be winter and things may not seem lively, he is planting the seeds of God’s love that will germinate and pop forth in God’s time.
One might say that it is winter here at Clinton Heights. the leaves have fallen off the proverbial trees … our numbers are fewer than in years past … things don’t seem to be growing either at all or at least, very fast. Winter time is not fun, either in the meteorological year or in the seasons of the lifecycle of a church. As a matter of fact, it can be downright painful. Things might need to die so that other things can spring forth. The commitment called forth from folks is harder because we might not see life at all.

I truly believe that spring is coming for us! But the question that we all are to ask ourselves is this: are we merely involved in the mission of God in this place, or are we committed? Are we giving lip-service sacrifice on Sunday mornings, or are we truly sacrificing of those things that are important to us for the sake of the least of God’s children in our community. Carol reminded us that one of the most valuable things that we have is our time – do we regard our time as being more precious than that person who needs to go to their doctor’s appointment and has no ride, or that person who needs a hot meal to go to their job interview, or that young boy or girl that gets no support at home for school and could really do well with some help from a concerned adult from the church next door to their school. We have a unique challenge here at Clinton Heights. It may seem like winter, but we have the promise of spring that is coming. It does take commitment, though. It isn’t easy, that’s for sure – but it is our calling as disciples to sacrificially commit ourselves to love each other and our community, just as Jesus did with his community during his life, death and resurrection.
Jesus was confident in the love of God for the gift of new life. May we be confident that, giving of ourselves in steadfast love for God’s children, we will have new life, and together experience the springtime to come as we live in the winter of our discipleship. Amen.