Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sermon: Giving Up Our Lives

Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45

As you know, our theme this year is about giving things up, and my subject that I was given to talk about is giving up our lives. How many of you have heard the old story of the boy who misunderstood what would happen when he gave blood to save his sister’s life? [look around] It isn’t new, so I expect you will recognize it when I tell you. And yet it is powerful.

The pediatrician told a little boy that he could save his little sister's life by giving her some blood. His six-year old sister was near death, a victim of a disease from which the boy had made a miraculous recovery two years earlier. The little girl's only chance for restoration was a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the illness. Since the children both had the same rare blood type, the boy was an ideal donor.

"Johnny, would you like to give your blood for Mary?" the doctor asked. The boy hesitated. Then he smiled and said, "Sure, I'll give my blood for my sister." Soon both children were wheeled into an operating room. Mary was thin and pale. Johnny was robust and full of life. Neither of them spoke.

As Johnny's blood siphoned into Mary's veins, one could almost see new life come into her tired little body. The ordeal was nearly over when Johnny's brave voice broke the silence, "Say, Doc, when do I die?"

It was only then that the doctor realized what the moment of hesitation had meant earlier. Johnny actually believed in that giving his blood to sister meant giving up his life. In that brief moment, he had made his great decision.

Obviously, in Johnny's mind his act of love toward his sister had no personal reward. In fact, he believed that in helping her, he would not even be around to enjoy whatever relationship he might share with his sister. He was willing to give up his life for his sister.

It is an old story but it still brings a tear to the eye. He had deep love for his sister. The story led me to a thought experiment. Thought experiments are things that physicists, like the amazingly brilliant Stephen Hawking who died this week, that these physicists use to explore the depths of our universe. Einstein used them to work out his theory of relativity. The idea is that you think about a situation, and work out from what you know about the world what the possible outcomes are.

My thought experiment today started out from that story – who would you die for? Who do you love so much that you would die so that they could live? Just shout out some people that come to mind – who would you give up your life for? [open it up]

Now, although giving up our lives is a big deal, as Christians we have scriptures like the story of the dry bones, we have stories like Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, that tell us that death is not the end. So giving up our lives isn’t quite a hopeless trade off. The expectation is that God will raise us from the dead, that we will enter into the heavenly realm, and that we will dwell in the house of God forever. So giving up our lives is a sacrifice, but not it is not without its reward. Unlike the little boy, we have an expectation of life after death.

So I took my thought experiment a little further, and some of you might find this a bit sacrilegious, but hang with me for a bit. Who would I be willing to give up eternal life for, so that they could have eternal life? I don’t mean like selling your soul to the devil, and going to hell – I mean, who do you love so much, that if you could guarantee them a place in heaven, you would be willing to give up your place in heaven? Who do you love enough to let your final breath be the actual end of your life, and let the grave truly be your final resting place? Is there anyone that you would risk that for?

And that is trickier in some ways, because now there really is no reward for our act of love. There really is no promise of resurrection. And yet the gift that we are giving is so much bigger than even the gift of life on earth. We are giving the gift of heavenly peace and joy for eternity. Would you be willing just to die and be done with life so that someone else, anyone else might have life in heaven?

Like I said, it is a thought experiment, because I don’t think that God works like that. I don’t think we can go and barter with God and say, let my sister into heaven in my place. Rather, the idea is to get us to really think about what we are willing to sacrifice for those we love. Would we give everything?

As Jesus sat with his disciples at that last meal with his disciples almost 2000 years ago, as he looked around at their faces, it was much more than a thought experiment. He had given up his place in heaven to live among us on earth. He had lived with these men and women, journeyed with them, taught them. Did he love them enough to risk death, death forever, that they might have life?

As he walked out into the garden of Gethsemane to pray, as these people could not stay awake for even one hour. Did he love them enough? Enough to overcome the betrayal? Enough to overcome the denial? Oh, he knew the plan. The plan was that God would raise him from the dead. But what if it didn’t work? Yet even in the midst of the questions and the heartache, his love remained strong, and he went forward. Walking toward the cross so that others might have eternal life. That’s love.

Who do you love enough to give up your place in heaven so that they might have eternal life? I can come up with a list in my mind. People that mean that much to me. But I am not sure I would include in that list people who have betrayed me, people who turn their backs on me, or people who I have never met. I am not sure that I would include on that list murderers, or thieves, or sinners of the worst sort. And yet Jesus did.

And I am called to love people like he did. So I have to go back to my heart and try to tell it to grow big enough to understand that others are worth the risk. You see, the power of resurrection is not in the magic of conquering the grave. The power of resurrection is in loving others enough to go to the grave in the first place. That’s what makes resurrection happen. It is love that overcomes death. It is love that knits together dry bones, it is love that calls Lazarus from the tomb and bids him rise. Love at that depth has the power to overcome anything. The betrayals of this world. The fears of this world. The uninspired, tired and brokenness of this world. Love can overcome all of that. And in their place, offer heaven.

So who do you love enough to do what Jesus did for them? Do you love the person in the pew next to you that much? With God’s help, may it be so! Do you love the people in your home that much? With God’s help, may it be so! Do you love the people you work with that much? With God’s help, may it be so! Do you love the person who cut you off in traffic that much? With God’s help, may it be so! Do you love the broken, the hurting, the wounded, the lost, the hopeless that much? With God’s help, may it be so! Do you love the sinner, the accuser, the abuser, the betrayer, the oppressor, and the fool that much? Only with God’s help, but may it be so!

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