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A Holy and Living Sacrifice


“A Holy and Living Sacrifice” the Sermon by Pastor James Clarke, 5th Sunday After Pentecost, June 19, 2016. The Scripture: Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 9:1-6.

I got a real kick out of watching how fast Zack and Kevin Cooper became fathers. Usually parents have at least nine months to prepare; even adoptions usually take some time. Zack said it was more like 9 hours between when they got the call and they were down in Oregon meeting Rori. I have been thinking about them knowing how much they like to go to concerts and eat out. They post on Facebook frequently.

Last week Brandon Bowman, father of Brayden who is being baptized today, told me that he had quit bowling. Which reminded me of the time we met for sushi before Mikayla was born to talk about how he would adjust to becoming a parent. I recall him mentioning bowling then…. and his band. I tried to be consoling, but clearly becoming a parent changes a person’s life and sacrifices must be made. Is there any greater sacrifice?

Paul would say yes; he would say that to live in Christ requires such sacrifice. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Galatians in response to those who are called the Judaizers – those who would have the early followers of Jesus continue in the practices of the Law. We must remember that the early church was not homogeneous, but extremely varied in expression. There were those, particularly those in Palestine, who understood the Way of Jesus to be a reform movement within Judaism. The elders in Jerusalem were generally of this opinion.

The intent of Paul’s letter to Galatia is to specifically say that the people of the Way of Jesus were doing a new thing that was open to all – meaning Gentiles, who did not have to follow the Law. Paul experienced a radical conversion on the Road to Damascus. He went from being a persecutor of the Way to becoming an apostle of the Way by his own reckoning. And that experience influenced everything about Paul. He expected that others would also make a radical shift in their lives as they came to know Jesus Christ.

In chapter 3, he is saying that the Gentile Christians were not “justified” (etc.) by the Law any longer, but by “faith” in Jesus Christ. But before he gets there, he says that when we are “justified” everything in our lives is different, like becoming a father in nine hours!

In 2:20 he says: and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me… This kind of language is replete throughout Paul’s letters.

Romans 6:3-4: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. This is no small change he’s talking about; not a mere reforming of Judaism, but a totally new life.

II Corinthians 5:16-17: From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!

 Philippians 3:7-8: Yet whatever gains I had, these have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…. Do we see a pattern?

If I may extend the parenting analogy a little further I could about becoming a father: “I regard nothing from a personal point of view. So if anyone becomes a parent he/she is a new creation.” “Yet whatever I had gained – money, things, free time, the ability to pick up and go spontaneously – I regard them as rubbish that I may have this child.” Don’t we feel that?

Along with words like obedience, regulation and dependence, sacrifice is not a popular word in our culture. At the same time, with a new baby, I’m quite sure Kevin and Zack are making sacrifices.

As a matter of fact, since I got married, my life has been full of sacrifices. Even while she (my wife) is in New Mexico, as she is now, I have to sacrifice… my time to make sure the house is clean when she comes home. From the point Aaron was born and we put him in the car seat that was way to big for him, drove home and wondered what happened to the nurses, our lives have been full of sacrifice.

When I was ordained, I committed my life to sacrifice, particularly as a clergy couple! And we shared an appointment in two different churches for 18 years to be available to our children. And now, as we get closer to retirement, we see even more clearly what a sacrifice that was. All covenants require sacrifice.

I have heard many say and write that we live in the most selfish culture in history…. Yes, in history. We value personal freedom to the point where others don’t matter. Politicians pander to our individual needs and never talk of the common good. We are quick to talk about rights, but slow to consider responsibilities.

I often hear the rhetoric about personal responsibility and I believe it. If we are not responsible for ourselves, we will be unable to help other people. But there’s the problem. When people talk about being responsible for themselves, they point at others who aren’t and condemn them, rather than recognizing, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, that we are also responsible for each other/others. If personal responsibility ends with the personal, it is merely a part of our selfishness.

I respect the phrase “We are Orlando” along with all the others that follow mass shootings. “We are Paris.” “We are San Bernardino.” It expressed a desire to support those affected and even, in some way to share in their sufferings. Bur for these sayings to have power, they also have to include sharing responsibility. It shouldn’t simply be “We feel for you,” but we are willing to make some sacrifice. Are we are willing to sacrifice some of our freedom, s and cherished opinions to make the world a safer place?

Will we speak out for LGBTQI people. We want be with Orlando. How about going to Gay Pride next Sunday after worship? And if we are standing with the NRA, who are absolutely uncompromising, it is difficult to say, “We are Orlando!”

We live in a world of entitlement and I’m not just talking about guns here. Young people grow up today feeling they are entitled to a certain life style that must include a smart phone.

When I was growing up, I rode my bike to school and work at Baskin-Robbins… and to my girlfriend’s house, which was up a pretty good sized hill. Rain or shine day or night. Few people in high school had cars of their own. The shop students were the exception. Now, have you ever seen the parking lots at our high schools?

Besides the morality of this with regard to the environment, there is a spirit of entitlement. Jesus sent the disciples out with next to nothing…. No car, not even a bike like the Mormons. Not even a change of clothes!

Last Sunday historian and filmmaker, Ken Burns gave the commencement address for the graduation ceremony at Stanford University. I have always enjoyed Burn’s films: The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, the National Parks, etc. Especially his value of history. And the first part of his address was to put the events of today into the context of history, reminding us of such things as: We can’t actually design our lives. The past still asserts power on our lives. That we are not simply free independent agents. And that the vicissitudes of life will catch up with all of us.

He returned to talk about his favorite person in history, Abraham Lincoln, who in the face of the dissolution of the Union said: Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history… the fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are a Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union… in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorably alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.

Then Burns talked about Donald Trump. He didn’t have nice things to say about Trump. You can all check it out on Youtube. And then consider the contrast in rhetorical style between Abraham Lincoln and not just Donald Trump, but the political discourse in general in America! We must wonder, what has happened to us? Burns didn’t say this, but I do:

Donald Trump is entitlement in the flesh, especially in contrast to Abraham Lincoln who truly lived a life of sacrifice.

We need a radical change in America. Not a collection of smaller adjustments, amendments and riders. We don’t need reform in America. But a radical metanoia – repentance in Greek. But literally, it means to turn around. From seeing life as an opportunity to enrich ourselves to an opportunity to give to others. From regarding ourselves as ends in ourselves to being a part of a larger purpose. From feeling entitled to feeling blesses. From taking from others to sacrificing for others. From being autonomous beings to being in community.

The end of this passage in Galatians is well known and oft quoted: There is no longer Jew or Greek, There is no longer slave or free. There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Amen to that… but just before that Paul says: As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ.

 That’s the metanoia the radical change…. I was living this life, now I will live this life in Christ Jesus. I was single and going to blues bars. Now I listen to BB King while I change diapers. Have a child… you’ll understand the blues.

For us to create and experience the oneness of neither male or female, gay or straight, blue or white collar, blue state or red state, American born or immigrant, we have to give something first… our lives. Become a “holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ’s offering for us” (as it says in our communion ritual).

At the end of Ken Burns’ commencement address, he offered advice and I liked a lot of his offerings:

Try not to make the other wrong

Be curious, not cool

Careerism is death

Do not descend too deeply into specialism. Educate all you parts

Free yourselves from the limitations of the binary world

Travel, especially to our national parks


Serve your country

Support the arts

And then there was this one: Make babies. One of the greatest things that will happen to you is that you will have to worry – I mean really worry – about someone other than yourself. It is liberating and exhilarating. I promise. Ask your parents.

So go ahead and ask me…. How I feel about being a father. How it has taught me about gratitude and blessing, Acceptance and grace, Patience and the deep love of eros, and the gift and discipline of sacrifice.

God be with you Zack and Kevin… Ashley and Lyle. Brandon and Kristina. And my cousin Jason and Rachelle – who become first time parents this past Sunday. Any other brand now parents? Mary-Asha….. Jonathan…. And anyone who enters the sacred covenant of parenthood celebrated in baptism, a holy and living sacrifice.



Cedar Cross rainbow

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