During the season of Lent, there is an ancient Christian tradition which instructs the faithful to sacrifice some luxury that they enjoy in memory of Christ, who sacrificed his very body on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. In Roman Catholicism, this sacrifice has been loosely standardized: Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays. This, of course, has cleared the way for sumptuous fish fries and good fellowship. Among other branches of Christendom, sacrifice is still often encouraged, but it is usually left up to the individual to decide exactly what he or she would like to sacrifice.
Now, for my confession: I have never been particularly good at sacrificing, at least that which is most valuable to me. Although I may be perfectly happy to sacrifice something which I would consider nominal such as a few dollars to purchase a meal for someone or a couple of minutes to chat with someone about a theological question they might have, this past Wednesday, when I was asked to sacrifice a whole day to serve the State of Texas on jury duty, I was not terribly happy. For overall, my time is precious to me, especially that time which I spend in ministry. And asking me to make this kind of a sacrifice toward something that I am not heavily invested in was difficult indeed.
No matter how much of an aversion I might have toward making certain sacrifices, this is precisely what I am called to do according to our reading for today from Romans 12: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship" (verse 1). Paul reminds us that we, as Christians, in light of God's mercy, are called to make sacrifices, and even be sacrifices, for Christ has sacrificed himself for us on the cross. In the balance of the chapter, then, Paul delineates what sacrifices we are to make.
First, we are to sacrifice our ego: "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" (verse 3). Rather than expending our efforts and our energy on boosting our image and our influence, we are to humbly reckon ourselves not according to our accomplishments, but according to the faith which God has given us - a faith which sees the sinfulness and brokenness which resides in our hearts. We are to be humble rather than haughty.
Second, we are to sacrifice our inclination toward vengeance: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil... Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath" (verses 17, 19). In other words, when someone else wrongs us, sins against us, hurts us, or betrays us, rather than exacting revenge and executing retaliation, we are to forgive even as Christ has forgiven us. We are to be merciful rather than judgmental.
These sacrifices, of course, are only two instances in a whole life of sacrifice which we are called to live out as Christians. But notice that when we make such sacrifices, we are "living sacrifices." In other words, the sacrifices which we make won't kill us. So often, when we are called to sacrifice something for the Kingdom, we dramatically and hyperbolically act as if making such a sacrifice will surely mean our demise. But as my mother used to remind me when she called upon me to "sacrifice" my taste buds on a meal that I did not want to eat: "Just try one bite. That's all I'm asking. After all, it won't kill you." And indeed, it never did. And neither did my day at jury duty. I'm still alive and kicking to write this blog. And even if we are called to sacrifice our lives as martyrs for the sake of the gospel, we are still "living sacrifices," for the very message of the gospel which we have given our lives for is that not even death can mute God's eternal life.