Sacrifice Triumphs Again!
1 CORINTHIANS 15:19-26
Does the title of this sermon strike you as contradictory? How can sacrifice be triumphant? Through sacrifice, crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus defeated the forces of evil in triumphant victory. Are there some things in your life over which you would like to triumph? In our generation, would you like to see us triumph, or at least make notable gain, over racism, war, hunger, greed, and save the planet for future human habitation? Tall order? Yes, but that is our agenda, and Jesus invites us, calls us, to battle. But, his strategy is not violence, but sacrifice. Jesus said, "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me."
The cross is a way of life, a strategy, you voluntarily choose, you embrace. What does it mean to "take up your cross?" Let's look at five strategies.
1) Stand firm. Jesus stood firm. He fearlessly, courageously stood up to the scribes and pharisees. He stood firm when tried by the High Council and Pontius Pilate. He stood firm when nailed to the cross. Jesus sacrificed his life, died on the cross, not because he was meek, mild, and your neighborhood milk toast, but Jesus sacrificed his life because he was a fighter, a fighter who refused to accept the world as it is. Stand firm. Don't let anyone walk on you. Don't let situations walk on you. Stand firm.
2) Do not respond in kind. Do not respond on their terms. We were privileged to have Walter Wink here in our church several weeks ago conducting a weekend workshop on Jesus' strategy of nonviolence. When Jesus is quoted as saying, "Do not resist one who is evil," what Jesus is really saying is, "Do not resist by using their methods. Stand firm, and use a different strategy." It was the King James version of the Bible that first translated "Do not resist." King James did not want any suggestion given to his populace that Jesus might be giving them a way to defy the king. Resist, but don't resist on the enemy's terms. When engaged in a power struggle, do not use the methods they are using. When faced with violence, do not respond with violence.
3) Do the unexpected. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his followers that when a Roman soldier commandeers them and forces them to carry his 60 pound pack one mile, go the second mile as well. It was the law that a Roman soldier could ask a Jewish civilian to carry his heavy pack one mile, but only one mile. If a soldier forced a civilian to carry his pack more than one mile, the soldier could be punished by the Centurion. So Jesus taught his followers to pick up the pack cheerfully, carry it one mile, but don't stop. Go another mile and get the soldier in trouble! Do the unexpected.
4) Risk. Risk to the point of being willing to sacrifice. In doing the unexpected, you are never sure of the outcome. You need to take chances, risk. It may cost you, as it cost Jesus his life, but the victory is worth the risk.
5) Have confidence in the outcome. Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection is the proof of ultimate victory. The scripture lesson this morning included verses 24-26 from the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Triumph is the Easter hope. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we know good will ultimately triumph over evil. Victory is certain because the Lord is risen.
What does Jesus call us to do? Take up the cross. The strategy of the cross means: Stand firm, do not respond in kind, do the unexpected, risk to the point of sacrifice, and have confidence in the outcome.
Lewis Grizzard tells about his childhood in the rural south when the church was the center of social life. A couple of rowdy brothers broke into a store. The judge sentenced them to attend the Methodist Youth Fellowship for six months. The first night they were there, they beat up two boys, and threw a Cokesbury hymnal at the woman who met with the group and always brought cookies. She ducked just in time. She had several options. She could have ignored them, lost further control of the group, and let them walk all over her. But, she stood firm.
She could have pulled rank, kicked them out, called the sheriff and told him to come and beat up these hoodlums who were wrecking her nice church youth group. She could have responded on their level, on their terms. But, wise parents, teachers and youth leaders know that when you are engaged in a power struggle with kids, never let yourself get sucked in, or you will lose. Adults never win power struggles by slapping, spanking, beating, or pulling rank. Even if you are bigger, they just wait until they can get even.
So, she did the unexpected. She turned the other cheek, looked them straight in the eyes and quietly, gently said, "I don't approve of what you boys did here tonight, and neither does Jesus. But, if he can forgive you, I guess I can too." And, at personal risk and sacrifice, for it might not have worked, and she might have lost her group, she further did the unexpected and handed them the entire plate of cookies. Perhaps the boys had never been gently forgiven; perhaps they had never been treated with dignity and respect; perhaps they had never experienced Jesus' love; but, Lewis Grizzard wrote, "Last I heard, both of the boys are now good parents with steady jobs and rarely miss a Sunday in church. That was the first miracle I ever saw."
When I was Minister of Education in a suburban Minneapolis church, weekend retreats were an important part of our curriculum. On one retreat, 50 ninth graders arrived at the camp ground, and began unloading the bus. It was soon discovered that several cases of soda pop had been taken, and no doubt hidden under beds for an after lights out party! I had several options. I knew I was close to losing control. I knew I had to stand firm, and not let 50 kids walk all over me. I also knew I could not respond on their terms. I knew if I acted like the Gestapo and searched the rooms to find the culprits, I would be engaged forever in a power struggle with them.
So I decided to do the unexpected, risking failure, of course. I called the entire group together, believing that when there is misbehavior, never single out individuals but deal with the group so the group will take responsibility for behavior. I called the group together and said, "As you know, we are beginning our weekend retreat this evening with a big dance. Knowing how thirsty you get, we brought pop for everyone. But, some cases are missing and now there are not enough drinks to go around. It's not fair for only a few to be able to drink, so there won't be any for anyone. I'm sorry, but you will have to be satisfied with water." Of course, the strategy worked or I wouldn't be telling you about it! Within minutes, those missing cases reappeared just as mysteriously as they disappeared.
The revolution in the Philippines which overthrew Marcos was achieved with very little violence. At one point in the revolution, some of Marcos' key military leaders defected and went to a rebel army base. Marcos immediately sent his large army to capture the defected leaders. The rebels stood firm. They would not let Marcos or his army walk over them. They decided not to respond in kind, not to respond on the enemy's terms, not to fight violence with violence. Because the army was much stronger, they knew it was suicide to fight violence with violence.
So, they did the unexpected. They took up the cross. Over the Roman Catholic radio station, Cardinal Sin called upon the people to place their unarmed bodies between the government troops and the defectors. Soon hundreds of thousands of people, at great personal risk, performed the ultimate sacrifice, being willing to die, by making a human wall around the base, tying yellow ribbons on the gun barrels of the tanks. They further did the unexpected. Instead of fighting the government soldiers, they showered them with food, candy, and flowers.
When President Marcos ordered the tanks to attack, the commanders refused to give the order to run over nuns, priests, mothers, children, youths and men. When pilots were ordered to bomb the base and its human wall, they refused and defected to a nearby United States military base.
There is power, resurrection power, when people take up the cross. Try this sacrifice strategy in your personal life, family, workplace, and internationally! Imagine making significant changes in this world without war, without violence! Take up your cross means: Stand firm. Don't respond in kind, but do the unexpected, even at great risk and sacrifice, confident in eventual victory and triumph, because Jesus was raised from the dead. Christ will put all of God's enemies under his feet. Sacrifice triumphs again.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris