Years ago, Millard Fuller (1935-2009), the founder of Habitat for Humanity, was addressing a gathering of 200 pastors at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The assembled pastors quickly pointed toward greed and selfishness as the reason the church never had enough money to accomplish its mission in the world. Millard then asked this seemingly innocent question: “Is it possible for a person to build a house so large that it’s sinful in the eyes of God? Raise your hand if you think so.” All 200 pastors raised their hands. “Okay,” said Millard, “then can you tell me at exactly what size, the precise square footage, a certain house becomes sinful to occupy?” No one responded but everyone looked down. You could have heard a pin drop. Finally, a small, quiet voice spoke up from the back of the room, “When it is bigger than mine.” Can anyone here relate to that story? This is the question. How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?
Once again, we find ourselves in the closing verses of the second chapter of James. These words will sound familiar because last week’s scripture and today’s scripture are the same. The topic is authenticity. James reminds us how important it is for us to be genuine in our faith. We find genuine faith when we combined the right words with the right deeds. In other words, you are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus means to you. You are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus has done for you. You are supposed to be acting in a way that demonstrates to the world your appreciation for this great gift of salvation. James says simple words are not enough. After all, talk is cheap. James says good behavior is not enough. After all, you can’t earn your salvation. Words and deeds must go hand in hand. Verse 14 says it clearly, what good is it, my brothers, and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
Let me repeat my opening words. James underscores this point with three examples. In verses fifteen through seventeen we are told authentic Christian faith responds to basic human need. We will look at that next week. In verses twenty-five and twenty-six we are told authentic Christianity involves an occasional risk. We looked at that last week. Today, we are going to look at verses twenty-one through twenty-four. In those verses we are told authentic Christianity requires a certain amount of sacrifice. We understand the basic concept of sacrifice because sacrificing it part of life. Not only do we understand sacrificing but we respect people who are not afraid to sacrifice it all.
In the winter of 1943, the SS Dorchester was the temporary home of 904 soldiers and 4 chaplains. World War II was in full bloom. The Dorchester was crossing the North Atlantic. Those were dangerous waters because it was filled with German U-boats. At 12:00 on the morning of February 3, a German torpedo ripped into the ship. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the Dorchester would sink. Each one grabbed their lifejacket. A young GI crept up to one of the chaplains. “I’ve lost my life jacket,” he said. “Take this,” the chaplain said, handing the soldier his jacket. Before the ship sank, each one of the chaplains gave their lifejacket to another man. The heroic chaplains then linked arms and lifted their voices in prayer as the Dorchester went down. There is no happy ending. Each one of the chaplains died. For their sacrifice they were awarded posthumously the Distinguished Service Cross. I challenge you to tell me that both words and deeds do not matter. It is a true sign of real Christianity. How much are you willing to sacrifice for God? The Bible is filled with people who were forced to answer that question. Some found it easier to sacrifice. Some found it difficult to sacrifice. Do you remember these stories?
Do you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac in the 12th chapter of Genesis? In those days his name was Abram. It means the father of many. God promises Abram he is going to be the father of a great nation. The problem is the father of many has no children. He has no children through his wife, Sarai, when God changes his name to Abraham, the father of the multitude. It seemed like a cruel joke, until Sarah gave birth to their first child, Isaac. That name means “one who laughs” or “one who rejoices.” You must tip your hat to Abraham. He was 100 years old when Isaac was born. (Genesis 21:5) You must tip your hat to Sarah. She was 90 years old when Isaac was born. (Genesis 17:17) It is safe to say that Abraham and Sarah cherished their son. He brightened every dark corner of their lives. There was going to be a happy ending then it happened. In the twenty-second chapter God calls Abraham to sacrifice his Isaac. It was a test we would have failed but Abraham passed. In the original Hebrew the point is clear. Abraham has already said, “Good-bye” to Isaac. When all hope is gone, God supplies another sacrifice, ram. It is a difficult story for our modern ears to understand but the point is clear. He was willing to sacrifice his most cherished possession at God’s request. Abraham was willing to sacrifice it all to God. How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?
Do you remember the story of the rich, young ruler? It is found in three places. The nineteenth chapter of Matthew, the tenth chapter of Mark, and the eighteenth chapter of Luke. If you combined the three, then you get the whole story. The title of the story says it all. He has no earthly limitations. He is a man, so he is not limited by his gender. His was a time of great sexism. He is not limited economically. He is rich so he can buy anything he desires. What would you buy if you were not economically limited? He is not limited by age. He is young so he is not limited by health issues. What is your greatest health concern? He is not limited by power because he has influence. He is ruler. Who is the most influential person you know? It appears on the surface he has everything yet at closer examination he has nothing. He lacks the one thing money can’t buy, salvation! He goes to Jesus and asks him the question we have all asked, “What must I do inherit eternal life?” After discovering the man is a good man, Jesus gets to the topic of sacrifice. Jesus said to him, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich young ruler exits the scene depressed because he can’t do it. There are limits to what he would sacrifice. I have never liked that Bible story because the rich young ruler looks so much like me. We struggle with the story of Abraham and Isaac because Abraham would sacrifice anything for God. We relate to the rich young ruler because we too have limits on what we will sacrifice. Is it harder for you to sacrifice your relationships or your possessions? How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?
Anyone who has ever taken a leadership position in the life of the church knows the simple truth that people limit how much they will sacrifice for God. If you have ever tried to organize Vacation Bible School, you know it is true. The children cannot come because a family member is visiting. If you have ever tried to help the needy in the inner city, then you know it is true. I cannot help because they smell bad. If you have ever tried to find a reader at a worship service, then you know it is true. I am afraid to stand up in of people. If you have ever tried to organize a musical program you know it is true. I do not really care for that kind of music. If you have every worked on the annual stewardship drive, then you know it is true. I do not care how many facts we give. I do not care how many charts you show. They give the same amount for the last twenty-five years. I do not want to be negative, but it is painfully obvious. People have limits on how much they will sacrifice for God. We are much more like the rich young ruler than we care to admit. It has been that way for a long time.
Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) saw the problem in his time. He once wrote I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained-glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, “If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.” This is the problem, real Christians sacrifice. How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?
In 2014, Barack Obama (born 1961) was President of the United States. During his State of the Union Address, the crowd was divided. Some were always standing up and cheering at his words. Others were always sitting on their hands. It was easy to identify the red people from the blue people. It was easy to identify the liberals from the conservatives. The President was unable to unite the crowd, but one man did, Army Ranger Cory Remsburg (born 1984).He sat next to the First Lady. I don’t know how anyone could have missed him. The thirty-year-old man needed help standing up. The wounds he received in Afghanistan will never completely heal. He sacrificed so much for our country. I am glad to report, he is still alive. How can we question his patriotism? How can we question the patriotism of the people who sacrificed their lives serving our country? Listen to what I am about to say.
Someday you are going to be standing. You will not be standing in front of the eyes of country. You will be standing before God on judgement day and God, who sees everything, will be looking at you. Do not take this as a warning. Take this as a reminder. He will be looking at how much you have sacrificed. Remember, real Christians sacrifice. Indian education Sadhu Vaswani (1879-1966) once said, “True love is selfless. It is prepared to sacrifice.” How much do you love God? How much are you willing to sacrifice? Real Christians sacrifice!