- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

The following are excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at Capitol Hill United Methodist Church in the District:

As I began to study and read what others have said about today’s Scripture passage from Ephesians, I found a predominant emphasis on the prescribed or forbidden actions: “Do not sin,” “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” “No longer steal,” “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,” et cetera.

There were some wonderful insights regarding each of these admonitions. But as I continued to read and reflect on this passage, I was struck by the other side of these exhortations.

It occurs to me that this little passage from Ephesians 4:25 to 5:2 is more than a list of helpful rules for living. It is also a vision of what sacrifice looks like.

One of my favorite spiritual writers, Frederick Buechner, describes sacrifice in this way: “To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love.”

We can measure our own lives in this way: Am I making a holy sacrifice of time or energy or money by giving it away for love? Am I making a holy sacrifice of my impatience, anger, resentment and bitterness by letting them go for love? Do you notice that there’s nothing in there about expecting payback or recognition? True sacrifice is for love of God and love of others. Love has everything to do with holy sacrifice.

I am struck by the juxtaposition of the human struggles mentioned in today’s epistle with the image of holy sacrifice. What does it really mean to sacrifice things like dishonesty and slander for the good of others, for love?

The obvious answer is that we are to give up these negative behaviors in order to care for others. That’s a pretty good thing to get clear about and I think it’s pretty clear in the Scriptures. But, for me, another underlying response to this question is that each of us has to struggle with how to love one another. That is, what do we need to sacrifice in a particular situation in order to be truly loving?

The answer is not always obvious. Sometimes we might need to sacrifice our need to avoid conflict in order to confront a loved one about an important issue. Other times, we might need to sacrifice our compulsion to always be confrontational — to let it go for the sake of love.

The Ephesians passage makes some suggestions for how we love one another, but, again, what does it mean that these suggestions are placed in the context of sacrifice? It seems to me that there is something here that points us to the recognition that loving, building others up, forgiving, letting go our need to always be right, being tenderhearted and vulnerable — these things require sacrifice. These things are not easy.

As a Christian community gathered today, we claim and proclaim that we have been met by God in Jesus Christ, that we have learned of God’s own nature. God cares about being in a relationship with us so much that Jesus came into this world to walk through the fire of human violence and malice and wrangling and bombs and hatred and slander to show us another way. God loves us so much that Jesus walks through the fire of our pettiness and greed and stubbornness and hardheartedness in order to rescue us, to call us back to our own truest nature as children of God, as those who are given grace to imitate the sacrificial love of God.

God in Jesus Christ loved us so much that He gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. How shall we respond to that love? With sacrificial love for God, for our partners, our friends, our colleagues, our church, our families and for the life of the world.

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