When our son was born, a nurse checked his health, washed him, wrapped him in a blanket, and put a little stocking cap on his head to keep him warm. Then, she handed him to us.
In that moment, I felt an overpowering sense of love unlike anything I’d experienced. I knew in that moment I would give my life for this child I’d just met.
Two years later when our daughter was born, I felt the same overwhelming love again. I would make any necessary sacrifice for her, including my life.
Those moments taught me powerfully about sacrificial love.
Our faith reminds us that God has that same love for us, and we need to have such love for one another, readily sacrificing to meet others’ needs. It’s the core of the gospel – the good news – and one of the most challenging parts.
And, perhaps, the most rejected part as well.
Loving others in a sacrificial way
Jesus’ unequivocal message is we’re meant to love others in a sacrificial way, including the stranger, the person who is different, even the ones we consider our enemies. It’s a difficult challenge. We all struggle with this.
Too often, we miss opportunities to love sacrificially because we’re counting the cost, fearing repercussions, or doing a cost analysis of whether what we sacrifice is worth whatever return we can envision.
We forget that God’s love works without an accounting system. We receive grace with a lavish generosity that we might consider extravagant and wasteful. And we’re invited to love the same way.
We’re all aware that over the centuries, many Christians have rejected the call to live in sacrificial love. Instead, they sought to carve out privilege and comfort for themselves by forcing others to conform to their beliefs and lifestyles.
Today, there’s an Americanized version of Christianity that rejects sacrificial love. Instead, it preaches that everyone else should sacrifice and conform to whatever makes these Christians happy – saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” for instance.
This version of Christianity demands “religious liberty” to discriminate against anyone who believes differently. However, no one is allowed to discriminate against Christians or inconvenience them in any way.
It also promotes an unholy individualism that absolves Christians from making even simple accommodations to care for their neighbors, such as wearing a mask during a pandemic to save others’ health and lives.
Christianity without a cross, religion without love
Some Christian leaders promote a theology that says Jesus sacrificed for them, so they are absolved from having to make sacrifices for others.
It’s Christianity without a cross, religion without love for all God’s children. And it’s no surprise that many spiritual people have fled this version of religion.
Jesus lived, preached, and encouraged us to sacrifice our lives each day in many ways. He reminded us that whoever holds tightly to their life — refusing to sacrifice — will lose out on life, but whoever chooses sacrifice as their way of life shall live deeply and abundantly.
Real faith involves a daily commitment to sacrifice our ego, our self-interest, our time, our resources, our privilege, our comfort, our closed-mindedness, our indifference, our self-absorbed theologies so we can love more extravagantly. It involves serving all God’s children without exception.
Daily, we’re presented with the choice of living in a spirit of entitlement or in a Spirit of sacrificial love that draws us closer to the God who cradles us like newborns and reminds us we are worthy of any sacrifice.
And so is everyone else.
(Photo courtesy of Jason Pratt @creativecommons.org)