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What Will You Sacrifice For?

  • July 1, 2018
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for July 1, 2018 (Independence Day)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16,32-34,39-40; Psalm 145; Matthew 5:43-48

Title:               What Will You Sacrifice For?

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44,48).

Today, my friends, we are celebrating Independence Day, which we typically do on the Sunday closest to July 4. We praise and thank God for the light of freedom and hope that our ancestors lit in this land.

And it has rightly been said that, before there could be a nation known as the United States of America, there had to be people – many people! – who were willing to leave home, to go and fight, to sacrifice and possibly even to die for that nation.

As many of you know, I have spent much of the last six months being indoctrinated as a new officer in the United States Navy. One of the documents that I have had to memorize is the Articles of the Code of Conduct for all US Servicemembers.

Are there folks here today who have also had to memorize this at some time? How about a show of hands? Excellent.

Well, as I have repeated this to myself hundreds of times in recent months, I began to understand why this kind of memorized statement is so important to establish a sense of identity – and I reflected on how it is similar to our own baptismal covenant.

There are 6 articles in the Code of Conduct and I printed out two of them – the first and the last – for us to look at and consider this morning.

This Code of Conduct was developed after the Korean War primarily in response to the reality of what it meant to be a Prisoner-of-War. It is intended to strengthen the resolve of those facing horrible circumstances, so that they do not lose heart, do not become broken and disloyal to the promises and commitments that they have made.

Now, there are two sides to these little handouts. Please don’t look ahead yet to the other side – the one for Christians!

Let’s start with the Articles of the Code of Conduct for US Servicemembers. Does everyone see them? Can we say them together? Ready?

Article 1. “I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.”

What a powerful statement! Do you see how this sets the foundation, how it establishes the expectations for each person who puts on the uniform?

“I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” Clarity right from the start. And what was true in 1776 is still true today! There will be no United States of America if there are not people who are willing to make that statement – people who are willing to sacrifice to defend this land and our way of life.

Now look at the last Article – Article 6. Can we also say that together?

“I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.”

My friends, I believe that this particular affirmation can and should be made by every one of us, whether we serve in uniform or not.

It forces each one of us to answer the question: what do I stand for? What will I fight for? Certainly, very few of us will be asked to give our life in defense of that nation, even those of us who put on the uniform.

But, in the spiritual realm, the question of intention is what matters more than anything else. God asks us, what would you do if you could? If the situation required it?

And so the question for all of us is this: what are we willing to die for?

Now, please turn over your little card and look at the other side. Please understand that these Possible Articles of a Code of Conduct for Christians are my invention. I do not offer them to you as authoritative statements in any way whatsoever. They are musings, a few possible ways that we can think about our calling as baptized followers of Jesus.

Remember: the Articles of the Code of Conduct for Servicemembers were developed to help those under stress to not lose their identity, to not forget the commitments that they had made.

In Baptism, each one of us have made commitments that we might possibly forget when we also are under stress, when pressures cloud our thinking.

So perhaps a Code of Conduct like this might be helpful to take to heart and to hold on to in times like that. A simple set of principles to guide our behavior which we can memorize and call upon in a time of confusion.

Here are two possible articles which I modeled on those we just considered, but written for Christians – for baptized followers of Jesus.

Can we read Article 1 together? “I am a baptized Christian, striving each day to follow Jesus in a new life of grace. I am prepared to give my life in the way of the cross.”

Think about this, my friends: just as there is no nation without those who are willing to sacrifice for it, so there is no church – and no gospel, no way of the cross – without those who are willing to sacrifice in the way of Jesus. Walking the same way of the cross.

How did it feel for you to make that statement? “I am prepared to give my life in the way of the cross.” Have you ever thought seriously about what kind of sacrifice you are willing to make as a follower of Jesus? Has anyone ever asked you to sacrifice in the way of the cross?

Now look at the final proposed article, Article 6, and let’s read that one together.

“I will never forget that I am a follower of Jesus, striving for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the teachings of our Master. I will love my God and love my neighbor as myself.”

The most important thing, my friends, is to understand your identity. To be absolutely clear about who you are.

What is it that you are fighting for, that you striving for?

What is it that you are dedicated to?

What is it that you are willing to die for?

Honestly! What is it that you hold to so strongly in your heart, that is so integral to your identity, that you refuse to live without?  Only YOU can answer that question.

But the reason that we can celebrate Independence Day is because brave women and men have been willing – for the last 242 years – to sacrifice so that the revolutionary dream of freedom may not be extinguished in this land!

And, the reason that we celebrate Independence Day here, the reason that the Church exists, is because brave women and men have been willing – for the last 2000 years – to sacrifice so that the revolutionary dream of God’s love may extend to all the peoples of the earth.

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Be complete, be whole, be a finished product as we allow Jesus to teach us how to love others as we have been loved.

That is a task, that is a calling which never grows old, and it has no expiration date! Because each new day is a new opportunity to walk in the way of the cross, to give and love and sacrifice for the sake of those who most need to experience and know the love of God in Christ.

Oh, hallelujah! What a blessing that we are allowed to live in this land of freedom and to walk in the way of the cross. May our gratitude for these blessings never cease to rise up as a pleasing sacrifice to God! And may we never lack the courage to fight and to sacrifice for these blessings. Amen.

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