Summary: a sermon on sacrifice
Giving Up Billy McFarland
A sermon on sacrifice
August 8, 2010
When I was about five years old, I lived in Pittsburgh, PA, where I was born. We lived in one of those classic eastern row houses - you know, where the houses are all attached to each other kind of like a duplex, except there’s dozens of them.
I remember one day, I got ahold of a cardboard box, and from it, I made this really cool house in my back yard - at least cool to a five year old. It was a simple, rather flimsy building, but I liked it, and enjoyed playing in it.
Then one day, a neighborhood kid named Billy McFarland came along. Now, Billy was not my favorite kid - he could be kind of obnoxious, and was kind of a bully and a tease. Billy came, and got into my pride and joy cardboard mansion...I told him to be careful, but he wasn’t - and he knocked it down while he was inside.
I was pretty upset. I lost my temper. Billy was inside, with the now-broken-down box covering him, and I could hear him inside laughing, while I was yelling - NO!, NO!, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!
He kept laughing, and I completely lost it. So, I stepped on his face.
Of course, he was inside the box, covered in cardboard, but I stepped on his face. Not just once, but several times.
It’s not something I’m proud of, but it happened. My mother heard the hollering, and immediately came out and stopped me - and though I tried to tell her I was unfairly provoked - though I tried to tell her that it wasn’t fair, and he deserved it,
my mom took me inside the house, pulled down my pants, bent me over and proceeded to spank me.
But what hurt worse than the spanking was what I saw, as I was standing bent over, looking toward the front door. Looking through the screen door, watching and laughing, was Billy McFarland - face intact, unbloodied, and totally unrepentant, and glad to see me getting in trouble for stepping on his face - and to throw more salt in the wound, he was giggling at the scene.
Now, the reason I tell you this story is because of what happened the following Lent. I was raised Catholic, and we marked Lent, the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It was a period of time we were supposed to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.
It was supposed to be a period of prayer, fasting, and spiritual preparation. One of the ways we were instructed to focus our hearts on the deep meaning of this season, was by giving up things. We were encouraged to give up things we liked - favorite foods, favorite activities, things like that. This was designed to teach us something about fasting - and something about sacrifice.
So this particular Lent, I remember my parents asking me, Billy, what are you going to give up for Lent? I told them somewhat proudly, “I’m giving up Billy McFarland.”
Now, clearly, there were some things at age five I didn’t understand about sacrifice. One of those things I obviously didn’t understand was that giving up something you didn’t like wasn’t a sacrifice. Because true sacrifice always costs something - or by definition, it isn’t a sacrifice.
King David recognized that in a story from 1 Chronicles 21, when he wanted to buy some land to build an altar. The landowner offered it for free. But David refused the gift, and insisted on paying full price,
saying in verse 24: I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing."
The word sacrifice implies giving something that costs the giver in terms of self, time, or money. In my life today, the equivalent of giving up Billy McFarland might be something like this:
I’m going to give up eating liver (of course, I hate liver). Or saying, Barb, I’ll make the ultimate sacrifice, and let you mow the lawn instead of me, when it’s 105 outside. Or I’m going to give up watching the Jerry Springer Show.
Now, these are all things I don’t like doing anyway, so giving them up is no sacrifice.
As Christians, sacrifice is supposed to be part and parcel of our daily existence.
Ephes. 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Paul tells the Ephesians that perhaps the most significant component of what it means to “walk in love” – as it says in vs 2 - is sacrifice. He uses Jesus as the ultimate example or model of this. Jesus, scripture tells us, gave Himself up for us. He sacrificed Himself to God for us.