Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
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The Sacrifice

March 18th:

Call:   Numbers 21: 4-9
Text:   Ephesians 2: 1-10
Read:   W&S 86

                                        The Gift

People who saw the movie, "A League of Their Own", remember two things:
        Geena Davis as catcher Dottie Hinson
being photographed doing a split as she catches a foul ball
a picture that ended up on the cover of "Life" magazine
        Tom Hanks, as Jimmy Dugan, manager of the Rockford Peaches
shouting desperately at a tearful player,
        "There's no crying in baseball!"

As a memorable movie line, Hank's declaration about crying ranks right up there with:
        "The truth?  You can't handle the Truth!"
        "I'll have what she's having."
        "Make him an offer he can't refuse."
Or more recently,       "I made a pie for you."

But Hanks' character is wrong
         and not just in
"the All American Girls Professional Baseball League."

For there is crying in life
        We cry when we are sad
        We cry when we are in pain
And     We cry when we are moved by something good.

Crying is an emotional release.
For me at least, the third of the mentioned crying times
        (Crying when moved by something good)
Is the most common.

For when my heart and soul have been touched
        By an act of kindness, thoughtfulness, or generosity
I know I have seen an example of the love that God requires of us
        And it moves me
        At times, it moves me to tears.

Each year for example, when it comes to sharing the name of the person who is to be celebrated at the Sub-district's laity banquet,
I have to have the lay leader read the information submitted
        Because I choke up
                About the opportunity to celebrate someone in our congregation.

And I have been known to get emotional at movies as well

When the Romans go to arrest Spartacus
And offer to let his band of followers go
        If Spartacus will come forward,

Nearly the entire army stands up one at a time
        With each proclaiming, "I am Spartacus."

My eyes get moist because of their loyalty to and love for him

I guess then that it should surprise no one that my favorite short story is
        "The Gift of the Magi" by O'Henry.

The story is not new
        It was published in 1906
        I first read it about 1960.

It moved me then.               It moves me now.

You know the story.     Wikipedia summarizes it this way:
Mr. James Dillingham Young ("Jim") and his wife, Della, are a couple living in a modest flat. They each have one possession in which they take pride: Della's beautiful long, flowing hair and Jim's gold watch, which had belonged to his father and grandfather.
On Christmas Eve, with only $1.87 in hand, and desperate to find a gift for Jim, Della sells her hair for $20, and eventually finds a platinum fob chain for Jim's watch for $21. Happy to have found the perfect gift at last, she runs home and begins to prepare dinner.
When Jim comes home, he looks at Della with an expression "that she could not read, and it terrified her." Della then admits to Jim that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present — an array of expensive combs for her hair. Della then shows Jim the chain she bought for him, to which Jim says he sold his watch to get the money to buy her combs.

These two people loved each other so much
        That in order to express that love on Christmas
 each surrendered the possession that meant the most to him/her

Doesn't that get to you?
Doesn't it touch your heart and your soul?
Doesn't it move you - even, perhaps, to tears?
I think it should

O'Henry's story is a story about sacrificial love
        And as such is a way for us to understand and experience
What Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus
In this morning's scripture

[Ephesians 2: 1-10]

Paul, in speaking to us as well as to the Ephesians, says
        You were dead
                Your relationship with God was not living, but lifeless

        You were dead                   Through your trespasses
(willful or knowing violations of God's law)

        You were dead                   Through your sins
                (any and all violations of God's will)

You were dead.
        Instead of having a living and obedient relationship with God,
you followed the course of this world

This is what God was talking about.
        When in our Ash Wednesday scripture, God told Isaiah to
        "Announce to my people their rebellion"

And despaired,
        "... day after day they seek me ....
                As if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
                And did not forsake the ordinance of God."

The people didn't even realize          that they were rebellious
The people didn't even recognize        that they were dead

They went through the motions of religion
        They called out to God
        They fasted;  they wore sackcloth;      and they sat in ashes

They were puzzled and upset that God seemed oblivious to them
        But in actuality,
Despite their rituals and formal actions
they were oblivious to God

Paul told them that they had been dead
        Not to be mean
        Not to chastise them
        Not to put them down
But to help them understand
What an awesome and remarkable gift they had received from God

For Paul explains that
despite their lifeless relationship with God
And despite their rebellious attitudes,
that God still was determined
        to revitalize and resurrect their/our relationship
to, in short, make us alive again through Christ

God was so determined, because God is rich in mercy,
        A mercy born in his great love for us
            A love God had for us
            Even when we were dead as a result of our self inflicted wounds

And Paul tells the Ephesians - and, of course, tells us -
That it is by grace, you have been saved through faith
        That this is not your own doing
        That this is not the result of your works
                You did nothing to deserve this

It is simply the gift of God.

That love and that attempt to call us back to a right relationship
        Is God's approach throughout the scriptures.

Even when the people were disobedient
        God preserved humankind through Noah
        With the hope that we would come closer

When there was about to be a famine
God preserved the Israelites through Joseph
With the hope that we would come closer

When they were enslaved in Egypt
God preserved the Israelites through Moses
With the hope that we would come closer

And speaking of Moses
Look at the story that called us to worship
The ones about the snakes biting and poisoning the people

In that story, it is so obvious that God didn't really want to punish
        God simply wanted the people to be closer
Thus, God had Moses make a pole for them to look at when they got bit

That snake pole was to remind the people of God
        Like the post flood rainbow was to remind God of God's promise

How about the prophets
        Who warned
        Who cajoled
        Who promised
Always with the goal of bringing God's people back into relationship.

But finally, since we still hadn't seemed to get it
        God who loves us even more than
Jim loved Della or      Della loved Jim

Did exactly what the Youngs did in O'Henry's story
to show their love for each other
        that was: to give up the thing that meant the most
                Della cut her hair
Jim sold his watch
                God sent God's son to the cross

Yes, God did what Jim and Della did
        For the same reason - love.

But there is a difference between these stories

Jim and Della made their sacrifices for persons (each other)
        Who loved them
and with whom they had a mutually loving relationship

God, however,
sacrificed God's son for persons (Ephesians, others, and us)
        Whom God loved
        But who had not loved God enough
                To make the relationship mutually loving

God's sacrifice was for people who were dead and in rebellion.

O'Henry's story still moves us to tears,
In my case a half century after I first read it.

If we have a tearful reaction to the sale of her hair and his watch
How much greater must our reaction be
        To God's sending God's son to the cross
                In order to call us to him
        Despite our rebellion           and our dead, disobedient spirit

There is really no comparison   is there?

God's grace is a gift
an awesome, remarkable gift
Even more awesome and even more remarkable
        Than the gifts that touch our hearts in O'Henry's story

We should be grateful
        Powerfully grateful.

We should be moved - even to tears.