On the Salvation Army website I came across a true story about a tornado about to strike a town in Minnesota. It seems one person in the town had dug and equipped a storm shelter in his yard. With the tornado forecast and closing in on the town, many people rushed to this man’s house and asked to be allowed to ride out the tornado is his shelter. One after another they descended into the small room. When he had let the last person in, he found out there was no room left.
What would you do? What would I do? Ask someone to leave?
This man closed the hatch on the storm shelter and sat on it to add his weight to the interior latch holding the door shut.
Now it is obvious that the community was spared the storm or otherwise we wouldn’t hear about this story from the owner of the shelter.
That man was willing to sacrifice his own life to save another.
That is Christ like.
The apostle Paul says in Romans 12, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”(ESV) Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15 ESV) As you know, Jesus also said, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk.12 ESV).
I am going to name such acts of love “Sanctified sacrificial selflessness.” Sanctified means made holy. In this case as in all cases God gives the holiness. Sacrificial means given to God, made holy – it is God working in and through us. And selflessness means pushing aside my own wants and desires to serve someone else. After all, our Lord said, He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mk. 9)
Sanctified sacrificial selflessness, please note is beyond our ability without the Spirit of God working in and through us. Whatever good we may do, the credit goes to God. Our aim is not to exalt ourselves, it is to glorify God. That is the sanctification.
As in other “Sanitizers” I have written, I always have in mind people reading these who cannot get out at all and who may be judging themselves. I cannot repeat it enough – your work of prayer is enormous, necessary and potent. Letting God put your heart in the right place makes a difference in the world. Otherwise it would all be up to us and it is not. It is the Lord’s doing.
It takes faith and imagination to push ourselves out of the way in service to others. It takes God’s help.
As I mentioned in Sunday’s sermon, our intentions matter greatly. The kind of thoughts we entertain make a difference. If I look at the world seeing only what I covet, I will miss the opportunities to see the needs of others. If I spend my intellect and energy working on what I crave, I will miss the opportunity be of service to someone in need. With God’s help we need to discipline our minds to look outward to see what we can do. Bill Gates said, “The most amazing philanthropists are people who are actually making a significant sacrifice.”
The church has always promulgated this message. It is the message of the cross. To be a disciple of Jesus is to take up the cross – to be willing to anything to help others. The great Bible teacher, William Barclay wrote, “Love always involves responsibility, and love always involves sacrifice. And we do not really love Christ unless we are prepared to face His task and to take up His Cross.”
Jesus said, Luke 6:37-38 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Numerous philosophers have said that selflessness is the purest form of selfishness because we receive so much when we lose ourselves in love for others. An old proverb says that the man who helps someone get their boat to shore finds that his own has also safely arrived.
Here is a prayer for selflessness from Catholic Prayers on-line. (Don’t worry, it passes Protestant muster…. “The Word of God,” you will recall, is Jesus. See John chapter one)
O Dearly beloved Word of God, teach me to be generous, to serve Thee as Thou dost deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at my wounds, to labor without seeking rest, to spend myself without looking for any reward other than that of knowing that I do Thy holy will. Amen.