REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 53: Sacrifice is essential for communal good.
The Victorian politician’s comment: that Victorians have sacrificed a lot was true, especially in the light of their wonderfully improved covid-19 infection rates. Our lives are built on the sacrifice of others. Parents working two jobs, service personnel defending our liberties, mothers giving up paid work to invest in raising their children, volunteer fire fighters defending properties [sometimes whilst their own burn down], rescuers at sea and many volunteers serving in schools, community and youth groups, to name but a few.
Sacrifice and service go together. Both enrich us all. They are the glue that holds disparate, and desperate people and communities together. But what is seen in national emergencies is not always present in the mundane and unnoticed aspects of life. A father may be absent from his children and spouse, yet applauded in the public and commercial spheres. Goethe noticed this when he commented: we can offer up much in the large, but to make sacrifices in the little things, is what we are seldom equal to. None of us can do everything we might want, or be able to do, and sacrifices must be made in the interests of what we ought to do. At least if we are to do what we ought to do well and cheerfully, since we cannot do everything well. For this reason sacrifices have to be made of good things, so we can do the best and fulfil our responsibilities to the best of our abilities, with a cheerful disposition. A point made negatively by Gandhi that sacrifice and a long face go ill together and positively by St Paul: if it is showing mercy, let them do it cheerfully [Romans 12:8].
The pandemic has required us to do unnoticed things for the common good. Washing our hands and singing happy birthday for 20 seconds is not noticed. Even self-isolating carries with it the responsibility not to cut corners for the common good. Phone calls, notes or visits to those who are alone are usually done with a small audience. Which is the way it ought to be, if sacrifice and service is to become a natural and habitual aspect of our lives. We see this in Jesus’s parable of the sheep and goats [Matthew 25:31-46], where those who had served Jesus by clothing, feeding, visiting and welcoming Jesus brothers and sisters asked the question: when did we see you in need? [25:37-39]. This kind of sacrificial lifestyle had become second nature to them; no boasting, no audiences needed, they just got on with it and were content with the audience of One. The one that really mattered, Jesus Himself.
Sacrifice and service, will inevitably require a cost of money, time and our own pleasures. We see this with the famed Good Samaritan parable told by Jesus [Luke 10:25-37]. He did not know whether he too would be robbed when he stopped and then stooped to help the man. He could not be sure whether the inn keeper might take advantage of his offer to reimburse him if he spent more [or how much of his time he might include in the bill]. He did not appear overly worried about the time delay of his trip. All care for others requires sacrifice. How can we keep it up, and cheerfully? Especially if we are neither noticed, praised or recompensed? These are good questions and the answer comes back to who is in charge of our lives. If it is Jesus then we have every reason to emulate Him, daily not randomly, because of His sacrifice for us upon the Cross. David Livingstone said: I never made a sacrifice. We ought not to talk of ‘sacrifice’ when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left his throne on high to give Himself for us. In similar tone Hudson Taylor noted that, every time he gave up anything for God, he found so much blessing, that he felt himself better off rather than worse off for having given up whatever it was.
No one has made this connection between Christ’s sacrifice and our obligation to live sacrificial lives as clearly as C T Studd the former English aristocrat, cricketer, cum life time missionary to China, India and Africa, when he said: if Jesus Christ be God and died for me, no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him. If our communal life is characterised as service-centred rather than self-centred in the ordinary unnoticed and unapplauded daily tasks, work and relationships, it will only be through a re-discovery of what the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, did in His incarnation and atoning death for us. This is most likely to happen when, we who call upon Him as Saviour display in our churches the cross-shaped, sacrificial lives we have been called to [Mark 10:35-45; Luke 17:10; John 12:23-26, 13:12-17; Eph 4:25-5:21; Phil 2:1-18; James 2:14-25]. Servants content to live for an audience of One, whose service is not of the smorgasbord variety [picking what we will do and with whom we will do it] are likely to attract those in the world weary of self-serving, and tired of being used [and abused] by those who want to be noticed.
The pandemic, and the yet to be faced repayments of the generous stimulus schemes will need a long team effort of sacrifice to right the economic ship. This is surely a time to seek God’s help in imitating Christ in serving others without praise, and a call to stand in the breach, prayerfully seeking God’s mercy in humbling us all, non-Christians and believers alike, to both trust Christ and to show our gratitude in humble and sacrificial service of others.
Peter Brain 8th December, 2020