First Lesson: Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Responsive Reading: Psalm 81: 1, 10-16
Second Lesson: Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”- Hebrews 13:5
Let me begin this morning by telling you the tale of a family-like you might know in a town, not unlike Silver Bay.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl whose grandpa would give her mother $100 at the start of each December to buy whatever Mom wanted.
Well, this December was different. Christmas was coming. Unlike most children, the little girl and her sister were dreading the upcoming Holiday. Their Dad’s business had been struggling, finding the money for food was a challenge, let alone money for presents. Every holiday advertisement would make the girls feel worse and worse. Being teenagers, they would see their classmates adorned with new clothes that they knew they couldn’t afford. Pretty soon, the girls just wished for Christmas to be over, so they wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.
One day Mom took the girls for some odd reason to the mall. She took her daughter to her favorite clothing store, for some unknown purpose as they wouldn’t be able to afford anything. She had her daughter try on a dress that caught her eye. The fit was perfect and the dress looked amazing. The daughter understood though that she could never own it.
Christmas kept approaching. The family for the first time the daughter could remember didn’t even purchase a Christmas tree. One day the girl noticed something about her mother. Her mother’s shoes had holes in them that she wore every day over snow and ice without complaint.
Pretty soon Christmas day came! There were no presents within eyesight. The family then gathers for breakfast, when a huge smile comes over mom’s face “Time for presents.”
She goes into her bedroom, comes out with present for each of her children. She hands a box to her daughter inside was the very dress that she had tried on at the mall. Mom had spent every one of the 100 dollars that her father had sent on her children’s presents. The daughter had a new, most popular outfit in her wardrobe that she wore again and again. Every time she wore that dress, tears would come to her eyes as she remembered the depth of her mother’s sacrifice so that she could wear it.
Today’s Epistle Lesson comes us to from the 13th Chapter of the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews was a letter written to a group of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem which seeks to give new meaning to the major Old Testament themes because of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The last few weeks, we’ve studied major themes within Hebrews. Three weeks ago, I reflected upon on how the major heroes of the Old Testament: Noah, Moses, David, and Abraham clung to the faith in their various trials awaiting the long-promised hope of the Messiah Jesus. Two weeks ago, I preached on present-day Martyrs who were even willing to die for their faith, because their Lord had triumphed over the grave. Last week, I preached on the major Old Testament theme of “Covenant.” How God kept laying out major covenants within the Old Testament: Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Moses., how covenants differ from contracts because of the unconditional grace they give to their recipients.
Today’s lesson as laid out in the story of the little girl, her mother, and the new dress deals with another significant Old Testament theme of sacrifice.
Now stories of sacrifice are prominent throughout the Old Testament. The Old Testament’s most important event The Passover in Egypt centers on instructing each household to sacrifice a lamb, so all the Israelite's may escape the plague brought on by the Angel of Death.
Such instructions would not have seemed odd to Israelite's living in Egypt during the days of Moses. Sacrifice to as a way to bring about personal transformation was the central act of Old Testament worship. The first seven chapters of Leviticus go into great detail describing five main types of sacrifice, including guilt and sin sacrifices. The purpose of each of these sacrifices was to redeem someone’s previous flawed relationship with God.
The most famous story of sacrifice takes place in Genesis 22. Abraham waits for years and years to have a son with his wife, Sarah. The son (Isaac) is born when Abraham is already an old man; then God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac right when Isaac is ready to enter adulthood. Abraham is so faithful to God’s promises that he takes Isaac to the top of a mountain with tears in his eyes and puts a knife to Isaac’s throat.
At first glance, this appears to be a terrible story about God. In the year 1976, radio broadcaster Paul Harvey debuted a new radio series titled The Rest of the Story. Harvey’s tales which ran until his death blended history and mystery made Harvey a millionaire many times over. Harvey had a gift for finding the most unlikely of outcomes in which seemed like hopeless situations.
So as Abraham put a knife to Isaac’s throat, this merely begins the Rest of the Story. An angel immediately diverts Abraham attention’s to a ram caught in a bush. Abraham is instructed then to sacrifice the ram instead. What this event pointed to is how God would soon put an end to the Old Testament sacrificial system upon a cross. What exactly is the rest of the story for each one of us?
Once upon a time a Red Cross Blood Donor Center in Oakland, California received an unexpected visitor in a frail, older man. What stood out even more than the man’s age was his wardrobe. He had on finest clothes as he requested to give blood. The nurse begins shaking her head. “You’re too old to give blood.” A sad look comes over the man’s face. The man responds to the nurse: “I know I would not be able to survive a blood donation. So I dressed for my funeral. I should have died happy, knowing my death might mean life for some boy (one) somewhere far from home.”
Human life is ultimately connected to sacrifices like the one attempted by this older man. You’re not raised in this world without the sacrifices of your parents. One’s last days are dependent on the time and talents of others so they may leave this world in comfort. Life after death only comes from the sacrifice that Jesus made for you. Sacrifice is rooted in love.
Jesus declares within John’s Gospel: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Christ sacrificing his life upon the cross is the rest of our salvation story both now and forever. The point of our lesson is that Christ, because of his great love for you, is willing to go further for you than you can even imagine.
The father of Afghanistan was a man named Ahmed Shah. Afghanistan had been divided for generations in tribal conflict until Shah’s rules brought peace to the land. Shah’s secret to peace was showing the Afghan tribes a secret valley he had discovered. This valley had one hidden entrance through a ravine cut of a rock. Keeping the hidden entrance secret would not only build unity among the Afghan tribes but keep them safe from all foreign invaders. Keeping this secret would be the Afghan’s most important law. Under Ahmed Shah’s reign, Afghanistan began to flourish both culturally and economically. One day Ahmed Shah’s world would be turned upside down. One of his officers declared a major problem as someone had broken the most important law and disclosed the location of the secret passage. The lieutenant explained that spies who got the secret were immediately captured and put to death. As for the Afghan traitor, the Shah was asked: “What should I do?” The Shah declared: “make an example of him. Tie him to a column in the middle of the city square and have him beaten to death for everyone to see. We must show that no man can put his desires over that of the whole community. Do you hear me? One hundred lashes in the city square.”
A very nervous look comes over the lieutenant’s face. He then begins to nervously declare: “Sir, your mother was the traitor.” There was no potential more significant crisis for Ahmed Shah. He knew that if word of this got out that he would be ousted as ruler and Afghanistan could internally collapse. He would be forced to choose between his mother and his nation.
Ahmed Shah couldn’t sleep as he wrestled with his decision. The next morning, he announces his verdict, “The prisoner must endure the 100 lashes.” Everyone gasped as they saw a little, old lady dragged to the center of the square. A big, scary-looking man stood next to her, ready to dole out punishment. The first lash left a welt. The second lash drew blood. Her legs began to tremble. There was no way Ahmed Shah’s mom could endure a half-dozen of these blows, let alone 98 more.
As the executioner prepared for a third strike, Ahmed Shah yelled out, “Stop.” “The penalty for my mother's crime was one hundred lashes. She has paid two of them. I will pay the other ninety-eight.” Those in attendance were speechless as they watched 98 strikes be applied to the ruler of the Afghans. Afterward, Ahmed Shah’s fate hung in the balance for weeks before eventually surviving.
After this day, Ahmed Shah was held in such high regard among the Afghans that subsequent kings would be called “Shahs” after him.
You see what happened on Good Friday is this, Jesus saw a world that had received two lashes, and he went forth to take 98 additional lashes in our place, Reminding us that there are no limits to God’s grace. So no matter your sin, no sacrifice even unto death can be “ever” more complete than Christ for you upon a cross. Amen