At church this morning, the topic was sacrifice and surrender to Christ. The pastor preached about the rich young ruler, who was loved by Jesus, and yet the rich young ruler did not obey Jesus’ instructions to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus (Mark 10:17-31).
The “Prayer of Confession” included this line: “We would present to You our very lives, if we could only do so in comfort.” That’s portrayed as a bad thing.
I’m not a big fan of the themes of sacrifice and surrender. Why does doing good have to entail sacrifice, or surrender, or me giving something up, or me somehow being uncomfortable? Can’t I do good from within my comfort zone? And do I have to be absolutely perfect?
Moreover, I tend to cringe when religious leaders step in and present ways for us to sacrifice. Give, give, give! Obey us! Perhaps my family’s experiences in the Armstrongite movement has colored how I see this issue!
At church this morning, however, although I didn’t care for the Prayer of Confession, I actually did enjoy some of the things that I heard and sang. In terms of the sermon, the pastor noted that the story of the rich young ruler says that Jesus loved him, and so the ruler was choosing his own riches rather than a relationship with Jesus. According to my pastor, the rich young ruler probably came to Jesus out of a sense of emptiness, but he chose to return to his emptiness rather than to give up his riches. And, while I for a long time have not been a great fan of the hymn “I Surrender All” (see here), I noticed as I sang and reread the lyrics that it contained themes that I liked: feeling God’s presence, knowing that I am God’s, trusting God, being filled with God’s love, being strengthened by God, being blessed by God, etc. In essence, the hymn portrayed God as someone who loves me and wants to be present in my life.
I then wondered: What exactly would the rich young man have gained had he left all behind and followed Jesus? I myself would be quite reluctant to leave behind a comfortable place to live and to travel around in the hot sun with a bunch of smelly guys who liked to debate amongst themselves about who was the greatest. And yet, I probably would want to be around someone who was my friend and who loved me—-Jesus. And I would like to be a part of something that was doing a lot of good, as was the Jesus movement, which was healing people, driving out demons, and changing people’s lives and making them new. It’s nice to accumulate stuff. But isn’t it better to do something that truly matters?
At the present time, I don’t feel compelled to give anything up, per se. But I am sensitized to the importance that I embrace Jesus’ love, and try to do good in the world. Then, if that ever entails me giving something up—-to be part of something that God is doing, or to contribute time or money to something that helps people—-that hopefully I would be willing to do so. I’d do so with discretion, mind you. I won’t give to a ministry or organization where the leaders get rich off of the flock’s donations. But I’d be open to contributing my time and money to something other than myself, for the benefit of others. And, in the process, I benefit, as I experience God more deeply and see that good is being accomplished.