Last Sunday our church honored those brave, hardy souls that came week after week to teach squirrelly children about the love of Jesus in Sunday school. These are people who intentionally chose to not sleep in on Sunday mornings for a good nine months. They volunteered knowing that antsy little boys and chatty little girls would ask unbelievably hard questions about God and life and the universe. Some of our teachers who serve week after week also have been faithful year after year. If there was a Sunday School Teacher Hall of Fame, I would have several inductees.
Being a Sunday school teacher can be daunting and thankless. So, at the close of the school year, we sing the praises of these unsung heroes.
After applauding the sacrifice and dedication of these wonderful people, the congregation settled in for PB’s sermon. He was preaching on Hebrews 11 – the great “Faith Hall of Fame” chapter. The writer names several giants of the faith like Abraham and Moses, but ends the chapter with many unnamed saints who “faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.”
That jarring statement suddenly made teaching Sunday school look pretty tame.
So far, not one of our teachers has been sawed in two.
What we call “sacrifice”, the saints of old might have called “privilege”, “opportunity to serve”, or even “joy”. Until I am chained and put in prison, maybe I better rethink the use of the word “sacrifice”.
Give it up for Lent – that solemn time of year when we are to join in Christ’s sufferings, maybe by giving up soda or cookies for 40 days. However, I’m not sure that’s the kind of sacrifice that captures the real spirit of Lent. Besides, there is likely a hidden motive there to lose a few winter pounds. In that case, who is really benefiting from such martyrdom? The kingdom of God or our own self image?
I prefer to think of Lent as “a time for making room for God”. For some, that may mean giving up something in order to create some space for God in their lives, such as skipping lunch on Friday to spend some time talking with God. For others, it could mean adding a new habit, such as reading the Good News before opening up the morning newspaper. Whatever the choice is, Lent is meant to be a chance to deepen our relationship with God.
One year I gave up Oprah for Lent. Instead of plopping down on the couch from 4:00 to 5:00 each afternoon, I spent that hour listening to some good music and reading some spiritually challenging books. I never went back to Oprah. Giving up something I enjoyed was hard at first, but since there was a replacement plan, I didn’t feel deprived. In fact, what started as a sacrifice ended up being a joy. How like God – to surprise me with joy.
We shouldn’t let this season pass without an intentional attempt to make a way for God to be more at home in our lives. Maybe that will mean giving up soda or cookies, but let’s allow that craving for a Pepsi or Oreo drive us to the only One who can truly satisfy our longings. Or let’s do something a little more unique: give up the need to be right for 40 days and discover that others have some good ideas. Let go of the desire to hold a grudge, and by Easter see if it’s worth your energy to pick it back up. Fast from blaming or complaining or nagging for a few weeks and see if your relationships improve.
God will not barge into our lives, but politely waits to be invited. So let’s make some room and be hospitable for a few days. Prepare for a pleasant surprise.
“To obey is better than sacrifice.” 1 Samuel 15:22