Sermon Illustrations on Sacrificial Love
Cruciform love is welcoming the immigrant simply because they bear the image of God, even if the only thing they bring to us is hassle and possible harm. Cruciform love is praying for those who persecute us, whether it be ISIS terrorists or political foes.
Cruciform love is serving and protecting our gay and lesbian neighbors, combating racism and hateful speech of all sorts, and advocating for the image-of-God dignity of every human being. It is embracing the homeless person despite the smell, healing the wounds of a soldier even if he is unjustly arresting us (Luke 22:51), and loving those we disagree with, even if they don’t love us back.
Cruciform love means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and ministering to the sick, the imprisoned, and the “least of these.” Cruciform love is the church financially supporting one another (1 Cor. 16: 1 – 4; 2 Corinthians 8 – 9; Gal. 2: 10), even if it is costly. C. S. Lewis says we should give financially to the point that it means going without some comforts and luxuries: “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…
There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.” Love that is only convenient and conditional is not love. To love is to go out of your way, to be inconvenienced (like the Good Samaritan), to sacrifice for the sake of another.
Hunting Bigger Game
Love is hunting for bigger game than happiness. Love is a union of souls. When one member of a couple suffers from Alzheimer’s, the other doesn’t just go away. Instead, as Lewis puts it, love says, “Better this than parting. Better to be miserable with her than happy without her. Let our hearts break provided they break together.”
A Brother’s Sacrifice
An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.
The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl’s IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister, until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”
The Emperor and the Whipping Boy
In 1987 director Bernardo Bertolucci released the film The Last Emperor to raving reviews. It was based on the autobiography of the last living emperor of the Manchu dynasty in China, Henry Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (before its fall to the communists in the 1950s). Eventually the movie would be hailed “the most honored film in 25 years,” including nine Academy Awards (Oscars).
And while the story tells the riches to rags story of Yi’s life, from spoiled child emperor to imprisoned and tortured detainee after the revolution to his final seven years as a gardener in a Beijing Park, what is perhaps most interesting, at least for our sake, is one account towards the beginning of the film.
At this point, Yi is surrounded by the trappings of an imperial power. 1,000 eunuch servants exist to fulfill his every whim. At one point, Yi’s brother asks him what happens to him when he makes a mistake? The emperor responds, “when I do something wrong, somebody else is punished.” To demonstrate this, he picks up an ornate jar and smashes it on the ground. Immediately a servant is taken and beaten for the action of the emperor. It is, in a sense, a true version of the famous “whipping boy” story.
Why is this so interesting? Because it gives us a perfect contrast, the perfect opposite to what Jesus does on our behalf. From the world’s perspective, it is the poor and marginalized who are to bear the brunt of the world’s pain and blame. It is the unnamed servant who receives the punishment in this account, not the emperor. In the Christian story however, it’s just the opposite. The king takes the punishment on our behalf.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Content from The Last Emperor, Columbia Pictures, 1987.
The Witness of Father Damien
Father Damien was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao, a village on the island of Molokai in Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. For sixteen years he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built two thousand coffins by hand so that when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.
Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this the people loved him.
Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers. …”
Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward he wasn’t just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.
One day God came to earth and began his message: “We lepers. …” Now he wasn’t just helping us. Now he was one of us. Now he was in our skin. Now we were in it together.