January 18, 2017
Self-Denial: Responding to Love with Love
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
All life is sacred. This is the message of the Feast of The Lord, the Giver of Life. Do you know why all life is sacred? Because all life comes from God, and if it comes from God, it is sacred. Even more than that, all life is sacred not just because it comes from God, but because it is loved by God. Because all life comes from God, and if it comes from God, it is sacred. Even more than that, all life is sacred not just because it comes from God, but because it is loved by God.
All life is loved by God. Everything is loved by God. This is what John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world.” The Greek word for world is cosmos. It is not just the earth, not just the universe, but everything in it! Everything in the universe, God loves; and if God loves it, that makes it sacred and holy.
All life, even animal life, is sacred. Reading from Genesis 9, it said that God made a covenant, first of all, with Noah after the flood. He said, “Noah, I am making a covenant with you and your descendants.” Who is a descendant of Noah? Everybody has to be a descendant of Noah because those who made it through the flood were Noah and his three sons who were descendants of Noah. If we are alive today, we are a descendant of Noah. God made a covenant not only with Noah and his three sons, but to us, too, as one of their descendants. It even goes beyond this. God said, “I am making a covenant with you and your descendants, and all the animals on the ark.” Imagine God making a covenant with animals.
What does this say? God loves all life. God said that life is in the blood and this is why you don’t dare eat an animal with its blood in it. It is a curse and an abomination to do this because life is so special. You just don’t eat that blood which is the life of the animal. It is sacred. Even the lives of animals are sacred and precious to God, and this is how seriously God takes life because it came from Him and because He loves it.
God loves all life, and this is what makes it sacred. You may have noticed that we don’t have the usual preparation for the snack after our Midweek service. Last night, there was a fire in Marimar I and a couple of people perished and there are several hundreds of people that are now homeless. Right now, there are people in the gym – nowhere to go, not knowing what is going to happen. When Bishop Ariel found out about it, he said, “I wish there is something we could do and give to them.” Like Peter and John when they saw the beggar, they said, “Silver and gold have I none.” Cathedral of the King doesn’t have a lot of silver and gold right now, but somebody said, “We have the funds for the snack after the Wednesday Night Service. Why don’t we use that?” Bishop Ariel said, “That is the word of the Lord!”
This morning, we took that money and bought and made food, and we went to the gym and shared the love of God there. We shared it to those who have been burned out of house and home. This is love and this is because all life is sacred. One might say, “Father, there weren’t many nice houses that burned down. It wasn’t wealthy people or middle class people.” Well, all life is sacred. If we understand the gospel, it is the needy and the hurting and widows and the orphans that are closest to God’s heart.
At this point, you might say, “I understand. It is self-sacrifice. It is taking up our cross. It is okay. I will sacrifice for that. I will give up my usual night-time snack.” For others, it is their Wednesday dinner. “I will give it up. I will sacrifice that, Father, because this is what the Christian life is. It is taking up our cross and sacrificing ourselves, denying ourselves.” Self-denial is sacrificing things. This is not really true. This is not what self-sacrifice is about. When Jesus said, “If anyone wants to comes after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me,” He wasn’t saying that denying yourself means giving up everything and doing without. He wasn’t saying that being a Christian, you don’t get to do anything you really want to do or that you really don’t get to have what you really want to have. Self-sacrifice is not saying no to yourself, or sometimes it is the Lord saying “No” to you a lot.
In five simple words, self-denial is: responding to love with love. When Jesus took up His cross, this is what He did. When God so loved the world, He wanted to redeem the world, and because of God’s great love, the Father’s great love, Jesus responded to the Father’s love with a love of His own. It was by giving His life. Responding to love with love.
God loves those who were affected by the fire last night. We respond to the love of God with love by saying, “We will forego our snack tonight. We will share that with those in need.” This is what denying oneself means. It is not about sacrificing, doing without, suffering or self-imposed lack and shortages. It is simply responding to God’s love with love.
In 1John4:9,“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” Jesus is saying, “If you want to follow Me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. Those who want to save their life will lose it; you who want to live, for My sake, will find it.” The love of God is that He sent His only Son so that we might live. When we respond to God’s love with love, this is life. Jesus said, “Those who deny themselves will live; if you lose your life, then you will find it and you will live.” This is life! This is how God’s love is seen – responding to God’s love for the world for all of life with the love of our own so that we can truly live.
Verse 10-11, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God initiated love. God loved us first. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Life is responding to God’s love with our love. Not losing, not dying, but living God’s way. Yes, we might die to our own desires, but this is where we find life. Life is not being grumpy because we have to give up some things. Life is joyously and lovingly giving ourselves to others.
In Matthew 18: 1 – 5, Jesus said, “You must be converted and be like Jesus.” I have a lot of different sermons with a lot of different descriptions of what it means to be a child. Jesus mentioned in this gospel humility. Perhaps, one of the best descriptions about what it means to be a child is in Ephesians 5:1-2. “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children.” Children want to imitate their parents. If the parent’s child is a fireman, a little kid would pretend to be a fireman. If the parent’s child is an office worker, the child would pretend sitting on a desk working in the office. Whatever he sees the parents do, the children would imitate.
When Jesus said, “Be like children,” one of the best ways to do that is to imitate our Father. How do we imitate our Father? “Walk in love.” God is love and if we imitate God our Father, we love. We respond to His love with love of our own.
This is our life. There is nothing to be grumpy about, to be sad about and having this mind sent that the Christian life is a life of drudgery, sacrifice, never to do what you want or never being what you want. It is the opposite because when we learn to deny ourselves, this is when we truly really live. This is how we learn to imitate our Father and walk in love.
Let us respond to God’s love with love. Respond to those who were affected by the fire; to those who are homeless; those who don’t know when their next meal is coming from. Pray for them. We can bring some things for them. We can visit them and say, “The Lord has not forgotten you. The Lord loves you and He is with you. There is hope!” Even if silver and gold we don’t have, but maybe, we have God’s love in our hearts and the knowledge that God loves them and the desire to respond to that love of God which He has brought in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
This is why the Church is here. It is not just to have services, not just to have entertaining music and worship. This is part of it, but the Church is also here to minister especially to the needs of the community around us.