My father worked for more than 45 years as a manufacturing engineer. I always assumed that he enjoyed the work. It seemed to come naturally to him.
But when I was an adult I discovered that he didn’t really enjoy his job. But he did it anyway, because that was how he supported his family. This insight into my father has been very meaningful. He sacrificed his enjoyment for us.
Through this sacrifice, I see his love.
Sacrifice is the theme of a story in the gospel of Mark (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus is teaching his disciples in the Temple. As he taught, he looked over and saw people putting their offerings in the Temple treasury. He saw the wealthy and powerful putting their offerings into the collection boxes. They put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came. This woman was poor, vulnerable and alone. She offered two small coins – the least valuable coins in the realm – but they were all that she had. The rich and powerful put in huge sums, but this woman put in pennies. And yet when Jesus saw her offering, he said that she had contributed more than all the others.
The others had contributed out of their abundance. But this woman had given all that she had. This woman’s gift was truly a sacrifice to God.
The word “sacrifice” is related to the word “sacred.” A sacrifice is a self-offering to God. The widow in the gospel made a sacrifice. She offered to God everything she had. In this gift she revealed her love for God. She revealed her trust in God. She revealed her reliance on God alone. Her sacrifice is a witness. Through her sacrifice, we know her faith.
Because of her faith, we know that we can follow her example.
As we follow her example, we also will offer of sacrifice to the Lord. We are called to offer back to the Lord all that he has given us – our time, our talents, our treasures. We call this stewardship. Stewardship is the way that we use the gifts that God has left in our care. Stewardship begins by understanding that we own nothing. Everything that we have comes from God. We are simply caretakers for God.
Last week I heard an example of this kind of sacrifice. When the electricity went out in lower Manhattan, many people were stranded in their high rise buildings. Those who weren’t able to climb many flights of stairs were stuck in their apartments – without light, without food, maybe even without water. One man took it upon himself to use his God given ability – his strong legs – to help others. He repeatedly climbed 30 flights of stairs finding out what people needed and bringing them supplies. This is stewardship. This is a sacrifice of time and effort that reveals God’s love.
Sometimes, sacrificial giving seems impossible. But the ability to give will grow as we practice it. As we step out in faith just a little, we stretch ourselves so that next time we can step out even further. I heard a good analogy for this a few years ago. I was with some people who were climbing a rock wall. The instructor drew a circle on the ground. He said that inside the circle was the place where the climber felt comfortable. He was going to take the climber to the edge of the circle and then ask them to push themselves and step over the edge into the place where they were not comfortable. By doing this they would accomplish new things and by doing this their comfortable circle would be larger next time.
It is the same way when we give. When we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we will discover that we can accomplish great things – we can give sacrificially and next time our comfort zone will be even larger. Our ability to give sacrificially will be even greater.
We can sacrifice for God. When we do, we reveal God. We show others what it looks like to know God’s love. We show others what it looks like to love God. We show others what it looks like to step out in faith, to trust the Lord to provide, even when it’s not easy. When we follow the widow’s example, the Lord will use our sacrifice to reveal his life and his love in our world.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill.