The whole sacrifice mentality that permeates Christian theology needs to be raised to consciousness and expelled from Christianity. However, it is so deep that many feel that Christianity will die if it is ever separated from this idea.
I believe that the future of Christianity rests on our ability in the Christian Church to escape the language of sacrifice and punishment and begin to think in terms of finding in Jesus the power to live fully, the grace to love wastefully and the courage to be all that we can be.
Predictably, Bishop Spong wants the easy way out--whitebread Christianity, with all of that nasty, rough fiber (and all of its nutrients) comfortably milled away.
What is Love without sacrifice? The worthless affection of a fair-weather friend.
Jesus was no child--he made his choice to consent as a grown man, knowing exactly what he agreed to. He had his opportunity to back down. He came close (being tempted in all things--not that it would have been a sin, because he had the right to refuse if he so desired) but out of love for us he chose to go through with the sacrifice.
To be perfectly honest, I do not want a God who has not experienced my suffering. It means a great deal to me that Jesus valued me at such a high price! Without sacrifice, the greatest teachings of Christ devolve into substanceless platitudes, for they have no courage to back them up.
And what a paltry follower of Christ would I be if I had no will to sacrifice in my turn? How could I forgive anyone without sacrifice in my heart? Because I find forgiveness hard! I have to crucify the vindictive part of me every time. How few good deeds would I do if I waited only for easy ones! Why should I send money to tsunami victims if I am not rich? Why should I bother to listen to an annoying friend pour out her troubles to me? Why do work that I can wriggle out of? Why exert myself to patience, or service, or time-consuming compassion?
Every good thing about me carries an element of sacrifice. Not that my faith is a hardship--not at all! For the seed that dies in the earth brings uncounted new seeds to life. I always gain more than I lose from sacrifice, no matter how unlikely that may appear at the time, how difficult to believe. For the cross finds its completion in the resurrection. Christianity does not stop with sacrifice, it passes through sacrifice to something better, something miraculous and unexpected. One sacrifices expecting nothing in return, yet the return overflows beyond the wildest of hopes!
Part of the draw to Christianity for me was precisely because this God could understand me. He cares enough to live as one of us. He knows human life better than the goddess ever could. When I read that Jesus is God, it all began to click for me. Here was a God who understood me, understood my pain, loved me enough to live on earth like one of us. I don't suffer physical pain alone - God truly knows that pain, and therefore shares it with me.
Learning that Jesus is God enabled me to take a huge step forward to believing. Knowing He understood made all the difference in the world.
Love without sacrifice is a make-believe love that is really no love at all.
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Picture courtesy Grace Cathedral.