We all make sacrifices of one kind or another. Parents may give up a luxury to afford a computer for their child. A vacation may be passed up to help a friend in need of a cash infusion. Protesters put their safety on the line, hoping to create positive change. Some even make the ultimate sacrifice in times of war. This week’s clergy discuss how God views these and other examples of self-denial for the greater good.
The Rev. Vicky Eastland
Pastor, Brookville Reformed Church, Brookville
When we hear the word sacrifice, some may think of the ancient idea of sacrificing animals to appease God. But even in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures that both Jews and Christians view as holy, it says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) In the modern world, sacrifice that is pleasing to God is the total surrender of our lives to the will of God. When we live our lives with God at the center, we become better humans, because we live up to our true potential.
Psalm 37:3-4 says, “Trust in the Lord and do good. Take delight in the Lord, and God will give you the desires of your heart.” When we surrender to the will of God, it may seem like we are giving up the good things of this world, but the amazing thing is that the exact opposite happens. As the psalmist says, when we trust in the Lord, God gives us the desires of our heart. We think we are sacrificing everything to follow God, when in reality, God rewards our faithfulness by giving it all back. Jesus said, “The last shall be first.” (Matthew 20:16) It seems like an upside down concept to us, but it is the true way to freedom and fulfillment.
The Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.
Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden, Garden City
The question of what kind of sacrifices are pleasing to God in the modern world would seem to imply that sacrifices please God, in and of themselves. That implication argues incorrectly that the means or the vehicle for pleasing God is sacrifice or sacrificial. I would submit, that in the modern world, in the history of the world, or in the future world to come, understanding what is pleasant or pleasing to God is the fundamental issue rather than a particular mechanism or method to pleasing God. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Micah is posed with a very similar question from his community. Micah responds by saying, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
To do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God is pleasant/good (the Hebrew word “tov” means good or pleasant) to God. How we accomplish these three tasks should dictate the kinds of sacrifices we make, if any. When we as the community of faith focus on the end goal of justice, mercy and walking obediently with our creator, we will choose the appropriate tools to complete these tasks. The revelation will be that we have many tools, not just one, at our disposal.
Rabbi Boruch S. Wolf
Director of Chabad at The Medical Centers, New Hyde Park
In its rawest form, the Hebrew term for sacrifice is defined as “transmitting the soul.” Sacrifice entails subduing “self” in favor of channeling the divine. The most common form of “self” is apathy to what our daily purpose is, in favor of living in the here and now of self-interest. Sacrifice is resisting our nature to channel our own selfish desires, and instead channeling a higher purpose that supersedes ourselves.
In essence, sacrifice doesn’t evolve with the modern world of which technologies are available at the moment. Just as we have the free will to channel ourselves or a higher purpose, we can harness technology to channel “self” or something of a higher purpose. Will our social media blasts be utilized to elevate ourselves? (“Look at me! I’m enjoying a piña colada in the warm Bahamas, while you shovel your way out of your driveway.”) Or, are we harnessing modern technology to channel messages of a higher purpose, to elevate those around us? The struggle of self-refinement is the vehicle of living a life of sacrifice. Of course the chances of personal perfection are slim to none, but we must always endeavor to attain a reality where we are attuned to channeling the divine by always seeking to elevate. We should not seek to elevate our sense of “self,” for that is an animalistic instinct. Being human imposes upon us the mandate of elevating the world, one sacrifice at a time.