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Vertical sacrificeSeptember 30, 2016

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If we had to list all the things we’ve given up, all the things we’ve laid down, those we’ve been forced into and those that we’ve known our choices would encounter… how long a list we’d have. They come with the territory of life and are very clearly linked with the whole idea of mission. They would cause quite a pile at the foot of the cross, things we’ve loved and valued, dreams we’ve held, comforts we’ve forsaken.

“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Matt 9:13

It can seem like the whole world is based on a sacrificial system, you give up one thing to gain another, sacrifice is honoured and outright glorified. This titbit of Jesus’s teaching then seems an odd choice, isn’t scripture full of references about sacrifice, instructions for it and rewards it will merit. Yet here Jesus seems to be actively working against the grain. That ‘I want‘ is also translated as ‘I desire‘ or ‘I require‘ or ‘I will have‘, this is no throwaway statement but a deep yearning of our savour. Debbie Blue’s book (Consider the Birds) goes so far as to suggest that perhaps there’s something distorted and destructive, in the rhetoric of sacrifice and I’m starting to agree.

Because sacrifice is such a vertical thing. We give things UP and lay things DOWN, buying righteousness and fake graces to store as our heavenly treasures by denying ourselves now. God is not the cashier of our souls, perched behind some great till like machine ticking off all we have given up and converting it into excess rooms in our heavenly home where only the most oppressed get swimming pools and walk in closets. Mercy is not vertical it’s horizontal, it’s inward and outward, just like grace it flows and infects and spreads wildly. Jesus stepped down to show us that the vertical view is flawed, that serving our neighbours and being drenched in grace together was more valuable. That our sacrifices are things we don’t offer on an alter but willingly lay aside, abandon to be less encumbered, free our hands of so we can better grip the hands of those we walk with.

“God wants to give us our hearts desire-
  God just needs to work on our hearts a little.”

Debbie Blue – Consider the Birds

 
In the midst of loss and adjustment it’s easy to count the sacrifices loudly, to burn out trying to justify the pain and heartache and sheer cost our choices have lead us to. But that’s looking inward, not at the mercy we’ve received but the cost we’ve paid. When we adjust our gaze to see that which we have received the loss is instantly dwarfed by grace abundant. Perhaps if we can shift our language from ‘giving up’ or ‘laying down’ to ‘placing aside’, shifting our focus from the loss to the need it’s absence helps fulfil. Loss and sacrifice is part of the system, it’s not going to disappear or cease to sting, but our perspective on it can change, and if we can shift our thinking then we can, as the book of James puts it “consider it all joy” even in the midst of struggling with it!

Linking with velvet ashes for this post on their weekly theme this week of Sacrifice.

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