Who Would You Die For? - Romans 5:6-11
It’s Memorial Day Weekend. While summer is still technically still 26 days away, for many folks this weekend is the kickoff of the summer season. It is the weekend where many may make their first venture of the year to the Island. It is the weekend where many families may take the first swim in their pool for the year or fire up the grill for the first time. It is a weekend of fun in the sun for so many. Yet, for others it is not. It is a weekend that for some families is a time of remembering and grief. It is a weekend where children, spouses, parents, and friends remember those who have lost their lives in the line of service to their country. We paused earlier in our service this morning to remember those who gave their lives in military conflict—why? Because they put their lives on the line for family, friends, and nation.
Yet, a person doesn’t have to be in service in order to give their lives for someone else.
Last September, during the mass shooting at the Las Vegas concert, Sonny Melton grabbed his wife Heather and started running to get her to safety. Yet in making sure his wife lived, he ended up losing his life as he was shot in the back.[i] Dying for someone you love.
There was the story a few years ago of seventeen-year-old girl Rebecca Townsend, from Connecticut who, as part of a class project, made out her bucket list as a sophomore in high school. Her list: “Kiss in the rain, fly to Spain, save a life….”. She had accomplished the first two, and then weeks after graduating, she completed the list as she pushed her friend out of the way of an oncoming car, only killed by that same car.[ii] Dying for a friend.
Sacrifices go beyond family and friends, though, Many of us read in February of Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who jumped into the line of fire between the gunman and a young female student, pushing her to safety.[iii] On Christmas Day, a youth pastor from East Texas serving as a missionary in Costa Rica was on the beach with a fellow pastor and his colleague’s son. When the other two became caught in a rip current, Pastor Kelly Clarke headed into the water and saved them, but ended up a victim of the current himself.[iv]Dying as a servant.
Jesus has said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[v] Some of us might add to that, “lay down one’s life for one’s friends or one’s family.” How many of us can think of someone we would willing lay down our lives to protect or save? Who would we be willing to take a bullet for? Who’s would we step out in front of a car for? Who would we dive into rip currents for? Our spouse? Our children or grandchildren? Our parents? A girlfriend or boyfriend? A best friend? A good friend? An acquaintance? Where does unselfish self-sacrifice end and self-preservation kick in because we don’t think the relationship is worth it? If we’ve said yes that we would be willing to die for all of those others, then what about a stranger, would we be willing to die for a stranger—to protect them or save them? Yes? Maybe? No?
Still willing? Let me ramp things up a bit. Would you die for the man who drove too slowly going up Harkers Island Road and kept you from passing? Would you die for the woman who had acted like your best friend, but then told everyone in the community that you couldn’t be trusted, causing everyone to avoid you and steer clear of you? Would you die for the bully that constantly put you down in school, making fun of your clothes, pushing you around, calling you names, and undercutting every effort to make a friend? Would you die for someone whose political ideology is diametrically opposed to your own? Would you die for an undocumented alien? Would you die for the drug dealer on the corner, the recently released child molester, the death row inmate that killed your neighbor? Would you die for a member of ISIS? Would you die for your enemy?
“Preacher, you’ve gone entirely too far now…you’ve got to be crazy…there’s no one in their right mind who would die for their enemy.”
Hear God’s Word to us from Romans once more, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us…For if while were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by his life.”
Hear that again. “…Christ died for the ungodly…God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us…while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son….”
Does that stop you in your tracks the same way it does me? Does it at least give you pause to think?
Think of the words of Jesus in light of this passage.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”[vi]
Love your enemies…God proves His love for us…Christ died for us…while we were enemies…
“Preacher, you’ve got to be kidding, right? You have completely lost it. There is no way that God would expect that of us.”
Consider these words of Jesus, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”[vii]
I’m afraid that too often that taking up our cross has become picking up that little piece of pretty gold or silver jewelry and hanging it from our ears or around our necks, wrists, or ankles. And while I’m not saying that it is wrong to wear a cross as a means of publically declaring our allegiance to Christ, I am saying that Christ means something far more when He says to take up our crosses and follow Him. It means being willing to follow Jesus all the way up Golgotha…it means being willing to die for the sake of sharing the love of God through Christ with those around us.
So what does this look like?
Does it mean that we should walk up to the bully at school or work and say, what do you have in store for me today? Does it mean that we should let an abusive spouse or parent just keep hitting us over and over? Does it mean a soldier should step out from behind cover and let an enemy combatant just shoot him?
So again, I ask, what does it look like?
It looks like dying to our possessions. It looks like the man who on his way to a meeting took off his shoes and gave them to a homeless man on the streets who was shoeless.
It looks like dying to our watches and calendars. It looks like leaving work and trying to get home in time to fix and eat supper and maybe catch a few hours of summer sun at the Cape but stopping to help a single mom with three kids who’s car broke down.
It looks like dying to our pride. It looks the mother visiting the young man in prison who shot her son and embracing him with forgiveness.
It may look like literally putting our life on the line. It looks like Sargent Richard Kirkland of the Confederate Army outside of Fredericksburg Va in December of 1862. After a massive battle on December 13th, leaving over 3000 dead and many others in the field between the two forces injured, the following scene took place:
As dawn broke the following morning, December 14, one Confederate soldier could take the weeping of the dying no longer. Sergeant Richard Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry, a 19-year-old soldier, was grieved at the suffering of the Union wounded, and asked for permission to aid the enemy. His commanding officer was reluctant to let Kirkland climb the stone wall and descend into the field among the devastation where he would be an easy target for Federal sharpshooters. Finally, permission was granted, provided he not carry a weapon—if he was shot and killed, the weapon would be lost—and that he not carry a flag of truce. Accepting these conditions, the brave young man collected a number of canteens from his fellow soldiers, and scrambled over the wall.
Expecting a shot from the Union line that would take Kirkland’s life, the Confederates watched expectantly as the sergeant made his way toward a grievously injured northern soldier. The Union soldiers watched, but did not fire, as the Confederate soldier knelt down alongside the wounded man, gently cradled his head, and lifted a canteen to his parched lips.
The Union line broke into a loud cheer at this incredible act of charity on the part of Kirkland. The cheering subsided, and the Federal forces watched in silent awe as Kirkland went from wounded soldier to wounded soldier, bringing what little comfort he could to these dying men. For an hour and a half, he gave life to the words of Christ…[viii]
So, on this Memorial Day weekend where we remember those who have given their lives for others…again, I ask each of us, “who would we be willing to die for” as we take up our cross and follow the one who died for us.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[v] John 15:13
[vi][vi] Luke 6:27-28
[vii] Matthew 16:24-25