Nov 1, 2012
Recently I was asked to give a talk in church. When I first started this blog I was the elder’s quorum teacher and thought it would be neat to post all the “skeptical” stuff I was surreptitiously teaching the elders. Well I got released. I guess I was “surreptitious” enough. Well they asked me to give a talk, and I thought I would try again to get the members to think a little more than feel. The talk was on “Sacrifice and Service” and was told to make sure to work in Romans 8:18 (a nasty little scripture in my opinion). Below is roughly what I said taken from my speaker notes.
For those of you who don’t know me, you have been making the correct sacrifices to the correct God. For those of you who do know me, either your sacrifice has been incorrect, or it has been offered to the incorrect god/gods. Today I will be speaking of Sacrifice and Service.
In the style familiar to those in the military I am going to put the Bottom Line Up Front. Today I want to titillate your mind more than your heart. To throw out some ideas to you in order to begin a discussion rather than extol words of wisdom. While doing this I hope that the spirit of understanding will be present with us. If anything that I say today strikes you as incorrect, I would love to hear from you about what I haven’t thought through. You may find me at home, on email or normally in the hall outside after sacrament meetings.
In the style familiar with science and rhetoric I am going to offer my thesis and biases up front, then defend it with my premise. I believe that Service and Sacrifice are two separate and severable ideas, you can serve without sacrifice and sacrifice without serving. I believe that Service is the higher law and Sacrifice is the lower law. Finally, I will also inform you of my biases. I find little use for the term idea of sacrifice and that service leads us to a much nobler conclusion. (This was the softened version of the talk, my original thesis was “(edit
Service) Sacrifice is a morally bankrupt idea that the church should disabuse itself of, and we should eradicate from our thinking.” I figured that would raise too many cackles from the group.)
First, Service and Sacrifice are two separate and severable ideas. Service is centered on the receiver. Service begins with the receiver of a “goodness” or a “kindness” in mind. We can measure the amount of service rendered by benefit to the receiver. Vice sacrifice which is centered on the performer. Is measured in how much “I” gave up. It is measured in harm incurred by the giver. To illustrate this concept lets consider the following thought experiment:
My wife and I can scrape together $10,000. It will be expensive to us, and we will incur some interest before it is paid off, and we will have to go without some of the other niceties for a while. I can give that money to my hard-working brother, who has just had his car break-down and will not be able to go to work to feed his family. Or I can give it to Warren Buffet, A fabulously wealthy billionaire. Either way the sacrifice is the same. But in only one way has service been accomplished. The recognition of a need, and that need being fulfilled.
Sacrifice can be achieved by only one person examples of this are; Self-denial rituals like lent or fasting, Self mutilation like whipping ourselves on the back. Service requires that there are at least two involved, a giver and receiver. I will grant that it is difficult for me to imagine a situation where a service can be fulfilled without some degree of sacrifice. The issue is the focus, what am “I” giving up vs. what is that person gaining.
Now that I have established that these are two separate concepts, why is Sacrifice the lower law, and service the higher? In the Old Testament one of the first things we see is a requirement for sacrifice. Indeed one of the first evil acts ever performed centered around sacrifice. Cain slaying Abel because God did not like Cain’s sacrifice of the “fruit of the ground”. In a fit of rage over his sacrifice not being accepted by God, Cain slew Abel. Would this have happened if there was an attitude of service (thinking of others) rather than sacrifice? Thinking of the giver, not what “I” had to give up? The Old and even the New Testaments are replete with examples of Sacrifice. We sacrifice to show God how much we are willing to give up in order for God to fulfill the wish that we want. For us as Christians we see the sacrifices of the old testament to be similitudes of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice was a center piece of worship when Christ lived on Earth. During his mortal existence he railed on abuses of sacrifice in several instances, Three examples are:
1. From the sermon on the mount: Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
2. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city.
3. From the Parable of the prodigal son. It has two stories one of forgiveness of the prodigal son. But the second is that of the faithful son who was sad that for all of his sacrifices he gave “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”
Didn’t Jesus came to save us from the law of Moses? “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” And “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Because Jesus came to fulfill the law we should no longer perform sacrifices, Right? We don’t do blood sacrifice, this is true, but we are asked to sacrifice.
In conclusion, we have beautiful traditions of service over sacrifice in LDS theology and culture. Think of the three boys who carried the handcart company across the frozen river and ultimately died from exposure. Those boys served, they did not sacrifice. No one asked them to give their life, they saw a deficit and filled it. Another perfect example of service, not sacrifice is our fasting tradition. Most traditions in the world fast only to ask for favor from God “Look at how much I am suffering, please give me what I want.” But in LDS we say, “I am going to go hungry for a day, to remind me that there are other people out there who go hungry everyday.” We then provide that money we normally would eat, and give to this the vast, and robust church welfare system. Sacrifice is proud and puffed up, Service is quite and humble. Sacrifice is self-centered, Service is selfless. Sacrifice feeds the hungry because of a future reward, Service feeds the hungry because they are hungry. Sacrifice is limited in that there is only so much I can give, Service is infinite because there are an infinite ways and people to serve.. Sacrifice puts your son on an alter, Service puts him on a mission. Attitudes of sacrifice will lead people put a bomb jacket on your their daughter to detonate in crowded market place. Service leads her “help those who despitefully use you.” Sacrifice is rewarded in the afterlife. Service is doing good for goodness’s sake and is rewarded in this life. The reward for good living is good living here and now, not in the next life. Yes, it is true that life is sometimes unfair. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but with service we can make our own sun.
Reactions after the talk were mixed. One woman said that it truly changed her outlook because she said that she hated the way she felt while thinking of sacrifice, and needed to focus on service. Another person said it was on his top list of best sacrament meeting talks (I like the qualifier there). Mostly though it just shows how selective Mormons are with hearing. I swear, one of the most sacred beliefs I just said was a major contributor to suicide bombings, but one man said “that with talks like that I would be called to the High Counsel.”
And while I did wear a suit I still defiantly wore a non-white shirt