Rand says that everyone must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. And she defines sacrifice as giving up something greater for something less. To give up a penny for a dollar is not a sacrifice. To give up a dollar for a penny is sacrifice. This is not the dictionary definition of sacrifice, but I think it is how most people experience it.
One of the major problems I have with the historical institutional church is its insistence on sacrifice as a central theme in the life of Jesus and as a primary expectation of the followers of Jesus. Not only does it make no sense to me (because it does not finally accomplish what I think God wants to accomplish with us), but I think Jesus himself never suggested we should sacrifice anything.
Everything Jesus suggested that we do comes with some inherent reward – it is to our ultimate benefit, or our reward will be great in God's realm, or we will get back what we have given and more. Jesus clearly viewed the giving of ourselves for the cause as investment, not as sacrifice – and that's the language I would like to see the church use.
Around the time I was formulating these thoughts, some time ago, a young woman in the Midwest lost a portion of both her legs during a tornado as she used her body to protect her young children from harm. The media hype was all about the sacrifice she had made for her children. But did she give up something greater for the sake of something less? No!
She valued the lives of her children more than her own well-being. She invested herself in the protection of her children so that they could continue to live and grow. She did not make a sacrifice. She made a costly choice, but the cost was less than the reward she received, the safety of her children.
I think the church needs to get away from the language of sacrifice and replace it with the language of investment. The man who found the treasure in the field sold all he had for a greater treasure. The man who found the priceless pearl sold all to get something greater. These are the kinds of examples Jesus used to talk about his way of discipleship.
So when I give to Emmanuel, or to any cause for that matter, I am not doing so because I feel obligated or I think I owe a debt or dues or I think I can buy my way into God's realm. I am not sacrificing what I have for the sake of something of less value than what I am giving. I give to those things that I think make a difference in my life, in my community, and in my world.
Ayn Rand thought that a person's own happiness is that person's noblest goal. I have amended that slightly, but I am convinced that we generally do only those things that we think are in our own self-interest (and we generally end up resenting or regretting what we do for other reasons). Whereas self-serving people do only those things which they think will serve not only their basic needs, but also their endless and insatiable appetites for more, people who act in their own self-interest will do those things which not only serve their needs, but also the needs of others because they know that doing so is ultimately in their own self-interest.
My self-interest is wholly intertwined with the interests of others. My own life is inextricably connected to every other life and all of creation. The Apostle Paul knew about that – if one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers; if one part of the body prospers, the whole body prospers. As a bonus, I have discovered that working for the good of all gives me incredible joy and satisfaction.
I think our little congregation is on the right track. I find considerable joy and satisfaction in my association with this fellowship, and so I think it is in my own best self-interest (and in the greater interests of others) for it to continue to function for as long as possible. When I give my offering to Emmanuel, it is no sacrifice. It is an investment in something worth much more than what I could ever give.
Covenant Participant, Emmanuel/York UCC