Let me share with you a story. It’s something that happened a number of years ago to a college football player by the name of Trevor Wikre. Trevor was an offensive lineman at Mesa State in Grand Junction, Colorado.
About midway through the 2008 season, Trevor was at practice when his pinky finger got caught in a linebacker’s jersey on a sweep play. When the whistle blew, Trevor looked down to find his finger bent at a horrific angle, the bone sticking out of the skin. Trevor told the trainer to, “Just tape it up. We’ve got to finish practice.”
But the trainer convinced Trevor to go to the hospital, where doctors told him that they’d need to insert pins, repair ligaments, and make his finger look like a finger again. It would take four months to heal, and his football season would be over.
“No way,” said Trevor. “This is my senior year. We’ve got to make this work.”
“We can’t,” said the docs. “We can,” insisted Trevor. “We can cut it off.”
And you know what? That’s what they did.
When asked why he gave up his finger, this is what Trevor had to say. “To have somebody tell you that you’ve played your last game of football, I just wasn’t going to let that happen. I couldn’t do that to my teammates. I’d take a bullet for those guys.”
Trevor still missed one game, but was back on the field for the rest of the season.
So what do you think? Bizarre? Crazy? Yeah, but it gets curiouser and curiouser. Trevor’s coach once did the same thing. He slashed his finger in a high-school shop class and insisted the docs cut it off so he wouldn’t miss his senior season.
You can just picture this, right? Trevor comes off the field, and he and his coach give each other a “high four.”
So how did the people around Trevor feel about his sacrifice? Most of his teammates were awestruck by his commitment. Thought it was amazing. On the other hand, some of his teammates, who were nursing their own injuries, weren’t so keen. “Thanks a lot for making us look like wusses,” said one. His mom was supportive and his fiancée, Traci, looked at the bright side. “I feel kinda good about it,” she says, “I know that if he ever needs to sacrifice for our future, he’ll do it.”
I can only hope that the wedding didn’t cost Trevor an arm and a leg!
Folks, it would be very hard for me to sacrifice one of my fingers. I am a musician. And I love to sit at that organ and that piano – and well – even one pinky finger would be a big sacrifice. However – however – it does beg the question, “How far would I go – how far would you go – to make a long-term sacrifice for someone that we love? Or for something that you believe in strongly. How far would you go? What kind of sacrifice would you be willing to make?
Would you – would I – be willing to lay down our lives for a friend? For someone we love? You’ve heard the stories of soldiers who threw themselves on a grenade or jumped in front of machine-gun fire to protect a buddy. Many are the stories of the martyrs – especially the original disciples of Jesus Christ – and many other Christians throughout history – who gave up their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. A pinky is one thing. Giving up one’s life is another.
So let me ask you. What kind of love does it take to make the ultimate sacrifice?
Listen again to what Jesus has to say in our Gospel reading today. He says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
What he is really saying here is that his love for us – his love for you – is so great – that he was willing to lay his life down for you and for me. Folks, you are loved by Jesus as a friend. And to be a friend of Jesus, then, means that you are loved in a sacrificial way by Jesus.
However – it also means following Jesus’ example. Listen again to what he says. “This is my commandment, that you love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” Jesus is not asking us – he’s telling us – that we also are to love each other sacrificially. To be willing to lay down our own lives as Jesus did for us.
Again, this is one of those “it’s not easy” parts about being a Christian. Because – because there are some people who are not so easy to love. AND I hope you’re not one of them. But there are some who ARE easier to love than others. And when it comes to our children, well, I don’t think there’s a one of us here who wouldn’t take a bullet for a son or a daughter.
For Jesus, laying down his life meant a painful physical sacrifice. He gave up his life for us. Now to be realistic about this, that’s probably not the kind of sacrifice any of us will ever be asked to make. But there are lots of other ways.
• We may need to lay aside our personal ambitions in order to do what’s best for our families.
• We might be called to give sacrificially of our hard-earned money in order to feed the hungry or to help someone in need.
• We might give up a week’s vacation time to go on mission where people are struggling – either here in this country or some other place somewhere in the world.
• Would you be willing to donate a kidney to a loved one? How about a complete stranger?
There are a thousand ways we can lay down our lives for others on behalf of Jesus. But first – it seems to me – we need to be willing.
Listen! Christianity is more than just a set of beliefs that sound good to us – and that we happen to agree with. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just intellectual consent to what we hear. But today what we do hear him say is that he asks that we obey when he says, “Love others as I have loved you.”
Let me close with something from Max Lucado, from his book, A Love Worth Giving. Now most of you are familiar with the love chapter from I Corinthians 13. Let me just focus on verses 4 through 7 – really, one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Listen to what it says,
Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
A few years ago, Lucado was challenged to insert his name where the word love appears. And I said to myself, “I can do that.” And you can too. SO let’s see what this sounds like when I put my name in there:
Randy is patient, Randy is kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered…
When Lucado got that far, he said, “stop.” Those words are false. And you know what? When I put my name in there – I have to say the same thing. I am not always patient. I am not always kind. Just ask my wife. There are times when I can be a real jerk. I know! Hard to believe. But it’s true.
Do you see the problem with this love language here and what Jesus is saying to us in our gospel reading? There’s a standard being set in what we’re hearing today that I cannot meet. No one can meet. No one, that is, except Jesus Christ. And when you insert Jesus’ name in there, here is what you get:
Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way. Jesus is not irritable or resentful. Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails.
Folks, we talk an awful lot around here about what it means to be a modern day disciple of Jesus Christ. And if a disciple is someone who wants to imitate the person they are following – then it seems to me that what we want to do is to imitate Jesus. And when Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” – well – we should take him seriously. Loving each other is a lifestyle – a way of life – it is a choice that it seems to me we would want to embrace.
Okay – so we might not ever get it completely right – but Jesus got it right. He gave up his life. He took one for the team. He did this because he loves us – because he loves you. Therefore – it seems to me – that today our prayer should be – and every day this week should be – “Lord, teach ME what it means to love others just as you have loved us.”