The Battle of Maldon is a tenth century Anglo-Saxon poem. English warriors have fought the good fight but the battle is lost. The survivors have a choice. They can retreat and save their lives or they can fight. Their captain is dead, and they decide … no they are eager to die bravely. Birhtwold, one of the last survivors, raises his spear while standing over the body of his captain and says to his companions, “Purpose shall be the firmer, heart the keener, courage shall be the more, as our might lessens. Here lies our lord all hewn down, good man on the ground … from here I will not turn, but by my lord’s side, by the man I loved, I intend to die.” For the most part we still have much to learn about the value of sacrifice. As we have shaped our society by setting up freedom as the ultimate goal, we are losing our capacity to truly appreciate the power of love. We tend to talk about love mainly in terms of what it can do for us, how it makes us feel, how it satisfies our needs. But that barely scratches the surface of love as the Bible explains it to us. When Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) or we read this, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is Love” (I Cor. 13:13) or “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), it is setting up sacrificial love as a goal which uniquely shapes us followers of Christ. We gladly sacrifice our freedom to honor Christ who gave up His freedom through being nailed to a cross so that we might have life. Jesus’ words in John 14:15 make this plain, “If you love Me, obey my commandments.” We cannot do both, pursue freedom as our ultimate goal and obey Christ. As I think about the relationship between a pastor and a church, I see so many qualities involved. But at the center is not freedom, it is sacrificial love. Something special happens when a group of people come together embracing a path marked not by finding one’s identity though being free of any unwanted responsibilities or obligations but by discovering what happens when we seek to reflect the example of Christ in extending sacrificial love which opens the door to true fellowship. This is what I have experienced at Mt. Hebron and it is my hope for us all. This is how you raise the bar on your discipleship.
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