In the current broken condition of this troubled world our heroes and even our simple helpers are people who must rise above the normal activity of self survival, and the constant pursuit of power or pleasure. This is true for all true heroes and for all faithful helpers. The moments of noble heroism, and the actions of honest helpers are recognized by the capacity for people to extend themselves beyond themselves. Their thoughts do not consider their own own health, safety, property, happiness or convenience; and this is what makes them the heroes and helpers who warm our hearts, and change - or maybe even save our lives.
Our broken world requires sacrifice.
It requires sacrifice if the oppressed are to be liberated. It requires sacrifice if the poor are to be promoted and provided for. It requires sacrifice if the lonely are to be befriended, and the disenfranchised included.
Time is sacrificed. Money and personal property are sacrificed. Convenience and simple joys are sacrificed by people everyday. These sacrifices are small intrusions into our lives, which help make another person's life the better. Long term sacrifice of these simple things, and the greater more dramatic sacrifices of life, or personal safety, or liberty, or health, or reputation move a simple person into the realm of heroism.
Heroes are rare because long term or larger sacrifice demands selflessness, and the number of us who think little about ourselves is few.
The search for self is the more common way to live.
Self survival, self promotion, self assertion, self help and any number of other self appeasing practices are the traffic patterns of everyday life. They are the regular activity for all of us. We work to eat and keep a roof over our heads. We stop to play for pleasure. We press forward with dreams in order to accumulate fame and fortune.
Even in helping others we often (but I refuse to say "always" as some would insist) do so tainted with the stain of self promotion.
To complicate the matter, self survival is a necessity. We have been set into the wheel of this rat race and it seems we have to run to remain in the same place.
This is the curse of brokenness.
This broken world demands extra labor in order for it to work normally. We are the recipients of a system drawing down towards a demise whether slow or sudden.
We know this when our computers age, and it takes more time to keep fixing the problems than to accomplish our work for which we bought the computer. A leaking ship must be bailed out constantly just to make it back to port. Our old cars eventually require more work than they are worth. These examples are like our world. Even the maintenance of status quo requires sacrificial labor.
This is evidenced by the scientific and religious trends pointing us toward apocalyptic visions of a decaying and/or judgment bound earth.
So we are called to repentance and to change the way we do things if we are to maintain even the status quo of this broken system in which we live. The call to sacrifice has sounded, and is being shouted at us not only by the voice of religion, but by the voice of science also. Give up something. Do something. Act or die! or at the very least if you do not act you will kill the future for your children. Reduce your carbon footprint, follow the moral codes of God - the clarion of repentance depends upon the source of the call and the apocalypse which is being warned.
This is the call of the generation in which we live. But, is it significantly different than those generations which have gone before? Probably not. We are an apocalyptic people because life is often hard and this world in its broken state always appears to be wearing us and itself down.
The curse of this brokenness is not that things remain the same without significant sacrifice to make them better, but that things are falling apart and moving toward either the dark, cold, heat-death of the universe, or an opposite sudden fiery judgment of God.
Then enters the sacrificing saints, and the exploitation experts.
Every sacrifice we make is being pulled by the tension of this world's brokenness. On one side of the of each sacrifice stands a group of people who are willing to join the cause and help out. They are interested in working alongside you, and are willing to give - even from what little they have. On the other side of each sacrifice stands another group of people who see the sacrifice as an opportunity for personal gain. This group is willing to give a little in order to gain more. They will pull on the heartstrings of your desire to give, and thereby benefit themselves. They will use the momentum of others' work and passion to gain notoriety for themselves.
The sacrificing saints come from every walk of life. They are the poor who have learned that a poor community needs everyone working together for everyone to survive. They are from among the rich, who are thankful for the over-abundance, and realize it comes with responsibility to help those in need.
The exploiters too come from every walk of life. There are poor people who work the systems of sacrifice in order to survive, but they remain always willing to take, and never willing to give. There are rich people who have become rich by exploiting others who are willing to sacrifice, and famous people who have accomplished their successes off of other people's labor.
Sacrifice is weak.
Sacrifice is exploited by those who mimic it's passion to help, and do so only in order to personally gain from being at the fountain of poured out blessings.
Shut-ins give from their small resources to televangelists who promise great blessing from the sacrifice, and drive big cars and stay in luxurious accommodations on the sacrifices of our grandmothers. Non-profit organizations call in millions of dollars a year and somewhere someone cheats the organization, and the resources never reach the intended target except perhaps with a high price. Places such as Haiti and the African continent have been besieged with NGO and non-profit scams. Someone is growing rich on the sacrifices intended to help the poor, the orphaned, and the sick.
The fact that sacrifice inherently carries this weakness does not keep me from doing the right and sacrificial thing - helping others in need. It does cause me to evaluate the places I give to, and consider who I partner with in labors of justice and caring. The weakness of sacrifice also enhances my sense of a final justice. God will judge our thoughts, our goals, and our actions one day.
Sacrifice will not be required in a perfect world.
The day of great justice will be a day of perfection when the brokenness of this world will no longer plague humanity. Where there is no brokenness, no sacrifice will be required to keep the system running.
When that day occurs, those who have lived sacrificially will not struggle with the fact that there will be no more scratching and fighting for survival. They did not struggle against others in the broken system, and by thereby they learned to live in a perfect system without destroying it.
Those who have exploited the sacrifices of others will not survive the perfect world. When there is no more sacrifice they will not know how to live. They have survived off the blood, sweat and tears of others, and the blood sweat and tears will not be there.
I recently wrote a rather dark poem with this theme entitled, "nor smiles upon these leeches' lips". Perhaps it needs this theological description of sacrifice to fully make sense.