Here’s the sermon I’m preaching Sunday, August 24, 2008, from Romans 12:1-8. I hope you have a wonderful day on Sunday.
Living Sacrifice, Graceful Service
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
I remember learning to drive my Dad’s 1954 Chevy. It wasn’t a new car — it was the car he drove to work. Our family car was a 1962 Pontiac, but the Chevy was my Dad’s work car. Big, lumbering, solid steel, green, two-door coupe. It wasn’t a BelAire, just a plain old Chevy with standard transmission. Three gears plus reverse on the column. I learned that when you wanted to accelerate, you shifted up. When you were slowing down, you downshifted. I made the mistake not long after I got my driver’s license, of downshifting through a stop sign, rather than stopping. That was my first ticket and first trip to traffic court, and my Dad had to go with me. Very humbling experience.
Well, Paul is not down shifting here. He’s accelerating. After chapters 9, 10, and 11 where Paul assures us that the Jews will be brought back into God’s eternal plan, and that the Jews unbelief now created a window of opportunity for us to believe, Paul wants to wrap all that up and tell us what it means.
Quite dramatically, Paul encourages and challenges his readers. Listen to the Phillips translation of verses 1and 2:
J. B. Phillips,”With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of maturity.” Romans 12:1-2
“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God” — I like that. Pay attention, Paul says. Be aware of what God is doing. Take it all in. God is saving both Jew and Gentile — that covers everybody — who responds to his love in Christ. This ought to wake us up, open our eyes, get our attention, command our respect, put us in awe of our wonderful God and Father.
Then Paul urges them and us to present our bodies — all that we are — to God as living sacrifices. What a contradiction. That is a biblical oxymoron. You know what oxymorons are — phrases that appear to be self-contradictory. And as you can imagine, there is a website that lists hundreds of oxymorons such as:
- airline food
- voluntary taxes
- responsible government
- blank expression
- accurate estimate
- drive-thru window
- friendly fire
- global village
- natural additives, and finally,
- reality TV
So, what does Paul mean, when he urges followers of Christ to present their bodies as living sacrifices? A sacrifice, according to Answers.com, is –
- The act of offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or a person.
- A victim offered in this way.
- Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.
Okay, we want to skip over definition #1– ritual slaughter of an animal or person. Not the kind of sacrifice we’re talking about. But #2 has promise — “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.” That certainly fits, because God has a greater claim to our lives than we do. After all, He’s the one who made us.
So, becoming a living sacrifice means giving our lives over to God because he has a higher claim to us than we have to ourselves. Listen to what N. T. Wright says about this living sacrifice idea:
Paul warns us not to be molded, or conformed, to the world in which we live. Rather we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Okay, so what does that mean. Let me give you one example.
What season is this? If you say ’summer’ that’s a good answer. What else? Back to school, good answer also. What else? Beginning of football season — very important. So, that’s how our culture molds us. We identify the season we are in by either what we’re buying — back to school clothes — or what sports are being played.
Now, look at your bulletin. Look right below the date and what do you see? Today is the 16th Sunday after Pentecost. The season we are in is called ‘Ordinary Time’ or ‘Kingdomtide.’ Right about now you’re thinking, “Well, nobody but church people know that.” And you are exactly right, and that’s my point.
We can either live by the calendar of shopping and sports, or we can orient our lives around the life of Christ and his mission. That’s what the liturgical or Christian Year does for us. It remolds our imagination of time. Summer isn’t just the months between school terms. Alternately, this season is a season of spiritual growth, of kingdom living, of anticipation of God’s in-breaking rule and reign. See how different those two ideas are? Of course, even Christians need to know what month and day it is, and whether we need to buy school clothes or not. But, the over-arching story of our lives is the story of Christ, and the rhythm of time that celebrates that story each year, each season, and each day.
The daily office, also called fixed-hour prayer, is a daily way of living in the rhythm of God’s kingdom. So, there are ways not to be molded by the world. Of course, our values are different from the values of this world. The culture in which we live is an adversarial culture. Russians invade their near neighbors in Georgia. Americans invade Afghanistan and Iraq. The Iranians and North Koreans keep the world on edge over the quest for nuclear arms. And on and on it goes. But, contrast that to the values of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Peacemaking versus war-making. A different way to be molded.
Life in the Community Faith
But then Paul gives some very practical advice — “Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to think.” Good advice for anybody, but Paul gives it to those in church. The church at Rome. That’s part of being a living sacrifice. Knowing how you fit in to God’s kingdom community called the church. We each have a role to play, a gift, a calling, a place of service. All for the building up of the body of Christ. So, it’s not about me anymore. Not my preferences, not what I like, not what kind of worship I prefer. Nope, it’s about how do I fit into this community so that it functions like the body of Christ? Which is also a different way to think than our culture thinks. What does that look like?
Well, if you’re Shane Claibourne, you’re a poet in the body of Christ, calling people to live simply, to live in a real community, in a real house, sharing things in common, just like the early church. But, The Simple Way, Claiborne’s group, isn’t just about some personal spiritual journey. Nope, they tutor kids each day, operate a food giveaway program each week, feed people, give blankets to the homeless, conduct Bible studies for those who work on Wall St as well as for those who sleep on Wall St. Listen to what Shane Claiborne shouted out on Wall St one day:
But, that’s not what Paul is talking about. Paul isn’t talking about some exception to the way we live. Paul is talking about the normal way Christians ought to live in this community called the church. Being a living sacrifice is the normal response to the God who loves us and gave his son for us. Like a parent gives up things for his or her children. If you asked most parents if they felt they had sacrificed for the children, they would say “No, we loved them. It wasn’t a sacrifice.” That’s a real living sacrifice. Loving God so much, that it doesn’t seem as if we have given up anything at all, because we really haven’t.