Saturday, September 13, 2008

Living Sacrifices Romans 12:1-8 NSRV

Below is the draft text for tomorrow's message. Several who can not be with us in the morning asked me to post the desk as a whole rather than a shorter summary. Which would you prefere I post in the future?
I. Introduction
His name was Daniel and he might have been the least coordinated teenager I worked with in my season as a youth minister. Normally this would not have mattered, but this youth ministry had a long tradition of championship youth softball teams and Daniel wanted to play. He could not hit the ball and rarely caught anything, but he was there at every practice giving all he had. I appreciated his heart and his effort and decided that I would find some time every game where he could play for an inning. I would stash him in right field and hope no one would hit it his way. This worked well all year – then came the final game of the league championship – more specifically, the last inning of the championship game. The lead has swung back and forth between the two teams and I had not found any opportunity to put Daniel in. He sat there – at the end of the bench, smiling, hoping, and wondering if he would get to play. Every inning I would look down the bench at him and he looked back at me hopefully. Every inning I sent others out to play, thinking to myself, next inning. But here I was, in the final inning, and we led by a very skinny one run. The heart of their lineup was coming up. The championship hung in the balance, and before I realized it I heard those words coming out of my mouth, “Daniel, your turn, right field!” He leaped from the bench and sprinted awkwardly to his position. The inning began. The first batter struck out. I breathed a little easier. The second hit a blooper and got to first base just before the ball reached our first basemen’s glove. The third batter struck out. But the fourth batter was their biggest kid and on the first pitch blasted the ball high into the air toward right field. I could hardly look. The only question seemed to be whether the ball would hit Daniel in the head or simply fly over it. Daniel dropped back, stumbling a bit, and lifted his glove. I imagine people were yelling – but I could not hear them. I just watched Daniel. His glove wobbled a bit in nervousness. Then suddenly the ball hit his glove – POW – and I waited for it to pop out and roll to the ground. I watched and I waited….and it did not come out. I saw it there, snow coned on the top of the glove. Daniel ran in to me that ball still in that exact position, screaming, “I did it, I did it, I helped the team!” He finally belonged.

There is a passage in scripture who paints a powerful picture of what it means to be a part of the team. This morning we look at one of my favorite passages in scripture. I know that it is hard to elevate one passage over another, but for me, this passage paints a particularly powerful picture of what it means to belong to God and to each other. Romans 12:1-8.

II. Living Sacrifices Vs. 1-2
The first two verses proclaim; I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul begins his appeal by the mercies of God. Literally (in the Greek), ‘through the compassions [oiktirmon] of God,’ refers to all that Paul has already written. Our faith is not based on pride in what we can do, but entirely on God's mercy to forgive us.”[1] Building on the foundation of God’s compassion – God’s mercy he calls them to a life that belongs to God. He appeals to them to become living sacrifices. Over the past few months I have watched Discover and Science Channel programs on the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Egyptians. Each claimed a system of blood sacrifice design to placate their gods. The hearers of Romans would have been familiar with the Jewish temple sacrifice system or would have seen others in place across the known world of the time. Paul claims this image to paint picture a radical followship – where the price is our life – not a part of it – all of it. For the lamb – the price of the sacrifice was total. Paul wants the church in Rome – and us – to know that we are to act as living sacrifices – giving every moment, every thought, every action, everything to God.

Paul talks about this kind of life becoming our act of spiritual worship. Charles Talbert at Baylor speaks of this idea a “liturgy of life!” [2] It is a way of creating and living worship that moves us from song and sermon into the highway and byways – into our schools and workplaces – as the people of God. Paul understands what will happen if we do this. It will move us from being conformed to look and act like everyone around us – trying to meet our cultures standards and transformed into something that pleases God. I have always been amused by want to be different so they all end up dressing the same. It is easy to conform to the mainstream culture – or to an alternative culture you have claimed. Paul wants the Church in Rome – and us – to understand that if we are acting as living sacrifices then it will spill over into every aspect of our lives. The marker moves from conforming to our cultural norms to transforming to become the people of God. In the course of doing research for this message I ran across a piece written by Sharron Lucas. She is a Lutheran pastor serving North Dakota. I really like her take on what it means to be transformed. She writes; “Being transformed means we take time to listen, time to discern the will of God. Each Christian is invited to cultivate the discipleship journey only he or she can make. Instead of appearing like rows of canned ham on a shelf, all neat and tidy and blandly alike, disciples of Christ move in a kaleidoscope of vivid colors, textures, and shapes. United in service and mission and called to be good stewards of the many gifts of God, we go out into this broken world to be the hands and feet of Christ.”[3]

We are called to be living sacrifices. This way of life draws us toward knowing and following the will of God. But, Paul wants them to understand that this is not a solitary task. Following God is a task that takes a community.

III. Serving Each Other Vs. 3
Verse 3 invites us to be a part of the team, a part of the family with humility. Paul says; 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. To be honest, this verse is inextricably linked to verses 4 through 8, but it raises an issue that derails many. The reality is that when we look around it seems that some are natural All Stars….and others of us are more like the Daniel in my earlier story, committed to showing up and giving our best, what ever that looks like. Paul makes it pretty clear that as a part of the community of faith, there is no room for arrogance that we have come to expect from All Star athletes, but instead we are to come to the table together with humility. We are to check our egos at the door, setting aside what might separate us, and come together as the people of God.

IV. Serving As One Vs.4-8
John Wesley proclaims; “Gifts are various: grace is one.”[4] This is exactly what Paul wants the church in Rome to hear. He writes, 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. The idea of spiritual gifts has sometimes brought controversy to the broader Church. It seems that some want to try to make one gift more important than another – some roles more valuable than others. This is not consistent with scripture. It is about giving gifts that strengthen the work and the witness of the body as a whole. It is about living and serving out of the places of passion that God has placed in our hearts.

Paul wants us to understand that everyone has a place and that we need each other. It is interesting to see how different translations handle this. The NSRV…we are members one of another…. the NIV…each member belongs to all the others….the New Living Translation….we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others. We belong to each other…BELONG….we often talk about a feeling of belonging…of connection with other people. But, the thrust of this passage is much stronger. It is possessive; it implies a sense of ownership. Look to your left and to your right…you belong to them…and they belong to you. You are responsible for being the body of Christ to them…and they to you. This belonging can have profound implications for how we are church. It means that our investment in one another is more than the casual connections that our culture embraces…and means that we are NECESSARY for one another’s spiritual life…we are ESSENTIAL for one another…and that together we act as the Body of Christ.

V. Conclusion
I will never forget that spring afternoon when Daniel caught a game winning ball. You know, I do not remember the score or the trophy presentation. After I saw the joy in Daniel’s eyes when he realized that he was truly a part of them nothing else seemed to matter. His work had paid off. His faithfulness to showing up had paid off. I invite you to choose to show up, as living sacrifices, giving your whole selves to God. I invite you to choose a liturgy of life where your songs of praise move from this room into the heart of the world. I invite you to choose to be a member of the family with a spirit of humility, truly valuing every member of the family of faith. I invite you to living out of your passions, your dreams, your visions from God. I invite you to live your lives of faith in a way that you belong to each other. I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect…. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

[1] From The Life Application Commentary Series Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000 by the Livingstone Corporation. Produced with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
[2] Talbert, Charles, Romans, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commenary, edt. R. Scott Nash. (Smyth and Helwys Publishers: Macon. GA, 2001), p.284.
[3] Lucas, Sharron. “Conform or Transform”available online at http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/Resources/Sharron/2008/sharron_08.08.18.htm on September 13, 2008.
[4] Wesley, John. “Wesley’s Notes on the Bible” available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/notes.i.vii.xiii.html%20on%20September%2010, 2008.
Grace and Peace, Tom

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