Sunday, June 01, 2014

Sermon: Romans 12: 1-8 Living Sacrifices

Choosing the right gift can be a bit of a struggle sometimes. Trying to find the perfect present might be your idea of a good day’s shopping or crafting; but I’m not that good at selecting the right thing to give. Gift cards are definitely the way to go - simple, handy, and the person can choose what they want themselves.

Now I know it’s always dangerous for a minister to talk about money, but I wonder how you decided on your gift for today? I know that some of us are finding things difficult - you find that there’s some month left at the end of your money rather than some money left over at the end of the month. But if you were able, how did you decide? Perhaps you remembered what you had given last year and went for the same. Maybe you went for a little increase. It’ll give you some satisfaction to know that your giving is in line with inflation.

But when we read what the apostle Paul has to say to the church in Rome about an offering, we all need to re-evaluate. You see, God wants more than just a pound in the plate on a Sunday. He wants more than whatever is in our bank balance. God wants us - the whole sum of ourselves. Every little bit of us.

Now you might have noticed that we’ve parachuted into the middle of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Over the past few weeks we’ve been working our way through his letter to Titus, but today, as a special for Gift Day, we’ve found ourselves in Romans chapter 12. You know the way you sometimes get the ‘Previously on...’ in TV programmes? Here is ‘Previously in Romans: Paul writes to the church in Rome about the gospel, the power of God for salvation.

It’s all about how God’s wrath is against all, because all have sinned. But the good news is that we can be justified through the free gift of Jesus, his death & resurrection, received by faith. This is the ‘mercies of God’ Paul refers to under the therefore - it’s because of God’s mercy that Paul makes his appeal.

‘Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.’ (1) In light of everything that God has done for you; the way in which he hasn’t treated you as your sins deserve; the way he has welcomed you in - offer not just your money, but yourself as a living sacrifice. The Christians in Rome, whether Jews or Gentiles knew all about sacrifices. Every small g god in Rome had sacrifices offered to it. The Romans had a whole gaggle of gods - say you were going to war, you offered a bull to Mars the god of war. Looking for love? Cupid was the one for you. And so on. Sacrifices were dead animals.

But here Paul says that life as a Christian is to be a living sacrifice, offered to God, but not dead. And, as someone once said, the problem with living sacrifices is that they tend to try to crawl off the altar. So what will it look like to be a living sacrifice, offered to God?

When we were growing up, we never got jelly. It was never made in our house. But for special occasions, granny made jelly. She had a special mould, and the jelly would be set in the same shape every time. A friend of mine has a family tradition of a jelly rabbit for birthdays. The pressure from the world is to fit in, to be made like their mould, to be conformed. But offering ourselves to God, as living sacrifices is to not be conformed, but to be transformed. To march to the beat of a different drum.

We’re 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.’ (2) We don’t take our lead from the world around us. We listen to God, and have our minds renewed, made new, as we discover his will for our lives. It’s like changing the channel on the radio in the car. Perhaps if we’re discouraged about not seeing transformation in our lives, it’s because we’re not being renewed? Whose are the voices we’re listening to? How are we actively seeking to listen to God?

Paul goes on to show what the renewing of our mind will lead to. Here is what being a living sacrifice will look like. And initially, it’s not what we might expect. You might think that Paul will give a list of impressive and difficult things to do. Stuff like praying for enemies, obeying the government and things like that. But the first example of a renewed mind might take us by surprise.

Look at verse 3: ‘For by the grace of God given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.’ One of the ways that the pressure of the world comes upon us is to think highly of ourselves. To constantly compare ourselves with others. To always be thinking what others think of us. To be self-obsessed. For most people, we are our own biggest fan. We naturally inflate the good in ourselves and forget the bad.

But the renewed mind leads us to be realistic. Not to think too highly of ourselves, but to see ourselves as God sees us. Tim Keller says that it’s not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. (The freedom of self-forgetfulness).

The reason this is so important is because we are one in Christ, in the body of Christ. Without giving Lynsey traumatic flashbacks to first year anatomy, think of all the different bits that make up your body. Eyes, ears, hands, feet, and that’s before you get into the complicated internal bits - heart, lungs, bones and muscle and all the rest. All those bits come together and work together, In the same way, we aren’t lone ranger Christians. We are one body in Christ - in this place. We belong to each other. We work together.

The church isn’t all about you. It isn’t all about me. This church family, this body of Christ is made up of all of us together, working together. We need each other. Are you playing your part in the body of Christ?

You see, as we give ourselves as living sacrifices, we realise (with Abraham) that God will provide. God has already given us grace gifts for the upbuilding of the body. Each of us are gifted - in the way that God has made us - to play our part and do the thing that only you can do. Paul lists some of them here (and others in several other letters) but really it’s an infinite list. Prophecy, ministering (which is serving), reaching, exhorting (encouraging), giving, leading, compassion.

You see, we are not here by accident. God has called us to be here as his expression of the body of Christ in this place to love and serve together as we reach out. It’s not just the rector or the vestry or the MU branch secretary; all of us have a part to play. I’d love to chat with you and discover how God has made you, and what you can share with the body.

It’s counter-cultural to give selflessly. It’s counter-cultural to belong to a church. And it’s counter-cultural to lay yourself on the altar, as a living sacrifice, giving yourself to God for him to use you as he wants. This gift day, as you marvel at God’s mercy, give more than just an envelope. Give yourself. Every bit of you. For all that remains. Let today be the day when we move forward together, giving and serving and loving one with another, for God the giver. Amen.

This sermon was preached at the annual Gift Day in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 1st June 2014.

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