(Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8) J G White
Sunday, Aug 27, 2017, UBC Digby
As we get to this point in the book of Romans, we find a switch from the thoughtful explanations of what God does, to practical advice. Do this, do this, don’t do it that way.
Paul starts with worship. At the heart of worship in Israel of old was what? Preaching? No. Music? No. Gathering together? No. It was sacrifice: animal and grain sacrifices. When the Messiah came, He ended up being the last sacrifice. The sacrifice to end all sacrifices, so to speak.
So it made an impact when the Christian author here explains Total Sacrifice by writing: 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. (Romans 12:1)
Give your whole selves as sacrifices in this life. But, as many have said, living sacrifices tend to crawl off the altar!
A man had a grandson who was in the Army and his grandson was about to be deployed into a war zone. This man got up in church [service] and with tears streaming down his face begged us to pray that his grandson would not have to be deployed! Apparently this young man had gone into the service in order to get help paying for college once he was out of the service and he never intended to actually face combat and once that reality presented itself he was begging God to allow him to avoid what he had committed himself to do.
Sometimes Christians are like that, they join for the perks but balk at the actual hard service!
With total sacrifice, that author, Paul, then speaks of Transformation: Renewal of the mind, he calls it.
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. (Romans 12:2) I think this is not just one’s brain, one’s pure thinking. This is about our whole inner self. Our thoughts, attitudes, emotions, imagining, our conscience, our subconscious – all.
For a good decade now I have heard the call to cultivate the inner life. ‘Spiritual growth’ we called it when I was a teenager. Spiritual formation I hear it called now. And the tools to cultivate the inner life include prayer and fasting, confession and holy communion, submission and sacrifice, worship and celebration.
We don’t want this world to squeeze us into its mold, so we pay attention to our inner self with Christ.
But I was impressed just on Friday by Rick Tobias, speaking at Oasis in Moncton. Rick, who has served for 30 some years with Young Street Mission in Toronto. Talking at a leadership forum, about Emotional and Spiritual Formation, Tobias took this tack: our outward journey is just as much part of our spiritual walk as our inward journey. What we do, how we live, where we serve. Our intimacy with other people impacts our intimacy with God.
“They will know we are Christians by our love” we have been singing for almost fifty years. Our loving actions to the stranger, the poor, the oppressed, the hurting – our closeness with them is directly related to our closeness with God, our being Christian.
The will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect – is solidarity with the poor, siding with the oppressed, caring for the stranger among us. In the global village, our neighbour is over on First Avenue, and in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Our transformation into people who do good to others is an act of God, a beautiful miracle, a step into the Heavenly Kingdom. Seldom do we need to learn something new in our heads – usually we simply need to do what we already know to do. Just do it!
A saint from our former church talked about so called ‘fat Christians,’ not meaning anything about body size or shape. She was talking about the Bible study people, who have read and prayed and taught for years, and still want more books and groups. We can be fat with knowledge and Bible verses and study guides – but not get out there and do it! So many of us in the churches know plenty – we would do well to do compassion and justice out there in our lives, instead of study it more together in our little huddle.
I see the highway signs around the borders of East Hants municipality. What is the motto on the signs? “We live it.” As people of Jesus, may it be said of us, we live it.
Well, Paul goes on in this chapter, and so must we. And lest we feel terrible that we have done none of the great things we should have been doing, we can find our simple way and a peaceful attitude.
The next bit is concerned with Attitude: Esteem yourself and others rightly. 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. (Romans 12:3)
The choir selection was a perfect one for us today. That simple setting of Micah 6:8. He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? To walk humbly is not to beat ourselves up, not to hate ourselves, not to be less than we can be. But to know ourselves and know our place. Our beautiful place in the grand scheme of things. You in your small corner, and I in mine.
The poetic scripture today from Isaiah 51 remembered the humble ancestors of all Judaism, Sarah and Abraham,
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
Some people are heroes, showing us the greatness of the simple life, simple sacrifice of the whole life to God and to people and to creation. As Jesus said, those who lose their life and truly find it.
Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) has been a hero to many. This frail, super-devout Carmelite, known as the Little Flower, died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four… In spirit, however, she was tough as nails… Her writings continue to inspire to this day. “Each small task of everyday life is part of the harmony of the universe.” the French saint had said.
She had been a proud, almost arrogant child, knowing she was “born for great things.” She determined early in her life to be a “great saint.”
Being part of a family with high spiritual expectations contributed to her lofty aspirations. Her parents had five daughters, all of whom became nuns. They hoped one might be a saint.
Therese managed to balance her compulsion for the grandiose with an equal need to be insignificant.
At an early age she lamented, “Great deeds are forbidden me.” Yet she came to accept “being little” as enough. She began to realize that she was loved for herself alone, delighting in her role as God’s “plaything” — a mere ball in which God takes pleasure, tossing it around happily without its having to accomplish anything. This spawned her attraction to the “Little Way.” She found it a great relief that she did not have to be grandiose. “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” (Belden C. Lane, Backpacking With The Saints, 2015, pp.52-53)
You and I need not be called to do great things for God that will make us famous. The simple, quiet, almost hidden, good actions are so valuable and beautiful in the realm of our loving and holy Master.
Little things mean a lot, and are a part of the greater flow of life. Because of Teamwork: we are body parts in Christ Himself. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. (Rom 12:4-5)
You may recall from other New Testament texts the body analogy. No part is useless, no part is to be proud over and above the others. The body parts are a team.
And an essential part of being a team is to know our tasks and talents. To understand our Temperament: to use gifts well. Paul wrote: We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (R12:6-8)
I want the parts of my own physical body each to do the right thing. Some illness and disease happens when organs stop doing what they are supposed to do, or do the wrong thing. I suppose autoimmune diseases are like this. The immune system, microscopic, and made to attack diseases, turns against a part of the body instead, and you get ill. Or a cancer is like this. A cell starts to multiply and grow and grow, instead of just doing what it is programmed to do. It’s program, so to speak, actually goes wrong, and it does what will hurt the rest of the body, in time.
Humans in society, in communities, in churches do this too. We get it in our heads, or hearts, to do something that really is not quite our job. We’re not suited to it. Or we don’t do it the best way we could.
I’m a Pastor, here to equip the saints for the work of ministry. There’s no need of me taking hours every week to get the bulletin just right, the way I want it. But I am tempted to do that, instead of spend my time better on other things. You, say you are a beautiful cook. But you are not an organizer of people. So you find your place and do your part well, leaving other things to other people. So too if you have a gift for prayer, say, but are not an outgoing, talkative person. Visiting door to door may not be for you, but praying for many people and things when you are alone or in a small group will be a beautiful thing to keep doing.
“To thine own self be true.” Polonius to his son, Laertes, in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. Self-awareness is needed for us to do our proper part in the team, as parts of the Body of Christ. I would say that when we draw near to God, we can draw nearer to each other, and draw nearer to ourselves.
Dear friends in Christ, we are the body of Christ. We are here to do every little thing for God. To be that kind of a team. Just do it, what do already know to do. This is what our transformation is all about. The life we live now, total living sacrifices for the sake of the world, in Jesus’ name.