Littlewell
Christ Centered Church Resource Site

A Living Sacrifice

Romans 12:1-8
Sun, August 25, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
‘Romans, chapter twelve ... verses one to eight’

it makes it so sound so clinical

so disembodied.

Imagine what it was like before it had been catalogued,

numbered by chapter and verse.

Imagine ...

Imagine Tertius

the writer of the letter,

the scribe

trying to keep up with Paul’s rapid dictation!

Imagine him gesturing Paul to slow down

as his short-hand races to keep pace

with Paul’s complex sentences.

Imagine the writer’s cramp he must have by now.

Perhaps it has gotten so bad

that he asks for a break

a break to rest his hand

and quench his thirst.

Time for Paul to glance back at the pages he has already written:

"I am not ashamed of the gospel;

it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith,

to the Jew first

and also to the Greek ...

for there is no distinction,

since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

they are now justified by his grace as a gift,

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ...

I am convinced that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come ...

will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Tertius sits back down,

pen in hand,

and Paul begins to conclude the letter:

"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."

As Tertius scribbles

Paul’s hand habitually rubs his lower back ...

working out the soreness,

and running over the scars left by the lash.

‘Will they get it’, he muses,

‘will they see that our spiritual life

is so wrapped up in our flesh and blood?’.

With that thought it is as if his whole body remembers,

as if every bruise from the rod

or from the stones

aches again.

A shiver passes through him

as he recalls the shipwreck,

the hypothermia,

the near drowning.

His ankles feel the weight of the chains that held him in bondage.

Tertius recites the words he has written down:

"present your bodies as a living sacrifice,

holy and acceptable to God ..."

Paul paces the floor and continues:

"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."

Surely they have heard,

he thinks,

surely they have heard of that day

when his mind was changed ...

when his life turned.

That day when he was knocked to the ground by the blazing light

that day when he was dazed by the voice calling:

‘Saul ... Saul’,

the voice of his enemy,

the voice of Jesus

calling Saul to follow.

Tertius mumbles:

"but be transformed

by the renewing of your minds ..."

And Saul

turned Paul

asks him:

"Do you think they will see

that I am asking nothing of them

that hasn’t also been asked of me?"

Tertius just nods his assent ...



Paul carries on

"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 ..."

In a flash

Paul sees himself in Jerusalem

a decade past.

He sees Peter enraged

and feels the blood rising in himself all over again.

They had argued late into the night

about Jews and Gentiles,

insiders and outsiders,

ancient tradition and new revelation.

In the end,

the two had

agreed to disagree ...

Now,

ten years and many confrontations later,

he hears Tertius’ speak the words

that it has taken Paul a lifetime to learn:

"do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think".

‘I wonder’,

thinks Paul

‘if I am preaching this sermon

to the church

or to myself’.

And,

of course,

as always

he is preaching to both.

The preacher

and the church

are not two but one,

part of one another.

With that,

Paul recalls other letters he has written of late,

letters mailed to his friends in Corinth ...

that diverse congregation

of rich and poor,

women and men,

slaves and masters,

yes,

even Jew and Gentile

together.

Where else in the world

would one find

such a gathering.

Surely this was the handiwork of God ...

and yet,

and yet they

misunderstood.

Too quickly the dissension had come ...

over who was right

and who was wrong,

over who was keeping the faith

and who was denying it,

over who was gifted by the Spirit

and who went empty-handed.

They still imagined that they were

a congregation of individuals,

each standing alone before God.

It was as if they were blind

to the single reality

that Paul could not ignore:

they stood before God

not as many single individuals

but as one people

one community

one body.

Writing now to a congregation

in Rome

that he has yet to meet,

strangers

who know of him only by reputation,

Paul decides to get it straight

from the beginning this time.

He pulls an old sermon

out of his Corinth barrel

and dictates aloud:

"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. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us ..."

And Paul's words travel down through time

arriving here

this morning

addressed to yet another congregation

that Paul has yet to meet,

strangers

who know of him only by reputation.

We struggle to make sense of his words

so carefully dictated to Tertius

all those years ago.

Submerged in a culture

that worships the individual

we cannot help but think of ourselves

as a collection of individuals.

Our identity

is wrapped up in our own name,

in our own accomplishments

and failures.

We are not at all sure what it means

to be as connected to

these strangers beside us

as we are to our own arms and legs.

Just think how confusing Paul's language

sounds in the ears of those preparing

for a year of 'higher learning'.

Over the next few months

I wonder how often they will hear it said

that they will have

"to make up your own mind" on the matter,

or that

"we don't want to force anything down your throat".

And then they come here where,

in the words of one rather blunt

but honest preacher:

"I am here ... to convert you,

to take as my modest aim,

by the end of the service ...

to invite you to make a 'sacrifice' of yourself,

not by putting a dollar in the plate,

but by putting your body up on that altar -

in short, to get you to worship."

Of course,

the truth is

that the University is also out to convert you

and me.

The difference is that most of us have already been converted to its way of thinking.

We are ready and willing to offer our lives

as a living sacrifice

to the gods of individual choice.

So long as we get to choose

what is true and good

we will be satisified.

But here

on Sunday

we are confronted by an alternative reality.

Here we are met by the Creator of all that is,

the One who is met in cruciform self-sacrifice,

who calls us to offer our life together

in response.

Twenty years ago next week

I was enrolling in my first year of theology.

It was there that I met Terry Anderson

who introduced us

to the dilemmas of the Christian moral life.

Early on I recall Terry pointing us to

Romans, chapter twelve

as key to understanding Christian ethics.

It all boils down,

he said,

to one word ...

the word 'therefore':

"I appeal to you,

therefore,

brothers and sisters ...

to present your bodies as a living sacrifice".

Christian ethics are,

'therefore ethics' ...

for we live,

not so that we might be treated graciously by God,

but because we have been graced by God

who is already redeeming the creation

and us with it.

Just watch

in a few minutes when

with the offering

Sandra, Dan, Nathaniel and Kristin Kierkegaard

bring their newborn

Joshua

to the altar

in an act of thanksgiving.

They come in response to the grace of God

who surprises and delights us all

with undeserved, unexpected gifts given.

This little drama

enacted before us

portrays

in ritual form

what we are always about

in our common life together:

life sacrificed

to God,

minds renewed

by God

and,

by God,

lives transformed.