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
Imagine what it was like before it had been catalogued,
numbered by chapter and verse.
the writer of the letter,
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
A shiver passes through him
as he recalls the shipwreck,
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,
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.
"but be transformed
by the renewing of your minds ..."
"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 ...
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".
‘if I am preaching this sermon
to the church
or to myself’.
he is preaching to both.
and the church
are not two but one,
part of one another.
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,
even Jew and Gentile
Where else in the world
would one find
such a gathering.
Surely this was the handiwork of God ...
and yet they
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
Writing now to a congregation
that he has yet to meet,
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
addressed to yet another congregation
that Paul has yet to meet,
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.
is wrapped up in our own name,
in our own accomplishments
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,
"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."
the truth is
that the University is also out to convert you
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.
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
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,
to one word ...
the word 'therefore':
"I appeal to you,
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.
in a few minutes when
with the offering
Sandra, Dan, Nathaniel and Kristin Kierkegaard
bring their newborn
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
in ritual form
what we are always about
in our common life together: