Saturday, January 6, 2018

"In View of God's Mercy: Sacrifice and Service"

Romans 12:1-8 Our life with God is only by his mercy.  That is what is taught in the chapters and verses leading up to our text—that it is only by God’s mercy that we can call ourselves God’s children and claim a place in God’s family—only by his mercy. 
By nature, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  All of us by nature are under God’s judgment which is “guilty” and his punishment which is death.
And yet in God’s mercy, Jesus was given into death in our place and raised him from the dead so that we can be right in his sight—so that we can justly be declared “not guilty” in God’s court of justice.
So that we can believe this Good News and claim it for ourselves, the Holy Spirit has worked in Baptism and preaching to give us faith and because we now belong to God, we can be confident that God is working all things for our good and nothing will separate us from his love.
That is the message of Romans up to our text in Romans 12 and there is nothing else for us to say or believe but that our life with God is by his mercy alone. 
It is that same foundation of God’ merciful love for us in Christ that now shapes how we live out our lives as Christians through service and sacrifice.  Paul wrote:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   
By the exact same mercies of God that saved us and brought us to faith keep us in faith, we are called to live out that faith in sacrifice and service.
In these verses, and those that follow, there are no legal demands made of us; there is no talk of a debt that has to be paid or an obligation that must be fulfilled.  Instead, Paul simply says:  I want you to fill your eyes of faith with the mercies of God that he has shown to you in Jesus Christ and then you will understand how you yourselves are to live. 
And so then, dear friends in Christ, before we say another word about how we are live as God’s people, can you see, by faith, the mercy of God that made you his people? 
Can you see your great need for salvation?  Can you see your terrible inability to save yourself?  Can you see the great gift that God has given you in Jesus and the burden he bore for you and the death he died for you?  Can you see the hope and peace and comfort from knowing that you are now, by God’s grace, his child?  If so, hear again the words of the Spirit:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice
 As God’s child you are called to a life of sacrifice and service because that is the life that God’s only-begotten Son gave for you-- and when our hearts and minds and spirits are filled with those scenes of mercy that are found in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we will want to live our lives in the same way, wholly devoted to others.  In fact…
Paul says that this life is truly what it means to worship God—to offer our lives as living sacrifices out of love for the one who sacrificed himself into death on the cross. 
I am glad that all of you are here today for public worship.  We need to hear God’s Word and receive the gift of Holy Communion and be strengthened in our faith.
But this hour of worship was never intended to be the highest expression of what it means to be a Christian-- but rather a strengthening moment for an entire life of worship where we gladly offer our lives as living sacrifices in service to others-- just like Jesus did, devoting his life to doing his Father’s will.  The Bible says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
            The world says that we are to put ourselves first, and follow our dreams, and climb our way to the top, and look out for number one.  Power and money are the highest goods the world has to offer-- and many seek them to their eternal peril.
We too are tempted by the values of the world because they appeal to our flesh.  But when compare them to the example of Jesus Christ, we see how far apart that kind of life-- and the life of a child of God-- really is. 
And so then, to live a life of sacrifice and service as God’s child it is necessary that we have a change of heart and mind and will.  That change in us—what Paul calls the renewal of our mind—happens as we keep God’s mercy firmly in view.  We ask ourselves… 
Where in the life of Christ do we see anything that resembles the thinking of the world?  Nowhere!  And so we must not conform ourselves to that pattern or adopt those values.
Instead, we are to shape and pattern our lives after the example of our Lord’s life of service and sacrifice—to test and measure and evaluate our thoughts and actions and words and motivations against the pure standard of our Lord Jesus Christ-- and in this way learn the truth about ourselves and the truth about the greatness of his mercy—but also how to live as his people in service and sacrifice.  Paul wrote:
By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
            On the night when Jesus was betrayed, he gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples for the Passover Meal.  Common courtesy dictated that the feet of the guests would be washed. 
But all of the disciples stood around, looking at one another, waiting to see who would give in and take the lowest place; who would become the servant of all; each of them refusing to consider that maybe, just maybe he could do it.  Not one of them was willing to sacrifice what he thought was his place and his prestige.  Not one of them was willing to serve the others. 
And so Jesus took the towel in hand and the wash basin and he knelt at the disciple’s feet—the one, true and living God of the universe sacrificing his divine dignity and honor, serving them all in the lowliest way.  And he said:  I am leaving you an example
And so then, hear again the Spirit-inspired words of the Apostle Paul:  I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought.  In your marriages and in your families and in your workplaces and schools, do not think too highly of yourself.  And so then…
How should we think about ourselves as the people of God?  Is the servant above the master?  Of course not!  Are we the ones standing around, waiting to see who will bend the knee and serve?  As God’s sons and daughters we should think about ourselves like God’s only-begotten Son and serve one another as fellow members of the body of Christ.  Paul wrote:
As in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
            We are the body of Christ in this place—members of the church that stretches out across the world, spanning space and time.  We are member of Christ and we are members of one another.  We belong to Christ and we belong to one another.  We are men and women, boys and girls.  We are young and old.  We have different places and roles in society.
But what binds us together into the one body of Christ is infinitely greater than these differences.  We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  We share this meal of his body and blood.  We confess one faith and have one hope.  We have one heavenly Father and we follow one Lord and Master. 
That said, this unity we have together in Christ, this recognition that we belong to one another for the good of all, does not mean that we are all the same.  We are not!  And that is a good thing!  We have different experiences and perspectives, and especially we have different gifts and abilities so that we can serve one another in the body of Christ.  The Bible say:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
            This list illustrates, but does not exhaust, the various gifts that the Spirit gives to Christians.  Everyone who is a member of the body of Christ is gifted by the Spirit in some way so that we can all serve one another and serve the cause of Christ in the world.  Everyone is needed.  Everyone is valuable.  Everyone is necessary.  Everyone is gifted for service. 
And so then, for your reflection, I want to ask you:  what do you do to serve one another in the body of Christ in this place?  Beyond worshiping and giving an offering, what is your function in the body of Crist in this place?  How are you using your gifts to serve one another and God?  What are the concrete ways you are demonstrating that you are a member here?
Over the last several years we faced a significant challenge in terms of our facility.  It was far greater than any one of us could fix on our own.  And so we came together and worked together and we each did our part and the Lord blessed our efforts.
In a much more significant way than a roof that needs to be fixed, we face a spiritual challenge here that needs to be addressed. 
If we are to move forward with the mission the Lord has set before as the body of Christ in this place, if we are to become, for ourselves and our community everything God wants us to be, each and every one of you needs to understand that by the mercies of God, the Spirit has not only given you faith in Jesus, he has gifted you for service in this place and you have a function in this place that no one else can fill. 
The Bible says:  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them!  Let us use them!  Amen!


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