A LIVING SACRIFICE
12th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 16) LSB #’s 842, 851, 662
Text – Romans 12:1
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy & acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
A LIVING SACRIFICE
“Therefore, I will never, ever go fishing again.” Strange as it may be, that’s the opening sentence. What do you make of it? The words are simple enough. You understand what they say. “Therefore, I will never, ever go fishing again.”
I spoke those words in your 1st language – English. I enunciated them clearly & I repeated them to make sure you heard. I used good diction & syntax & grammar & volume, yet the full meaning of the sentence is still fuzzy. There’s something missing, isn’t there? Just speaking & hearing & understanding words are not always communication.
In order to truly understand the depth of meaning in that opening sentence you need more information. What is it that you need? It’s the context, isn’t it? The words themselves have meaning, but without the context you cannot appreciate their spoken purpose.
So, here is the context. We have friends from Beijing, China who’ve been in the US for almost a year. The father & son have gone fishing around Lansing, but without much success. On our vacation up north we invited them to come along for a few days & one of the things Jan arranged was for a chartered fishing trip on Pentwater Lake.
The weather was beautiful & everything was going well. The father had already caught a one pound Sheepshead & we were settling in for more. Suddenly, the guy who was running the charter leaned over to me & said, “I think I forgot to ask do all of you have fishing licenses.”
A sinking feeling hit my stomach as the realization washed over me that getting a license had never once occurred to me. Jan had arranged the entire event & I have not been fishing in my entire adult life. Yes, I know you need a license to fish, but I was just going along for the ride in case there were translation issues with the father & son from China. I have been fishing as a child. Our 4-H group charted a boat in the Saginaw Bay on several occasions for yellow perch, & that was all I needed to realize that I just have no interest in fishing.
So the boat driven by the DNR officers pulled up & asked for our fishing licenses. I admitted I didn’t have one so they took my driver’s license instead. After about 15 minutes they gave my license back along with a court citation for fishing without a license. This coming Thursday I have to appear in the Oceana County Court, by Zoom, to make my plea.
And apart from all that, the four hours we spent fishing on Pentwater Lake reconfirmed my earlier opinion. I have neither the skill set nor the desire to spend any of my time fishing. “Therefore, I will never, ever go fishing again.”
Did you hear how the context adds layers of meaning to the simple sentence opening the sermon? The context that comes before ‘therefore’ provides insight & meaning for correctly understanding what comes after ‘therefore.’ I will never, ever go fishing again, because I just don’t enjoy it, & because the last time I went I got cited for not having a license. PAUSE
Likewise with the 12th chapter of Romans; the context that comes before the ‘therefore’ provides insight & meaning for correctly understanding what comes after. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy & acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1 ESV)
In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, with chapter 12 he begins drawing a conclusion from the previous 11 chapters. What is the reasoning behind presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice? What motivates us to do such an unselfish thing? When I was going on mission trips to Tijuana, & building houses for people, it was not uncommon for them to ask, “Why are you doing this? Why do you leave your comfortable life behind to travel here to such poverty & then build homes in the hot sun all day?” In the ministry to the international students at MSU, it also is not uncommon to hear, “Why are you doing this? Why do you take time from your busy lives to care for us & to teach us whom you had never known before?”
In the sermon text, St. Paul encourages us to do those sorts of things by the mercies of God, but He had already alluded to that in 11:30, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy...” He made the Good News even clearer at 5:8, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The heavenly Father invested the life of His Son in you & me, even though all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God. It’s that kind of mercy that the Apostle is writing about when he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1 ESV)
In chapter 8 we remember these powerful words:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? …Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. …neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Because nothing ever will be able to separate God’s children from eternity in heaven, we can put ourselves last, we can be content with the crumbs, we can present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies, or the Good News, of God. We don’t have to be number one here in this life because children of God will be number one for all eternity.
Now, by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, through us, the Holy Spirit will build up people who’ve been broken down. Through us, the Holy Spirit will help people & raise them up to lead healthy lives as flourishing children, parents, families & congregations of people. A dead sacrifice, can only be offered up once, but as living sacrifices our entire lives can be ones of service & hope & light. You have the privilege of finishing the good works that God’s Spirit has prepared in advance for you to do. As a living sacrifice you have the joy of using the gifts God has blessed you with to lift people up.
Paul’s encouragement to present our bodies as a living sacrifice would be similar to John F. Kennedy saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” (Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961) If you listen to the promises the politicians of today are making, everything has been turned on its head since the speech given by JFK.
The difference is politicians are not going to die on a cross for your sins. In this election year, we should be voting for Jesus who did die for your sins & for mine. Jesus is pro-life, not pro-death. God’s Word says that government is given to us for providing justice to the poor & to the rich, to provide law & order. It says nothing about free college or free health care.
Members of the church, the body of Christ, should be taking care of people. Out of love for all that Christ has done for us, we should be doing those things – presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. It is the old evil age which believes that I am the center. I choose. I’m in charge. What I say goes.
It’s an old & popular way of thinking. It has values & beliefs that lead us into sin, to selfishness & to pride, but that old age is passing away. If you cling to it, you will pass away with it. You are not your own, not even your body is your own, because Jesus renewed it for you at your baptism. At the resurrection it will become part of the new age we call heaven.
Christians are never pro-choice because when the Holy Spirit is living & moving in you, there are no choices to make. God’s Spirit makes them for you & then you follow Jesus. And you do so not out of compulsion or out of fear. You follow Jesus; you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, out of gratitude & out of love. Paul’s writing is parallel to the instruction God gives to Jeremiah – resist conforming to the popular false preachers of the day. Instead, renew your mind with God’s Word. To save my life I must lose it. The same is true for you. How are we to lose our lives? Not necessarily in death, but in repentance.
In other words, in death to my own self-centered & demanding will, I am to repent, to turn my heart away from me, myself & I. My heart & yours need to be turned & tuned to our heavenly Creator. Daily we are to crucify our sinful nature in Christ. Much is lost in doing so, in worldly terms, but in the long run, in the eternal run, much more is gained.
Paul was writing to the church in Rome & the Christians there were not glorious to the world around them. Neither are we. Not many of them were rich. Not many of them were powerful. Neither are we. Their lives were a far cry from the glories of Rome, much less the glories of heaven. I know my life is not filled with earthly glory. What about yours?
Yet, as Paul looks at them, he sees earth crammed with heaven & he writes so that they join him in celebrating the wonder of God. Did you notice how Paul used the language of sacrifice? The sacrificial worship of God’s people, that glory of the temple in Jerusalem, is suddenly transformed in Paul’s thoughts.
God’s people become sacrifices, outside the temple, outside Jerusalem, hidden inside the small house churches gathering in the heart of the large empire of Rome. These people are God’s people, transformed into sacrifices that are living, holy, & acceptable to God.
Paul knew that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ put an end to temple sacrifices. His death was the perfect sacrifice. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By His sacrifice, God’s people were freed from offering sacrifices for sin. By His sacrifice, they were freed to become sacrifices – living sacrifices – of praise. And they poured out their lives in service to the weak & the powerless in the world around them. What was the motivating force behind presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice? It was by the mercies of God the Father who gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice may not sound like something you want for yourself. I’m guessing it’s not currently on the “bucket list” for any of you. It can be a threatening & intimidating concept, certainly to the sinful nature in us.
Therefore, through the first 11 chapters, Paul goes through one presentation after another of what God has done through the Lord Jesus Christ. After all that, what is to be our response? Our saintly nature responds in repentance, & humility & surrender. Then, as we lose our life for Christ we actually gain true life as a gift from God.
In Christ, that is always what comes after “therefore.” Amen.
Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice; & with that have freely given blessings countless as the sand to the unthankful & the evil with Your own unsparing hand. Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to give You gladly, freely of Your own. With the sunshine of Your goodness melt our thankless hearts of stone till our cold & selfish natures, warmed by You, at length believe that more happy & more blessed ’tis to give than to receive. Amen. LSB 851:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet