Second Sunday after Epiphany January 14, 2001
129, 133, 334, 401
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, Who is the Head of the body in which we all are members, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
In about twenty minutes from now, the collection plate will be passed in front of you—what will you put in it? Five dollars? Ten dollars? Twenty? One hundred? Hopefully, you’ll be generous in your offering to the Lord. Hopefully, you’ll recall with joy everything that the Lord has given you (which is everything you’ve got!), and you’ll respond by cheerfully supporting the work of the Gospel with your monetary offering. I know that most of you will do just that and, in fact, have been doing just that for a long time. You understand that good stewardship of the monetary wealth God gives you is part of a God-pleasing Christian life.
Well, this sermon isn’t about money. But it is about offerings—it’s about the most important offering you can give to the Lord. This is an offering that’s much more important than any check or bank note. It’s the offering of yourself! Today, the Apostle Paul is challenging you to take a giant step forward as a Christian; in effect, he’s asking you to put yourself in the collection plate.—Not physically, of course, but spiritually to give yourself over, body and soul, to the service of the Lord. We ask God’s Holy Spirit to guide us this morning as we consider the theme:
Paul was writing to the Christians in the congregation at Rome. Some of them were Jews, and some of them were non-Jews. One thing they both were familiar with was the practice of religious sacrifices. I mean literal sacrifices—the ritual killing of animals on religious altars as a part of worship, which was something both Jewish and pagan religions of the time commonly practiced. True Christian worship, Paul was telling them, also required sacrifice—but not the kind they were used to. He said, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Give your whole life as a sacrifice to God, he said. Not a bloody sacrifice, but a living one; ongoing, in daily service to the Lord. You might remember, though, that the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament had to be carried out with particular kinds of animals, and in a particular way. Otherwise, the sacrifice wouldn’t be acceptable to God. The same thing is true about the way we New Testament Christians give our living sacrifice to God. In order to make your life a pleasing offering to God, there are some guidelines you should follow. Paul spells them out. In the first place, he says an offering pleasing to God is a life that is not conformed to this world.
I remember, as a child, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Everything in it was fascinating, but what really grabbed me was a huge machine that made ashtrays. A mechanical arm would take a round disc of tin from a stack and place it in the press, then a big steel piston would come down and stamp it into an ashtray with one, powerful stroke. One after another, the machine stamped out the ashtrays, each with the same design on it, each one exactly like the last.
The society we live in is a lot like that machine. It tries to mold us and shape us into something we shouldn’t be. As Christians, we’re under constant, driving pressure to conform our lives to the image of the world. On television, in movies and magazines, we’re told that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life. That there’s really nothing wrong with sex outside of marriage. That a woman should have the right to kill her unborn baby if she wants to. That homosexuality isn’t an unnatural abomination, but a healthy “alternate lifestyle.” We’re taught that the Bible is a quaint, old-fashioned story book, full of errors and fairy tales, and that the chief goal of religion is to make people behave nicely. The pressure is constant, and it’s effective. After a while, we may be tempted to see things the same way. We may be tempted to live like the world wants us to; or at least to look with a less critical eye on those activities that God’s Word clearly condemns as sin.
But Paul says, “Don’t be conformed to this world.” An offering pleasing to God is a life that’s not stamped out in the world’s mold. Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Somehow “different” from the folks around you? Great! As Christians, you’re supposed to be different. The Apostle Peter is speaking directly to you when he says, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” I Pet 2:9.
What’s the alternative to conformation? Trans-formation! Paul says, be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. An offering pleasing to God is a life that is transformed by faith in Jesus.
I saw an interesting news show about what some of the nations of the former Soviet Union are doing with their ballistic missiles, now that the cold war is over. As you know, many of the missiles have been decommissioned. It turns out that very often, after the nuclear warhead is removed, the metal is actually used to make farm implements, like plows and disks. It’s the same piece of metal, of course, but now it looks different, and it does different things. From a deadly weapon of war to a useful tool of agriculture—now that’s a real transformation! The same thing’s true about believers. A Christian is a human being whose life has been transformed by faith. He’s still made of flesh and bone, but now—by the power of the Holy Spirit—his life takes on a different look. He also functions differently, using his body, his mind, and all his resources to serve the Lord. Earlier in the book of Romans, Paul encourages the transformed Christians, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” Rom 6:19.
But what is it, exactly, that transforms us? Is there any force that’s really powerful enough to change our lives from self-serving to God-serving? Yes there is, and it’s called the Gospel!
We can not transform ourselves, that’s one thing for sure. Even if you were to set aside an hour every morning, and sat at your kitchen table concentrating with all your might on how to keep the Commandments and make your life better, that by itself wouldn’t do you any good. God’s Law is powerful, don’t get me wrong—it’s great for showing you your sins—but the Law of God can never give you a better, more God-pleasing life. Only the Gospel can do that!
The Gospel message is the renewing, refreshing, transforming Good News that you have been freed from your sins. Each one of your sins—the ones you committed yesterday, and the ones you will commit tomorrow—they have all been washed away by the blood of Christ. Jesus died to redeem the world, yes. But more important is the fact that He died to redeem you, as an individual. And in the place where your sinfulness was, Jesus has put His perfect righteousness. He kept all of the Commandments perfectly. He was perfectly obedient to His heavenly Father. He fulfilled all righteousness; and now His perfect righteousness has become your personal possession, by faith in Him. You know, I have very little patience with the learned theologians and Biblical scholars who try to portray salvation as a complicated and difficult process. Because salvation isn’t complicated! It’s very simple, really: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. So simple—“Jesus lived and died for me. It is finished. For Jesus’ sake I’m going to heaven, and nothing can stop me!”
When people really understand that—when they grasp the meaning of this incredibly Good News—a powerful change occurs. By the power of the Holy Spirit, their minds are renewed. Without even thinking about it, their lives are transformed. Good works flow spontaneously in their lives, just water runs spontaneously downhill. You don’t have to tell water to run downhill, it just does. You don’t have to tell a Christian to do good works, he just does, he can’t help it. It’s in the nature of being a Christian. You see, you don’t have to sit and concentrate about it; the fruits of a thankful faith will appear in your life naturally, just like apples grow on apple trees. The fact is, you don’t even have to go looking for good works to do. God has already got them ready for you! The book of Ephesians says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Eph 2:10.
The Gospel is our motivation. The joy of knowing we’re saved by Jesus—that’s what makes us offer our whole lives as a sacrifice to the Lord’s service. In our new-found freedom from sin’s punishment, we want to serve the Lord—we can’t help but serve the Lord. The only question that remains for you now is: what’s the best way for me to do this? How can I, as an individual, put my particular talents and abilities at the Lord’s disposal? And that’s an important question, because Paul says that an offering pleasing to God is a life that finds its place in the Church.
Today the Apostle urges you, as an individual, to prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God for your life. In other words, to let God’s Word to guide you to your place, to show you where you fit into His overall plan for the Church, the invisible body of all believers. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
The Church is like an orchestra. By nature, however, we human beings are all soloists. We’re proud, we want to perform alone, and have the stage completely to ourselves. But the Church of God is no place for soloists. It’s an orchestra, made up of many different members, all using their different talents in different ways. Now the harmony of an orchestra depends on the fact that all the members are using the same music and watching the same conductor. The Head of the Church is our Savior Jesus Christ, the One we all look to for our life and salvation. The score that we all depend on for our life’s direction is the holy, unchanging Word of God. We dare not give in to “pious pride;” we dare not assume a “holier-than-thou” attitude. Paul uses the picture of the human body—can the hand criticize the foot because it’s not a hand? Ridiculous! Both the hand and the foot are necessary to the body. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Sometime in the near future—maybe on your way home from church today, or sitting in your easy chair after dinner—I hope you’ll give some more thought to that question. “What’s the best place for me in the Church? How can I position myself so as to give the most back to God for everything He has given me?” God offered up His only Son for you—remember and rejoice! And let your life be your offering to Him! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.