The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Sacrifice

15th Sunday after Pentecost
September 17, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Sacrifice

Dear friends in Christ,

Last week we heard Paul tell us that there is nothing that we can give to God that God should repay us. We were and are in awe of the grace and mercy of our God, that he would do everything to save us when we could give him nothing. And now, just a few sentences later, Paul tells us to give God everything that we are, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Why? Not to pay God for our sins or to repay him for his forgiveness. In view of God's mercy we give thanks to him by offering our whole self to his service. He sacrificed all for us. Now, God asks us to sacrifice all for him. We do so when our minds are transformed. We do so when when we use our gifts.

Romans 12:1–8 (NIV84)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

By the Transforming of Our Minds

Everything Paul teaches us today is in view of God's mercy. If we lose track of why we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, we fall into works righteousness. We fall into thinking that we are doing God a favor by serving him. Our service, our sacrifice is always in view of God's mercy. Otherwise it is worse than doing nothing.

Jesus reminded his disciples of what God's mercy would look like in our Gospel reading today. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21). God's mercy is the sacrifice of Christ in the place of sinful people. Jesus would suffer beatings, insults, whips and thorns. Jesus would suffer the pain and the shame of the cross to forgive the sin of the world. Jesus must die to save us. The pure Son of God offered himself as the blood sacrifice so that your sins no longer count against you. We are forgiven. The way of the cross, the way of sacrifice was the only way for Jesus to save us.

The disciples, especially Peter, did not understand this. Peter's mind was still being transformed and renewed by the word of God through Jesus. But at this time, Peter reverted to the pattern of this world and tried to stop Jesus from carrying out his life-giving sacrifice. The way of the world is to achieve victory by power and strength. Peter knew that Jesus was the Son of the Living God and that he had the power to defeat all his enemies. Why surrender to them and let them humiliate and kill you when you can defeat them with one word? Peter was only looking out for what was best for Jesus and the disciples. He could not imagine how the death of Jesus would help them in this world.

In a worldly way, Peter was right. The lives of the disciples in this world did not improve after Jesus died. Their earthly lives did not improve even after Jesus rose from the dead. Instead, they faced trouble, persecution, jail, hatred and execution.

When we no longer conform our thinking to the pattern of this world and instead offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, will our life on this earth improve? Some would say “yes”, but the lives of the disciples and the word of God say, “no.” As Christians, we do not want to conform to vulgar or obscene words and talk, whether it is just among friends or on the internet. The world says that kind of talk is normal. The world says to trade insult for insult. The world says the only way to defend your honor is to fight back. Jesus says to turn the other cheek when someone hits you, with words or fists.

The world promotes greed. Greed for money and things motivates people to study and work hard in this world. The pattern of the world is to want more money and more stuff than you have, no matter what you already have. The pattern of the world is to never be content. Paul says “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8).

The world says that everyone can have their own version of morality. The country of Iceland has almost no children born each year with Down syndrome. Almost all mothers get prenatal screenings. If Down syndrome is likely in their child, 100% of mothers choose to have that child killed before birth. The only children born in Iceland with Down syndrome are those whose mothers did not get the prenatal test or if, by the grace of God, the test gave the wrong result, thereby saving the child's life. This kind of extermination of people with a disability is called good, and it is happening in more than just Iceland. 2/3 of mothers whose unborn child is positive for Down syndrome in the Untied States have their child killed. God says that he creates every child in their mother's womb. He calls on us to show mercy and compassion to the fatherless and the widow, to defend the poor and needy. Who needs our help more than a child likely to be born with a serious disability? The world says to avoid the trouble, avoid the pain, avoid the cost, avoid the suffering. Christ calls on us to sacrifice our time, energy, money to help those who need help. He calls on us to suffer along with those who also suffer.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The pattern of the world has become the norm for many nations that were once predominantly Christian nations, ours included. People stopped having their minds renewed by the word of God. Church attendance dropped to a small remnant. And when our mind is not continually renewed by the truth of God in the Scriptures, the false ideas of the world bombard us from every side and eventually overtake us. Don't think that you are immune from the attacks of the world. We are all capable of falling for the world's lies. That is why it is so important to continually renew your mind and strength. How else will we know the will of God except to listen to the word of God that reveals God's will? In view of Christ's sacrifice, we are ready to give thanks to him by sacrificing what we have in the world in order to know the will of God more and more.

By the Use of Our Gifts

In view of God's mercy to us in Christ, we are ready to thank him by using our gifts.

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Martin Luther entered one of the most strict monasteries around because he wanted to sacrifice as much as possible for God. He believed what the church of the time taught, that becoming a monk, a nun, or a priest was the best way to offer your body as a living sacrifice to God. They taught that some who entered a life of full time service to God would earn enough credit to get to heaven. Some would even earn extra credit that could be given to those poor souls who did not do enough to earn heaven during their own life. Luther was on his way to becoming a lawyer and you certainly couldn't do enough good as a lawyer to earn heaven. Neither could you serve God enough as a farmer, a mother, a carpenter or a tailor. Only by becoming a monk, a nun, or a priest could you truly offer your body as a living sacrifice to God.

This view was and is completely contrary to the word of God recorded for us by the apostle Paul today. One cannot offer any amount of service to earn God's approval. Everything we do is done in view of God's mercy to us in Christ's sacrifice. We offer our bodies as living sacrifices because we are thankful that Christ forgave our sins, not to make him forgive us. And Paul does not rank how we are to serve the Lord in our lives. He tells us that every believer is part of Christ's body. Every part of the body is important, but every part is different. Every believer has gifts to be used to serve the Lord and others, but every believer is different.

We don't have to compare and rank our gifts. God did not give us different gifts to make us envy each other. He gave us different gifts to use. Paul just gives us a short list of gifts you may have: Prophesying is telling what God says. Some have the ability to explain and apply the Scriptures so others understand it. Some just love to serve others. Some are wonderful at teaching, especially God's word. We need encouragement and some believers know the right words to say at any time to encourage us. All believers give offerings in keeping with their income. But some find great joy in giving and can't wait for the next opportunity to give. Leaders communicate and motivate others to get the most out of the gifts of others. And some believers quietly show mercy to someone the world overlooked.

Notice that none of these gifts require you to enter the monastery. None of them require you to be in a certain place or have a certain occupation. Of course, you want to use your God-given gifts at church. But in view of God's mercy to us, we want to offer him thanks and service with our entire life. We lead in our family, show mercy to a friend at school, explain something Jesus said to a coworker, encourage a neighbor, serve our aging parents or our young children by taking care of their needs.

Believers do not only worship Christ on Sunday mornings. We look for ways in every place and at all times to thank God for Christ's sacrifice. Therefore we offer up our whole self in service to our Savior and to others.

In view of God’s mercy,... offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Amen.


 

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