Romans 11:33–12:2 (NRSV)
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
1 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. 2 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.
The great gift. Imagine you have been a school teacher in a particular school for several years. Without you knowing it, your principal nominates you for a prestigious award. She takes the time to provide volumes of information about your work and effectiveness as an educator. She secures testimonials from former students who have excelled in academics and life. She does her research to show how your students have performed exceptionally on standard tests. Because of your principal’s efforts, you not only are chosen as a finalist but you win the award. You are named “Teacher of the Year,” you get to meet the governor of the state and you receive a $25,000 award to be used at your discretion. (This is the story of Katie Baker from Battle Academy.)
What would be your appropriate response to your principal? What would be the appropriate response to your students? What type of impact would it have on your teaching and the effort you put forward?
Paul had an intense fondness and connection with his Jewish family. Being raised and nurtured in that faith, he understood something of God’s bond with the Jewish people.
In this section of scripture, he explained the Jews had been chosen by God to be heirs of the richness of heavenly blessings and to be on a mission to the world as God’s ambassadors to others. God chose them not because they were the best, brightest or greatest. He chose them because it was his chose. He provided the Jews with a deeper understanding of His desires and his promises for them. Unfortunately, they did not continue to be responsive to God and slid away from God with many rejecting God’s plan for them.
Have you ever had an experience when someone turned you down for a great offer for them? Since Will Conner was appointed late in the appointment cycle last year, we have a team of people working on hiring his replacement. After exploring our needs and making some adjustments on staff, this team wrote and job description and posted ads. In the first search we had several wonderful people but the team agreed that one had the gifts and skills. We offered the job and it seemed as though she was coming but at the last moment informed us she had accepted another job. So the team casted the net again. Again several wonderful candidates with two we felt had the gifts and skills. The offer went to the first choice. He prayed about it and declined. Then we offered to the second and we could not work out the details. It has been a frustrating effort. When you have three strikes, it is tempting to give up.
After the Jewish nation failed royally, it might seem God would be willing to give up on humanity. But God did not. Paul explained that what happened with the Jews cleared the way for God’s plan to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ to be extended to those who were not Jewish. This good news of the savior who gave himself for them and defeated humanities greatest enemies brought new life. Paul expressed that it was as though the failure of the Jews opened the doorway for salvation to the Gentiles.
Lest any of us who are not Jewish think since we have this opportunity to experience God’s great blessing the Jews are not rejected, Paul holds up the “time out” sign. He says that God has not rejected his choice of the Jews. He makes it clear God extends his “mercy” to all – Jew and Gentile.
Then at the end of the section Paul offers this amazing doxology: For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. All things and all people come from God. The very possibility of what we are and can be is a god-thing. Our lives and experience flow out and are made possible by God. And then God’s intention is all flows back to Him.
My explanation of this is so inadequate to convey the enormous magnitude of what God has done and is doing for and in us. We can hardly imagine the great blessings God has ahead for us. But if we only have a glimmer of the splendor, the question we must ask is, “How can we respond to this?” How can we respond to God who has in Jesus Christ given us so much? How can we bring God pleasure?
All In Sacrifice.
Watch this classic clip from the Andy Griffith Show – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2IeNQIKWeA (3:57-5:35)
The show goes on to show how Gomer trying to pay Andy back. He goes overboard in his efforts and becomes a nuisance.
So how can we bring God pleasure for what He has done for us?
- Do you think an adequate and appropriate response for us would be to pray every day?
- To attend church services on occasion?
- To do random acts of kindness such as giving money to a homeless person?
- Volunteer to serve in the nursery to rock babies? Lead a small group of middle school boys? (Surely that would be pleasing to God!) As good as and meaningful as these acts are, it seems there is something more, something much deeper.
Paul laid it on the line and urged his readers to “offer their bodies as living sacrifices.” This is the reasonable response to God’s compassionate actions toward all of us.
When most of us hear the word, “sacrifice,” some contemporary images come into mind. A sacrifice in baseball is when a batter gives up his out to advance a runner to the next base. A parent who has a child in college makes sacrifices to pay the tuition. A person wanting to advance in her company makes sacrifices of personal time to give to the organization to get ahead.
Even in a religious sense we know something of sacrifice. During this season we call “Lent” people often give up something – “chocolate,” “cokes,” “sweets.
Paul’s idea of sacrifice was deeply rooted in his understanding of the worship practices of his people, the Jews. Since the time of Moses and before, their religious practices were centered in a sacrificial system. The Law set up a system where people brought their offering to God to express gratitude, to seek forgiveness and to offer praise. The sacrificial offerings were animals which were butchered and parts of the animals were cooked on the altar (a huge open pit BBQ). Often the animal was completely incinerated. (Now all of that sounds rather odd to our 21st century Western tastes.) Does Paul want us to offer some type of sacrifice on an altar?
Paul’s word combination here are an oxymoron – living sacrifice. Animals offered in sacrifice were put to death in a humane manner and then their carcasses were placed on the altar. Everyone knew sacrifices were dead, not alive.
Then to add to the shock feature of his words the sacrifice he was urging was that of our “body.” Was Paul suggesting some sadistic, radical religious act? “To show your appreciation for what God has done you need to go hop on an altar that is roaring with flames.”
I don’t think so. It seems Paul was calling us out to go all in for God – to give ourselves fully and completely to Him.
The call to offer one’s body is enlightening. Many of the OT sacrifices were portions of animals – a thigh, a breast. But here the call is the “body” – all of us. It is giving our all to the Lord. “Lord, here I am, do with me as you please.”
This feels like some pretty scary stuff. What radical thing would God want me to do? – Cash in my 401K and give it all to my church? Go to seminary to be a pastor? Travel to Africa to be a missionary? Go to work for Salvation Army or the Homeless Shelter?
Maybe. But it may begin with your devotion to your family and the present work you do. It may be offering yourself in ministry in your church or community you enjoy. It is making your life available to God.
Paul’s call was to be a “living” sacrifice. So we offer ourselves to God fully alive. We go all in with our eyes open. We commit ourselves to be fully engaged, to be fully involved. This is not a single act but is ongoing and alive.
Let’s see if we can make this come alive for us. I want to share with you a litany of people who seemed to be have offered themselves fully to God.
- For Charlie who was a sr. citizen, being all in was a matter of being faithful in his church and being willing to generously respond with his resources to needs and requests that came his way.
- For Pat being all in was a matter of her pouring her whole self into our role of ministry in her church as director of worship and musical arts. Even though she was officially “part-time” she gave of herself and went the second and third mile. Her passion for others led to pouring her life into others who were going through health crises.
- Randy was fully employed in demanding job yet he was fully engaged with his teenage son and his wife. At church, he was one who as a volunteered insured we could hear the service each week as being a volunteer crew leader for the sound ministry
- Jo loved youth. She gave of her time to serve them. She was/is so full of fun. She left her fingerprints on their lives as she gave herself to them.
- Jim loved his wife and daughters dearly. His work was demanding and often took him on the road. Yet he was faithful in teaching his Sunday School class. His work and ministry were part of who he was.
- He was the official greeter of the church. When Sundays happened, no one could get in with a warm greeting and a genuine hug. He loved the children and made them feel like princesses and princes.
In my experience, the all in sacrifice begins with a commitment or commitments to God.
Several years ago I was fully engaged in ministry as a pastor. I had finished seminary and loved serving in Jesus name. One evening, I traveled to a friend’s church in Fort Oglethorpe for a service led by Mark Rutland. I cannot tell you anything about the message that evening. I believe I listened closely but I can’t be sure I did not take a snooze. At the end of his message, Mark invited people forward to the chancel to pray. I felt an urging to make a renewed commitment. That evening I offered myself as a living sacrifice. I prayed, “Lord, here I am. Wherever you want to use me – whether walking up and down the hills and hollows of East Tennessee or Southwest Virginia or to serve presidents – use me as you will.” That evening was important for me I made that commitment. It has been amazing what has happened since that date.
Today, are you willing to go all in for Jesus? Are you willing to say to him, “Lord, here I am. Do with me as you please?” This altar is available for you to come to pray.