Romans 12:1-8

Transformed for Service

Proper 16A

August 24, 2014

Here they are, just your normal, everyday Christians.  The Roman Christians, a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers, seemed to be nothing special to the world around them. Not many of them were rich. Not many of them were powerful. They gathered together in house churches, their lives a far cry from the glories of Rome much less the glories of heaven. And yet, Paul writes to them about their Christian lives, founded on the confession of faith of who Jesus is as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. “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” (12:1).

Notice how Paul uses the language of sacrifice. The sacrificial worship of God’s people, that glory of the temple in Jerusalem, is suddenly transformed. 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, living, holy, acceptable to God. 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 are freed from offering sacrifices for sins; freed to become sacrifices. Living sacrifices of praise. As they poured out their lives in service in the world.

As Paul looks at the people in Rome, he sees the body of Christ at work in the world. Paul speaks of the gifts of the Spirit poured out upon the people – prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy. Not only does God freely forgive all sins but he also freely bestows all gifts, so that people have a purpose and a place in God’s greater story. God has a greater plan for each person in his story of salvation.

You see, God has brought about your salvation in Jesus, who is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He has offered the perfect sacrifice that takes away your sin, that forgives your blindness and opens your eyes to see and your lives to celebrate the working of God. God does more than work in the lives of others. He works in your life . . . for others . . . in this world. This is why Paul starts to name gifts – actions such as teaching, service, leadership, mercy. His list is not complete. It is only suggestive. But Paul names these things so that you can see how God is at work in your life. Paul invites you today to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. He encourages you to test and discern God’s good and gracious will in your life.

Teachers at our school present yourselves as a living sacrifice of God. Confirmation students, present yourselves as a living sacrifice for God. The rest of you, do the same. What you cannot do, you can support with your tithes and offerings, with your prayers, with your encouragement. You don’t have to be perfect for this to apply to you.  It’s because you’re not perfect that it does. He transforms you by the Gospel into a living sacrifice, not to make up for past or present of future sins, but because you are forgiven in Christ, equipped to use His gifts in service to others flowing from the grace of God in Christ.

The stewardship of our gifts all rests on the confession of faith of who Jesus is – the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  It rests on receiving the gifts of God, gifts that He gives only through His Word, through the blessed waters of baptism, and His very body and blood. The greatest gift is that of repentance and faith in Christ. It is from here that all these others which St. Paul writes about stem from.  So repent over not doing what you should. Repent over trying to steal the credit for what God does through you.  Failure to use your gifts and the grace of God does not make faith a lie.  Jesus’ forgiveness covers your past, present, and future sins.  Repent, and believe that the gifts of God are given to give you the benefits of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins.

He calls us to see the glory of God, hidden in the lives of his people, in self-sacrificial service on earth. Our world would have us conform to its ways. Seek glory and power by gaining things for ourselves. In the ways of our world, religion can become one more tool we use to make ourselves better. Claiming the power of God to gain glory on earth. For the apostle Paul, there was some concern that the Roman Christians would take pride in their status and gifts for service. Paul warns them, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone not to think of himself more highly than he ought” (12:3).  This is a big problem still today. Too often, we tend to think of our great works and service and try to take credit for them.  We crave the attention, the pat on the back, and the “thank you.”

God’s ways are different, however. Humble. Hidden. Sacrificial. Selfless. In a world attracted to glory. You have been joined to the body of Christ. Made part of his people by the forgiveness of your sins. And Paul now invites you, in view of God’s mercies, to no longer be conformed to this world but to be transformed for service by the Word of God, by the font, and by the altar. To live by giving rather than gaining. By service rather than selfishness.

In this way, the church reflects of the glory of Christ. It reveals the ways of God in the world. You are the body of Christ, drawn into His work. Your lives are monuments of His self-sacrificial love. Your life joined to Christ. “A living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.