In our readings from Romans, we read such a classic scripture. “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 spiritualworship”. (Romans 12:1)
It is a scripture that if you pay close attention to the Eucharist liturgy at the altar, we use this scripture in some form every Sunday morning. You will notice it this morning, as we pray over the sacraments with these words: “Now gathered at your table, O God of all creation, and remembering Christ, crucified and risen, who was and is and is to come, we offer to you our gifts of bread and wind, and ourselves, a living sacrifice.” We leave our lives on the altar, dedicating all that we have, all that we ever hope to be, as we come to the altar of the Lord. Christ is sacrificed for us, and we are asked to follow that lead, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. Christ was sacrificed for us, and we in turn give our lives as a sacrifice on the altar. And then Paul adds this statement: “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.” (Romans 12:2)
Christian stewardship means that our lives are dedicated to Jesus Christ. It means to take on a new mind-set so that we may discern what the will of God is. Paul is being very practical in his teaching to the Roman Church. This is some good advice not only for them from close to 2000 years ago, but for us. There are some thing in the Bible that are particularly applicable to the people and to the time and culture that the scripture was written (and for us this morning, it is the letter to the Christian Church in Rome). Paul addresses issues such as law and grace, bondage and freedom, clean and unclean food, gifts and callings, and death and life. There are times when the New Testament writers address specific issues, behavior and problems that do not apply to us. But, there are underlying premises (truths that transcend time and space, culture and history). This is one of those truths that apply to every one of us, a thread that has been relevant to all generations since the time it was penned.
And, the truth that applies to us this morning, on August 24, 2014 is this: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3) This is practical and relevant advice. It is not mystical. It is not beyond our grasp. It is not like understanding the mysteries of faith that are so beyond our understanding that it is baffling to us. This is not one of those kinds of teachings. Take an analytical survey, taking a close examination of who we are, (an x-ray of who we are individually and collectively) what our gifts are, and to think soberly about that. Another definition for thinking soberly is executing sound judgment based on evidence that we have in hand, not evidence we do not have, but the evidence that we have access to.
So, for example Paul continues his teaching with these words from Romans: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5) That’s the beauty of the Church, and that’s the beauty of the Day of Pentecost, and this season of Pentecost, The Holy Spirit has been infused into the church to transform us individually and collectively into what is referred to as the Body of Christ. Christ lives and reigns through us. We are his feet, hands, eyes and mouth. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8)
Next Sunday is Volunteer Recognition and Appreciation Sunday, and I know somebody will probably be overlooked. There is much done in and around this church that is behind the scenes, out of view from the rest of us. We have two women that weed and water and care for our Prayer Garden every week. I bet some of you don’t even know what their names are. We have another man that comes in and fixes things, some things that he has been asked to do, but others he just finds on his own and fixes them. He often doesn’t even let you know that it was broken. If you’re not around the buildings every day like I am, you may never know what this guy does. I won’t mention Jack Pape’s name today, but we will mention him next week. He fixes things because he’s good at it. Not everybody does that.
There are so many active members in this parish that do so much above and beyond what we would expect from anyone. God has assigned different gifts and ministries to each one of us. Not everybody is a preacher. Not everyone is called to read the times, to ascertain and to get hold of where the church is and where it is going into the future and to guide us into that place. Ministry, in proportion to the ministry you have with sober judgment. We have a lot of teachers in this church—Sunday School and VBS teachers, lay preachers, Eucharistic Visitors, Prayer chain members, hospitality ministers, givers in generosity (we could always use more of those) We are a small church with a lot of things going on and budget that is difficult to manage. As our vestry, finance committee and treasurer knows, who balances funds with ministry needs, and this too, is all done behind the scenes. It’s always a challenge of faith. We are always behind the 8 Ball, but we believe that God has a plan for us.
As we work together we will find a way to make this work within our own ministry paradigm, using sober judgment, as we offer our lives on the altar of God. I say often, that I am a leader of leaders in this parish. That’s how I choose to lead. Not having people step up for ministry opportunities is not a problem here. It is something that I know is special about this place, and hopefully we all can appreciate and recognize that and not take it for granted. This is a welcoming church, a church that has a lot of passion, and people that share the love of God with cheerfulness, as many of us will be doing this afternoon at the Welcome Church in Wells Park.
We are all in this together. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, and then may we all say personally and collectively:
Here I Am! I’ll Go! Send Me!
Here We Are? We’ll Go! Send Us!
Year A 11th Sunday after Pentecost
August 24, 2014
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen