Text: Romans 12:1-6a; Hebrews 13:15-16
:: Sermon Audio (LINK) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Youth Testimony
Abby Austell (AUDIO LINK)
:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "Marvelous Light" (Charlie Hall)
Song of Praise: "Jesus, All for Jesus" (Robin Mark)
Song of Sending: "Revelation Song" (Jennie Lee Riddle)
:: Some Visuals Used
Prelude: Video* on Romans 12:2
:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
A few weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook that declared a commonly held view: that worship is a particular activity of the church. In other words, this “Sunday morning stuff” is different than meeting God in the woods or having a personal spirituality. It is important and it shapes us and it is worth doing. And I agree with all that. But this view also points to one of the great challenges to being the church: how our Sunday mornings relate to our “whole life” or the “rest of life.” And that is what we will look at today.“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Similarly, you have heard and will hear some important testimony from our youth about how meaningful their mission trip experiences were. And I have no doubt that they were. Those kinds of experiences are important and shape us and are worth doing. But with those, too, comes a challenge: how will those experiences relate to our whole life or the rest of life? Again, that is what we want to take a closer look at together.
Today we are focusing on two important verses in Romans 12. We shortened the memory verse just to verse 2, but originally we had verses 1-2, and both are equally important. And, as always, we want to not take these verses out of context, but understand them in their context. So,
A Living and Holy Sacrifice (v. 1)
Romans 11 ends with a great benediction of praise. Speaking of God, Paul declares, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36) Echoing other parts of scripture, Paul is caught up in praise recognizing that all of creation and history will result in the glory of God. And then he says, “Therefore….” That’s the beginning of chapter 12: “therefore.” Since all creation and history are in God’s hands and to God’s glory, Paul is moved to give a charge to us, the “brethren” or followers of Jesus Christ. He is moved to URGE us, by the mercies of God no less, to present our “bodies [as] a living and holy sacrifice.” (v. 1)
Sacrifices were not new to the Jews or even Greeks of Paul’s day. That’s what you brought to God (or to gods) for all kinds of reasons. But Paul is not talking about the old Jewish sacrifices or even the pagan sacrifices. He isn’t writing about buying an animal or bringing produce or money as an offering. He is talking about US! He makes it so we can’t mistake his point: we are to present OUR BODIES, our physical selves, and to do so as a living sacrifice. So, in addition to being personal, it is not a one-time offering, but a LIVING sacrifice, to include our waking and sleeping, our eating and drinking, our work and rest, our loving and community-building. Our living sacrifice is also a HOLY sacrifice, which is one that is acceptable to God, distinct and set apart from any other sacrifices or offerings we make in life.
Are you following this? Because all things are from God, through God, and to God, resulting in His eternal glory, it is urgent that we who follow God present our whole LIVES as a holy sacrifice to God. And THAT is described as “your spiritual service of worship.” It’s a bit more comprehensive than even the most rigorous church service, don’t you think?
Also consider our other scripture text this morning: Hebrews 13:15-16.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.This isn’t describing a Sunday morning worship service, but LIVING LIFE ITSELF! We are to continually “offer up a sacrifice” of praise and thanks as well as the sacrifices of “doing good and sharing.” Though we may sing praises in Sunday morning worship and take a collection for those in need, these verses clearly describe something broader and more continual than the one hour in the sanctuary.
What both these texts, Romans 12 and Hebrews 13, teach us is that there is a broader definition of worship that includes all of life. Sunday morning worship is not diminished or excluded, but we realize there is more to life and more to worship than that.
The Dangers and Opportunities of Real-Life Worship (v. 2)
Paul is not done urging us. Presenting our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice was just one half of his message. The other half comes in verse 2 – you can see the word ‘and’ connecting what comes next. Paul also urges us to “not be conformed to this world”; instead, he continues, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
I appreciate this verse coming where it does because just as Paul pushes me out of the safety zone of Sunday morning worship, out of the “come to church” mindset, he warns me that there are dangers out there. In keeping with Jesus’ defining prayer in John 17, that we not come out of the world but live and witness IN it, Paul warns us not to be conformed to the world (what Jesus would describe in John 17 as becoming OF the world). Paul warns us that there will be a push and pull on our lives – you know, the lives we are to live out as a holy sacrifice, acceptable to God as a spiritual service of worship. There will be pressure, a push and pull to conform us to other values, other gods, other priorities. So Paul warns, “Look out! Don’t be conformed to the world.” Being conformed to the world is, in fact, the opposite of the biblical concept of ‘holiness.’ If we are conformed to the world, we lose our distinctness as God’s people and we miss out on the reason God has called us into being. Instead, Paul writes, “Be transformed!”
Here is another place I appreciate Paul. Rather than just talk about presenting our bodies – our physical selves – like showing up for Sunday school and checking a sign-in sheet or showing up for the Church 2.0 class out in the public square, Paul urges us to plug in our minds. If our minds are renewed, he says, then we will be changed… transformed. And that will run counter to the conforming pressure of the world. Instead, godly transformation through renewal of our minds – where we make our choices – will result in a visible and tangible witness to God’s good and perfect will. Got that? If we submit our minds and choices to God’s leading, our lives will be transformed and we will BE the living and holy public sacrifice God deserves. This is truly what it means to BE the Church!
So as we look beyond the narrow idea of coming to church to the broad, biblical view of being the church, we are presented with a danger and an opportunity. The danger is that we might be conformed to the world. But that is going on all the time! The opportunity, and really the defense against being conformed is being transformed through the renewing of our mind, with the result of living life to the glory of God in the world.
In the Training Room of Worship: pros and cons
It is significant that we would talk about this on the Sunday that the youth share about the mission experiences, but perhaps not for the reason you might imagine. I think in many ways short-term mission trips are similar to Sunday morning worship. Both Sunday morning worship and mission-trip experiences are important and shape us and are worth doing. I don’t doubt for a moment that our teenagers had a powerful experience of God and of helping others. And I don’t doubt that they did help others. We have high standards and looked hard for mission agencies that build relationships in the communities they serve, that empower local people, that work alongside local people, and that ground the service work in the context of worship, study, reflection, and evaluation.
But here’s where I think the danger lies. Like Sunday morning worship, youth group, or a “mountain-top” experience like the Bonclarken retreat, the youth mission trips aren’t “the real world.” That may seem counter-intuitive or just wrong. After all, they were helping some of the poorer people in the world with home repair, water collection, and any number of important activities. But, our kids also got to go sleep in a safe environment and get on a bus or plane and head home after a week or so. While on the worksites, they were watched over by responsible adults and we had medical info and plans ready to go at a moment’s notice should anyone get hurt. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that; in fact, we require it!
Here’s what I’m getting at. Let me shift away from church things for a moment and share an illustration. Have you ever been to the gym? I’m thinking particularly of the big workout room at the YMCA. All those machines… Nautilus and treadmills and Stairmasters and the like. Do you know what they are there for? Of course you do… to get in shape. And, in fact, they are there to get in shape SAFELY. There are trainers watching, safety instructions posted, and the machines themselves are designed for safe exercise. On the treadmill you can attach the clip so that if you fall the machine will shut off. On the Nautilus machines, the motion of your exercise is carefully controlled so that you shouldn’t have a sudden, unexpected motion and injure yourself. And then, there is air condition, televisions, and more.
Do you see where I am headed? So, let’s say you go to the YMCA every morning for an hour and you do the machines. That’s good! Will you get in shape? Yes! Here’s the question of the hour… WHY?
Why do you do it? Is it because being healthier is a good thing? Of course. But is that all? Could there be more? Could being healthier actually change how you live life? Could it change how you interact with people, the kinds of things you do, and the choices you make day in and day out? YES! YES! To take the illustration to a further extreme, there are some who go beyond basic health and grow bigger and bigger muscles… for some, these can even be just to look at.
There are similar dynamics at work when it comes to Sunday morning worship or mission trips or retreats or any number of things we do to stretch our God-muscles. If all you ever do is attend Sunday morning worship, will you end up knowing more about God? Yes, probably so, if you are engaged at all with what is going on. But there is a bigger question to ask… WHY?
Why do we do it? Is it just to look at? Is it just for our own good? Why do we do these things, safely protected (well, usually protected) from the dangers of the world? In Romans 12:1-2, Paul says… no he URGES!... that it is so we can live lives of worship before God and IN THE WORLD. That is a dangerous opportunity and it is our Christian calling. Should we abandon church worship, retreats, and the like? By no means! That’s where we can train with experts, safety, and the encouragement of fellow believers. And, to be sure, there is more going on than just training. But, is that the ultimate purpose of our Christian lives? No… we are to follow Christ out into the world God loves, with God’s mercy and for God’s glory.
So, to you for whom the summer mission trips were so meaningful… well done! Your eyes have been open to a world of needs, material and physical. You have seen God at work out in the world and in your own life. You have been through boot camp and are ready for the world in which you live and move, for the start of school and sports and friendships and choices and living all of life for God.
To you who gather today for Sunday morning worship… well done! You have been through worship training and are ready to go out into the world in which you live and move, to the workplace and child-raising and grocery-shopping and traffic stops and friendships and living all of life for God.
We meet here every week; come back again! But know that the mission, the calling, the work… is out there, for God’s glory. Amen!