November 19, 2023
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform 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 faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
“Knock, knock, we’re here. Happy Thanksgiving!” Joyfully exclaimed the family members who just arrived from out of state at the house of the one hosting this year’s Thanksgiving.
“Oh hey, here ya go. (plops down a frozen pizza) Find a clean plastic cup and help yourself to the tap water.” The host replied.
“What?” Said the family.
“Well, you always have these high expectations, so this year I just gave up thinking about what to serve.” Replied the host whose lack of service and dishonest excuse to justify laziness revealed how little he thought of his family.
Similar situations happen in the family of believers. In our Gospel reading from Matthew 25, Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven, or the family of believers. Jesus used a parable to teach that God gives gifts to all Christians, and those gifts are to be used faithfully. Not putting one’s gifts to use is lazy and wicked and shows a lack of understanding about God. Jesus ended his parable saying, 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus made it clear that members of his kingdom serve with the gifts he has given them, but those who do not serve reveal they are no longer members of his kingdom.
A lack of service to others is more than something not being done. Jesus did not tell his parable just to guilt people into doing things for fear they would end up in hell. Instead, he addressed what was going on inside someone who does or does not use their God given gifts to serve others. In our New Testament reading from Romans 12, Paul expanded on Jesus’ point,
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform 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.
God showed his mercy to the world through Jesus’ sacrifice. Those who believe have been rescued from hell, but also from the pattern of the world which is sinful selfishness. So, believers will keep in mind God’s will, rather than their sinful, worldly thoughts when deciding how to live.
Yet, we struggle to keep God’s will in mind. Even though God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect, we struggle because of sin. Earlier in Romans 3, Paul makes an inclusive statement regarding sin, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is one reason why we can confidently begin each worship service with a confession of sins; we have all sinned. Even as believers, we have sinned. Even as we see opportunities to give encouragement to our kids or spouse, we wait instead to criticize or make a sarcastic remark. Even simple service to one another is a struggle. We have fallen short of heavenly thinking and stand condemned before God as worldly. Paul in Romans 7 captured our struggle, 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? We are shackled like prisoners to sin. We are wretched. We need rescue.
After admitting his failure, Paul immediately answered his question. His answer is the answer to the shackling sin waging war against our minds keeping us from serving God and condemning us to death and hell. Paul exclaimed in Romans 7, 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Jesus is our answer to sin too. God showed us mercy as Paul wrote in our New Testament reading from Romans 12. God showed us mercy by sacrificing Jesus for our sins. This has always been the answer for sinners, even in the Old Testament. In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 1, after scolding Israel for their sins, even referring to them as the evil and depraved, 10 … rulers of Sodom… you people of Gomorrah! God offered deliverance, 18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Later in Isaiah 53, God pointed ahead to the Suffering Servant who would cleanse and deliver us, 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Jesus was the suffering righteous servant who thought about God’s will and what was good for others all the time. He was both the culmination of all the Old Testament sacrifices that were put to death to atone for or make us one again with God, and the living sacrifice whose whole life was characterized by what is good, pleasing and perfect. Jesus made you clean by his blood, and he made peace between you and God. Jesus is your answer to sin.
Jesus is also your reason for service. Again, from Romans 12, 1 … “in view of God’s mercy” to us through Jesus, Paul directs us to live a changed life. God transformed you renewing your mind to think clearly about the way you live your life. God wants you to think with his kind of clarity. The word ‘think’ is used four times in verse 3 of Romans 12, and I will read a translation that better reflects the repetition Paul made clear in the Greek, 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not to think too highly of yourselves beyond what God wants you to think, but to think so that you think sensibly. To illustrate what clear and godly thinking is, Paul then compared our lives of service to the human body, 4 For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We are all unique members of Christ’s body. God gave us all different gifts because a body of all thumbs or kidneys does not work. Instead, a body has many parts serving different functions working together and belonging to one another.
In view of God’s mercy, use what God has given you. As your pastor, one of my callings is to help you discover your gifts and equip you as we read in Ephesians 4, 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Now, Paul listed some of the different gifts given by God in Romans 12,
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
It is good to think about each of these gifts and its use, but we do not have that kind of time right now. For this and other reasons, Divine Peace has implemented the Personal Member Ministry program. A couple of times a year, we invite the members of Christ’s body to go through the S.H.A.P.E.D. workshop. There we have more time to dig into the many sections of Scripture on spiritual gifts. Afterwards all who attend get a personalized interview. Finally, we continue to equip and encourage opportunities for serving and connecting. All of this is an effort to be faithful to God’s call to offer our lives to him, to use our gifts, to be transformed and to think about how to serve one another.
Paul’s list of examples in Romans 12 is not a list of things only to do on Sunday morning or on the church property. You are who God made you all the time. Learning who God has made you to be both confirms and refines what you know about yourself so that you get to serve God in all areas of your life. The term we use for the various callings you have in life is vocation. Martin Luther was passionate about teaching vocation. Even in his Small Catechism, written for fathers to use to teach their children, it is included among the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. God has changed your thought process from worldly sinner to faithful servant or living sacrifice.
On Thanksgiving, we serve a special meal to those we love. Serving one another with scraps is a blatant disregard for all God has given us. When selfishness and sin fill your thoughts, confess your sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. In his mercy, God has blessed you through Jesus. You are forgiven, saved, gifted, waiting to join the banquet in heaven and called to serve God and others faithfully. Giving thanks and true worship, and in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. Amen.