Serving God

Sermon for August 21, 2011
Based on Romans 12:1-8

The book of Romans is a letter that Paul, Jesus’ apostle, or follower, sent to the people of the Christian churches in Rome. Paul hadn’t met the people he was writing to but he had heard about them and hoped to visit them some day. Paul wrote his letter to the Christians of Rome because he wanted to explain the Christian faith to them as he understood it. He wanted to explain to them what it means to be a Christian. Paul’s letter talks about many things such as the church, spiritual gifts, faith and what the gospel means for all Christians in their everyday life.

One of the main points that Paul makes in his letter is he believes that we are justified, or that we are in right standing with God, because of our faith, not because of the good things we do. We are made right with God because we have faith in God. Our faith in God is what makes us righteous. We are made right with God when we believe in Jesus, when we believe that Jesus died to make up for our sins. Paul wrote in his letter that we live in a broken world and we all need to work to keep sin, or separation from God, out of our lives. We need to stay connected to God. Paul wrote in his letter that we are all representatives of God and therefore we need to live lives that honor God.

Our scripture reading this morning is from chapter 12 of Romans, verses 1-21, but I’m going to focus on just a small portion of Paul’s letter, the first eight verses. In this part of Paul’s letter he tells the Christian people of Rome that they should present their “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” In the Old Testament animals were sacrificed to God; a dove, a goat, a sparrow, sometimes an ox. The animal that was sacrificed was either owned by the person and valuable to them or the animal to be sacrificed was purchased using the little bit of money a person had. Most people in biblical times were very poor. The animal was killed and its blood was spilled for God. The blood of the animal was a visible sign of life pouring out of the animal. It was an outward physical way for people to show their devotion to God. But it wasn’t the death of the animal that was so important in the sacrifice; it was that the person offering the sacrifice was willing to offer a life to God that was important. The fact that you are willing to do something for God is what is important to God.

Paul used the symbolism of sacrifice in his letter to explain to the people in the churches of Rome how they too must demonstrate their faith in God by sacrifice, but by a different kind of sacrifice. Paul told the people that they must offer themselves, their own lives, as a living sacrifice to God. The sacrifices made to God were no longer to be dead animals. The sacrifices to God were now to be new lives. But what are new lives? New lives are lives in which we no longer live for ourselves but live for God. Paul is telling the people that the truest sacrifice they can offer to God is to live lives that are devoted to doing God’s will in the world. When we give our lives to God we no longer live for ourselves. We live to serve God in everything we do.

We live in a world where many people don’t like the idea of giving up anything. The word “sacrifice” for many people means to give up everything we enjoy in the world. For many people it means living a life in bondage, a place where there is never any enjoyment or fun. But Paul believed that only in our service to God do we find genuine complete happiness and freedom in our lives. Although we may be under obligation to God, it is in that obligation that we find our greatest freedom and joy. When an animal was sacrificed in the temple it could not be an injured animal. It had to be an animal of worth. It had to be worthy of God. None of us would ever give a gift to someone that was chipped, or broken, or worn out. In the same way when we give our lives to God, our lives must also give be worthy of God. But how can we give worthy lives to God considering how broken our lives are, how stained and chipped our lives are from doing all the things we have done in our lives that were not what God wanted us to do? Our lives are- as they are, are unfit to give to God.

But our lives can become clean and made perfect and acceptable to God when we make the decision to turn away from the things that separate us from God. Our lives can be made new when we allow God to change us through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we allow our lives to be changed we become holy and we begin to serve God even though we still live in a broken world, and despite our unclean past.

After we have allowed our lives to be changed by the Holy Spirit we can serve God without fear, we can serve God with holiness, and when we can serve God with righteousness. We can serve God in the true way we are supposed to serve and worship God. We can truly worship and serve God in our daily lives after we have asked God to change us and we have made the decision to completely dedicate our lives to God. We can truly worship and serve God when we live our lives the way God wants us to live. We willingly make the decision to no longer live the way the world lives. We live the way we know God wants us to live.

Some of you might be thinking, “That’s a lot to ask of someone. It is impossible to live a life that is completely devoted to God in the kind of world we live in with its temptations calling us away from God every day. Television, computers, magazines, movies, music, are all calling us away from God, calling us, tempting us to come be a part of the world.” Society does creates its own standards of right and wrong and after a while we do begin to accept what society tells us is right. It is easy to forget what we have been taught and what we know God expects from us even if we go to church every Sunday and read the bible. We can gradually drift away from God, a little at a time, until one day we realize that we are no longer living the lives we know we should be living. We wake up one day and realize that we are living lives that promise us worldly things that will not last. We realize that we are not living the kinds of lives that promise us things that are real- joy, peace, happiness, things that are everlasting. The things God has promised.

One of the ways that the Holy Spirit changed me is that I reached a place in my life where I found that it was no longer as easy for me to do or say some of the things I used to because my life had been transformed by the Holy Spirit. I found that when I was about to say something about someone that was inappropriate or do something that was inappropriate, or even use profanity, a small voice, or a knowing would come into my head to me to let me know that what I was about to do or say something that was not acceptable to God. Now of course I could ignore that still small voice and do or say what I wanted. But if I did ignore that guidance from the Holy Spirit I did not feel good about myself immediately afterwards. That is one of the ways that we know God has changed us to live lives that are holy, and worthy of God. But it is up to us to decide that we want to change how we live our lives. Do we want to continue to live like the world lives or do we truly want to live the way God wants us live? One way brings joy, the other emptiness and sadness.

One of the greatest problems I see in the world today is arrogance. We cannot serve God and be arrogant at the same time. I see few examples of humility except perhaps in children and among those people who are the least of society. We live in an age where many people feel it is all about them. People who hold important positions, people who are more educated, people who have more money, even in the church, often think they are superior to others and should have special privileges. “I should go first.”” I shouldn’t have to wait!”” I demand attention!” “I should be ahead of everyone on the road because I have a more expensive car!”” I shouldn’t have to do anything I don’t feel like doing!” “Do you know who I am?” But being humble is an essential part of being a Christian. There is no greater threat to understanding ourselves or one another than having a false sense of our self-worth.

Paul in his letter writes “I bid everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith God has assigned him.” Anyone who has an inflated idea of their own importance is likely to be arrogant and complacent and will have a hard time living in relationship with others the way God wants them to live. We cannot help one another to live better lives when we look at them or give them advice with an attitude of superiority. The only way we can truly help one another is with humility and with grace both which are gifts from God. It is only through our faith in God which is a gift in itself, that we are able to honestly look at ourselves and remain humble in an arrogant world.

As a healthy community of people in Christ we must understand that each of us has been given different gifts and levels of understanding from God. We each have a purpose in this world. Each of us must live humbly with one another respecting our differences and our diversity. By respecting our diversity we become a community in which there is balance, where each person contributes to another person’s life in the places they are lacking. But if people’s differences and diversity creates separation and hardship in our lives then we have left out the one person who brings us together in unity despite our differences. We have left Jesus, the Christ, the light of the world out of our lives. We have left out Jesus, the one who brings people together, the one who erases all differences. We have left our Jesus, the one who understood and welcomed all people from all walks of life. It is in Jesus we find the secret to getting along with one another no matter how different we are from one another.

When we are humble we come to understand what our true gifts are, what unique gifts God has given each of us to contribute to the unity of the world. When we are humble we do not claim to have gifts that we really don’t have. When we accept that none of us has everything we need in the world we realize that we must depend on other people who have the gifts we need to be whole. By admitting that none of us has everything we need in this world to be whole and that we must rely on others to make us whole, we can then let go of the frustration that comes from thinking we can do it all on our own. We can then begin to live lives that are full of the gladness of spirit. Gladness of spirit comes from accepting our own personal place in serving God. Gladness of spirit comes when we realize that everything we are able to do is only because God has given us the gift of being able to do it. We must realize that the gifts that God has given us are not for our own benefit but are to be used to benefit the world as a whole.

Nowhere is it more important to acknowledge and use ones gifts than in the church. When we use the gifts God has given us in the church we build up the church. When each person accepts and offers their special gifts as needed the church grows and becomes more whole. Perhaps God has given you the gift of speech, the gift of music, the gift of singing or playing an instrument. Perhaps God has given you the gift of leadership, the gift of handling money, the gift of teaching, the gift of preparing and serving food, the gift of working with children, the gift of compassion of reaching out to people in need. No matter what gifts God has given you it is important that you use those gifts in the community in which you live and especially within the community of your church family. Because when you generously use the gifts God has blessed you with you make the church whole, you make the world more whole because you have helped lift it up to the place God wants it to be. But is important that you offer your gifts because you want to, not because you feel obligated. Gifts that are given only out of a feeling of obligation are not really a gift. Think of what it feels like when someone gives you a gift that you know had little or no thought behind it, a gift that has no meaning. Any gift that is given without love and a genuine desire to uplift the person receiving the gift loses its power to uplift and empower the human soul.