The First Sunday after Epiphany| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 11, 2009
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Romans 12:1-5
You don’t need to go to church to worship God. Christians worship God at home, at work, at school, while playing basketball, talking on the phone, going for a walk, or driving their cars. Worship, as defined by the Holy Scriptures, is not confined to what goes on in church on a Sunday morning. St. Paul writes in our text:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
This reasonable service is the Christian’s worship. When we worship God, we present to him our bodies in service to him. When we worship God, we do so with our minds. We think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. We offer ourselves to God.
Many Christians are under the false assumption that the Bible doesn’t teach us how to worship. Worship is the Christian’s life. To say that the Bible doesn’t teach us how to worship is to say that the Bible doesn’t teach us how to live.
The Christian life of worship is a fruit of faith. You don’t worship God in order to become a Christian. You worship God because you are a Christian. This is one reason why we reject the notion that one becomes a Christian by means of praying a prayer to invite the Lord Jesus into one’s heart as Lord and Savior. Prayer is worship. Only believers in Christ can worship. And if you are a believer in Christ you are already a Christian and Christ himself lives within you. You belong to him. When you give yourself to him you give him what is already his. This is what it means that Christ is our Redeemer. It means that he has purchased us with his blood, that is, by his death. He died for us. He lives within us. The lives we live in our bodies we live by faith in him who died for us and rose again. The life of the Christian is the life of faith.
We present our bodies as living sacrifices. Our lives confess our faith. In the Old Testament there were two kinds of sacrifices the priests would offer. They would offer bloody sacrifices. These would involve the killing of an animal. The shedding of blood was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The blood of animals did not actually take away sin. Only the blood of Jesus takes away sin. But for the sake of the coming sacrifice that Jesus would offer to God for the world God accepted the bloody sacrifices of his Old Testament Church as offerings for sin. Christ’s offering on the cross was the final bloody sacrifice accepted by God.
God does not call on his Christians to offer up their lives as sacrifices for sin. In fact, for us to offer anything we do for God as the means of taking away sin is to deny that Jesus took away our sin on the cross. The Old Testament bloody sacrifices ended when Jesus shed his blood on the cross to take away the sin of the world.
The Old Testament Church also featured sacrifices of thanksgiving to God. These are the living sacrifices we are called to offer to God. This is our worship. This is how we serve God.
How? How are we to worship God? St. Paul tells us. He writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We don’t worship God by doing what comes naturally to us as human beings. We need to be transformed. Our minds need to be renewed.
How is this done? Well, consider how we became children of God. There are two sides to it. First Jesus won this for us. Then God gave this to us. When Jesus won our adoption as God’s children he did so by living and dying for us. He did what God required of us. He suffered what we by our sins deserved. How did he live? How did he die? What kind of a life and what kind of a death were required to bring us back to God as his children?
Here is how St. Paul describes it in Philippians 2, 5-8:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus humbled himself. His humility led him to embrace the shame of the cross. Though he was God in the flesh, yet he chose a life of obedience to those who were inferior to him. This is how he redeemed us. This is how he was exalted. This is how we will be exalted. We will be raised up, given honor, glory, and true joy. This will happen to us as a direct result of what Jesus did for us. He humbled himself. Thus he was exalted. Thus we shall be exalted.
St. Paul continues in Philippians 2, 9-11:
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So we humble ourselves, not in order to win exaltation, but in imitation of him who by his humiliation has won exaltation for us.
This goes against the inclination of sinners. And since we retain a sinful nature it goes against the grain for us. This is why we must be transformed. We must be changed. Our minds must be renewed. If we do what we think is right to do we will not be doing what we should do.
We think it’s only fair that we receive praise, be shown respect, and be given a position above those who aren’t as smart, qualified, skilled, or important as we are. We think of ourselves quite highly. Humbling ourselves seems strange to us.
Worshipping God with our lives is living humbly. The pattern for this living is found in the Divine Service.
Consider what happens here on Sundays when we are gathered together. With one voice we cry out to God for mercy: “Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us.” Christ speaks to us in his gospel. He gives us to eat and to drink of his body and blood. He gives to us what he won for us. It’s not that we weren’t Christians before we came. We come to church as Christians. We gather in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. It is the Communion of Saints that is gathered here.
And when we come we receive what God has to give. What Jesus won for us by his humble living and dying is what he gives to us when we gather in his name. We confess our sins and he absolves us. He speaks to us in the Holy Scriptures. He speaks to us in the sermon. He speaks to us in the Lord’s Supper. Every time he speaks he gives. And in giving himself to us, in giving forgiveness of sins to us, in giving new life to us, he transforms us. He renews our minds. He changes us on the inside.
Humility is not something we gain for ourselves by doing humble deeds. Humility is not something forced on us against our will. The humility that living the life of worship entails is a wonderful gift. It is God’s gift.
St. Paul writes:
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
Faith receives Christ and all that belongs to him. Through faith we learn what is valuable. Faith is God’s gift. He measures it out. In so doing he binds us all together as one body. St. Paul continues:
For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
What we receive defines our lives. We receive the treasures Jesus won by his humble living. We come to church to receive what God gives. The same Jesus who washed away our sins by his blood speaks to us and by that speaking gives us forgiveness of our sins. The same Jesus who is exalted on high above every name that is named speaks to us and raises us up to heaven. What we receive defines us. God’s Word transforms us. It renews our minds.
We come here burdened by the sins we’ve done. Oh, people do us wrong. There’s no doubt about it. Some of that wrong comes from fellow Christians, and that’s hard to take. But in all honesty and humility we must admit that we are our own worst enemy. We come to church burdened by our sins of pride. We’ve claimed a status over others when we should have humbled ourselves. Here God graciously humbles us, not to suffer indignity and pain, but to find in Jesus a renewed life. We can see clearly when we know we belong to Christ and in him belong to one another. Our lives are made holy. They are made precious. We give our bodies and our minds to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and he graciously receives our gift for the sake of Jesus Christ, his Son our Savior. Then we leave this place in order to go out where we live and worship our gracious God. Amen