ST. STEPHEN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Striving to speak God’s saving truth in love. Ephesians 4:15
St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School | Beaver Dam, WI | 920.885.3309
A Sermon based on Romans 12:1-8 for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 14/17, 2017
Sometimes we witness a cause and effect relationship between two events. One thing happens which causes a different reaction to take place. Some examples of cause and effect can be the following. I do not brush my teeth, which means when I go to the dentist, I will have cavities. If a blizzard brings three feet of snow, school will, hopefully, be cancelled. Hurricane Harvey and Irma brought divesting rains upon certain areas, which caused homes to be flooded and destroyed.
God has shown mercy to us. He showered us with love and compassion even though we do not deserve it. How will we respond to that mercy God shows us? Why will we want to respond in such a way? Should there even be results flowing from the mercy God shows us? It is some of these questions God answers for us today.
God’s Mercy Produces Results
Paul opens up our lesson by saying, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice-holy and pleasing to God-which is your appropriate worship” (Romans 12:1). Paul spends the latter half of the previous chapter describing the wonderful mercy of God. Paul goes into great detail to show how God forgives sin, even though we do not deserve it. This mercy never was intended just for the Jews. God’s mercy reaches out the Gentile believers as well. His mercy knows no boarders or national boundaries.
Now, we see God’s mercy in our own life. We hear the wonderful news of the forgiveness of sins after we confess. As we see and hear about this wonderful mercy, it does produce results. God’s mercy leads us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to our heavenly Father.
In the Old Testament God’s people were very familiar with sacrifices. They would come to the temple witnessing all the sacrifices taking place. At the Passover they would choose one lamb from their flock which they would have to sacrifice. Sacrifice meant death. The priest slaughtered the animal placing the remains on the altar as a sacrifice to God as part of their worship life.
We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. God does not desire that we place ourselves upon the altar as a human sacrifice. God does not want dead useless sacrifices, but he wants living sacrifices. God wants us to actively live our life for him in all the things we do. God wants us to worship him with our bodies as living sacrifices.
What comes to mind when we think of worship? We probably think of what we are doing right now. We come to church. We sing hymns. We offer prayers. The pastor preaches. We bring our gifts to God. After this hour comes to an end, we walk out thinking that is the end of worship. We put in our time. God deserves no more. However, God asks for much more. God demands our life. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, we worship by offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
Our life of spiritual sacrifice glows directly from how we view God’s mercy. He looked upon me. He saw the stain of sin upon every square inch of my body. He beheld all the times I wasted my time rather than using it wisely. God saw the time I cheated to get ahead of the next person. He read my thoughts when they drifted off into things that should never be thought of.
For all of these, and the many more sins I commit on a daily basis, God should rightfully write me out of his book of life. This would be the right result for all the times I disobeyed God. Yet, God shows mercy and compassion. He even took all of those sins upon himself, so that they might be removed from my life. His death wins forgiveness for me and all people.
And so the effect of all this is a life of service to him. We cannot earn more mercy, especially since this is a free gift in the first place. So, why then offer our lives as a spiritual sacrifice? It shows thankfulness for all the things God has done for me. Our hearts overflow as a result of the mercy God poured into our lives.
God’s mercy also produces a change in our thinking. “Also, do not continue to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you test and approve what is the will of God-what is good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The ways of the world are easy to recognize. We followed those ways once. We lived only looking out for ourselves. We wanted to do things that would hurt others. We tore others down so that we might be built up. We wanted to take the easy road because that would mean success for us. Me. Me. Me. It is all about me.
God transformed our way of thinking. Transformation means a change, probably a huge change in our life. Someone goes on a diet and exercises, and they lose a lot of weight. They transformed their bodies. God cut around us taking off the baggage of sin we carried around. Now, our entire thinking undergoes a transformation. The question no longer is, “What is in it for me?” We now ask, “How can I serve God and my neighbor with what I have?”
We no longer conform to the ways of the world. We want to perform the will of God. We want to serve others with what God has given to me. We want to test and approve God’s gracious will for our lives. This means that we need to open up our Bibles to see how God wants us to live. Our mind shifts focus from the things upon this earth to the things of heaven.
This might not always be the popular choice. Living for Jesus means we need to carry our cross. The world does not want us to be transformed. The world does not want us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. The world wants us to be selfish. It does not want God’s mercy to produce any results.
We need to follow the example of our Savior. He came not to be served but to serve. Jesus came into the world to give his life for me. Jesus came to show mercy to all. In view of God’s mercy, we will also offer our lives to him. It does not matter what comes our way we will live to offer our bodies as sacrifices in view of God’s mercy.
There is another way we can offer our bodies as sacrifices to God. Paul tells us about this way as well. “So by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think in a way that results in sound judgment, as God distributed a measure of faith to each of you” (Romans 12:3). One thing I have difficulty doing is filling out a self-assessment survey. If I put too high of a mark, it looks like I am full of myself. If I mark it too low, it looks like I cannot do something. Those surveys intend to make us take a hard look at ourselves. We need to be honest with ourselves. There will be things we cannot do; there will also be things we can do quite well.
God warns us to be thoughtful in how we interact with our fellow believers. God gives various gifts to every believer. We need to come to an honest realization of those gifts and use them. We do not want to get on our high horse looking down upon others because my gift is the best. Every gift, whether big or small, whether many or few, are given by a merciful God.
God gives those various gifts for a very good reason. “For we have many members in one body, and not all the members have the same function.” (Romans 12:4). Our bodies are amazing creations of God. It is made up of many parts, yet all those parts work together for the common good. If one part of our body hurts, it can be hard to do things. I can remember last year when my hands hurt before I had surgery. I lost strength. I couldn’t grip. I couldn’t open my hands. It is not like I could use my feet to type, write, or give communion, which I am sure all of you are glad I did not. If someone’s eyes do not work, we cannot replace it with an ear. We will not see. It just does not work. Our body is made up of many parts with each part having an important function.
“In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5). God gives various gifts to his people in the church. Each one of those gifts serves a special and unique purpose. We are many, yet at the same time we are one. We live under the head, our Savior in the church. We live to help one another. We live to serve one another. We live to build up the church.
God, in his infinite mercy and compassion, showers a wide array of talents among people. Paul gives a partial list. There is service, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership. We could go on. Some people are good at crafts, musical talents, listening, solving problems, and we could go on and on. We need to take an honest look upon ourselves and recognize those gifts.
God’s mercy produces results as we use our gifts for him. It does not have to be just in the church. God wants us to use our talents and gifts in service to our neighbor. We use them to help support our family as we go to work. Yet, we cannot forget to use them in service to the church.
The church is always looking for individuals to use their talents. If someone is good with their hands, there is always something to be worked on. If someone has time, they can volunteer to help in our After hOurs program or stuff newsletters. If someone likes to talk to people, they can tell others about their Savior. The important thing is that God wants us to use our gifts.
God’s mercy drives everything we do. God has redeemed me, a poor sinner, to be his child. God has brought me from death to life in the gospel. God’s mercy produces results in our life. We offer our bodies in service to Christ and our neighbor. We offer our gifts in service to God and the church. We cannot ever give thanks enough for his mercy, which comes new to us every day. Yet, we see how God’s mercy produces results. Amen.