“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Ask most folks what the word worship means to them and they may say, “Well that’s what we do down at old St. Swithins on Sunday mornings.” We say the prayers, we sing, we stand, we sit, we kneel; that is worship right? Webster’s dictionary defines worship as, “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” Both the definitions of worship are equally accurate. The second explanation of worship seems to follow Paul’s line of thought in today’s excerpt from his Letter to Romans. The Apostle Paul is suggesting that every part of our lives is an expression of worship to God. From our liturgical rituals on Sunday, to our ministry service to each other in the parish, to our very act of breathing and living, we are offering our lives as an expression of respect and admiration to God. Our life of worship is a response to grace, not an act of persuasion intended to sway God’s favor towards us. God’s grace through all that have and are, flows abundantly, not because we deserve it or we have earned it, but because grace is a free gift.
When we respond through pray and study and when we give of our time, talent and treasure, we should never be do so out of some sense of guilt or because of a perceived need to work to earn God’s favor. Every part of our lives should exist as a loving response to the abundant gifts God has bestowed on us. Our relationship with God is a loving cycle of receiving abundant love and responding with love. Someone shared with me once “true love is when you can love someone more than you can ever expect in return.” A young married couple once discovered what it meant to live cycle of relational love. For the first few months of their marriage, the husband would come home every night and give his bride a single solitary rose in hopes that he could maintain her favor. Nearly every week he would do all the household chores all by himself because he wanted to make sure he did not lose her love. One day, the young bride became a bit concerned, and so she sat her husband down. With the gleam of true love in her eyes she said, “My love I appreciate all that you do around the house, but I want you to know, that I love you not because of the things you do, I love you because I do and nothing will ever take that away.”
God’s grace has been defined as unmerited favor directed toward us. God’s grace is not drips and drizzles of little favors, but abundant and overflowing love and reconciliation beyond the pale of human understanding. We cannot earn it and we cannot manipulate it. All we can do is merely receive it and respond. Dr. Robert Bryant, a religion professor once proclaimed, “The grace of God that comes through the lordship of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit reshapes the lives and relationships of believers. God’s grace creates and empowers the new reality in which Christians live their daily lives.” (Bryant, Robert A. “Romans 12:1-8.” Interpretation 58.3 (2004): 287-290. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. EBSCO. Web. 20 Aug. 2011.) The new reality for we disciples is that every day of our lives, is an opportunity to respond to God’s abundant love.
We have this interesting part of our liturgy that many times we glance over without thinking. Each week, after the entertaining announcements from your Priest, our dedicated ushers bring forward the offering and at the 8am service, we pray the words, “All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” At the 10am service, we sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Have you ever stopped and thought about the significance of that particular moment in the service? We are not merely going through an empty ritual of taking up the weekly offering; we are through a meaningful gesture, offering to God the fruits of the labors of our lives. That which has been given to us, is transformed by our efforts of love and work, and is brought back before God. The bread and wine are connected to this as well. Grain from God’s abundant creation, through the labor of human hands is made into bread. Grapes from God’s overflowing vineyards through the work of women and men are transformed into wine. Monetary gifts, which we present, are representative of the very life given to us by God, and through labors of our vocations, they are presented back to God. “And here we offer and present unto you, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto you. We are offering back to God a response to the abundant grace, which God has given to us. In this hinge point of the service, we offer to God our very lives in thanksgiving for the love, grace and mercy extended to us.
We are all recipients of God’s grace and we all have been given gifts of some sort or fashion. Some, as Paul asserts, have been given “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” We are all one body, but each member brings before God some measure of time, some level of talent, and some measure of treasure. Some among us are blessed with the gifts of teaching, singing, reading, caring, praying, and even administration and financial management. Most of us are blessed with some measure of time through which we are enabled to offer in some way, service to God. Many of us have been gifted with treasure that can be put to use to further God’s kingdom right here in this place. When we recognize and accept that God is the source of everything and we are but temporary overseers of that abundance, our lives will be transformed into a living sacrifice. Our lives will respond to God’s abundant, overflowing, life-changing, spirit-filling, heart-altering grace.