1 Kings ch.3 v.5-12 or Romans ch.8 v.26-39
Psalm 119 v.129-136
Matthew ch.13 v.45-52
Also Psalm 42 and John ch.4 v.19-24
Summer Worship Series
Romans ch.12 v.1-2
“Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer 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, perfect and pleasing will”.
We’ve been thinking over the last few weeks about Worship; what it is, who it is we’re worshiping, why we should worship, and how our weekly services help us to worship, as we respond to God’s invitation to come. Today we’re going to think a bit more about the sacrificial nature of worship, and about what the Apostle Paul means in Romans chapter 12 by our spiritual act of worship.
Let’s pray as we begin.
‘May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer,’ Amen
Roughly this time last year, a group of us from St. Georges went to an event in Peterborough called ‘New Wine’. If you’ve never been, picture a huge permanent arena with capacity to seat roughly five thousand people. Then imagine it surrounded by tents, caravans and campervans belonging to groups of Christians who have gathered together for a few days to worship God and to learn more about him, and to grow closer to him.
Everyone who goes will probably describe their experience differently. For me, as well as the joy of being gathered together with so many likeminded people, one of the things I really appreciated was the opportunity first thing each morning to study the Bible. With the help of a Bible teacher, a cup of coffee and a Danish pastry, we spent the week working through the book of Hebrews. I learnt a lot, and have forgotten much of it, but one thing I do remember is the importance of the word ‘therefore.’ We were taught that whenever we see a ‘therefore’ in the text, we’re to ask, “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?”
It’s a word that the writer to the Hebrews uses regularly to encourage his readers to pause, and to reflect on what has gone before in order to better understand what’s about to come. And as this is important in Hebrews, so it’s also important in Paul’s letter to the Romans, part of which we heard read this morning, and which begins in chapter 12, v.1 with ‘Therefore…’
So what is the ‘therefore’ there for? Paul has spent the first eleven chapters of Romans explaining what the Christian faith is all about. He goes in to considerable detail, and his writing can be difficult to understand in places. But basically, he is outlining the Gospel; the fact that Jesus is the son of God who died, and rose again and ascended to live with his Father in Heaven so that we too might enjoy everlasting life with Him. It’s nothing that we can earn, and it’s nothing that we deserve, but in his boundless grace and mercy, God did it for us anyway, through Jesus.
This is the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Words don’t do it justice, but it’s incredible and it’s amazing. And in the remainder of his letter to the Romans, from chapter 12 to the end, Paul describes how we should live out our lives in the light of everything that God has done for us, in his mercy, through Jesus.
‘Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship,’ (chapter 12 v.1).
What are we to do then? Well, we’re to be motivated to worship God by God’s mercy. ‘In view of God’s mercy’ says Paul, because of everything God has done for us, we should be motivated to live our lives for him. And there’s a sense of urgency about this. ‘I urge you brothers,’ says Paul. Motivated by God’s mercy, Paul urges us to do three things; to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, to be holy and pleasing to God, and ultimately, to want to enter in to spiritual acts of worship. Here are just a few thoughts about each of these responses.
Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice sounds quite an alien thing to do in today’s culture, but to early readers of this letter, especially early Jewish readers, the idea of sacrifice would have resonated strongly. Throughout the old testament, Jews were to offer the life of an animal in place of their own life to say sorry to God for the sinfulness that separated them from him. This process was imperfect, and had to be repeated again and again. As we’ve already seen, Jesus Christ was a perfect sacrifice, a perfect life offered once and for all, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. But because he rose from the dead, he is now alive; a living sacrifice. So living as we do in new testament times, we no longer need to offer dead sacrifices. Instead, we can offer our lives by sacrificing our time, or our talents or our treasures for God’s purposes, but in a way that draws on the living Lord Jesus, and follows his example.
Secondly, Paul urges us to be holy and pleasing to God. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, but in response to what God has done for us through Jesus, motivated by mercy, we can try to do things that are pleasing to him. This means being holy, or literally being set-apart for God. It means living in the world, but not being of the world. In practice it will mean different things for each of us; things that we do for church, or think and pray about, or speak about as God’s ambassadors here on earth. It means being holy and pleasing to God at all times, whether we feel like it or not, because we’re responding to his mercy. Ultimately it means living lives that increasingly reflect God’s love for us, and that point others towards him.
Finally, Paul encourages us to enter in to a spiritual act of worship, and our Gospel reading helps us to understand what he means. It recounts a meeting between Jesus and a Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well in the Samaritan town of Sychar. It’s a fascinating exchange. Through every phrase, Jesus increasingly reveals his true identity as the Son of God, and the woman responds with growing awe and wonder as she comes to understand that she’s actually speaking with the promised Messiah. The woman is obviously well taught; she knows that Samaritans and Jews don’t mix and should worship God separately, Samaritans on the mountain where they are standing, and Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus responds by saying (v.23), ‘A time has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’
In other words, as God’s people, God’s Holy Spirit lives within each of us, and interacts with our spirit to prompt and to help us to live our lives with him and for him, responding increasingly to his infinite love for us, regardless of our circumstances. This is our spiritual act of worship.
Corrie Ten Boom was born in Haalem in the Netherlands in 1892. She was the youngest member of a large Christian family, and after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, her family provided protection to Jewish families, housing them in a secret chamber behind Corrie’s bedroom. This continued until February 1944, when they were caught, and Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. There they were housed in overcrowded, filthy mizzen huts, the worst aspect being the flea-infested straw bedding on which they were forced to sleep.
However, conditions were so bad that the German Guards refused to enter the huts, so they never found out about the Bible that Corrie had managed to smuggle in to the camp, or the way that Corrie and Betsie used it every night, together with growing numbers of prisoners, to worship God. Betsie’s prayer during these meetings was often, ‘Thank you God for the fleas.’ I wonder what your equivalent is to giving thanks for fleas?
To conclude, the encouragement for us is to respond to God’s love, to be motivated by God’s mercy, and to worship him by living our lives for him. Prayer apps, such as those that Fiona mentioned last week can help, and daily Bible study notes – such as these Explore notes published by the Good Book Company – can make a big difference. We can pray in every circumstance that we will act in a way that honours God, and we can worship in this way at any time of day, wherever we are, through the Holy Spirit.
Motivated by God’s mercy, may we want to worship our living God more and more, giving of ourselves, in response to God’s love for us, with our whole beings; body, mind and spirit.