Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Aug. 24, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Romans 11:33-12:8
Sermon Theme: “What Is Worship?”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 3, Series A)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is worship?
Today’s sermon text boils down to that one question. In other words, what do we really mean by worshipping God?
We often think of worship as something we do in a church service, such as sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up, walk to the chancel area, kneel down, stand up, return to pew, sit down, stand up, doing such things for religious purposes in a building that is used primarily for religious purposes.
However, if our bodies aren’t set apart for serving God, then we are merely going through the motions on Sunday morning, merely burning calories as we sit, kneel and stand. If songs of praise, prayers, and meditation are not connected to what we do the rest of the week, then our worship is merely physical exercise.
Perhaps the pastor should ask each member of the church on Saturday, “Will you be worshipping tomorrow and the rest of the week, — or will you just be doing Sunday calisthenics?
So what is worship? Our blue hymnal is called “Lutheran Worship.” But is that hymnal all there is to worship? At least the red hymnal more modestly calls itself “The Lutheran Hymnal.” Paul, in our sermon text, shows “worship” as being made up of four things. One, accepting the mystery of God; two, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice to God; three, being humble as we realize we are only one part of the Body of Christ; and four, using our God-given gifts to serve God. We’ll look at each of these.
One, — accepting the mystery of God. Not so much among Catholics, but among us Protestants, there is a strong tendency to try to explain away the mystery of God. We often try to contain God in the confines of our own puny rationality, — in other words, we demand that everything about God be explained by the use of reason.
But, you know, the Bible itself, while it reveals God does not explain away the mystery. Paul says in our text, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”
“How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” That’s the final word on the subject. If we could comprehend the mind of God, we would be gods ourselves. The mystery of God’s being remains unsolved. As strange as it seems, we experience God in the depths of suffering, weakness, and self-abandonment, where God reveals His love and grace.
Two, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Here’s what Paul says in the text: “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Please note the words, “which is your spiritual worship.”
We are to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. While that is a beautiful metaphor to us in today’s world, it would have meant even more to folks in Paul’s day, when animals were regularly killed as sacrifices in temple worship. Paul is telling the people of his day that, because of Christ, they are no longer to offer objects or animals outside of ourselves to God. We are to offer our own selves, in all that we do, say and think.
It seems to me that we should also add that when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, we also are to commit ourselves to good stewardship of our bodies. Our body is, after all, a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Giovanni Martinelli, an Italian-born opera singer with the metropolitan Opera Company in New York, was once asked by a newspaper reporter about the care of his amazing voice and his smoking habits. It was well known that the opera singer had endorsed a particular brand of cigarettes that, he claimed in the ad, “Do not irritate my throat.”
The reporter wanted to know how he could justify smoking when his voice was his livelihood. Martinelli replied, “Yes, yes, of course, I gave that endorsement. How could cigarettes irritate my throat? I have never smoked!” True to his body by not smoking, but not true to his soul by his deceit!
Three, — being humble as we realize we are only one part of the Body of Christ. Paul says in our text: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. . . . For as in one body, we have many members.”
In Paul’s day, the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law lorded it over everyone else, because they were convinced they obeyed the Law and observed the rituals better than anyone else, and thus believed they were more righteous. You recall what Jesus said about them in Matthew 23:27: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous.”
The strong language Jesus used in this put-down indicates how important being humble is for a Christian, just as it did when his disciples argued about which one of them should be the top dog.
Did you hear about the young man who won an award, a pin, for being humble, but they took it away from him because he wore it?
The fourth thing worship is made up of is using our God-given gifts to serve God.
Paul says in the text: “For as in one body, we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching, the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
You know, anatomy is the study of what the body parts are. We adults cause babies, just learning their first words, to become avid students of anatomy. “Where is your nose?” “Show me you ears!” “Do you know where your eyes are?”
Physiology is the study of what the parts are for. As a child gets older, he is likely to ask: Why do we have kneecaps? Why do we have so many muscles? Why do we have eye brows?
It’s one thing to know that you are a part of the body of Christ. It is another thing entirely to know what purpose you serve in the body. No one would probably want their son or daughter to grow up to be a garbage collector, a janitor, or a sewer worker, would they? Yet, how could society function without someone doing these jobs? The same is true of the church. In the body of Christ, can any person’s role or job be any less significant than another’s? No, we all function together as one cohesive group.
It is true, of course that our shut-ins and our nursing home residents are limited to what jobs they can do, if any. In many cases, illness and disability keep some from taking an active role in the church, and God fully understands that, so there’s no need for them to feel ashamed. Some are sad because they can’t do more.
And as Paul pointed out in Galatians 2:9, there is always a group of folks in a congregation he calls “load-bearers.” That’s what the Greek word for “pillar” means. Paul even goes so far as to name them in the circuit of congregations he is talking about. They are the members who give the church community their strength and support by enthusiastically and energetically using their gifts to serve. Without such folks as these in all churches, the church would be in danger of crumbling.
Even though Paul named the pillars in the church communities he oversaw, he was not the pastor who much later said, “The church contains two kinds of people: pillars and caterpillars. Pillars support and caterpillars merely come in and go out.” Use your gifts to be a pillar!
To be sure, true “worship” does not mean just doing your sitting, standing and kneeling calisthenics each Sunday. As Paul said, it is also accepting the mystery of God, presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, being humble as one part of the Body of Christ, and using our God-given gifts in service to Him. None of this means working to earn God’s salvation. You see, “accepting the mystery of God” includes accepting the most beautiful of all of God’s mysteries, that we are saved by grace through faith alone. What is worship? We worship out of love for Him, because He first loved us. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.