Sermon Pent 13, yr A, 2023
Sacrifice. Not a popular word. Nor a popular act, even the word sacrifice has very negative connotations these days. However, in the 1st century and earlier, a sacrifice was often a good thing. The most significant sacrifice in ancient Jewish life was that of Yom Kipper the annual day of atonement. A day when a special bull, perfect and without blemish, would be killed, sacrificed, and it’s blood spilt to take the place of the blood owed by those who were in sin. A sacrifice that allowed the Jewish people to start afresh each year.
Greeks and other non -Jewish people in the ancient near east also had sacrifice, many different types for many situations. Animals could be sacrificed as an offering to please, as requests for healing, or even given in thanksgiving.
To offer sacrifice was a good thing, to BE a sacrifice…well that might give one pause.
However, Paul taught that everyone who followed the teachings of Christ should consider themselves to be a living sacrifice. Their bodies dedicated to God, as cared for as an animal destined to be sacrificed. We should be pure, unblemished, without sin… a perfect sacrifice to God.
Set apart from the sins and frivolities of the world, by remining single and virginal, and by living your life exclusively under God’s will and rule so that you may be good and acceptable and perfect. And if this sounds too hard, don’t worry, Paul taught that Christ was due to return before the next generation is even born, you won’t have to keep this up for long! Remembering, Paul believed and taught that Christ would return within his life time.
However, time has passed ; To be honest, we have generally given up the belief that Jesus is going to return any minute. We still believe it could happen, but after centuries…we aren’t holding our breath. So, does that mean that since Christ has not come, that Paul is wrong and we are off the hook?
Of course not. But this isn’t the first century, much has changed.
The church has grown, there is a lot of history between Paul of Rome, Peter the Rock and St. Andrew’s by the Airplane. What it meant to be a living sacrifice has changed and been reinterpreted many times over the years.
There have been persecutions, when being a living sacrifice soon led to being a martyr.
There was the power and vastness of the Christendom church, where being living sacrifices was understood as devoting yourself to the orders of monks and nuns that were given power, status and authority.
Now, we have the disregarded church, which is seen in a less positive light and when being a living sacrifice is being reinterpreted again.
Paul’s admonishment about not conforming to this world, but having our minds, our thoughts, our priorities transformed by Godly discernment is still incredibly relevant.
In a church that is undergoing a vast change, and change that feels threatening, the temptation to conform to this world…to be attractive is very temping.
There are numerous workshops, books and podcasts trying to tempt the leadership of churches into being attractive to the young people, as if they are our saviours.
New programs, new music, new technologies, new gimmicks all claiming to be the salvation of the church.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…that you may discern what is the will of God.”
There is a big difference between being relevant or effective, and conforming.
Online services…ok. Interactive text based in person preaching…maybe not.
The church has changed since Peter and Paul, A LOT and continues to do so. So, we need to continue to discern what is good, acceptable, and perfect in God’s will, as well as what is relevant to the place we find ourselves. As Paul tells us, we are to use sober judgement, discernment, as members of the body of Christ in order to see where our gifts lie as a church.
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,…we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”
Gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
We are blessed, so blessed to have the gifts and grace of many individuals in this parish, furthermore as a parish that contains the merged gifts and grace of two parishes.
Which means we know not only the blessings, but we know in real and practical terms what it means to be a living sacrifice, to present the body of our churches, to God’s will rather than our own.
We have lived this in the past year, as we have come together, sacrificing as individuals and as unique parishes in order to find the path God is calling us to together.
This will be an ongoing theme in the church for what I assume will be most of my ministry and most of our lives, to work towards transformation rather than conformation, either to the world or to our desires.
And we here at St. Andrew’s are, in my opinion, doing exceptionally well and we have a lot to be proud of, but here Paul enters a cautionary note.
“I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself (or I might add; your church) more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
It is tempting to look out our diocese, in fact our deanery and be pleased with ourselves.
To praise St. Chad’s for its foresight. To be proud of St. Andrew’s for its hospitality.
To compare ourselves to our fellow churches in the deanery with standards that conform to worldly success. Bums in pews. Cash in coffers. Programs available. Multiple paid staff.
If we look at the church this way we are basing our identity in self centered judgement. On measures of worldly means rather than those of a sacrificial faith.
Jesus was famous in his context for the miracles he worked, for the teaching he gave, perhaps even for the good shows he put on tossing tables and angering authority.
Yet, as we read in our gospel that very few seemed to know his true identity, an identity that was understood not through fame or finance, but Godly revelation.
That is where we need to put our focus; on discerning where we have been blessed by God’s grace. Transforming our minds, and our committees, to constantly discern God’s will that by following it St Andrew’s may be a living sacrifice.
- A sacrificial church; unblemished by pride, unstained by self interest, not conforming to the desires of the world around us, yet aware of and acting on the needs around us.
- A discerning church; that in all it’s program and practice seeks God’s will, even at the expense of it’s own.
- A blessed church; that doesn’t think more of itself than we ought to, but views the gifts we have with sober judgement and uses them for God’s mission.
- A church that lives as if the judgement is today and behaves as if it is our job to help bring Christ’s kingdom to birth.
- A church that understands itself, corporately and individually as merely a part of the body of Christ, with gifts that compliment the church as a whole.
We are the church and St Andrew’s doesn’t exist independently of us. Each one here, each one at home, each person on our prayer list contributes to the blessings present in St. Andrew’s, the gifts and the grace we receive. Each of us, are a member of the body of Christ, the body of Christ’s church. The body presented as a living sacrifice…called to be holy and acceptable to God.
If St. Andrew’s is to be a church of living sacrifice, then her members must be as well.
“We have 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. “
It is how we recognize and use these gifts that build up the body of Church, to be a body offered to God, holy and acceptable, discerning and transforming.
The context of this reading may have changed. Christ may take more than a generation to come again, but truth is truth and what taught by Paul in the 1st Century holds true for us now…as individually and as a church.
“I appeal to you therefore, …, to present your(self) as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, … be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.”
And by God’s grace, live it. amen