Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 16)

Text: Romans 12:1, 4-6
So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Ö We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us.  

So then ...

In 17th century Italy, in the town of Cremona, lived a young boy named Antonio. Antonio was often sad because he lived in a town that was famous for its music, but he could neither sing nor play.

Antonioís voice was high and squeaky, so he was not welcome in the Cremona Boysí Choir. When he took violin lessons, the neighbours persuaded his parents to make him stop. Yet, Antonio still wanted to make music.

Antonioís friends kidded him because it seemed that his only talent was whittling, but he did not give up. One day the boy learned that a world-famous violinmaker named Amati lived in Cremona. The next morning Antonio went to visit Amati and begged to serve as his apprentice. For many years he studied and worked. Antonioís knack for whittling grew into a skill of carving; his hobby became his craft. Patiently he fashioned many violins, striving to make each one better and more beautiful than the one before.

When Antonio died, he left over 1500 violins, each one bearing a label that said "Antonio Stradivarius." Today they are the most sought after violins in all the world. The clarity of tone and careful craftsmanship remain untouched by the centuries. Antonio Stradivarius could neither sing nor play, but he did what he could, and now, over 300 years later, his violins are still making beautiful music.

This story highlights that even though Stradivarius couldnít play music or sing in tune, this didnít stop him from making music. Instead of bemoaning that he couldnít do this or that or giving up in frustration because he was a choir reject, he used what skills he did have to enable others to make beautiful music through the instruments he made. And that is precisely what Paul is getting out in his letter to the Romans. He says, "God has also given each of us different gifts to use" (Rom 12:6 CEV).

Paul doesnít let us off the hook because we think that we donít have as many talents as another person or because we think we canít do something as well as someone else. He doesnít even allow us to think that a partial use of our gifts will do or that we use them only when it suits us.

Letís try and understand why Paul is so strong about using our talents in the best way possible in service to God and other people.

In the first chapter Paul is excited that "the gospel is God's power to save all who believe". It "reveals how God puts people right with himself Ö" (Rom 1:16,17).

This is exceptionally good news. In spite of the guilt of every human being and in spite of the fact that God's holiness and justice condemns all sin, he has done some wonderful things for us through his Son, Jesus. Paul tells us how "everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence" and yet "by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free." (Rom 3:23, 24).
"I'm excited", says Paul. "God lavishes on us so much love even though we are helplessly lost in sin". In chapter 5 he writes, "God has shown us how much he loves usóit was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! By his blood we are now put right with God; how much more, then, will we be saved by him from God's anger!  We were God's enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son" (Rom 5:8-10).
This is thrilling stuff. Enthusiastically Paul tells how we become one with Jesus in his death and resurrection through baptism and how we shall be raised from death just as he was (Rom 6:2-4).

Paul goes on to say that even the worst things that can possibly happen to us will not stop God loving us. "Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:39).

Then he sums up everything saying, "How great are God's riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways? Ö For all things were created by him, and all things exist through him and for him. To God be the glory forever! Amen" (Rom 11:33-36).

On this high point, Paul could have finished his letter. But he doesnít. He starts chapter 12 with "so then" or "therefore". When "therefore" is used you can bet the writer is saying that what he has told you previously has some consequences.
You are caught speeding, so (therefore) you receive a fine.
You help someone in a time of trouble, so then (therefore) that person willingly helps you.
Jesus gave his life for you even when you were hopelessly caught up in sin and couldnít do anything to avoid God's punishment so then it follows as Paul says to the Ephesians, "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (4:1) or to the Colossians, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him" (2:6) or to the Thessalonians, "Live the kind of life that pleases God who calls you to share in his own kingdom and glory" (1 Thess 2:12).

He reminds the Romans that they have received a new life through Jesusí death and resurrection, therefore "offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him."

Note Paulís use of words - "living sacrifices". The word sacrifice indicates total commitment. There are no half measures with a sacrifice. If there were, then it would no longer be a sacrifice.
When soldiers sacrifice their lives for their country, they give everything.
When Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins, it was a total commitment.
So when Paul talks about a living sacrifice, he means that our whole lives should demonstrate the same kind of commitment that God has given to us. Perhaps this little story helps.

A little lad came to church one cold wintry morning to get out of the blustering wind. He had been trying to sell newspapers but not a single customer had passed by. He sheepishly entered the church which was much warmer than outside. Though the Sunday crowd was slim, the preacher delivered a stirring message, and when the sermon was finished, he called for the offering.

The ushers went from row to row, and as one drew near to the little newspaper boy, he stopped in front of the lad and held out the plate. The boyís eyes were fixed upon it, and after a long pause, he asked the usher to place the plate on the floor.

Then the boy did something that caught the attention of everyone sitting around him. He stepped into the offering plate. And when he looked up there were big tears running down his cheeks. He said, "I donít have any money, I havenít sold a single newspaper today, but if Jesus did everything the preacher said he did just for me, then I will gladly give my life to him."

Thatís a cute story but itís more than cute. Itís a commentary on Paulís words, "Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him".
You have been made new through the death of Christ,
you have been given a new relationship with God,
you are now one of God's special and holy people,
so then (therefore) let all this change your way of thinking and living.

Instead of being ruled by selfishness, generosity is now a characteristic of your new life.
Instead of coldness and unkindness governing your relationships with others, love and compassion are now central.
Instead of minimising God's rule in our lives, our time, our energy, our skills are at his disposal to pass on his love, care and hope to other people.

And because the church is made up of many different people, the variety of talents is enormous. Paul uses one of his favourite pictures to describe the church - the human body.
The body has many different parts all with their own unique characteristics and functions.
Some parts are more obvious than others but all are equally important when it comes to the health and well being of the body.
In the same way, the church is made up of all different kinds of people with all kinds of gifts. All are important if the church is to be healthy and happy.
Paul concludes, "There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another.  God has also given each of us different gifts to use." Note that last sentence. "God has given each of us different gifts to use." Everyone has a gift, if not numerous gifts. Everyoneís gift is important, after all, it comes from God and God doesnít deal in trivialities that have no purpose. The gifts that God has given to you are to be used in some way to bring some kind of benefit to other people.

We usually have a pretty good idea what gifts God has given us, but every now and then we are surprised at what unused gifts we have. When we are challenged to give something a go, something we have never done before, we may find that we have a gift that had been left unused for so long.

All of us, young and old, need to hear Paulís words again afresh, "Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him." There are no age restrictions
- young people - you can use your gifts in many ways in worship, in leading, helping, serving and caring with energy and enthusiasm;
- middle aged people - even when you think that your work doesnít leave you any spare time, Christís body needs your skills, your leadership, your faith and your eagerness;
- elderly people - there is no retirement age when it comes to using God's gifts. Even when your own bodies might seem to be slowing down or packing it in, Christís body needs your wisdom, your strength, your faithfulness, the calm confidence of your experience more than ever.
Through young and old, God is building his church.

God has put you and me here in this congregation for a purpose. It is no accident that we are in this family together. God asks every single one of us to be his body in this community to accomplish his purpose of bringing lost men and women to their full potential in Christ.
I want to challenge you to give some thought to the gifts that God has given you. Seek to understand those gifts and then unwrap them for service and ministry for him. "Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him."

I believe that God is calling every member of this congregation to a new way of thinking about the church and your role in it. Paul says, "Let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him." (Rom 12:2 CEV).

May God help us to be the kind of Church that is dedicated to him, committed to one another, and determined to fulfil our calling as his servants using our gifts in his service.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
21st August, 2005
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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