Since the very beginning of Faith it’s self, many have wondered how to please God. Or maybe I should say, many have wondered how to appease God.
A long time ago, people came up with the idea that in order to truly satisfy God, they would have to give him the most valuable thing they possessed… and the most valuable thing they could imagine, was life. So, for eons “the faithful” sacrificed animals to their gods in an effort to please the gods. Some even sacrificed humans! The God of the Bible actually commanded the Hebrews to sacrifice animals for the atonement of sin… but God also revealed, that it wasn’t the lives of the animals that he actually wanted. His true desire, was the devotion, the faithfulness, of those who would dare worship him.
In Paul’s day, when the Epistle to the Romans was written, the practice of sacrificing animals was still being observed, both among pagans (the Greeks and the Romans), as-well-as the Israelites, the Hebrews.
But in our scripture lesson for today, Paul says something different… Something shocking… When he says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Of course by, “your bodies” Paul was talking about more than our physical, tangible bodies. He was also speaking of the very lives that we live in and through these bodies. The only gift God desires is a life given completely to doing his will, and worshiping him in spirit and in truth.
And I think most all of us would readily agree, after careful consideration, that devoting our lives to God, and worshiping him as he desires, would be easy, it would be so simple… IF it were not for pride. All too often, it’s our own pride that gets in the way of us making our lives an acceptable sacrifice to God.
Apparently there were a lot of gifted, very talented people in the church of Rome. I’m sure, like the church today, there were various gifts and graces distributed among the faithful. But, apparently, some in the church at Rome began to value their gifts… their abilities… their talents… above and beyond those of other people.
As Paul put it, they thought of themselves more highly than they should have. They were prideful. Pride has always been a problem in the church, and it still is. Sometimes preachers think more highly of themselves in the ought. Sometimes it’s the elders, or some other church official or leader… Begins to think that their work is so important, that the church just couldn’t possibly function without them. Everyone wants the important jobs, you know the ones with all the glory… the jobs we’ve romanticized… the ones we think bring honor, and recognition... the seats of position and thanks and praise. So, many seek out such jobs... not for the opportunity to serve Christ, but for the recognition the job brings! But didn’t Jesus say that if we seek the applause and recognition of men, of others, then we’ve received our reward in full?
We forget, sometimes, that every job, every opportunity for ministry, is important in the life of the church, and none… no job… is more important than any other job.
Cleaning the toilets is just as important as teaching Sunday school. Keeping the lawn mowed is just as important as leading choir. Asking, inviting your friends, your neighbors to church, and sharing the love of Christ, with our words and our deeds, it’s just as important as preaching.
For some reason we sometimes let pride get in the way... and we fail to please God, because we’d rather be doing something else. Something more thrilling, or glamorous than what we’ve been called to do... and what God wants us to do. Of course, in the end… we fail to honor God… we fail to do God‘s will, when we succumb to pride. Right?
But we’re certainly not alone; even the disciples of Christ had problems with pride. There were times when they wanted to know who was the greatest, who had the most important job, who’d given up the most in service to Christ? I’m sure at times, Matthew thought that he was the greatest disciple of all. I mean, if you think about it, had given up a great job, he made money hand over fist as a tax collector, surely he had given up more than any of the others!
And what about Peter? I’m sure there were lots of times when Peter thought he was the most important disciple. He was Jesus’ right hand man, he was the natural leader of the disciples, surely he was the most important! Any of the others could’ve thought the same thing! I’m sure there are times when James and John thought, “we gave up such a great business fishing, with a large capital investment, and our knowledge of the sea has made it so much easier for Jesus to get around in his travels… So surely we’re the greatest disciples!“
But then they all sat down at the table to eat one day. And Jesus served them all. It was no ordinary meal. The bread and the wine symbolized the fact that Jesus was about to die. His blood would be shed, and his body would be broken, in order that they, his disciples, could have eternal life. He would be the ultimate sacrifice laid upon the altar, for our sins.
So instead of thinking of himself, Jesus set the example, thinking of others first. The only one who could truthfully claim to be the greatest in that group of fishermen and tax collectors… was the son of a carpenter, Jesus. Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, the king of kings and Lord of lords, God incarnate… The great high priest… Made himself the lowest… a servant to others... not only as he served in the breaking and sharing of bread, or by stooping to wash His disciple’s feet. He humbled himself becoming obedient to death… even death on a cross. And as a result his life was a sacrifice wholly, and pleasing, and acceptable to God, as payment for all of our pride and all of our sin.
In the sacrament of holy communion, you and I are shown the opposite of pride, as well as its cure.
In communion you and I all gather around one table. There are not several tables set up, for you and I to gather around, based on our standing within the community, or our wealth, or our accomplishments. There’s only one table for all of us. Whether we’re good or bad, where they were devoted or lazy… Whether were faithful or less than faithful… we have one table.
That’s intentional. It’s meant to remind us that we’re all equal. No one’s better than anyone else. We find ourselves equally in need of salvation… The salvation Christ has offered us through his death and resurrection.
If we humble ourselves and kneel before God and ask for the mercy & grace we need, our pride can surely be erased. Through holy communion we all join together with all other Christians, the world over, All one in Christ, and parts of each other, through the cleansing and forgiveness of Christ.
As Paul said... so long ago... Thru Christ, and his willingness to surrender his pride... we are transformed, and our new lives become a living sacrifice to God.
So, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercy of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Amen.