Summary: This is the 6th sermon in a series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. The problem with living sacrifices is they keep getting down off the altar.
Now that’s an interesting turn of phrase. It sounds like an oxymoron. Living and sacrifice don’t really seem like they go together, do they?
When I think of the word ‘sacrifice’, certain images come to mind.
I think of a play made in baseball, where one player is tagged out purposely on the part of the player, so that his fellow teammate can score a run while the action is redirected away from him.
I think of the black and white horror films my family use to watch when I was growing up. In them were human sacrifices made by restless natives or evil demonic beings like vampires and witches.
I think of current understanding of sacrifices made by individuals involved in the dark arts.
‘Sacrifice’ in those terms really has an image about it.
Paul had an image of sacrifice in his mind. He would have been thinking of the religious practice in his day of offering animal sacrifice that was performed for forgiveness and thanksgiving within Jewish worship.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains it this way:
“God spoke to Moses, revealing to him in detail the sacred signs and ceremonies by which the Israelites were to manifest more explicitly their faith and relationship with God.
There were ceremonies by which the people were made and signed as worshippers or ministers of God. Thus we have circumcision and the consecration rites of the priests.
There were the ceremonies which consisted in the use of things pertaining to the service of God, like the paschal lamb at Passover for all the people.
There were the ceremonies of purification from contamination and for various expiations. This includes the washing of hands and feet, the shaving of the head, and the offering of grains and first fruits, and the offering animal blood and animal meat on the altar.”
Visual images that would come to Paul’s mind would be these involving the shedding of blood. In the 9th chapter of Genesis, Noah and his sons were instructed by God after leaving the ark, never to eat the meat of animals that still contained blood within it, because blood is the life source of all living beings. So the shedding of blood was a serious thing, and the animal sacrifice was a very serious and sacred part of Jewish worship.
But Paul calls us to be iving sacrifices. There is a kind of “glad-its-you-and-not-me” element to animal sacrifices. There is a way in which not to take the act of worship personal when its not your personal blood that’s being shed. And Paul, thinking of the way in which Christ’s blood was shed for us, invites us to place ourselves in the place of the animals.
Paul invites us to take it personal.
What does it mean to BE a living sacrifice, to live a life of what appears to be a contradiction in terms.
One gentleman had this to say: “The trouble with living sacrifices is they keep getting down of the altar.”
Either we forget or choose not to live a life of sacrifice.
Mary Welchel puts it this way:
“Did you ever realize you’ve been offering your body as a sacrifice all along? Its true; we do it throughout life. Most people are offering the parts of their body in slavery to impurity and wickedness. Now, they aren’t necessarily aware of doing that, but indeed, that’s what we see all around us.