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.
“For example, when people relinquish their feet to go where sin takes them, to wrong places, to harmful and hurtful places. When their tongues speak words that hurt and harm, their hands do things that are not pleasing to God, their eyes and ears see and hear the trash in this world, they have sacrificed these parts of their bodies to evil.
“Some people sacrifice their bodies to meaningless and trivial things. Their hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongues and hearts are sacrificed to time-consuming activities that are largely insignificant.
“But as a child of God, I have the opportunity to offer my body as a living sacrifice to bring glory to Jesus. Instead of using my body in acts of evil and triviality, I can, if I choose to, be a part of God’s eternal plan and have God’s power working through my body.”
What does it meant to be a living sacrifice?
All preachers love metaphors. A metaphor is a word or phrase used to represent or explain something else. Preachers have their favorites, and Paul is no exception.
One of the metaphors Paul likes to use is that of the human body. He uses it in several of his letters and there are at least 4 reasons Paul likes and uses this metaphor.
Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to discuss salvation because of issues raised following the resurrection of Christ. When Christ ushered in eternal life, and Christ was resurrected in his human form, questions arose as to what happen to a person at the point of death.
There were lots of answers, and everyone had their opinion. There were some who claimed there was no resurrection following death. Otherwise, we would have all these dead people walking around, and we don’t.
Because of our fascination with and limitation to our human body in this life time, we have Paul’s discussion of the body and resurrection in the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians.
Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to explain the Christian way of life, because of a Greek philosophy influence. Greek thought was that there are essentially two bodies in the same being - the physical body and the spiritual body. Now, the idea of a spiritual body wasn’t associated with or didn’t begin with Christianity. But when Christianity came into being, the idea of the spirit and the physical was easily adoptes and understood as the body and the soul.
Thing is, Greek philosophy understood that everything related to the physical body was bad and everything related to the spiritual body was good. The result was, sin was often understood from two different angles.
One way was to understand that you had no control over your physical body and you could not help it when you did something wrong, so there was no point in trying. The other way was to embrace wrong doing, because it had no affect whatsoever on your spiritual body. You could sin all you want if you understood your spirit to be saved.
But Paul saw our human bodies as well as our souls as creations of God. The spirit wasn’t just a traveler camping out for a hundred years or so. Our bodies aren’t bad and they aren’t separate from our mind and heart.
Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to call us to live spirit filled lives, HOLY SPIRIT filled lives in a very human world.
Paul also used the metaphor of the human body because of a worldview that understood two time frames that existed. One time frame was the here and now. Here and Now consists of evil. It consists of wrong doing. It consists of disease and innocent people being ill and injured. Here and Now is a time of oppression and the need of a Deliverer and Savior.
But someday, there would be the second age, the new age, and in that day, the Redeemer would come, and would go about making people whole, setting things right, freeing people from their oppression. Paul saw that age - the new age - as beginning with Jesus’ resurrection. The time of redemption has come and is coming about in Paul’s life time. Paul saw us in our human bodies living in the new age, the age to come, the end times.
Paul also used the metaphor of the human body to talk about sacrifice and being made right with God, and to invite us to take it personal. The bodies of the animal sacrifices were laid on the altar to make up for our sins, to express our joy and thanksgiving, to ask and invite God’s presence into our lives. Paul invites us to lay our human life upon the altar, to take the sacrifice of our life for Christ very personally.
And so we have here in the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, words that speak about laying physical bodies before God as an act of spiritual worship, of not conforming to earthly physical thought, but allowing our minds and hearts to be transformed to a spiritual life-style, living in this time, in this world, as one who is of another world, another time. We are called to be living sacrifices and to take it personal.
How do we take it personal? You know, if we do all that Paul invites us to do here, we are actually being called to live a sacramental life-style. Now what is a sacramental life-style?
You know, my New Testament professor use to come into class every morning and say, “Good morning Bible scholars.”
And whenever some of our class discussions would becomes these deep conversations about topics that make your head hurt - which is just about every class - the long, fifty dollar terms and concepts would come up. And whenever she would use one of those words, she would say, “There’s your theological term for the day so you can feel like you’ve truly been to graduate school and gotten your money’s worth.”
Well, we too, are being good Bible scholars and theological students. And we’re using one of those fifty dollar words, so you too can feel like you’ve had a bit of graduate school tonight.
What is a sacrament? Well, a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. It is something that symbolizes the grace it represents and is a conveyer of grace as well.
Each Monday night we partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. The bread and the juice are an outward sign of the grace we know we receive in Jesus who ate a meal with bread the night he gave himself up for us. And he ate the meal in way that he instructed us to remember what he did for us in dying on the cross, every time we eat that meal.
The Lord’s supper is an outward sign of the inward grace living in us. And there is a way in which this sign and symbol takes on new meaning, becomes alive and real for us, becomes a way in which we receive that grace all over again every time we share the Lord’s Supper together.
So what does it mean to live a sacramental life style? What does it mean to live a grace filled life, a outward life of the grace within? What does it mean to live a life that represents the grace within us, and to be a conveyer of that grace as well?
Paul had some ideas about that. Each of us contain abilities and gifts given to us by God. Some of us have teaching skills. Some of us are a wiz at numbers and financial skills. Some of us are encouragers and build other people up. Some of us are organizers and like projects.
Paul’s says, whatever those abilities we possess, they should be used as a sacrifice and sacrament to God. We should use them to the best of our ability and do them in a way that is pleasing to and benefiting Christ.
Its another human body metaphor. Paul calls us all to join together like different parts of the same body. We’re called to pool our collective energies together and to be a wholistic representative - the church - of God’s grace found within this place.
And we’re called to examine our personal moral character, to look at how we conduct ourselves so that we will always be representatives of God’s grace to others.
Beginning in verse 9 we read:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers...”
This is what it means to live a sacramental life-style. This is what it means to be a living sacrifice.
Mary Welchel puts it this way:
“At the beginning of my day I literally go through the parts of my body and relinquish each of them to Gods service for the day.
‘Lord, here are my feet. May I walk as Jesus would walk, go where you want me to go.’
“There are places I wouldn’t go because Jesus wouldn’t go there, places that cause me to compromise my stand for Jesus. But that’s probably the easy part of having feet that are living sacrifices. Such feet will take me to places I might not think of going otherwise. I’ll go to people who need me, places of worship, places to minister to others.
“‘Here are my hands, Lord. I give them to you so that what I do with them will bring honor to you.’ Hands that are given to God will be busy servant hands, doing things for others. Nothing is too menial, nothing too hard, nothing beneath them. It may mean waiting on someone who is sick, or mopping a floor, or running errands for others.
“‘Lord here are my eyes; I want to see as you see. Here are my ears; may I listen to what you would listen to. And Lord, I give you my tongue. I ask you to control all the words formed by my tongue, that they may be words of help and healing. Lord, my brain is yours; I want to think your thoughts. Here’s my heart, Lord, Put into my heart your love and compassion for all the people I will see today.’
“Presenting the parts of my body individually to God each day is one of the best way I have found to prepare myself for the day ahead, because it reminds me I am not my own, I was bought with a price. And therefore, my body, every part of it, should be a living sacrifice all day long every day.”
Hear these words from the 12th chapter of Romans:
“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 God’s service and pleasing to God. This is the true worship you should offer.