This Is Your Worship

Sermon Text – 02.02.2020
 
[Romans 12]
 
          In our scripture lesson today, Paul introduces a well known idea called the “body of Christ.” It’s pretty common in churches to talk about how the church is the body of Christ, and Jesus is the head of the church. Do you remember those wooden cutouts – where you put your face above a headless frame, like you put your head in and your head is on the body of like a mermaid or a body builder or a clown or a pioneer woman or whatever. Down at the Flint Farmer’s market, the children’s museum’s display has a set up where you can put your face on Rosa Parks Body – it’s good fun. It’s a hilarious photo opportunity, because often the head doesn’t fit the body that is drawn. Now take a second with me, and imagine that the modern church is the body of Christ, put on one of those wooden cut-outs, and one day Jesus comes and sticks his head at the top of the picture – would the world laugh at the misfit? Today is the final sermon in our series Road To Rome, Part III. For the last month we’ve been looking at the God that is out there, and the humans in front of us – and trying to riddle out how the two connect. We’ve talked about sovereignty, salvation, evangelism – but it all comes together for this – What is your worship? What does worship look like in your life? Let’s take a look.

 

          It starts your life personally, what does worship look like in your personal life? [read v.1]. Alright, let’s stop for a second and make sure we understand what he means. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice – that sounds a little, like – creepy/intense – right? It sounds extreme, but if it sounds extreme – it’s because it is! At this time, in this place – being a Christian was illegal. To become a Christian, very likely you were going to die from torture or execution. We’ve lost this perspective in the modern world because nowadays it’s like, “well, Sunday is my only day to sleep in, or maybe I believe in Jesus – I guess.” But back then it was, “if you sign on for Christianity – you will be literally hunted down and fed to lions” and still the church was growing. Like we talked about last week, you can’t “sort of” be a Christian, you can’t “kind of” follow Jesus. Present your body as a living sacrifice – letting Jesus into your life means you are ready to give it all up – to give up everything to follow him. We have a habit of standing on the edge of the deep end of the presence of God – without ever getting wet.  Now I’m grateful that we live in a country where brave men and women fight for our freedoms so that we can worship without fear – but at the same time it has created a sort of superficial Christianity – an easy worship. Paul puts things in perspective, and I think it’s a good reminder from time to time: be ready to give up everything.       

 

Verse 2, [read it]. We kind of talked about this last week – when we give our lives to Jesus, when we decide to let go of our sin and repent and live for God with our lives, there is a transformation that happens in our hearts. Faith is not intellectual assent. It’s not like you look at a list of beliefs and say, “uh huh, I believe that.” Faith is designed to spark a fire in your heart. When you pray and give your life to God, and say I’m done with my sin, I want to live God’s way – Christians believe that God sends the Holy Spirit to set up shop in our heart and change the way we live. Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as an advocate, or a helper that lives in our heart. So first, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice – we give everything to God and say, “I want to follow you with my life” and then the next step is to invite the Holy Spirit to come and transform your heart. God take away my sinful heart, all the garbage I’ve got in my life and transform it. It’s a process, it takes a long time of spiritual growth, becoming more Christlike. Paul says do not be conformed to this world – but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so you may discern what is the will of God. Invite the Holy Spirit to set up shop in your heart so that you can figure out how God wants you to live. All of this happens on the personal level.

 

Now, you might be thinking, “well Pastor JJ, if we can just repent of our sins and invite the Holy Spirit to come into our lives to help us figure out what God wants – that’s the whole thing, right? Why do we have all these building with the fancy plus sign on top? Why bother with church if we’ve got direct access to Jesus and the Holy Spirit?” Excellent question, you guys are so smart, Paul hits that in verse 3 [read it]. Simply put, you are not as smart as you think you are. We cannot riddle out the mysteries of the bible and the will of God by ourselves. In fact, when we try to do worship and religion in isolation, we have come up with some of the most dangerous and corrupt ideas of organized religion. We need one another to balance one another out. For example, if someone reads the bible and concludes hey slavery is a good idea – they need to be a part of a group of believers that can slap them upside the head and bring them back on track. We individually are incomplete, we need a place where there can be a community of believes to come together, to support, encourage, challenge and work together in our faith – that’s what we call church. It continues, [read v.4-5]. Here’s what I want you to catch – we are incomplete without each other. If you are not part of a community of faith, you are missing out on worship. Paul does not compare us to a collective, like a pile of pennies or chips, but as members of a body. Like pieces to a puzzle, all of us fit together to be complete. Our differences become a beautiful thing when we see that they fit together as one body of Christ. [read 6-8]. Your gifts are not the same as my gifts are not the same as their gifts – and if you’re out there trying to be all things to all people, you’ll fail by yourself. But together, we complete the body. The other thing I want you to notice is how step one, leads you to step two. Right? You start off individually, working on your faith just you and Jesus – but that can only get you so far. After a while, we have questions, we need support, we need accountability, we need encouragement – which is equal parts challenging someone and comforting them, depending on what they need in that moment. Individual worship leads us to desire communal worship in the body of Christ.

 

We work our faith personally, which leads us to express our faith together as a church, which leads to the third step – expressing our faith out in the world. The last section of the chapter is practical advice about loving our enemy. [read v.9-11]. Can you imagine what life would look like if our goal was to “outdo one another in showing honor”? Constantly trying to one up each other in our generosity, in our elevating of other people? Mutual affection. [read v.12-13]. You may have noticed, Romans 12 is another one of those chapters where the preacher is basically useless – it’s just clear, godly guidance without no commentary necessary. Verse 14 [read 15-16]. But here’s the thing – some of that is easier said than done. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep – that’s pretty basic community, empathy. But what about that first thing – bless those who persecute you? Whew – that is NOT what we see in our culture. One of the things that’s really frustrating for me as a church leader is to see loads of people in our culture claiming Christianity – but not living this way. They don’t love their enemies – I know it’s hard, but lots of people don’t even try. Their “christian faith” seems only skin deep, and I would argue it’s because they are neglecting steps one and two. They’re not growing personally with the Holy Spirit, and they are not growing communally with a body of believers so of COURSE step three – their faith out in the world – looks lopsided, seems fake, or inauthentic. Being a Christian out in the world is hard, and most of the time the culture labels us a weirdos, and so we need solid step one and two before we get to step three. I mean listen to this stuff, [read 17-20]. Do not respond to evil with evil, do not avenge yourself – man it’s a good thing we don’t live in a culture where the biggest movie ever made came out last year and was literally celebrating avenging. Oh wait. Do you see how counter cultural Christians are? We are taught not just to be nice to people we like, which is no big deal, but also to love the one’s we hate. We feed the hungry, even if they hate us. Give water to the thirsty, even if they are your enemy. Simply put, you can wrap up the entire final section in the last sentence – [read v.21].

 

  
        The good news this morning is that God brings us all together in one body. We said it last week, our faith in Jesus is what ties us together as a family. God has given you a body to work with. God has given you a body that works – on two levels – personal and communal. First, personally – God has given you a life to live, and Paul is teaching us that the first step is to offer our body, offer our entire life as a living sacrifice to God. Live your life God’s way. That’s where it starts – God has given you a personal body. Then the next level is that God has given you a communal body – the body of Christ, where you are just one member of something that is bigger than yourself. That’s what church is supposed to be. Now, of course, there’s lots of churches that go corrupt. Loads of churches have forgotten why they exist, they have forgotten to be the living body of Christ, and have become more like a giant statue of Christ, or an idol of some sort. But when the body of Christ comes alive, that leads us to step three – the body of Christ moving in the world. We reach out and make a different in our community. We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we do good work in our community, in our nation, in our world. Call it missions, call it outreach – call it whatever, it’s that amazing part where the body of Christ, all of us working together, starts to transform the world.
   
       The good news is that God has given you a body to work with, on two levels, and so the response is – work that body. [laugh – I have too much fun when I’m writing these sermons] But seriously, God has given you, as Mary Oliver says, “one wild and precious life”, a personal body and Paul’s teaching us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice for God. Invite the Holy Spirit to transform your heart so you can live as a Christian in this messed up world. In your personal life, work the body God gave you to worship God. And then at the next level, step two – work the body of Christ, the church. Use the gifts that God gave you as one part of the whole. Take your gifts and combine them with the efforts of all these wonderful people sitting around you and let us work together to transform the world. God has given you a body, both personally AND communally, so work that body.

 

   
       So the application is fairly simple, and I’m going to connect it to our ministry process here at Flushing UMC. As a church, we have a method to the madness, we don’t just gather haphazardly, but we intentionally move through a process of growth to get the most out of our faith AND make the greatest impact on the world around us. We have three steps, and I find it helpful to explain it using the metaphor of fire. Step 1 – feed the spark. On a personal level, in your life – feed that spark. Paul says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.s” There are moments in life, like sparks hitting the tinder where the flame catches. That spark lights in our soul as we are nudged a little closer to God. So feed that spark in your personal life. Three easy ways – read your bible, pray – which is just basically talking to God, and then start attending church. When you feel that tug on your heart for something deeper, feed that spark – give it a chance to grow.
 
          Step two, fuel the flame. After the flame has caught in your personal life – you need to give it fuel. I always start a relationship, talk to someone one time, and then never talk to them again – that’s not a real relationship. Our connection to God is the same – fuel that flame. The best way to move from a spark to a flame is to start doing step one stuff in community. Read your bible – with other people, like in a Life Group or Sunday School. Pray with other people – like in worship every week. And finally, go to church – not sporadically for your own benefit, not just to be a consumer in the pews, but come regularly to be a part of what we are doing, as a part of the family. Paul lists a ton of gifts that you can put to use in the church. Teaching, challenging, giving, leading, encouraging. Take your personal gifts that you have been working on in your personal life – and use them to be a part of the body of Christ.
     
     The final piece is once you’ve fed the spark – so the flame catches. Once you’ve fueled the flame, so that the fire has grown in your life, the third step is to feel the warmth. When the Holy Spirit has been working in your life, when your heart is being actively transformed – the people around you feel the change in your life. The love of God radiates outwards like heat from a flame. After you’ve worked the body personally, and then after you’ve worked the body of Christ communally, the final piece is to take it out into the world. Our mission statement in this church is to “create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” Create disciples – that’s step one and two, for the transformation of the world – that’s step three in action. If no one can tell you’re a Christian from the way you live your life – you might want to revisit the process – feed your spark more, put more fuel on the flame, let it transform your life. When a church is healthy, when a church is doing what it is supposed to do – you’ll find that the entire structure is designed to encourage you through this process of growth. So my challenge to you today is to take the next step down the ministry process. If you’re a first time visitor or your attend sporadically – you’re just getting started, so try taking the next step and making church a regular part of your life. Read your bible and pray every day. If you’re a regular in the pews, but you only get involved as a consumer on Sunday morning – take that next step, sign up for a Life Group, sign up for a bible study, volunteer in Sunday School or Youth Group, something. If you’re regular attender and you’re involved in communal growth – consider the next step of getting out into the community. Look for volunteer opportunities – with our Outreach Team or our Mission Team or something like that. Whatever it means to you – my challenge is simple: take the next step.

 

          If the church is the body of Christ, and Jesus comes and puts his face at the top of our wooden cut-out – would the world laugh at the mismatch? You’ve been given one life. Couple of decades on this little blue ball – this life is your worship. What will you worship? How will you worship? I’ll leave you with this. May you work that body – in your personal life, in the communal life of church, and out there in the world. May you feed the spark in your heart, fuel the flame and let the world feel your warmth. Amen.


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