Members of the Body
We live in a culture that likes to boil everything down to a sound bite because that is what we are told we can digest. Because of our busy lives, our crowded minds, and our limited ability to think the only way we are told we can digest large and complex thoughts is if they are cut down to a sound bite, or a bumper sticker, or a text, Facebook post, or Tweet. The smaller number of characters used the better. You can use 420 characters in a Facebook post. 160 characters is the limit for a text. 140 for a tweet. The average sound bite lasts 9 seconds. Which is about the same amount of time it takes someone to read a Tweet.
We are only 14 months away from another presidential election and many voters will decide which candidate they will vote for because of their sound bites. In 1968 the average sound bite was 43 seconds long but in 1988 it moved to 9 seconds. Now there are political consultants who coach candidates in their sound bites and tell them what to say to win the arguments without having an argument. But what does this really do? It takes huge ideas and compresses them but in doing so it leaves huge chucks out that the listener has to fill in later. Sound bites, good Tweets, and even bumper stickers believe that the reader/listener will fill in the gaps of that missing information.
Look at some examples. [Slide - Midwives help people out.] Why is this funny? The key to understanding this bumper sticker is what a midwife does. A midwife helps pregnant mothers give birth. Once the connection is made people can understand the joke. [Slide – Thank God I’m Atheist] Once again one has to know that an atheist doesn’t believe in God to know why this is funny. [Slide – Jesus is God with skin on] This basically sums up the incarnation. God put on flesh and dwelt among us. I thought that one was pretty good. Here is one last one, [slide – If going to church makes you a Christian does going to the garage make you a car?] Once again the reader has to fill in the spaces with more knowledge of this subject. The person with this on their car probably thinks that everyone who goes to church isn’t a Christian because he or she has experienced some church goers who have not acted out their faith in their daily lives.
I have said all this because as we read these eight verses in the 12th chapter of Romans we have to do some filling in on our own. We have to step back, look at what Paul is telling us here, and fill it in with some background and further self-knowledge. Paul writes to the Romans to give them a deep understanding of theology, or a way of understanding God and how to live as a disciple of God. Romans is one of the most theologically rich books of the entire Bible. Paul crams so much into this letter that it takes the reader a long time to digest what he is saying.
In today’s text we get a familiar analogy from Paul. He states that as followers of Christ we are like parts of the body. We, as individuals are all members of this one body. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” We all have gifts. That is what Paul’s assumption is. That is the news that he assumes all of his readers understands, even us today. We all have gifts that the Lord has bestowed on all of us. Yes, even you. God has given you gifts, talents, and graces that he wants you to share with the world. Paul goes on to mention a couple, prophesy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership and mercy. Paul doesn’t say that only a few people have gifts, he says, “We have different gifts…”
Not only does Paul say that all people have gifts because we are all part of the body but he wants us to use them. My heart is a unique muscle. It is an involuntary muscle that pumps blood throughout my body. There is really no other muscle like it in the body. It is involuntary because I don’t have to think about it for it to work. It just pumps away, all day, every day. If it didn’t, well we know what would happen. It has been beating 21 days after my conception and will continue to beat until the day I die. It is remarkable and something we take for granted unless it is not working properly. For those who have had heart issues you know all too well the pain and panic that sets in when things with your heart start to do weird things. But when everything is working well, life is good.
That is what Paul wants us to do. “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” We cannot sit back and not do what God has created us to do. We cannot just let our talents go to waste or our gifts go unshared. If we do we don’t live into our gifts and graces then we fail to live as God wants us to live. When the heart stops the body starts to shut down.
This brings us back to the first part of this text. Paul says, “off your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God 0 this is your spiritual act of worship.” We have this negative reaction when someone talks about sacrifice. Our minds automatically go to something having to be given up. We fill that empty space with our own assumptions of what will be missing if we made a sacrifice. Yet when we hear stories of sacrifice we smile and sometimes even get chills.
When we hear of a mother of two who works three jobs in order to provide a chance for her children to go to college, we smile and think the sacrifice is worth it. When we hear of a soldier who jumped on a grenade that was thrown into a bunker to save the lives of his fellow soldiers, we nod and all agree that was a worthy sacrifice. When we hear grandparents who agree to raise their grandchildren because their daughter gave birth at the age of sixteen and they want her to be able to go to college and provide for this child, we shake our head but we understand the sacrifice. When a person stands in front of the church and asks for help in children’s church or God’s House of Rock, we nod our heads and agree that is a sacrifice someone else can make.
The Nominations Committee will start meeting soon and it is their job to look at the vacancies in our committees and leadership and try to put people in those positions who could use their gifts and talents best in those areas. It is not as easy as it sounds and the committee gets use to the answer, “no”. Something that would be helpful though it to know what the gifts and graces of the members of this Body are and to understand where we they would be willing to serve.
We are called to serve and to give our lives as living sacrifices. Yet fear and uncertainty can get in the way. Sometimes we may not know what our gifts are. Sometimes we worry about what we will have to give up to do something at church. We are scared of the commitment. For example, we need a person who is willing to take over the Bible Buck Program for God’s House of Rock. Amy, who has run the program for two years now, is feeling called to move up and work with our growing youth group. We are looking for someone to come in and help run that program. This means that every Sunday afternoon we need you to come to church and be ready to hear children three years old through 4th grade recite Bible verses. Have you ever heard a child recite a Bible verse? It is precious. Tears were in my eyes as Dean practiced and practiced the Lord’s Prayer and finally had it memorized so he could get 10 Bible bucks. Is that sacrifice worth the reward?
But what caught your attention when I mentioned this opening in our children’s ministry? I bet for someone of you it was the fact that this is an every week, during the school year, commitment. Being tied down to that week in and week out scares a lot of people, but we have to remember what Paul says here. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” When we give of ourselves for the sake of God, it is an act of worship. It is a means of saying God, you have given me these talents, gifts, and graces and I want them to be used to better this congregation. Use me Lord. Use me where you desire.
Maybe that is what the bumper sticker should be for this passage in Romans. Maybe instead of concentrating on what is lost we should concentrate on what is gained through a living sacrifice. I am sure if you talked with Amy she would share stories of moments when kids recited the Bible verses to her that were touching and meaningful. When Ty got in that sledding accident the children who were playing with him gathered together in a moment of prayer and lifted Ty up. They did that because of what they learned in Sunday School, children’s church, and God’s House of Rock.
At the conference I was just at someone asked a question about gaining volunteers and what type of time table the leader gave people for certain leadership positions. He said when he asks people to volunteer and they ask how long, his answer is, “Until Jesus comes back.” Because until then there is work that needs to be done. There are children that need to be formed, Bible studies that need to be led, missions to be done, meetings to be attended and leadership to be given. You can retire from your job, your career, but you cannot retire from Jesus and the work that you are called to do using the gifts God has given you. The work may change as life goes on but you can’t retire until Jesus comes back or you go to see him.
There are lots of areas that we need help here at Trinity. The good news is we have all the talent and all the gifts we will ever need. They are found in you but you have to be willing to share.
To help figure out how to share them I have created a little sheet of paper. One this sheet is a short description of each committee and what they do. There is also a list of ministries that we do here at Trinity and what they do. At the bottom of this page there are boxes next to each of these. What I want you to do as we close worship today is think about where you would be willing to serve, where you could use your gifts the most at this church, and maybe where God is calling you to go. I want you to look over this piece of paper, pray about it, write your name on it, and then walk up and place it on the prayer rail as a living sacrifice and as an act of spiritual worship.
If you don’t know where your gifts and graces might be I do have tools that can be used to find them out. I am happy to work with you to figure that out. But I think, deep down, if you are self-reflective and honest, you know what they are. So let us take some time and pray, and then ponder where God might be calling you to share.
[prayer and pass out papers]