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“Living Sacrifices”
Romans 12:1


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—August 21, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We hear a lot these days about our nation’s deficits.  But, there is yet another deficit which affects all of us, a deficit far more serious and consequential for our everyday lives.  We could call it the “self-sacrifice deficit.”  Many of our society’s woes can be traced directly to the “self-sacrifice deficit,” a lack of willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, sometimes even for the sake of our closest loved ones.

Self-sacrifice is not an easy thing.  The marriage relationship, for example, very often requires great sacrifice of yourself, your wishes, your needs, your desires, for the sake of your spouse.  Likewise, being a parent means much self-sacrifice for the sake of your children.  And being a Christian means total self-sacrifice for the sake of your Lord.

The “self-sacrifice deficit” arises when we ask ourselves: Why?  Why do it?  Why should I sacrifice myself for the sake of others?  We ask ourselves why, and we don’t have an answer.  So we stop sacrificing ourselves and instead selfishly serve ourselves.

Why sacrifice yourself for the sake of your spouse, your children, your Lord?  St. Paul tells us why in the first verse of today’s epistle reading from the twelfth chapter of Romans: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.” 

“In view of God’s mercy.”   That is why we sacrifice ourselves.  “In view of God’s mercy,” a response to the Lord, a way of saying “thank you, God.”

“Thank you, God,” because we do not deserve mercy, but punishment.  St. Paul says in Galatians, “The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”  St. John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  With our sin, we have earned not mercy but punishment, the punishment of eternal death and damnation.  “For the wages of sin is death.”

“But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  God sent his Son to pay the penalty for the sins of humankind, to earn forgiveness for you and me and the whole world.  St. Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.”  St. John says, “This is how God showed his love for us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we would have life through him. . .  he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . .  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only ours but for the sins of the whole world . . .  and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.”  St. Paul says in Romans, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.”  Put your faith, your trust, your hope for salvation in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness he earned for you by his atoning sacrifice, his blood, shed on the cross.

There are two types of sacrifices. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a sacrifice of atonement, paying the penalty for your sin and earning your forgiveness.  The good works we do are not sacrifices of atonement, earning forgiveness, but sacrifices of thanksgiving, our response to Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement for us, our way of saying “thank you, God.”

The bloody animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were only symbolic, pointing forward to the ultimate, final, sacrificial victim.  As John the Baptizer says of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  The book of Hebrews says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . .  [he did] away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”  Our God no longer desires animal sacrifices, because what those sacrifices only symbolized has been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Instead of animal sacrifices, our Lord desires that you offer up to him your very self as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  St. Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians, “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again.” 

There is a figure of speech called an oxymoron, a combination of words that contradict each other, often in an amusing and ironic way.  Examples of amusing oxymorons are “government efficiency” and “Microsoft Works.”  I’ve mentioned before that some people would say “short sermon” is an oxymoron. 

Those are unintentional oxymorons.  See if you can detect St. Paul’s intentional oxymoron in our text: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  The intentional oxymoron in that verse is “living sacrifices.”  Sacrificial victims by their very definition are not living.  With the intentional oxymoron “living sacrifices” St. Paul makes a powerful point: We are to offer up to the Lord not dead animals, but our very selves, as human sacrifices, living human sacrifices.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.”   “Bodies” in this verse means not just to our physical bodies but to our entire being.  The Good News Bible translates, “Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice.”

Offer yourself as a “living sacrifice” first of all by giving your heart, your devotion, your love to Jesus.  Offer yourself as a “living sacrifice” with your prayer and praise, your worship here in the Lord’s house.  Offer yourself as a “living sacrifice” by giving of yourself, your time, your talents, your treasure, to the work of Christ’s Church.

But, it’s not only what we consider to be the religious aspects of our lives that are a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord.  St. Paul says in Colossians, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  The daily work that God has given you is more than just a way to earn a living.  Your work in the world is part of you being a “living sacrifice” for the Lord.  Any honest occupation is actually a Christian good work “holy and pleasing to God.”

And all the self-sacrifices you make for your spouse and children, that also is part of you being a “living sacrifice” for the Lord.  Next time you are doing laundry or fixing supper or mowing the lawn or changing a diaper, remember that all these things are not just mundane chores but actually Christian good works, “holy and pleasing to God,” all part of you being a “living sacrifice” for the Lord.  “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Why sacrifice yourself for the sake others, for the sake of your spouse and children?  Why sacrifice yourself for the sake of your Lord? “In view of God’s mercy.”  All your self-sacrifices are really sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord, part of you offering yourself to him as a “living sacrifice . . .  in view of God’s mercy.”

Amen.

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