5th Sunday after Trinity
Romans 12:1-16; Mt 13:1-9; 18-23
St Barbara’s 12.7.2020
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Today we come to the end of our five week series in the letter to the Romans. If you have been following the series, and even better still, if you have been reading the letter for yourself, you will not have failed to detect that incredible theme that permeates the whole of the letter: we are saved, we are brought into a right relationship with God, not by our efforts, which would always fall short, but by God’s grace, his mercy. It is by what he has done for us in Jesus that we can know the incredible hope and joy and love of God.
Which leads us to another of Paul’s great “therefore’s” with which he begins our passage this morning. “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy…” In other words, “in the light of everything I’ve written already, in the light of God’s incredible, extraordinary, abundant love and grace, this is how we are to respond.”
One can imagine that the response we are encouraged, indeed urged, to make is not small, and Paul does not disappoint. We are to offer our whole being in worship to God. Up to now worship may have been restricted to offering sacrifices in the temple – that there were set times when you went to a special place where you offered your prayers and worship, where you fulfilled your obligations. But, Paul says, no longer! In the light of what Christ has done for each of us, we are to offer our very lives as living sacrifices. In other words, worship is not restricted to a certain building or a certain time in the week. Every moment of every day should become an act of worship to God. Indeed, in the light of all that God has done for us, to limit our worship, our thanksgiving, our praise of God, to the time we spend in a church service each week would be to totally undervalue the gift he gives us.
Being in church, whether physically or online, does matter hugely. It is where we can be encouraged, strengthened in the faith, where we can praise God in the company of others, and find strength in prayer. But our worship must never end there. Our worship is as much what we do in the other 167 hours of the week.
That requires a real and ongoing transformation of how we think. As Paul writes, our minds, our thinking, needs to be transformed, renewed. Left to our own instincts and thought-patterns, we all too easily forget God, we all too easily live the moments of our day as if God is not present with us. We allow the concerns and pressures of other things to force out space in our minds for God. That is the “pattern of this world” that Paul speaks of. A pattern, an attitude to life, a way of thinking, that relegates God to the margins, that asserts the importance of almost everything else above God himself.
It is so easy to conform to that way of thinking. Paul urges the Christians in Rome, a tiny minority in that huge, bustling city where the clamour of other pressures and concerns must have been immense, to break out of the mould, to allow Christ to fill their thoughts and direct their actions in everything they do. To ask, how might whatever I am doing now be turned into act of worship to God? To ask, as I go for a walk today, as I speak to colleagues or friends of cold-callers on the phone today, as I respond to the events in the news today, as I eat my meals or enjoy a cup of tea, how might those things be done in a way that worships God? That takes the small and seemingly mundane, as well as the dramatic and seemingly significant, parts of our dally lives and sees them, first and foremost, as opportunities for worship. For that to happen, we need a daily, ongoing, renewing of our minds – a rejection of a pattern of our world that has no space for God, and an acceptance of the Holy Spirit to fill us and inspire us.
And Paul goes on to highlight what such worship begins to look like. Just as he says worship is no longer restricted to a certain place (the Temple), he says that worship is no longer restricted to a certain person (the priest). “Just as each of us has one body with many members,” he says, “and these members do not have all the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. And we all have different gifts.” He lists some of those gifts, but it is by no means an exhaustive list – they include serving and teaching and encouraging and giving generously. The point is that all of us have been given gifts and talents that can be used for the worship of God, that the church functions at its best when all of us are using those gifts. The ministry of the church is not confined to the ministry of the vicar, or the PCC, or those who are particularly keen and active. The ministry of the church is about every one of us using our gifts to worship God.
I wonder what your gifts are? When was the last time you thought about what your particular skills, talents, giftings are? They may be practical skills – fixing things, making things. They may be gifts of generosity and hospitality. They may be gifts of spotting and encouraging things in others. They may be gifts of supporting people in difficult times. They may be gifts that encourage people in faith. Paul is quick to warn that we shouldn’t be arrogant about such things, but neither should we be shy to acknowledge the gifts we have. The point is, we should be using them to worship God, whether that is through serving other church members or through serving the wider community. It is one of the ways each of us is called to make a distinct contribution. I wonder, in what way can you use your gift this week?
When Paul writes about gifts and talents elsewhere, he often balances it with writing about love, and he does that here too. For there are certain things that we can uniquely offer; but there are also things that all Christians are called to do if we are to live lives of worship, and those things are summed up simply by the word: “love”. He writes: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love… share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.” In other words, love people, care for them as if they are part of your family. Over the months of lockdown there have been some great examples of this within our congregation – people ringing each other, doing shopping for one another; people joining the Good Neighbours scheme; the quiz nights; the praying for one another. Lets build on that in the way we care for each other even as lockdown restrictions ease. Our needs may change, but our need for one another won’t.
We are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn”, to empathise with people, to connect with how they are feeling, not to be so wrapped up in how we are feeling, or the issues that are concerning us, that we are incapable of seeing what life is like for them, and being there with them in those moments.
We are called to live in harmony with one another, to be peace-makers, to be people that build good relationships with others.
All of these things are about us offering our lives as a living sacrifice, about living lives of worship to God. For ultimately, that is what Paul longs for the Christians in Rome. That despite their differences with one another, despite the challenges they face, they will respond to the extraordinary mercy and grace of God by worshipping God, living lives of thanksgiving and praise, in everything they think, in everything they say and everything they do. Two thousand years on, that is the call for us too. Let us live lives of love knowing we are loved by God.