This sermon was preached by Rev Caroline on 27 August 2017: 11th Sunday after Trinity – Year A
Every year, actress Whoopi Goldberg co-hosts the American version of Comic Relief in aid of the homeless. It is one of many charitable commitments that she has. In an interview (Reader’s Digest) she was asked why she gives so much of her time to charitable work, she replied: “I fear waking up in the morning and finding out my life was all for nothing. We are here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”
We all search for significance in our lives at different stages. As King Solomon said, “God has set eternity in the heart.” We reflect on our past, present and future to learn and see light and hope. Ultimately our significance comes from following Jesus, allowing Him to satisfy the spiritual hunger in our souls. Jesus Christ is our torch that leads us out of the darkness into eternal life.
The readings today show the mercies of God running like a golden thread throughout time. We are encouraged to live as both individuals and as a community of faith looking backwards and forwards at the same time. Learning from our journey whilst looking forward to eternal life whilst embracing life in all its fullness.
We are reminded of our roots in the passage from Isaiah this morning as he says “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug”. Then Matthew’s gospel reminds us of the huge blessing of faith that comes as gift and grace from God the Father rather than through flesh and blood. Finally, as we respond to Jesus and yearn to serve him, Paul’s letter to the Romans tells how to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses as we discern how God has equipped and called us to serve as our particular part of the Body of Christ.
The whole of his letter to the Romans has built up to this point. The word “therefore” at the beginning of the passage sees us embarking upon what Paul believes our responses should be to the flow of God’s mercy into our lives.
There are three key factors that Paul reminds us of:
1. We need to remember our priorities
Verse 1: “Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.”
From the beginning of time, humankind had regularly fallen short of what God desires for us – yet he had been repeatedly merciful and sent his own son to redeem us and draw us, adopted, into God’s heavenly family. What is our response to be? The extent of God’s mercy is such that we should prioritise pleasing him even if that means being counter-cultural to how the world sees that we should behave.
This can be really challenging. Paul reminds us that we are embodied creatures and that our bodies express what is in our hearts. He is calling us to renew our way of thinking so that we ask ourselves what God’s will is in our actions and choices. Are my choices in how I use my resources good stewardship of what God has given me and ethical? Are my conversations honouring God? Am I seeking God’s praise more than the praise of mankind.
For example, Eric Liddell famously refused to run in the Olympics for the race that he had trained for because it was scheduled for a Sunday. Ironically, his widow Florence later recalled that ‘Eric always said that the great thing for him was that when he stood by his principles and refused to run in the 100 metres, he found that the 400 metres was really his race. He said he would never have known that otherwise. He would never have dreamed of trying the 400 at the Olympics.’ When we prioritise God’s view over the world’s view and use our bodies as a living sacrifice, we are opening ourselves to receiving God’s blessings.
What Paul is describing flows out of salvation. It is a heart response to the mercy that we have received. We didn’t earn salvation through what we do. We live it out in our bodies right now. We are redeemed and, as we understand this, we are transformed.
2. Realistically evaluate our gifts
Verse 3 says: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. But rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Two days after I was ordained a deacon, I was sitting in the dentist’s waiting room with my daughter. The television was playing Come Dine With Me. As we waited, this conceited contestant (who had been behaving badly) announced, fully believing it, to the other competitors “I am God’s gift to women”! I muttered to my daughter “Well, he might think so but I couldn’t possibly comment!” I was confused when several women in the waiting room roared with laughter and one said to me “Well, if you don’t know love, there’s no hope for the rest of us!”. It was then that I remembered that I was wearing my collar.
If we think too highly of ourselves we make it hard to be taught as we feel that we have nothing to learn. Our arrogance becomes a barrier to people receiving what we say or do.
On the other side of the coin though we are called to not do ourselves down either. God has given us all gifts and talents that play their part in the church community and to fulfil His mission on earth.
When Moses felt inadequate to talk to Pharaoh about releasing the Israelite slaves, God was angry at his lack of faith. Humility is about having an open heart to the ways that God is calling us to serve then embracing doing it for his glory and not our own.
3. Refuse to compare yourself to others
Paul stresses to us that a body has many parts and each makes an important yet different contribution to the working whole. Similarly, God gives each of us different gifts. It is not for us to compare ourselves to others, their gifts and the degree of their giftedness but to discern and use our own to the glory of God.
So, some are gifted to preach he said, some to serve, some to teach, some to encourage, some to make money and give, some to lead, some to show mercy.
Cathy Rigby had a dream to win a gold medal in the Olympics in Munich in the 70s, so she trained as a gymnast. When it was her turn to perform, she was nervous yet she did well. She was devastated when she did not place for a medal. Welling up with tears, she went up and sat with her parents and then she sobbed to her mother, “Mum, I did the best I could.” Her mother said, “Kathy, I know that and your dad knows that and God knows that.” Then Kathy Rigby said that her mother spoke ten words that she has never forgotten and it boosted her spirits. Her mother said, “Doing your best is more important than being the best.”
God does not compare us to anyone else. He sees our potential and knows our opportunities. We all have different gifts and different measures of those gifts.
When we use our gifts fully for the glory of God, we begin to light those little torches along the way that Whoppi Goldberg was describing to show people the way through the darkness to the light of Jesus Christ.
Let us pause for a moment, reflect upon our own gifts and seek his guidance in using them to His glory.