This is the Sermon Preached on the First Sunday after Epiphany -- January 13, 2013 at

Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri

Romans 12:1-5

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Sermon for the First Sunday after The Epiphany                                                                                                                                                                                                           1/13/13

Christian Humility

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Epistle text today presents active Christian sanctification - that is, the life of the Christian, lived in faith, and conscious of his or her status in life as the redeemed of God in Christ who have been made holy by Christ and in Christ. Our true sanctification is passive – it is what Christ give us and works in and through us, but there is that which we do, by His power, as we live our lives in faith. The chief feature of this active sanctification is Christian humility. To live as God would have us live requires the mind - or attitude - of Christ be alive in us. Not only does it require humility, but it requires a genuine humility, and not that imitation humility which finds its heart in human pride. Our theme, this morning is “Christian Humility”.

There is a fleshly, sinful humility that is connected to the sort of pride that we find more common in our world today. It is prominent in the world, but it is oh-so-common even in the Church today. For example, in a world where doctrinal certainty and confidence in the truth is labeled “arrogance”, you are not as likely to find those who stand up and confess the whole truth. That would require humility of the sort that sets the truth above personal reputation and achievement. Such people exist, but they are clearly not in the majority, nor likely to be serving in any elected office. Their certainty frightens people. Of course, there is that element of the proud who make it clear that they are a cut above everyone else - and they work to make it painful for anyone who fails to understand the “truth” of their conceit.

But the more common problem is the twisted sort of pride that counts one’s self as worthy of special disdain. It is a false sort of humility, which says “Oh,no! Not me!” When opportunity knocks, they are sure to push someone else toward it - they are not up to the task. They don’t want to hold an office. They modestly decline leading, or contributing their talents or efforts. They like the church to be there, for example, and expect it to keep on ‘keeping on’ for those occasions when they need something from it, but they don’t want to do anything to maintain the church or help it do the things it must do to continue. While it disguises itself as modesty, it is pride - and a little selfishness. I don’t want to do, I don’t want to give, I don’t want to care, or whatever. Just let me enjoy what everyone else does and provides. Judging by the elections and the news in the past few months, this attitude is epidemic in America today. The truth is, it is just natural to man everywhere.

The ‘cure’ for this sort of thing is just what our text is about. “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” The life of the Christian is to be a life of sacrifice and service. “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice”. Your life is to be holy and it is to be set before God as a sacrifice to Him - not lived for your ambitions and goals, but for His. His preferences and His choices are the ones that are to matter. His ways and His will are to be uppermost. This sort of life isn’t expected be fun, or personally rewarding, necessarily. Your life is expected to be faithful and profitable for the Kingdom and for the others among whom God has placed you in His Church.

In fact, the language of sacrifice should alert you immediately to the fact that this is not expected to be fun or come naturally. What God is describing here, through the inspired pen of His apostle, is wrestling your life down and offering it up as a living sacrifice – I have in mind here a picture of Abraham preparing to offer up Isaac at the command of God -- it means living your life deliberately for God. It is further described as a holy life. Holy means “set aside”, “reserved for God”. Such living is not supposed to be just for the pastors, but for every Christian. It is called “your spiritual service of worship”. Just as our “worship services” are not about what we do, but what God does and gives to us here, our lives are not ‘free time between church services’ but the occasion of genuine worship - the sort of worship – the only sort – that God accepts: a life set on a course of holy conduct and toward goals which are not for the self but for the glory of God.

Of course, the question is, “Who can do this?”. Actually, the first question is, who really wants to? We want comfort. We want to accumulate our treasures. We want to make a name for ourselves, have fun, and enjoy life. Every generation wrestles with these questions and temptations, although very few generations before us have ever had so much to enjoy, and such great comfort and wealth as a condition of life.

Remarkably, in those times where people had so little they did not need closets to store their extra stuff in, they built hospitals and cathedrals and country churches and Christian day schools with their gifts and offerings. They were poor, but were similar to those Macedonian Christians about which the Apostle Paul wrote, Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

Today, not so much. Economic conditions have changed, and our expectations have changed. For example, doctors and nurses are no longer willing, many times, to work for very small wages for the general benefit of those around them, and in this society, what with insurance costs and paperwork regulations, they really cannot afford to. Those realities, however, make starting or maintaining a hospital, for example, much more expensive. On the other hand, few of us seem to be willing to live sacrificially. We want our nice homes, our cars, our boats, our toys, good food, abundant clothing, and the other perks of living in modern America.

Even we Christians have adopted the me-first values of the world around us. “Let the Gospel be hanged.” Of course, we don’t phrase it that way. It isn’t our problem that the people around us don’t believe, and that all they know about Christianity is the twisted, works-oriented pietism of the local Protestants. We don’t like to take the time for extra meetings or Bible Study, let alone figuring out how to do outreach. We don’t want to spend the money on gas to come to church more than once a week - let alone fund mission work. We have earned our stuff, and we have a right to enjoy it, and, after all, the Lord loves a cheerful giver, and we don’t feel all that cheerful about giving.

We have too little time as it is. There aren’t enough hours in the day for what we want to get done. There are too few of us, and we just get tired of giving and doing and going. Believe me, I know the feeling, personally. But it gives me pause to wonder how people in the past who had so much less, and for whom the opportunities were so much more restricted, could do the great things they did.

Maybe they did it by sacrificial living – putting God’s stuff first and their own stuff second. Not everybody did it back then, either, but there must have been a bunch of them that did. Paul knew the nature of the problem – human nature. That is why he warned us not to be conformed to this world - shaped by its values and attitudes - and why he told us that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Only when our faith and our lives in faith are under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit can we have holy desires and do those holy things which demonstrate (or prove) what the will of God is - that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Only when we can honestly weigh the value of salvation - how bad our sins are and how great the price was to redeem us from them - can we put life in perspective and worship God with lives of holy conduct and thanksgiving. It must be by the power of the Spirit at work in us through the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. Christian humility is formed around seeing one’s self reflected in the Law, which means we live a life of repentance. It includes an honest understanding of how little we deserve forgiveness and life and salvation, and recognizing how tremendous the gift of the Gospel is. When we speak of the gift of life, we are not just talking about the difference between dead in a casket or alive and walking around - although that is part of it too - we are talking about the difference between hell and agony and damnation on the one hand, and heaven, eternal life, joy, peace, and glory on the other. I cannot quite calculate the depths of hell, but I know it is bad - and I cannot imagine the joys of heaven, but I am assured it is good - so good that the troubles of this present age are not even worthy of being compared to the delight of salvation.

Now, about all that guilt I was laying on you about living for yourself and not for the Gospel: it is true - and it is true of every one of us here. Even when we are doing well, by our own measure, at living out our faith, we are realistically living a cold, calculating, self-absorbed life. We are sinners! Luther said it well: the note found in his hand after he had died said, “We are all beggars!” Thank God we have a Savior! But part of that thanksgiving is to be living your life as a sacrifice to God. It involves not thinking more of ourselves than we ought to think - but thinking with sound judgment. We are where we are and who we are by the plan of God. The things He has given us to do are things that we can do - and that He would have us do. Not all of us can do the same things - some have time, some have money, some can organize, some can talk to others, some can encourage, some can preach - at least I hope I can. The point is that we each have our place and our things that we can do to advance the mission of the Church, which is to confess Christ and spread the Gospel – encouraging one another and reaching out to those who do not yet believe.

Can any of us do more that we are now? I suspect that we all can. We might not want to – it might feel like a burden, or unfair. Our flesh may scream against giving more or doing just one more thing, or taking on something new. When it screams, that is when we know that our lives are being laid on the altar of sacrifice. That is the moment when we need to repent of our deep desire to be safe without Christ, to repent of the desire to live in service of our flesh instead of our Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ. And when we do that, when we see the truth and repent, and then cling to the Gospel of Christ’s grace and forgiveness poured out on us undeserving sinners in the absolution and in the Lord’s Supper, and give thanks with both word and deed for all that God has done for us and poured out on us, then we are worshiping – our true, spiritual service of worship.

And in Christian humility we need to remember that we are not the center of the Church, Christ is - and we are here for everyone else. See, the way it is supposed to work is that I take care of all of you, and all of you take care of me - and each one of you can take the place of the “I” in that proposition. That way, each one of us has twelve, or so, other people in this congregation watching out for us, praying for us, encouraging us, helping us, and supporting us in every way that we need. And we are doing it all with the blessings which the Lord provides to each of us for this exact thing. God doesn’t bless me only for my benefit, but also for yours. He doesn’t make any one of us rich simply for our pleasure or comfort or advantage, but for His plan and His purposes. He doesn’t give you the time of day just to spend on your pleasures and desires, but also to spend on His work and His people - among whom you stand, but not as the most important or urgent, but just after those around you whose needs you can see so clearly. He expects us to also enjoy His blessings, but not to hoard them for ourselves alone.

Christian humility involves knowing that the lowest seat in heaven is infinitely better than the greatest seat in hell. Christian humility is knowing that even though you don’t deserve it, you have been guaranteed a seat in heaven. In fact you have been granted a mansion, and everlasting life, and all the joys of resurrection from the grave and seeing those whom you have loved - who have also loved the Lord - again. Since you know it is worth anything you can do or give to get what God has simply given to you - and since you know and feel down to your heart that you don’t deserve this kindness, you give thanks and worship God by presenting your bodies – along with everything else that you may possess – a living and holy sacrifice to God. Christian humility is repentance and faith; or, as Luther put it, For all of this it is my duty to thank and praise Him, to serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

Home Page | Sermon Archive