A sermon given on August 23, 2020 by the Rev. Teri Daily on Romans 12:1-8 and Matthew 16:13-20…
Today our lectionary continues its course through Paul’s epistle to the Romans. The past few weeks we’ve read about Paul’s understanding of salvation, both for Christians and the Jews. Now, in chapter twelve, Paul starts talking about what that salvation looks like in our lives, how the new life we have in Christ plays out in our lives. And the first thing we hear is the word “sacrifice”.
It’s not a word with which we’re very familiar in our world today, especially not in twenty first century America. In fact, the only time many of us have used the word in relation to our own spiritual and religious life is in the context of the sacrifices we make during the season of Lent, and so perhaps looking at how we view Lenten disciplines and sacrifices might shed some light on how we view sacrifice in general.
Of course, Facebook and chocolate seem to be the most common things people sacrifice during Lent. But here are just a few of the posts I found online about other Lenten sacrifices:
- “Little Debbies. They make me lie to my husband (‘No, dear, one of the kids must’ve eaten that last Fudge Round’)… How pitiful am I to let my impulses be controlled by a snack cake that doesn’t even cost $1/box on sale.”
- “I’m giving up people who eat quinoa, kale, soy milk, and tofu for lent. #IGotThis.”
- “I gave up smoking for Lent, both cigarettes and weed.”
- “I usually give up listening to my car radio and commute to work in ‘silence.’ Inevitably, I end up hearing noises from under the hood that lead to some needed repairs.”
- “I’m giving up skateboarding and video games, at first I thought it was for just a week so I thought, ‘No big Deal’ but then I learned it was 40 days, but I’m still going through with it, something I thought I could never do.”
If these posts are any indication of what we believe sacrifice to be, then we can infer a couple of things about how we view religious sacrifice in our culture today. First, sacrifice often centers around giving up those things which would be to our benefit to give up. We see it as cleaning up bad habits. Second, “sacrifice”, we believe, ought to be individual in nature. I get to decide what I’m giving up, in what way I’m giving it up, and how many “forgivenesses” I get during the 40 days. And to be honest, in a fallen world that may be the way any sacrifice should work. Looking at humanity’s track record, whenever sacrifice has to be endured as a community, it’s usually the weakest among us or the poorest among us that get the short end of the stick.
But when Paul talks in this passage from Romans about presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, the discussion moves pretty quickly to a discussion of what it means to be part of a community, what it means to live with other believers. If we listen to Paul, giving ourselves fully to God isn’t a transaction that takes place just between me and God. It’s about giving ourselves to the Body of Christ we call the Church as well – giving ourselves to this imperfect manifestation of God’s presence in the world that struggles to do God’s will, that struggles to move in the direction that God desires for this broken, hurting and yet beautiful world. Paul says: “For as in one body we are many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligence, compassion.” It seems that offering ourselves up is at least in part about fitting into this band of followers – sometimes awkwardly, sometimes quite easily and naturally, sometimes almost in an act of desperation.
I personally find great comfort in the knowledge that we, as the Body of Christ, don’t have to be put together in what we would consider the “perfect” way in order to show God’s glory to the world. Instead of the Church being this house with well-mortared, perfectly ordered brick walls, we’re more like a house made with walls of rocks piled up. Maybe leaning a little in one direction of the other, maybe broader in some areas more than others, but still getting the same job done. Sometimes our ministries don’t turn out like we’d planned, sometimes they flourish. Sometimes we make false starts and then fall back into old patterns, sometimes we charge ahead full force. But through it all, God takes the crooked lines of our lives and the life of the Church and manages to write straight. That’s God’s grace at work. We are imperfect sacrifices made holy through God’s grace and the grace of one another, and then given to a hurting world desperately in need of good news.
Just look at Simon son of Jonah in today’s reading from Matthew. Jesus pronounces him blessed and renames him Peter, which means “rock”. “And on this rock I will build my church” Jesus says, “and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Those of us who know the stories about Peter might find this somewhat surprising. He’s an unlikely hero. He gets chided for having too little faith when he sinks while walking on water. Just a few verses after today’s reading, Jesus will turn and say to him “Get behind me, Satan!” If Peter had better aim with a sword we might know him as a murderer instead of as the disciple who cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. And then, of course, there will be those three denials on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Forgive the pun, but Peter’s path to discipleship was a rocky road. This, we think, is who Jesus chose to be the rock on which he builds his Church? What does that say about the other disciples, the other options from which he had to choose?
But look closer at the reading from Matthew. It’s not Peter’s faith, or intelligence, or deductive reasoning that wins him the name “Rocky.” When Peter calls Jesus Messiah, Jesus says “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Peter is the rock on which the Church is built not by any power, action, or ability he himself possesses. Peter becomes the rock on which the Church is built only through God’s grace. And it is that same grace that draws us into God’s saving work in the world. Perhaps sacrifice, perhaps offering ourselves, is not so much about what we do at all; maybe it’s about what God does in and through us.
I know we are missing Eucharist these days, and I hope that soon we will be able to be together again in this place. I hope we will soon be able to walk up to this altar rail and stand or kneel side by side. That action helps us remember that we are to offer up to God not only the bread and the wine, and not only the monetary fruits of our work. More importantly, we are to offer up ourselves – “our souls and bodies” as our Rite I Eucharistic Prayer reminds us. And we offer up ourselves not only as individuals, but also as a community of believers made one in Christ. We offer up our lives, only to receive life back again in the broken bread and in the wine. And as we are sent out into the world and go our different ways, we as a community become once more the Body of Christ broken and given for the life of the world. It’s all about the grace of God working in and through us. Knowing that is enough to change how we hear Paul’s plea to the Church in Rome and to us today: “I appeal to you, brother and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Thanks be to the living God who makes it so.
 What I’m Giving Up for Lent,” Beliefnet, https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/lent/what-im-giving-up-for-lent.aspx, accessed August 22, 2020.
 Jack Cummings, “The Weirdest Things You’re Giving Up for Lent,” The Tab, https://thetab.com/2016/02/10/weirdest-things-given-up-for-lent-73717, accessed August 22, 2020.
 I cannot remember where I saw this.
 Eric Zorn, “What’s the Smallest/Most Amusing Lenten Sacrifice You Know Of,” Chicago Tribune, https://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2009/02/whats-the-smallestmost-amusing-lentent-sacrifice-you-know-of-.html, published February 23, 2009, accessed August 22, 2020.
 I believe I saw this originally in a post on www.Catholicism.org.