Today is one of those Sundays where one could give it a number of different titles like: The 5th Sunday of Epiphany. Here at St. Paul’s it could be called the 4th Sunday of The 3 Colors of Ministry. But across the nation this Sunday is best known as Super Bowl Sunday. I don’t know if you realize that churches have received special rules and practices for Super Bowl Sunday. Here’s the list that I received.
The service will begin with the coin toss to determine which pastor will kick-off the service and which will defend the pulpit. Acolytes must light the candles in proper order or they will be flagged for illegal motion. Today instead of Passing the Peace, members may only hand off noisy children to a fellow worshipper. Offering plates may be lateraled sideways to worshippers, and all should know that there will be a slow motion review of this particular play. Ushers may block or bump only one time a member going out for a long drink or bathroom break. Sermons in excess of 20 minutes, the pastor will be penalized for delay of service, resulting in the loss of the pulpit.
There is certainly a lot of hype surrounding this one game. It’s easy to forget that these players in this weekend’s game began their journey towards this event last summer at camp. There they were endured “two a day drills.” There were workouts with and without pads, and time was spent in the weight room. Throughout the season team meetings were held, and film was watched of past performances. The weeks became routine in finishing one game and preparing for the next through the 16 regular season games. And today if you asked the players, “Were all the sacrifices that you made worth it?” They would easily answer, “Yes.”
Today, God’s word speaks to Christians, first to the Christians in Rome, but also to us today at St. Paul’s, and reminds us of two things. First, that following Jesus involves personal sacrifice, and secondly, that you have been placed on a team, where each one has a role, or a part, or a position to play.
First Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” It’s almost as if we were sitting in the locker room with the Apostle Paul, and He is giving his half-time speech. These people he was addressing were not brand new Christians, who were just staring the game. They had been at it for some time. Through 11 chapters Paul of his letter to them, he indicates that they are people of spiritual maturity. They had been selected and chosen by God himself to be members of his team the church. It wasn’t that they were so great, or that they had so many personal skills and attributes that God had selected them. It was purely out of his loving grace and mercy given through his own Son, Jesus.
Along the way, maybe they had fallen into the routines of day in and day out life. One week resembled the next. They may have wondered if the Christian discipline that they had practiced was worth it. Their foe and opponent, better known as the old evil foe—Satan himself, was no easy match. They had become bumped and bruised, and worn down to some extent. But God’s word reminds them that following Jesus in this life, is no walk in the park—that some try to make it out to be. It’s not for the frail or the faint of heart—although that’s how we all start out. We are likely frail, but in Christ Jesus we are made strong. We are often poor excuses of people, but we are made rich in Christ’s mercy. We are naturally fearful of life’s challenges, and life’s outcomes and life’s end—but now our hearts have been given courage by the very love of Christ, our confidence built by the knowledge that God has claimed us as His own. He has strengthened us beyond our own strength by the power of His own Holy Spirit. And he has gifted us in such a way, that each one of us has a vital role to play. So he says again, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
The sacrifice that Paul speaks of in God’s word, is sacrificing of self, sacrificing of our own will and desires, sacrificing the way everyone else lives—independently, and out only for themselves, accumulating and holding onto as much as possible of this world’s treasures because that’s all they’ve got. Paul reminds us that as we sacrifice our old will and desires, Christ gives us a new will, with new desires, where we are not conformed or shaped any longer by this world, but we are remade, renewed, and even transformed in the renewal of our minds—and our ways of thinking about life, about possessions, about priorities.
So first, Paul, in his half-time speech speaks about being this type of living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, he says. But then Paul reminds us that this is not a one-person effort. But rather, you have been placed on a team. Look around. Some of your teammates are here, but don’t think so small. Many of your teammates are in other churches this day, from right up the street to clear around the world. Just like in today’s announcement of the players who run onto the field, it’s not like it used to be with named like Deacon Jones, and Taylor and Smith—by the way. Those were real names of real players at one time. But now the team has been diversified. Yes, you will still hear names like Harris and Andrews, Brown and Jones. But you will also hear names like Langi, Francois, Chung, Amendola. Much like in Christ’s church he has called people from every nation and language, tribe and tongue. He calls into His church today people of every age and nationality, men and women, adults and children to work side by side, each with his particular function and position on the team. As Paul writes, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Paul speaks of real-life activities done by real-life people, where no one is left out, but each is called, each one is gifted, each has an important role to play. There are no bench warmers in the Christian faith. God wouldn’t have you here, if he didn’t have something important, something special for you to do. If it is giving, and we all share in that role, do it liberally. Why because we have sacrificed the old ways and priorities of, as scripture invites us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We have been given renewed minds, and live with a different purpose. “If it is serving,” scripture says, “then let us serve.” … “For whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Paul in his half-time pep talk continues on, “and he who teaches in his teaching, and he who exhorts in his exhortation, and he who leads, with diligence, an he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”
So who will win today’s game? No one knows. And here’s the difference. We do know who wins in the end of all time. We do know the winning result was secured by Jesus when he defeated our opponent Satan and his Evil at the cross. God and his team wins. My desire is that you know that now, you live that now, and when time runs out and the final trumpet is blown each one of us share in the joy of Christ’s victory. What does it feel like? What will it be like? The players today will say, “It indescribable,” and “I can’t explain it.” And we have that for all eternity.