Books of the Bible
Offerings to God
The summer is
nearly over and you can smell it in the air. The nights are cooler.
The leaves are turning from their deep greens to reds, yellows, and
oranges. The children are getting ready to go back to school and we
all know that another season of life is changing.
We are nearly at
the conclusion of our summer series of sermons on the book of
Romans. We have two more sermons, today and next week, and the
summer series will be over and we will move into the fall flurry
here at Grace Lutheran.
Today, we finally
reach chapter twelve in the book of Romans. In chapter twelve, we
finally move past all the ideas of the Apostle Paul and in
chapter twelve, for the first time, we finally meet Paul’s ideals.
Ideas, then ideals. Doctrines, then morals. Eleven
chapters of ideas; four chapters of ideals; one concluding chapter.
In all of Paul’s
letters, we do the two step. His letters are structured the same.
That is, first, ideas and then ideals. Other categories can be used.
First doctrines and then deeds; first beliefs and then behaviors;
causes and consequences; reason and results; priorities and
practices; Christ and character; grace and goodness; faith and
faithfulness. Ethical behavior is a consequence of Christ, grace,
and faith. It would be like a tree with roots deeply planted in the
soil and fruits hanging lusciously from the branches. The fruit is
lush because of the roots. So all of Paul’s letters are divided
into two sections: first about beliefs and then concluding chapters
about consequent behaviors.
In this section
from chapters twelve through fifteen, Paul has favorite words which
express his convictions. Righteousness is his favorite word; we are
to be in right relationships with ourselves, other people, and God
as a consequence of God’s Spirit living inside of us. Another
favorite word is holy; that is, we are a people set apart, special,
sacred, living out the best life we can live as a consequence of
having faith inside our heads and hearts. Another favorite word is
love; that is, the whole law is summarized by loving your neighbor
as you love yourself.
The basis for the
sermon for today is Romans 12 where the Apostle Paul writes; “I
appeal to you therefore
friends, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a
living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is spiritual
When you think of
offerings, what do you think of? When you think of the word,
offerings, what images come to your mind? This past week I have been
thinking about the word, offering, and many images come into my
imagination. The first image I have of offerings is of old Norris
Halvorson. Now I am not sure if many of you knew old Norris
Halvorson, but when I came to be a pastor of this church way back
when, old Norris was the interim pastor. Pastor Halvorson was here
at Grace for six months. This guy growled his sermons like an old
bulldog. He had jowls on him that shook, and he “shouted about
God” at the top of his growling voice. The spit would shot out,
hit the people in the first row, the children would shiver with
fear, and Pastor Halvorson would grin inside his emotions behind his
wonderful voice. I loved Pastor Halvorson. And Norris often said in
his gravely growling voice, “You never can have a worship service
without having an offering.” Pastor Halvorson was very adamant.
Well, every New Year’s Eve, we always have worship here at Grace
and I have never had an offering, and I always felt guilty about not
having an offering on New Year’s Eve. I heard Norris over in the
shadows of the church, growing with his flapping jowls, “Edward,
get those plates out there.”
When I think of
offerings, I think of the acolytes here at church. When it come to
offering time, the acolytes never know exactly what to do. They ask,
“Is it two plates, four plates, six plates, eight plates? Every
Sunday morning, back there with the acolytes, there is always a
whispering discussion as to what they should do with the plates.
When I think of the
offerings, I think of the ushers here at church. In some ways, I
think that when you are an usher at the earlier traditional worship
service, you know that your job as an usher can last a long time.
Many of the ushers that were ushering more than twenty years ago
when I came to this church are still ushering today.
When I think of
offerings, I think of writing out a check, weekly, monthly,
annually. This check is an important gift to the work of Christ in
the world. The habit and consistency of giving offerings to support
the work of Christ is so important.
We hope that our
children and grandchildren would deeply learn a pattern of
systematic financial giving to the work of Christ. Our kids make
good money at their jobs such as having a paper route or
babysitting, and we persuade our children to give offerings.
When I think of
offerings, I think of Eugene, Oregon, where I served as a young
pastor right out of seminary. Central Lutheran Church is a tall
brown structure, a long high rectangle, with hard, hard slate
floors. The sanctuary echoes with its magnificent acoustics. One
Sunday, an usher came down the center aisle with a tall stack of
offering plates. I wasn’t watching my hands, and before you knew
it, all six offering plates hit the concrete floor. It was so
embarrassing. I am not sure if that man has ushered since.
When I think of
offerings, I think of our financial shortage this past year. We were
short $22,000 and we announced that to you. Now, we are short only
$8,000 and all of us feel better about that.
When I think of
offerings, I think of the Christmas pageant and the traditional
hymn, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” I think of these three
kings dressed elegantly and opulently, marching down the center
aisle, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the
Christ child, born to be king.
When I think of
offerings, I think of the Christmas program, called “The Littlest
Angel.” The little, blue eyed, blonde haired, angel comes to give
Jesus an offering. What does he give Jesus? A blue robin’s egg. A
wing from a monarch butterfly. And a shining rock. He presents these
precious items to Jesus the Christ child.
When I think of
offerings, I think of the old television series, called ROOTS. The
hero of that epic was a man by the name of Kunte Kinte. When his
first child was born, he took that child and he lifted that child
with his large hands into the moonbeam and he dedicated his child in
thanksgiving to God.
The history of the
human race has always been giving offerings to God. That is the way
it has always been and that is the way it will always be. It is the
very nature of human beings to bring offerings to God. Fore example,
last Sunday in Bangkok, Thailand, there were thousands of Buddhists
monks wearing orange safaris, with shaved heads, and offering plates
and people give them rice. Last Sunday morning, in San Salvador, the
capital of El Salvador, and the whole front chancel area of the
cathedral was covered with freshly picked flowers as an offering to
God. Centuries ago, Eskimos would take whale bones and give them as
offerings to the gods who created the whales. Or centuries ago,
Indians would take red berries and do their dances of thanksgiving
for the gods.
What I am saying is
that the very heart of the human condition throughout the whole wide
world in every culture, throughout the history of the human race,
human beings have always been giving offerings to God. That is the
way it has always been. That is the way it will always be.
So, I ask the
question, what kind of offerings does God want? What kinds of
offerings does God desire? What kind of offerings does the true God,
who created the heavens and the earth, the true God of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, the true God who raised Jesus from the dead, what
kind of offerings does this true God want from you and me?
That is what
today’s Scripture is all about. The Apostle Paul writes, “I
appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, present your bodies
as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is spiritual
Today, I would like
to briefly walk through this Bible passage with you, and study it a
word of a phrase at a time. Would you please turn to your bulletin
First, count five
words into the paragraph and you will find the word, therefore. (NIV,
therefore is the first word; RSV, therefore is the fifth
word.)Therefore is the first word, the transitional word from the
previous eleven chapters. Based on all the ideas and doctrines that
I, Paul, have laid out for you, therefore… and now Paul begins
with the moral consequences of his ideas and doctrines.
“I appeal to you.” And the word means, “I exhort you, I
plead with you, I beg you, I persuade you. Would you please
listen.” And so the mood of the word is that of exhortation. Moses
was in a similar mood when he wrote in the book of Deuteronomy,
“O, o that you would have this heart among you, that you would
love the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments,
that it would go well for you and your children. O, I pray that you
would do this.” The spirit of the words are similar to the Apostle
Paul when he said, “I beg you. I plead with you. I implore you.”
The next phrase,
“by the mercies of Almighty God.” I am begging you on the basis
of the mercies of Almighty God. Look at the way that God has blessed
you this day. Look at all the ways that God has blessed you today.
Look at God. Look at Jesus. Look at eternal life. Look that you are
alive in this moment. Look at the clothes for your back, the food
for your mouths, hands and eyes that work. Tell me, is there anyone
here today who does not feel that you have been immeasurably blessed
by God? Is there anyone here who does not feel that God has blessed
you immeasurably? No, we are all keenly aware that God has been
immensely generous to all of us. I beg you. I plead with you.
Please. Knowing that God has been so generous to you, I beg you to
Next, we focus on
that word, present. When I think of the word, present, I think of
the littlest angel presenting the robin, the wing of a monarch
butterfly, and the shining rock to the Christ child. You can see
this scene in the vividness of your imagination, the little angel
coming up to bring his precious jewels to the baby Jesus. He simply
presents his precious offerings to Christ.
When I think of the
word, present, I think of the three kings. We three kings of Orient
Are. The three kings come with their gold, frankincense and myth and
kneel before the Christ child, and they present their gifts as if to
a king. It is not to throw your gift to the Christ or casually toss
it over. Rather with great dignity, the gifts are presented.
The Bible says, I
beg you. I pleased with you. I implore you. Please. Based on the
abundant mercies of Almighty God, to present…
The next phrase is,
your bodies. What does Paul when he refers to presenting our bodies?
By body, Paul means everything about you. Your eyes, your
ears, your nose, mouth, affections, feelings, your mind, your will.
The totality of your person. Everything you have and everything you
are. You present your total self to God.
Moses says the same
thing in the Old Testament when he says, “O, that you would love
the Lord your God, with ALL your heart, and ALL mind, and ALL your
soul.” Paul is saying that you and I are to love God with our
whole selves. With everything you are.
You give your whole
self to God. You give your mind to God, and everything you think.
Your eyes and all that you see. Your ears and all that you hear.
Your mouth and all that you say. Your face and all the love you
express through the expressions on your face. Your heart and all
that you feel. Your hands and all that you touch. Your feet and
every place you go. You give your total self to God.
children’s sermon, I put the body of a little boy into the
offering plate and hoisted him and the plate onto the offering
table. The whole little boy was sitting in the plate and that is
what God wants from us. That is the best offering we can give to
God: when we give our total selves to God.
I plead with you, I
beg you, please. Knowing that God has been so generous with you,
that you present…your whole life to God, as a living sacrifice.
As a living
sacrifice. Normally when you think of a sacrifice, you think of
something that is dead. When you think of a sacrifice, you think of
the Old Testament. You think of a goat as a sacrifice; that is, you
kill it and offer it as a sacrifice. You take a pigeon, lamb or
bull, kill it, and offer it as a sacrifice. The very nature of a
sacrifice in the Old Testament is to offer God something which is
dead. But here, in the Apostle Paul, you get the feeling of giving a
living, breathing, walking, moving, functioning human being. I
present my life as a living offering to God.
A living sacrifice.
Some examples: Would you please imagine King Arthur sitting up here?
King Arthur is on his throne, a high and mighty throne. We are
living many centuries ago and this building is long, high, and
echoes in the vaulted ceilings above us, all built of stone. In from
the back of this vaulted hall, is a farmer. The farmer shuffles in
and presents a cow to King Arthur and King Arthur receives it. Then
n the farmer’s wife shuffles in with large sow, and she kneels and
presents the sow to the king and King Arthur receives it. Then, you
hear rattling and clanging sounds back there at the end of the hall.
It is the sound of armor rattling and clanging. You turn and see
this knight walking formally down the center of the hall, and he is
carrying a long sword and shield, and you realize that it is none
other than Sir Lancelot. Sir Lancelot comes and knees before King
Arthur and says, “King Arthur, I, Sir Lancelot, give you my
All the great
Christians that I have met in my life, and I have met many, have
this characteristic in common: they give their lives as a thank offering to God. This is
true of all the great Christians that I know: they give themselves
away to their spouse, their children, their God, their mission in
your life as a Christian, you have heard the call and you have come
before Jesus Christ, and you have said, “Jesus Christ, I present
you my life. My life is yours.”
So I ask you the
question: what is the finest gift that you can give to another
person? Let’s say that you are married and that you are husband
and wife. What is it that a wife wants more than anything else in
the world? Diamonds, rubies, cars, homes, furniture, a new
microwave? What is the finest gift you can ever give to your spouse?
Every husband and wife knows. She wants … you. She wants your
heart; she wants who you are. For that is the nature of love: to
give yourself to another human being. That is what happens in all
The same is true in
friendship. Recently, I was able to be with my best friend, Rollie
Martinson. And you know what? He has never given me a dime. I
haven’t given him one either. He is my best friend but he has
never given me a birthday present. He has never sent me a birthday
card. Nor did I send
him a present or card. How can he be my best friend when he has
given me none of these things? We know the answer. He has given me
himself. His love, his affections, his mind, his thoughts, his
friendship. He has presented his life to me. That is why we are
friends. … The best gift you always give to another is when you
give yourself. That is always the best gift.
I talked to a
father of a child who was ten years old. He asked his daughter,
“What would you like better than anything else in the whole wide
world?” The little girl said, “A farm.” The father said,
“Why would you want a farm?” She said, “I love horses and I
would have horses on my farm.” The father asked another question,
“If you had a choice between a farm and me, what would you
choose?” The daughter said, “What a silly question. I would want
you. You are much more valuable than a farm.” Is what my daughter
said to me some twenty-five years ago? Yes, more valuable than a
farm. That is the way healthy families work: giving themselves more
Holy and pleasing
to God. This is what holiness is: to give yourself as an offering to
God, your spouse, your family, your missions in life. This is true
This is also
spiritual worship. True spiritual worship is not attending church
each week. Spiritual worship is not reading your Bible daily.
Spiritual worship is not giving a few bucks in the offering plate.
What God wants is you…for you to offer yourself as a living
sacrifice to God.
So the Apostle Paul
said, “I beg you. I plead with you. I implore you. On the mercies
and generosities of God, that you would present …your life…as a
living offering to God. This is spiritual worship.
The human race. We
always give offerings. In Bangkok last Sunday morning, the priests
were wearing their orange colored garments and their heads were
shaved bald and they stretched out their little pans and people
placed rice in those pans as an offering. In San Salvador, in El
Salvador, last Sunday, they were bringing in flowers by the hundreds
of thousands, and the sanctuary smelled lovely with the perfume of
the beauty. In the centuries past, the Eskimos used to give
wishbones and the Indians gave red berries. What kind of offering
does the true God want? What does God want from you and me? I appeal
to you, I beg you, I implore you. Please. Knowing that God has been
enormously generous with you, that you would present…your life…
as a living sacrifice to God. This is holiness. This is spiritual
SERMON: Have the children examine the offering plates. What do
they think the offering plates look like? Flying saucer? A frisbie?
A soup bowl? An upside down Chinese hat? A deep pizza pan? … What
do we put in an offering plate? Money, dollars, pennies, checks?
… Then ask what God really wants us to give God as an
offering? What is the best thing we can give God? Love, you say.
Also, ourselves. So how do we put ourselves in the offering plate?
Have a small child sit in the offering plate and lift that child
while in the offering plate on the communion table as an offering.
Let that child sit there in that offering plate on the table. Say to
the child in the offering plate: God wants all parts of you to be an
offering: your hair, your head, your brains, your eyes, your ears,
you legs, your feet. God wants you to give your whole self to God.
The children will think this is funny that a little person is in the
offering plate, but the adults will grasp the symbolism.