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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Romans
Offerings to God

Romans 12:1-3

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 worship.”

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 worship.”

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 insert.

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. 

We continue.  “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 present…

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.

During the 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 life.”

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 life.  Somewhere…somewhere….sometime…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 great marriages.

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 than things.

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 holiness.

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 worship. Amen.

CHILDREN’S 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.

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