Pastor Kent Reeder

Sermon Text:  Romans 12:1-8

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Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

You seem like trustworthy people who can keep a secret, so I need you to keep one for me.  Don't tell my church treasurer that I said this, but here's a crazy thought:  I don’t think we should pay missionaries for the work they do.  They don't deserve it.  I mean, just think about it.  What does a missionary do?  You might be able to give me a bunch of examples of things you could see a missionary doing - things like counseling, preaching, teaching, canvassing, leading, baptizing, distributing communion, etc.  And it is true that missionaries are often seen doing those things.  But I contend that if you talk to any faithful missionary long enough about those tasks they have to do, you'll start to see what they see when those things happen.  He doesn't see himself counseling or preaching or teaching or leading.

You see, I am a missionary, and I know that I have no good advice.  I have nothing that can inspire you.  I have no wisdom to offer and no idea which direction to point you.

But God does.

There's a real truth to the idea that missionaries don't really do any of the work they do.  God does.  Over the last four years, I've seen this come true.  As I have had the chance to talk to people about my missionary work, I've noticed something about the stories I tell.  In all my favorite ministry stories, I'm a spectator.  I'll say "I've watched as marriages are restored!" or "I watched as she realized for the first time ever that the solution to sin isn't behavior - it's the savior."  "I watched as people started to show up, as they became a community."

I watch.  And I get paid!

And I know that all the examples of God's mercy that I get to watch wouldn't have happened if God hadn't used me.  If he hadn't said, "Kent, go.  Move to South Carolina and watch what I'm going to do with you."

And I also know that all the examples of God's mercy that I get to watch wouldn't have happened if it weren't for you and others like you who said, "Kent, go.  Move to South Carolina and we will help make it possible."

You see, I don't think pastors should get paid for what they do, and they don't.  That's not the paradigm of money handling in the church.  We give pastors an income not for what they are doing but for what they can't do because of what they are doing.  If they're going to spend time starting or caring for or growing a church, they don't have time to make a livable wage.  So beautiful Christian people like you give mission offerings because you believe in the work God is going to do in South Carolina, and you want to do what you can to make that work possible.  (Which is fantastic.  Thank you!!!)

Basically, you all have decided that as a community, your spiritual growth will happen more effectively and with better order if you delegate the administration of the word and sacraments to somebody.  Not just anybody - because we are dealing with something really important here - but somebody who is qualified for the task on account of the fact that they have been called to and given the gifts to carry out that task.  And in order to make it possible for those guys to carry out the task you are asking them to do, you take away their need to make a livable wage.  Pastors don't work for commission, they work by commission.

It makes sense, when you think about it, because we don't pay for callings.  It wouldn't work if we tried.  If someone is called to do something, they don't demand payment for it.  Their payment is in doing that which they have been called to do!  That's where their satisfaction comes from.

And I hope you're starting to realize that this isn't just about pastors.

God has a calling for each of you.  In fact, he has callings (plural) for each of you.  Understanding what your callings are, how to carry them out, and who they are for is Christianity.  As long as you’re alive on this planet, it’s what you do.

To help you grab hold of this concept today, I want you to think about getting a present.  In fact, I want you to think about getting a lot of presents.  Imagine a whole Christmas tree with dozens of presents underneath it and every single one of them is for you.  You run up and start to open them, and they are full of things that give you joy, things that bring you hope, things that bring you knowledge, things that encourage you, and things that make you wealthier or more powerful or whatever it is that needs to be added to your life to make you better.

It is a happy and wonderful scene - you and your Christmas tree and your presents.  Now I want you to pause the scene and zoom out.  You see, I haven't told you where your Christmas tree is yet, have I?  I want you to zoom out, and as you do, you'll see you're in a nice living room in a nice home.  But now that you've zoomed out this far, you are starting to hear some sounds beyond your wrapping paper ripping.  Zoom out further, and you start to realize that your Christmas tree is in the middle of a war zone.  You notice the rubble.  And the fires.  Over there is a makeshift hospital where people are moaning and crying.  Men with guns are trying to kill each other, and desperate mothers are crying for the children they may never see again.

Your house, your living room, and your Christmas tree are in the middle of a war zone.  Now that you know that, you have two choices.

You can either take all these presents you've just opened and hide them - shut the windows, close the blinds, lock the doors, and don't let the outside know what you have so they don't ask for it.  Keep it for yourself.

Or you can offer your gifts…perhaps as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord.  And did you notice what Paul says you are doing when you offer your bodies as sacrifices?  He says that when you offer your physical gifts, you are spiritually worshiping.

Rewind the scene for me, if you will.  Dig back through some of that discarded wrapping paper that your presents were wrapped in.  Find a tag.  To: You.  From: God.

That's what a calling is.  A calling is a gift given to you by God:  to be a mother or father, employer or employee, teacher or student, leader or follower.  These are amazing gifts, and when we receive amazing gifts we are excited to open them up and find out what they are.  My wife and I are expecting a baby in December and I know it is going to be a boy, but I really want to know what he's going to be.

What are the callings that God has given you - and what will you do with them?  How will you use them and fulfill them and grow in them?  How will they surprise and delight and satisfy you?

You shouldn't get paid to do that.  No human should get paid for doing that to which they have been called.  In fact, doing the thing you were made to do and feeling the satisfaction that comes from it and then having the audacity to demand payment for it is ludicrous.  A calling is a gift - not one that was made to be hoarded or designed to give you and you alone joy, but one that was designed to make you able to give the gift to others.  I'm not going to demand that my baby pay me for being his father.  Does a mother demand payment from her child for milk?  Does a parent demand payment from a child for the work they do?  Does a student demand payment for homework?  Sometimes they do.  In all vocations, sometimes we mess them up and make them something they aren’t.  And sometimes it isn't so much about demanding payment as offering services in response to a payment that is already offered.

Sin has taken this whole idea of following our vocations and being living sacrifices so far off track that the system is corrupted!

That's where things are at this point.  We so believe that people won't fulfill their callings without a wage that we offer the wage first.  We make one version of a calling more attractive by offering more money for it.  We encourage people to compare and measure and be jealous of others' wages instead of being content to fulfill their callings.  We listen to the lie of the devil, that the gifts you've been given are all about you and how comfortable you can be and how happy your life is.  When we do this, we fight for extra ornaments for our Christmas trees in our living rooms in the middle of a war zone, like oblivious children.

It is such an imperfect, human thing to do.  Humans were created in the image of God and called to experience the joy of living on a planet he made for you, and seeing him face to perfect, loving, holy, fascinating, satisfying, divine face - only to have the devil slither up and suggest you deserve something else, as though something else could improve this, and to be stupid enough to think we'd be happier with more.

(You know, to all of us who watched Apple hold a two-hour commercial for a new phone this week, let's not miss the fact that their logo is a piece of fruit with a bite out of it.  It's not wrong to have an iPhone; there's one in my pocket, and I'm literally preaching from an iPad right now, but let's just make sure we are at least asking ourselves and thinking through the question of how much we can spend before this thing is what we are worshiping.)

Because satisfaction, happiness, contentment, feeling good - it doesn't come from hoarding gifts.  Not ever.  And it definitely doesn't come from using the gifts you've been given to cut deals that elevate you in some way.  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

If we have to measure something when it comes to our callings, let us measure faith.  Not a bank account, not knowledge, not behavior or patio size or pedigree.  Measure faith in the giver of unlimited grace.  You'll run out of money and answers and morals, and someone is always going to have a bigger backyard and better parents.  But you start tapping into the love of God through the sacrifice of his son Jesus to save you from all the things that can really hurt you, and now we've got something worth measuring.

Are you accessing God's grace as though through a needle?  It's enough to get the job done, no question.  It works.  But a straw lets you take some gulps when you want a little more.  Or you can upgrade to a garden hose of word and sacrament through study and discussion and godly community and it really starts to get fun.  And if you want to hook up a fire hose and go outside and start to really put a stop to the damage that the flaming arrows of the devil have caused, you can.  Grace is never going to run out.  There is more than you could ever measure and more than you could ever need to fulfill the callings God has given you - beyond your wildest dreams.

Because if you believe that somebody already died to save you - and that it worked and you are saved and there is nothing more that could possibly make that incredibly generous gift better or more satisfying - if you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus for you - then what will stop you from taking your gifts and leaving your living room and going out into a war-torn world with everything you've got to offer and sacrificing it all?  If you can prophesy, prophesy.  If you can teach, teach.  If you can lead or give or encourage or clean up after those who do that kind of stuff - do it!

Let this be the day you decide to do it.  The day you look back on when you are fulfilling your callings.

When the devil comes and whispers, "What about you?  What about your time and your happiness?  What about recognition for all the good you've done?  Do you want to try the fruit of another tree?" you remind him that nobody gets paid to do what they were called to do; that's not the point - and that if he'd have realized that, he probably wouldn't be the sniveling worm he is.  You remind him that the fruit of the one tree to which your savior was nailed is more than enough to satisfy and motivate and fulfill you and everyone you love.

Knowing what your callings are, how to carry them out, and who they are for – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Amen.