A Living Sacrifice

Today’s readings are Malachi 3:10-12Open Link in New Window & Romaons 12:1-2

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Next week is Stewardship Sunday and to help us in preparation I chose two passages about sacrifice, one from the Old and the other from the New Testament

When you hear the word sacrifice, what comes to mind?

Well I suppose we might think about:

  • People sacrificing their career for the sake of their family.
  • An athlete sacrificing everything else in their life for their sport.
  • Parents making sacrifices for their children to enable them to do something.
  • We think of those who sacrificed themselves to protect our country in time of war and other acts of heroism where people have died trying to save others.
  • Sadly it is all too common today that we hear of parents going hungry so their children can eat.

What is common with most of the examples I have just given is that something is given up to benefit others.

In our readings today we hear about two different types of sacrifice—one in the form of an offering to God by the way of a tithe and the second from Romans about Christians being living sacrifices.

What these two readings also have in common is the acknowledgement that everything comes from God and any offering back to him is in response to his love.

To put the Malachi reading in context.

Chapter 1—The prophet was warning God’s people about:

  • their disobedience,
  • lack of faithfulness,
  • ingratitude and
  • disrespect for God

This was manifest in the sacrifices made at the altar. What they were supposed to do was bring the best of their produce to the temple as an offering. What they were actually doing, was bringing blind, lame and diseased animals for sacrifice. Far from being a demonstration of love by the people of God, it was an insult—offloading the worst of their produce to God, his priests and the temple. In addition there was a culture of general disobedience of the law.

God speaks through Malachi (Ch 3 v5)

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.

Through the prophet Malachi, God accuses the people of robbing him but he wants them to return to him so he can bless them once more. The analogy is of a parent desperately wanting the child to return (it is the story of the prodigal son). The remedy is simple, which is where we come to our verses today.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

Now please do not read into this a ‘health, wealth prosperity gospel’ which is erroneously preached around the world today. By this I mean those who preach that if you give to their ministry God will bless you with material wealth. What usually happens is the preacher gets rich.

What this passage describes is a relationship of love between God and his people.

God asks his people to trust him (test me in this, he says). His people give because they love him but more than this, they follow his ways—looking after the marginalised and living lives of justice and righteousness. As a result others will recognise the work of God in their lives.

In the reading from Romans….

Paul is urging his fellow Christians to be living sacrifices.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

The pattern is similar to the book of Malachi where God loves first and in return his people offer something of themselves back as a token of their love for him. In this case God, in the person of Jesus demonstrated his love for us by taking our sin through death on the cross. Romans 5Open Link in New Window

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul, however, goes a stage further than Malachi and is strident in his words—‘I urge you brothers and sisters to give your whole self as a living sacrifice’. Not a little bit (and when we feel like it) but continuously, 24/7 and wholeheartedly. For this we will be assured of being in God’s will, his perfect will for our lives – the ultimate blessing.

Having briefly looked at these two passages what does this say to us today.

I suppose the question is, what does being a living sacrifice mean?

Quite simply it means utter dedication to Jesus Christ, He is the first in our lives and everything we do is governed by our love for him.

I have just read a book called Red Sonya, about a German communist who spied on the UK and the USA in the 1950’s for the Soviet Union in the guise as a housewife in the Cotswolds. She was responsible for passing nuclear secrets to the Russians. What is clear from the book was her utter dedication to the cause of communism, at the cost of everyone around her; family, friends, comrades and sadly, her conscience.

Paul is urging us to be this dedicated, not to the cause of a brutally executed philosophy but to a God of love, a God who wants the very best for us.

To be dedicated in this way we need to

  1. Firstly recognise that everything we have comes from God, our lives, our personalities, our gifts, our income, our stuff… literally everything.
  2. Secondly, we offer it all back to God and ask him to be in control of everything.

This perhaps sounds simple but it is actually quite challenging—I offer a couple of examples of people who tried to live this out practically.

  • Many years ago there was a significant financial challenge at our previous church and we were all asked to prayerfully increase our giving for a year . In response to this a friend of ours worked out what he needed each month for a basic lifestyle, the rest he gave to the ministry of the church (which was the majority of his income). During the year he couldn’t buy the things he wanted but he didn’t go short and found it a really liberating and enjoyable experience. Our friend had an incredible generosity of spirit which blessed so many people including us. I have never forgotten what he did. Our friend went on to leave his well paid career and be ordained to serve God full time. He was transformed by the experience.
  • Some years ago I listened to a talk by a Christian who had listed all his possessions on a piece of paper, including his house and money. He then handed all this to God—he put God in command of his assets. Having realised what God had given him he felt he needed to use his assets to help others in debt. His priorities changed completely.

Perhaps this is an exercise we all should consider doing.

I would like to point out this is not about following rules, it is being transformed by God’s Holy Spirit and being blessed by God because we are in his perfect will. It is an exciting thing a joyful thing, we don’t do this because these are rules its because God loves us and we want to be part of his adventure. As someone said to me this week… it is streams of living water.

It is also worth noting that being a living sacrifice is more than about money, it is about our whole selves. It is about how we allocate our time, how we care for those most in need and the part we play in stewarding the worlds natural resources.

Next Sunday our focus will be on stewardship – this is our opportunity to re-commit ourselves wholeheartedly again for God having understood his enormous faithfulness to us. It will be a time when we will respond the Holy Spirit’s promptings about all that we have and that we are. My prayer for each one of us is that we will gladly offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices.

Amen

There will be a video version of the service.

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