September 1, 2019
Romans 11:33-36 – 12:1-2
In the “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” Mark Twain created a scene that has been recreated many times in theatres for the enjoyment of us all.
Young Tom Sawyer is caught breaking the rules by his Aunt Polly, and as a punishment, she tells him that his job is to paint the picket fence.
This picket fence is thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. That’s 800 square feet of fence to paint.
Tom is about as happy about his opportunity to bless his Aunt Polly painting the fence as a boy is to hold his mother’s purse while she shops.
As Tom paints the fence, one of his friends comes along and teases him for having to do that work, but Tom makes out like what he is doing isn’t work at all.
“Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?” he asks his friend. He made whitewashing a fence sound as exciting as going to a circus.
Soon, Tom had convinced his friend to try whitewashing the fence instead of going swimming.
Tom was such a great salesman that he wasn’t just going to let his friend do it for free. Instead, his friend had to trade his apple for the chance to do the work.
Before the day was over, Tom had talked so many of his friends into whitewashing that fence that he collected a kite,
part of a jews-harp, a piece of chalk,
a tin soldier,
a kitten with one eye,
a brass doorknob,
and a dog-collar.
Did I mention that the fence got three coats of paint?
Tom was a great salesman.
He was saying to his friends, “There is a blessing in getting to do this work because it’s not every day that you get the opportunity to whitewash a fence.”
The problem was that Tom didn’t believe in what he was selling.
We are continually making decisions like Tom Sawyer’s friends, and for that matter, like Tom Sawyer. Let me tell you what I mean.
Every day we decide to trade our time for something. In exchange for our time, we get the privilege of having specific opportunities in our lives.
We discover that some of these opportunities pay higher dividends than others. Some of them come with greater blessings than others.
For example, we trade twenty years of our lives to be educated in a classroom because the blessings we get in return last a lifetime. Imagine the life you’d have if you were uneducated and illiterate?
Athletes trade thousands of hours of free time to train their bodies to pursue a championship with a team or in quest of individual goals.
Some people trade their time for less noble things and spend hundreds of hours each week gaming.
Now that one teenager won 3 million dollars doing that, hundreds of thousands of teenagers will try to convince their parents that the thousands of hours they are doing this is not a waste of time.
I can hear them now. “This can pay real money, mom. I can be the next millionaire gamer.”
Think of the number of hours we trade surfing the Internet or texting our friends.
We trade our money for life’s necessities, for luxury items, and investments. We gamble it away. We give it away. We save some of it.
We trade words for assurance, trust, power, position, authority, and security.
We trade our love as much for the wrong things as for the right things.
If we are not careful, we can trade our life for things that are fleeting, for hopes that never materialize, for promises that people never keep, and for pleasures that never last.
A lot of the time, we trade our time for things. Sometimes that trade is good and sometime not so good.
How can be we be sure that the sacrifices we are making are the right ones?
Our sacrifices should begin with a sacrifice of praise to the One that makes it possible for us to give.
A Sacrifice of Praise Should Come From Our Lips
Each Sunday in the traditional service we sing a doxology. A doxology is a praise to God. It is a song of praise acknowledging that God is the source of all of our blessings.
We sing it so often that it becomes lost in our order of service. It can become meaningless if we are not careful.
It can be as rote and as a Catholic making the sign of the cross. We can repeat it like we do the Lord’s Prayer, robotic-like without thinking about what we are saying.
But it is good for us to pause and remember that God is the source of all that we are, all that we have, and all that we are capable of becoming.
Otherwise, we can become arrogant in thinking that we are the source of all the good things that come our way.
Look at Paul’s doxology at the end of Chapter 11 of the book of Romans verses 33:36:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Romans 11:33-36 (NIV)
Christians should acknowledge that the Lord God is the source of our blessings. It’s not enough to believe it in our hearts. It is important to say it.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name… for with such sacrifices, God is pleased”(Hebrews 13:15–16).
This sacrifice of praise is an offering. It is a gift. In your own way, acknowledge that God is your guide each day, and He is the One that helps you measure your steps.
What does it cost? It cost us some humility. We have to acknowledge our dependence on God. This is one of the reasons worship is important. We are saying, “I need God.”
As Paul praises the Lord, he says that no one has the mind of the Lord. No one has been God’s counselor. You cannot out-give God.
Make Your Life a Living Sacrifice
It’s not enough just to say it. Paul urges us to live it.
Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, 7because of all that Jesus has done for us through the sacrifice of himself on the cross], to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (12:1, AMP).
Eugene Peterson translates this passage like this in The Message: “Take your every day, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering” (v.1, MSG).
A lot of people want to detach their church self from their work/hobbie/school/ party self.
They want to have their lives whitewashed and their sins forgiven, but they don’t want to have to change their lives and make many sacrifices to see it happen.
A life of sacrifice sounds too committed, too restricting, and demanding. It looks like we are giving up too much freedom.
In the Old Testament, there was no such thing as living sacrifices. Sacrifices were brought to the priest. He killed animals which were offered to God. A portion was placed on the altar, while the priest and his family ate the remainder.
This was a constant reminder that the wages of sin is death.
Jesus was the last sacrifice that needed to die for the remission of sins. While Jesus wants us to give our lives to Him, our lives are living sacrifices.
What does it mean to become a living sacrifice for Jesus?
Let me see if I can help you.
As a living sacrifice, Jesus becomes the center of our lives, and we sacrifice other things that would otherwise take up that place in our lives.
1) We no longer conform to the pattern of the world.
2) Our minds are transformed.
What is the pattern of the world?
It’s a “me first” world. It’s a selfish world. It’s a world that says, “This life is all there is so make sure you get all you can for yourself.”
It’s a world that strives for pleasure above all things.
It’s a world that says, “Getting to the top,” is the most important goal.
It’s a world that places the material things over the spiritual.
It’s a world that laughs at those who believe that God is, God was, and God always will be.
It’s a world that believes winning games is more important than winning people to Jesus.
Is it a world where the love of money is the root of all evil.
Christians sacrifice that kind of world. We make a conscious decision that we are not going to conform to that pattern.
Secondly, when we decide to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to Jesus. Jesus transforms our minds.
You know that your mind has been transformed when you see a result in your actions.
There is something about doing the actions of the faith that seals them in your mind and heart.
It’s one thing to say we believe something. It’s another thing to trust Jesus with your provisions.
We cannot talk about sacrifice, sing about it, or say we believe it, until we implement it.
If we are just talking about sacrifice, we might as well be a Tom Sawyer who pretends to be excited about work, but not actually doing any.
If we pretend we believe the gospel, but we don’t want to do the work of a Christian, do we believe it?
If we are not demonstrating that we understand the gospel by our actions, we might have a Tom Sawyer faith.
We have a collection a lot of Christian trinkets while we convince other people to do the work that we don’t believe ourselves.
Perhaps James, the brother of Jesus, said it best, “Our faith without works is dead.”
If we say we have faith but have no works, eventually, someone will call us out. They will see us for what we are – a fraud, a hypocrite, a charlatan.
And even if we should escape detection from others, we have not escaped the notice of God.
Even if others think we give sacrificially to our church because we are here on a regular basis, when in fact, we give almost nothing at all, God knows.
God will honor those that bring a sacrifice, but the real goal is for us to be a living sacrifice.
We do that by
Sacrificing Our Love
Finally, Paul says as a way of sacrificing our self, we must learn to love others the right way.
How is this done?
Think about Tom Sawyer. He was trying to trick people into doing something he didn’t want to do himself. He really didn’t care about his friends. He only cared about himself. That’s not loving.
Our love must be sincere.
The Greek word for ‘sincere’ means ‘without hypocrisy’ or literally ‘without play-acting’ or ‘without a mask’.
Relationships in the world are often superficial. We all put up fronts or masks to protect ourselves. In effect, we’re saying, “I don’t really like who I am inside, so I will pretend I am somebody different.”
If other people are doing the same thing, then there are two ‘fronts’ or ‘masks’ meeting. The sad result is that the two real people never meet.
This is the opposite of ‘sincere love.’ Sincere love means taking off your mask and daring to reveal who you are. (Ibid)
The reason that we are not transparent with people is that we do not trust people to love us when we show them our true selves.
The message of the gospel is that God loves us as we are. We are set free to take off our masks. This means that there is a completely new depth and authenticity in our relationships. (Ibid)
Paul urges Christians to live with this daring kind of love.
This love blesses those who persecute you. It rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those that mourn.
This love practices hospitality.
This love seeks to live in harmony and peace with everyone.
This love compels us to associate with people of low position. It’s not conceited.
This love does not repay evil for evil.
This love seeks to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
This love does not take revenge but leaves room for God’s wrath.
If we lived with this kind of love, we would have a powerful effect on the world.
So I want to end the sermon this way.
Let’s say God is in the role of Aunt Polly and you are in the role of Tom Sawyer, except God isn’t giving us jobs as punishment as as opportunities to bless others and to be blessed.
God calls out to you. He has a job for you in his church, in His kingdom, in the community, or somewhere to share His love.
It always feels like a big job, for all of God’s jobs seem big when we are the ones that have to do them.
What is God asking you to do? Only you know what it is.
Church, what is it that God is asking us to do as a congregation?
Is it your tendency to pretend you are doing this work so everyone will continue to think highly of you?
Are you a Tom Sawyer?
Or have you discovered that there is a blessing in living a sacrificial life?
Tom Sawyer collected a few worthless items from his friends and he never learned the blessing of sacrifice.
Every day, we trade their lives for something.
Some people end up trading their lives for things of little value and when you die nothing material will have any value to you.
Others learn that when we give our lives away, when we sacrifice them for the Lord and his Kingdom, we store up treasure in heaven.
Not only that, we discover what Tom’s friends discovered , and Tom didn’t know firsthand; there is blessing in sacrifice.
Anytime we sacrifice for the Lord, there’s a blessing to be found.
It’s time to whitewash the fence. Whose willing to grab a brush? The Lord’s asking.
Photo Credit: orlandodiocease.org; pinterest.com