10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2011
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
Sure, you’ve heard it before: your life may be the only sermon some folks ever hear, see, or experience. Cognitively most Christians know this to be true, but in practice it’s entirely too easy to leave the preaching to the professionals. We feel inadequate to the task; clergy usually have years of academic work and professional training under their liturgical belts.
Well, here’s the deal. Preachers can preach until they’re blue in the face. They can craft elegant, biblically sound homilies with clarity and regularity. They can work from carefully drafted manuscripts standing firm-footed behind the solid wood of a pulpit, or they can walk amongst the congregation with folksy familiarity. This is all well and good. The gospel will be proclaimed, people will be convicted, uplifted, and equipped, and God will be glorified. The problem is that somehow folks first have to get through the doors of our worshipping communities before they can experience worship, before they can taste, see, and hear that God is good.
That means each one of us is called to present ourselves to God. Our lives are an offering, a witness, a confession–a 24/7 sermon. We are stewards of the gospel, called to live it, breathe it, and to embody it. Before anybody goes and gets all nervous and scared about the idea of being a living sacrifice, just remember it’s pretty simple. God gave everything for you; in return God wants all of you. God doesn’t require 10% or 25% or 80% of you, God desires 100%, or every fiber of your being, every hour of your day, every laugh, smile, and tear.
What God doesn’t ask for is perfection, nor does God ask any one of us to go it alone. We are called to be part of the body of Christ, working together in concert, each bringing his or her unique gifts and talents to the table. It is in sharing our gifts, in telling the story of how God is working in our own lives, and in loving our neighbor that our life becomes a sermon. By conforming not to the world but to God, our actions speak much louder than any words possibly could.
The world asks who Jesus is and why it matters. Jesus, in turn, asks his disciples who they see. Like Peter we can confess that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” and in doing so, Jesus tells us who we are as disciples. We find our focus, our meaning, our purpose–our sermon–and we live it in thanksgiving and praise. Jesus becomes the center of all that we do and are, both as individuals and as a worshipping community. Jesus influences our choices and decisions. In turn, our choices and decision are what “preaches” to others.
Helen Keller once said that “Each day comes to each of us with both hands full of opportunities.” Reach out your hands, giving rather than taking, holding rather than hurting, and loving rather than hating. No special training is required to make one’s life a sermon. Our Lord provides all that one needs; all that is then needed is to give one’s all. That, dear friends, makes for a powerful sermon. Now go preach it, people!
Challenge youth to come up with ways to share the good news without words. Have fun playing the game. After you’re finished, have the youth discuss how they can share God’s love without flogging people over the head with the gospel. How can they use their gifts and talents to show the love and power of Christ in a world with competing gods? Be open to their suggestions and ideas. Remind them of the African proverb “when you pray, move your feet.” How can “moving their feet” be a part of their living, breathing sermon?
Take the children to the font and tell them how parents bring children to baptism, presenting them as an offering to God and making promises to teach them, bring them to God’s house, and bring them up in the faith. Remind them that they were marked with the cross of Christ, and that they belong to God. Have them dip their fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Tell them to go and share God’s love in this world with others so that all people can belong to God and know what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.