Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2011
“What Do You Give the God Who Has Everything?” (Romans 11:33 – 12:8)
Some of you probably remember the old advertising slogan, “What do you give the man who has everything?” You’d hear it during the Christmas shopping season, or maybe coming up on Father’s Day, when you were out looking for just the right gift for that special man in your life, your father, your husband, maybe your pastor. The idea was, the fellow you’re shopping for is sitting at home in his recliner, wearing his bathrobe and smoking his pipe–he’s a successful man who’s made it, he’s got everything he needs–so you’re searching your brain trying to think of what you can give him that he doesn’t already have. And so the helpful advertiser would anticipate your dilemma and ask, “What do you give the man who has everything?” And the answer would be . . . a Bulova watch, or a Norelco shaver, or some other gift he really, really needs.
Well, today we are faced with a similar question, only bigger. Bigger, because the one we are thinking of giving something to is not some guy in a recliner, but rather the God who created the universe! Paul really raises the question in our Epistle lesson for today, and I’ll paraphrase it like this: “What Do You Give the God Who Has Everything?”
Our text is the Epistle, from Romans chapters 11 and 12. It begins: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Well, there you go! “What do you give the God who has everything?” Answer: Nothing! You can’t “give” God anything! It’s already his! God, by definition, owns everything. It all comes from him and belongs to him. He’s God, after all, and you’re not. Are you going to give God anything and then expect him to owe you? No way! “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Nobody. God is the source of everything that exists. All things come to us by means of the channels of blessing he has established for us. And in the end, everything exists to give all glory to God. As St. Paul says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
No, you can’t give God anything. The cattle on a thousand hills are his, and the hills they’re standing on, besides. Anything you have that you might think of giving to God was already his to begin with. You’re just using the stuff you have because God enabled you to get it, gave you the smarts or the means to acquire the things you have. What do you have that you did not receive?
That applies to everything, and I mean, everything. Think of all the created blessings that God has given you. Each one of us here can truly say: “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”
What do you give the God who has everything? Or, as Paul says at the end of chapter 11, “who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” But then Paul turns right around and says at the beginning of chapter 12 that we are to give God something! He says “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” What gives? Or rather, who gives? It sounds like we–yes, you and I–are indeed supposed to give God something, and it’s ourselves, as a sacrifice.
A sacrifice? We have to make a sacrifice to appease God, to make him be nice to us? Is that it? Well, I imagine it couldn’t be just a small sacrifice, like a few coconuts or a pig or something. Probably need a bigger sacrifice to get on God’s good side. Present my body, my whole body, as a sacrifice? You mean like–you’re not talking human sacrifices like the pagans do, are you?
No, wait. It says here, “a living sacrifice.” So I guess if I dedicate my life to God, if I try really, really hard to be a good person–maybe even go to church more often–then, then I will have made myself a living sacrifice, and God will reward me and do good things for me and overlook my bad stuff and take me to heaven. That must be it.
Uh, no. That is just about exactly the opposite of the case. You don’t give anything to God to get him on your good side. Not even yourself. You would always be coming up short in the earning-your-salvation business. You can’t buy off God that way. Your sins would always be too great.
No, when Paul says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice,” he is not talking about an atoning, sin-covering, sin-forgiving sacrifice–a meritorious sacrifice that earns your salvation, whether in whole or in part. No, not in the slightest. But rather, this sacrifice is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, because God has already forgiven your sins and freely given you the gift of salvation.
Notice, Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” “By the mercies of God.” All that we do is a response to God’s mercies. It is his compassions, his grace and tender-kindness–that is why we respond as we do. Any sacrifice that we make is a response, not a cause.
The sacrifice that is the cause of your salvation has already been made. And that too is a gift, a free gift from God, the supreme Gift from the supreme Giver. It is Christ’s one-and-only sacrifice, the once-and-for-all sacrifice he made on the cross–that is the cause of your salvation. “For God so loved the world that he gave–he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God come from heaven, came “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Here is the sacrifice that atones for sin and earns your salvation! It was made for you by Christ! He gives you his righteousness as a gift. He shares his life with you, so that you will live forever. The gift is yours. Believe and receive it. You don’t do anything. Christ your Savior has done it all.
But still, we give. We give ourselves, our whole body and being. It is “a living sacrifice.” That’s an odd expression, isn’t it? Sacrifices usually were put to death, slaughtered. Yet Paul says here, “a living sacrifice.” But then, you did die. You have been crucified with Christ. You have been buried with Christ, in Holy Baptism. You old sinful self has been drowned and dies daily, and a new man emerges to live with Christ in righteousness. And so your daily dying and rising with Christ, life according to your baptism, this presenting of your body and mind and soul to God–this is the living sacrifice that Paul is talking about.
It’s your whole self. It’s the living for God that we do according to our new nature. It’s being transformed by the Holy Spirit, working from the inside out, to change our whole way of thinking and living. Paul says it like this: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
There’s a battle going on, and you are the battlefield. Your mind in particular, because the mind is the control center for your life. Is the world going to control your mind, or will God and his Word? Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world.” I like the paraphrase, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” The world’s values run counter to the will of God: selfishness, self-indulgence, revenge, casting off restraint. But instead of being conformed to the standards of this world, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” It’s a metamorphosis, a transformation. It’s getting your thinking, your whole mindset, reoriented to think the things of God. That means being in the Word, because the Holy Spirit will use the Word to transform and renew your mind. Offering your mind up to God to have it renewed by him–that is part of your living sacrifice and your spiritual worship.
Oh, and there are more specific ways you can use the gifts God has given you. And that is, in the church. God has brought you into the body of Christ, the church, and in this body you have a part to play. Paul writes: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
How has God gifted you, in ways that you can use to benefit the body of Christ? Is it serving? Is it giving? Is it doing acts of mercy? The list here is not exhaustive; we could add to it. But the point is, there are lots of ways each of us can help to build up the church, for the common good. Let’s discover what those are. God may stretch you a bit. Let’s exercise our gifts, putting them to use. Many of you already are. Maybe it’s volunteering to take an office in the Ladies’ Guild. Maybe it’s giving someone a ride to church. Maybe it’s giving, as in, literally, the financial giving you put in the offering plate. That is very much needed, and God may stretch you there, too.
So back to our opening question: “What do you give the God who has everything?” Answer: Nothing. Nothing, in that God doesn’t need anything from you. It’s already his, and he gave it to you to start with. And he certainly doesn’t need anything from you as a sin offering. That’s already been made, by Christ. Nothing you can add to that.
But even so, as a response to God’s great mercies in Christ, you do have gifts to give to God. And it starts with . . . everything! All that you are and have. All of it, offered to God as a living sacrifice, a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. This living sacrifice involves the transformation of your whole life and way of thinking, the renewing of your mind. This takes shape, then, in action, in the things you do, including the ways you use your gifts for the good of the church.
“What do you give the God who has everything?” Answer: Everything! All that you are and have–this is our fitting response to the God who has given us every good gift.