This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Romans 12:1-8
Congregation of Christ: If you and I were to meet on the street, we’d say, "Hi, how ya doing?" The answer would be "fine." And that would be fine. If you were a Somali, you’d say, "Maxaad sheegtay?" or "What did you say?" The answer then would be "Nabad, waa hilib iyo canno." or "Peace – it is meat and milk." You might also say "nabad – bsashbash iyo barwako baan sheegay." "Peace – I said abundance and prosperity." In other words – "How could it be any better? – I’ve got peace, and I’ve got plenty to eat – things are great." There’s another great greeting that comes from Australia. People there ask "What d’yer reckon? What d’yer reckon mite, what do you think? Shall we leave and get on the road? Shall we play cricket? Shall we eat?" So, next time you see an Aussie on the road, ask, "What do you reckon?"
That’s an important question for us to be asking ourselves as well. What do we reckon about us? What do I reckon about me? It’s important to ask this question because God tells us to think about ourselves – not just any old way – but his way. So what do we reckon? How do we reckon rightly about ourselves? In Romans chapter 12, The Lord through our brother Paul says right reckoning begins with right eyesight. "I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy." Whatever we reckon about anything else, however we view ourselves, we have to look first and foremost through the lenses of God’s mercy and grace. We are who we are, and we are whose we are by the grace and mercy of God. Are you a thirteenth generation Canadian bank manager, descended from a hundred generations of pastors in Europe before that, or are you a first generation Somali refugee, descended from a hundred generations of pirates? You are equally eligible for grace. We were chosen by God on the same basis as his choice of the people of Israel. Deuteronomy 7 tells us, "The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you." The Israelites were chosen because they were the loved. But they were also fewest –– they were chosen in their weakness.
If that isn’t sufficiently deflationary to our egos, listen to the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 1:20. "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of us were wise by human standards, not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that we are in Christ Jesus."
It was not because we were bigger or better or prettier or wiser or smarter or cleaner or brighter, that we were chosen. Nor was it our homes or our cars or our kids’ athletic brilliance. It was God’s grace through Jesus Christ. If we reckon rightly – then we know we are who we are, and we are whose we are, because in his unsearchable and unfathomable wisdom, God before the foundations of the earth chose to reach out to us in Christ Jesus and to call us effectually to himself. We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. We are products of grace, not merit.
Right reckoning realizes that Ephesians 2 is right: it is by grace that I have been saved – through faith – but even that faith is not the product of my effort – it is a gift of God. Right reckoning realizes that Romans 3 applies to me: I have sinned and I fall way short of the glory of God – and it’s only the amazing grace and love of God through Jesus Christ that saved me. While I was God’s enemy – a sinner – he sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for me. And if I rightly reckon what that transaction cost him, and what is has done for me – there’s only one suitable response.
The right response that God requires is total submission to him. He says, "I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercies – that you offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." He wants the whole works. Time, strength, money, energy, brains, brawn, beauty – whatever of those you possess – to whatever degree you possess them – give them up. The Lord has something interesting to say here about this response of total sacrifice. There are two equally valid ways for Bible translators to tell us what Paul says. Some English translations say that this sacrifice is "your reasonable service." Other translations have Paul telling us this sacrifice is "your spiritual worship." That’s interesting. Both translations your reasonable service, and your spiritual worship – are correct. It tells me I can’t separate my spiritual stuff from my regular stuff. I can’t compartmentalize my life.
On the one hand what I do with my body is spiritual. Web-surfing or wakesurfing, taking communion or taking breakfast, conversing with the elders after church or conversing with my hammer after it hits the wrong nail – it’s all spiritual, and it’s all God’s. What do I reckon about exercise? – a spiritual decision. What do I reckon about the jeans I’m buying this week? – a spiritual decision. What do I reckon about the war that may be threatening right now in some part of the world? – a spiritual decision. What do we reckon about our careers, our kids, their careers, their education, our possessions, our planning, our travels, our spending? – it’s all spiritual. If we reckon rightly religiously or spiritually – we’re going to say all of life is spiritual, all of life is religion – and God calls me to reckon it all as his – a sacrifice to him.
But the word also means reasonable, or logical. Let’s get at this the back way. When the city of Toronto closed its landfill site it began sending 200 truck loads of rubbish every day to a landfill in Michigan. Suppose you live in Toronto and you think that’s awful. Here’s one thing that you can do to stop it. If you saw a really nice piece of wood with some potential beside the road waiting to be picked up, you could feel it your duty as a good citizen to save the city the expense of carting it to Michigan and burying it. That wood could go into your basement and sooner or later come back up as shelves, desks or dollhouses. Suppose a year later your neighbor who discarded that wood comes up to you and says, "That ratty shelf I stuck by the road last year, I want it back." Are you to tear apart your daughter’s doll house in order to give him that wood back? Of course not. When he left it by the road it was surrendered. When you took it, it became yours. When you transformed it, it became even more yours. It would be highly unreasonable for him to expect to get that wood back.
Similarly it’s only reasonable that God should own and use our bodies. It is only logical, that 1. having created us in the first place, 2. since he bought what we destroyed by Jesus’ death on the cross, and 3. by his Spirit he is in the process of transforming what we destroyed and making it entirely new and 4. he maintains our every breath – in him we live and move and have our being – it’s only logical and reasonable – that we reckon our bodies rightly and give God what is rightly his own. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices which is your reasonable spiritual act of service.
Here’s the tough question. How does our reckoning undergo this sort of transformation? How does our self-estimation shift from the natural me – by which I reckon I am my own selfish pig and he who dies with the most toys wins – to reckoning that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ?
Think about the hypothetical bookshelf you picked up along the road. It was built according to a pattern of a bookshelf. You deconstructed that pattern. You banged apart the 2 by 12s and 1 by 12s with a hammer, pounded out the nails, and took home the wood. At that point it was the same wood but it was no longer a bookshelf. That wood came down to your basement in pieces. You went to work with your skill saw and sander. You had a plan in your mind – a plan for a dollhouse. By submitting it all to your plan – those pieces are transformed to become something totally different – and hopefully better – than they were before. They are no longer a wreck of a bookshelf, abandoned by the side of the road, awaiting destruction – they are now something transformed, and useful, and maybe even beautiful.
The Lord tells us here, that for us to engage in right reckoning, we need to undergo something of that same sort of transformation. The world, the devil, our fleshly nature, all have a reckoning pattern, to which it is so terribly easy to conform. What really counts then is how low our jeans ride on our hips. By that reckoning what really counts is the dimensions of our bodies. What really counts is how well we can sing the latest and greatest hip-hop or techno rave. What counts is my popularity, the performance of my stock portfolio, my sex appeal. God says no! Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world. Don’t reckon by that standard. God calls us to humble ourselves, let that old pattern be broken, and broken, and if necessary be broken again – and to submit ourselves to his loving hands, to have our minds repatterned, reshaped, remolded to think his thoughts after him. It’s only when our minds are repatterned that we can begin to rightly reckon. It is when Christ transforms us and makes us new creatures that we grow as Christians. This happens by the reading and hearing of the Word, and responding to the nudging of God’s Spirit. Through this we learn to reckon rightly – and to find out how delightfully good, pleasant and perfect his will is. We will have been transformed – renewed in our minds
What is the pattern going to look like? What does transformed reckoning reckon? There will be a shift in our thinking about other people. Listen to the text, "Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."
We can find all kinds of opportunities to think very highly about ourselves, can’t we? We sometimes think very highly about ourselves when we’re doing the Lord’s work in the church. Or when we do something else well, and people tell us how good and brave and intrepid and daring we are, there is a strong temptation to start believing what you hear. Yeah, I am good and brave -a whole lot better and braver than – so and so. God picked me because of my goodness and bravery.
The Lord says here, "watch it." Reckon rightly. I can almost hear God say - "You know that refugee family downtown; where dad has a problem with temper, where Mom is sick, and the housework hasn’t been done for months; where the combined level of education of both Mom and Dad is half of yours; the family where the kids have demolished everything breakable and are doing their best to destroy the rest; the place where the kids use language the Marines forbade, and where the school kids rack up almost as many days of suspension as they do days in attendance – you know that family?’ If we reckon rightly, you and they are basically separated by only one thing – grace. You are as undeserving as they; they are as deserving as you.
If we reckon by faith as our text says here, we will reckon ourselves as having attained to who we are and what we are by grace and grace alone. We will soberly reckon or think about ourselves on that basis. Reckoning by faith will hold in tension two crucial thoughts about ourselves and others. One is that in Christ we are special and beloved children. We are privileged heirs of the kingdom of heaven. We are adopted sons and daughters of the living God. Through faith, the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. We are of great worth in his sight. We can’t devalue ourselves. Even if everybody else does, God doesn’t.
The other side of reckoning by faith is Jesus-style humility. Jesus was God, coequal with the Father. He didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped. He didn’t hang onto his power and rights. He let go of his prerogatives. He did this in order to build up and to serve others. He made himself nothing, and he says what’s good enough for him is good enough for us. A Christ-styled, faith full reckoning holds two truths in tension: I am a child of the King, and a servant to all his subjects.
Humility, right reckoning according to Romans 12, is also going to recognize two complementary realities about our role in the body of Christ. 1. I’m not complete without the body. 2. Nor is the body complete without me. "We who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." Paul doesn’t directly address how much we need each other here, but it’s clear from that other famous body passage, I Corinthians 12, that the body isn’t a body unless it’s a body together. That’s the nature of a body: if it is apart it’s no longer a body, it’s a corpse. We are not called to be corpses. Right reckoning recognizes that we are in this together.
This chapter makes it crystal clear that right reckoning recognizes how important all the parts of the body are to each other. It goes one step beyond the Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 1. The catechism asks, "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" And the answer is, "That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful savior Jesus Christ." But this passage tells us that when we belong to Christ we also belong to each other. In line with verse 5 we can say, "I belong to Jesus Christ, and to the Elliots, and to the Vanderclucks, and to the Vanderbanders, and to the Kringlesmas, and to the Odeyobaayas and to the Rodriguezes and everybody else who belongs to the body of Christ. I am theirs and they are mine."
So it follows that my church, my fellow Christians, have a right to expect that my time and resources and gifts will be used for the mutual benefit of the entire crew. So if you are a young person with a gift for music, piano, synthesizer, bass drums, whatever, your gift belongs to your fellow believers here. You will use your gifts for their benefit. If your gifts aren’t being used, you will respectfully and gently jump up and down until they are. Your gifts belong to the church and are meant to be used. The church needs your vigor, and enthusiasm – and even your wildest and craziest Spirit-inspired ideas – to keep the church alive. Here’s the flip side of that thought: your fellow believers belong to you. The compassion of the deacons, the leadership of the pastor, the service of the helpers – they are all yours. And you older folks, you are not going to reckon yourselves retired, with no further obligations to the body. The body needs your wisdom, and your wisdom belongs to the body. If you keep it away, you are stealing it.
Right reckoning realizes that each of us has a crucial role to play, one in which it is essential that we use the gifts that God has given us. Any time you start feeling like you’re not needed, or ‘I really don’t do anything useful;’ if you think, ‘I’m just a little toe in the body of the church, and I don’t amount to much;’ try this – take your little toe, only one, and bend it over your fourth toe, and tape it there. Leave it that way for a week. Or if you feel you stick out like a sore thumb, tape your right thumb to the palm of your right hand. See how well you function for a week. Right reckoning recognizes that the gifts God gave me and the gifts God gave you are essential, necessary and valuable, and right reckoning puts them to use.
So what is a church that is rightly reckoning going to look like? Looking quickly at the rest of this chapter we notice that such right reckoning mean loving sincerely, hating what’s evil, clinging to the good (read Romans 12:9-21). After church today we’ll be hitting the road for another week. The places we go, the way we go, how we react, how we treat each others, will all be governed by our hearts, our spiritual reckoning. So, brothers and sisters, what do you reckon?
Call to Worship: Psalm 100
God’s Greeting: Grace be to us, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Hymn: PH #401 "Oh How Good Is Christ The Lord" Confession of Faith – Apostles Creed or read a Psalm together Hymn #400 "Praise The Savior Now and Ever"
Hymn #262 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee" Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8
Sermon: What do You Reckon? Prayer Hymn #201 "May The Mind of Christ, My Savior"
Parting Hymn #631 "Praise and Thanksgiving" Benediction: Read Hebrews 13:20-21