What are you offering?

October 13th, 2018

“What are you offering?”

Romans 12:1-2

October 14, 2018

So, I believe that all God has ever wanted is to love us and be loved back and for us to love one another.  (Jesus identifies this as the Great Commandment.)  It was love at first sight in the first creation story when God declared us, “Good!” and made us partners in caring for creation.  It was God who recognized in the second creation story that human beings were meant to be in relationship.  Of course, embedded in that same story is the truth that we human beings are also prone to breaking the rules.  We get tempted.  We get puffed up and proud.  We act as if we, ourselves, are God.  We want what we want and we want it now. 

 God gives us the freedom to make choices but we sometimes make terrible choices.  Our ancestors wanted to be like everyone else so they wanted a king.  We want to be like everyone else and we do one embarrassing thing after another.  Our ancestors want to show how much they love God so instead of loving God they build a temple, where God can be sequestered away.  God knows (really, God does know) that human beings have been trying ever since to have one corner of life be God’s and the rest of life be the place where anything goes.  Our ancestors refused to hear the voices of the prophets who insisted on telling them what they didn’t want to hear.    We, to this day, search high and low to find the “prophet” who will tell us, “Good news!  You are being exactly who you need to be!”

God gives us life and gives us the freedom to make choices but it seems like human nature, itself, leads us away from using the freedom that we  have been given responsibly.  It’s not that we don’t always know what we should do or at least what we should be aiming to do.  It’s just that somehow we get lost in all of our stuff and just forget.  Of course, when this happens, there are consequences.  When we cheat and cut corners and act in selfish ways, relationships break down.  Grudges build up.  Forgiveness is withheld.  Instead of caring for the earth, we make a mess of it, and all of creation suffers.  Early on, our ancestors tell us that God would throw us out of paradise or would afflict us with some curse, or inflict some other punishment.  However, eventually, God seems to set all that aside and, like a loving but overwhelmed parent, sees the mess that we’ve made and loves us anyway, even as God’s heart breaks.

I really can’t emphasize this point enough.  For a lot of people, the only reason not to do the wrong thing is that God might catch you or the authorities might catch you.  The truth, though, is that we never get away with anything.  The very nature of the world is that there are always consequences when we mistreat each other, when we live as if we are the only one who matters, when we put our interests first.  It’s not that God will catch you and send you to hell.  It’s that in making terrible choices we create hell on earth.  God made us free.  We really can do as we please.  God won’t stop us.  However, those narrow, selfish choices eventually will eat away at the very fabric of our world.

So, all God wants is to love us and be loved back and to have us love one another.  Yet, what God understands is that if any of this is ever going to happen, it can only be because we have freely chosen to be loving people.  Love isn’t coerced.  You don’t guilt someone into loving you, even if you’re God.  You don’t scare someone into loving you, even if you’re God.  You don’t make someone else’s choice to love for them and then pretend that what you are seeing is love.  No…we all know because we have seen it in our lives and in the lives of those around us that real love is a gift that we freely give.  This is the “I love you on your best day and your worst day” kind of love that is the very best of what it can mean to be a human being.  This, “I love you no matter what” kind of love, as opposed to the, “What have you done for me lately” kind of love, is ultimately what we are intended to offer not only to one another but to God.  So, we look at our spouse or our child or our friend or our fellow church member on the most challenging day and say, “I’m still loving you here!”  And perhaps, in the greatest challenge of all, we don’t love God based on how we feel about today, either:  “God, this is a hard day but I know you’re in here somewhere.  I’m going to take it a step at a time and love you, no matter what.”

What God offers us is the chance to see the worst of what it means to be a human being and choose to be better than that.  What God offers us is the chance to see something deeper about the current moment than some superficial judgment about whether I approve of this moment of not.  What God offers us is the chance to be a part of something far deeper and more meaningful than we ever would have come up with on our own.  What God offers us is a chance to be a part of God’s work in this lifetime.

The reason one might choose to live such a life is really pretty straightforward:  because you are overwhelmed with gratitude for the simple fact that you are alive.  I woke up this morning!  I have another chance to really live today.  I’m perfectly free to be cynical and jaded and take this gift for granted.  However, what if I don’t?  What if I decide that the only thing to do is find some way to thank God for this gift?  What if that desire is true even if—or maybe even especially if—today is hard and includes pain or grief or loss or just tough things to face?  What if the second overwhelming realization is that God not only gives me life but is with me in this life, every step of the way?

What I tried to suggest last week is that if we realized what God has given to us then we would live differently.  The secret though is that the difference in how we live wouldn’t necessarily be that we become more “churchy” or “preachy” or “holier than thou.”  I challenge you to read the Gospels and see how little time Jesus spends in a temple or a synagogue.  I challenge you to read about the earliest days of Christianity.  Folks didn’t build churches.  Instead, they formed communities.  It’s easy to think, “Well, if I wanted to offer a little thank you gift to God, it seems like he would like something ‘religious,’ right?”  After all, people who take God’s gift of life and God’s presence seriously sit around and read the Bible and talk about heaven and hell all the time, right?  

No!  The different living that God is looking for, that Jesus showed us, that Paul outlines for us in our text this morning isn’t about any of that.  It’s right there in the first verse or our text this morning:  “So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life and place it before God as an offering.”  Take the decisions that you make every day and make them your way of saying thanks to God.  

Let me run with an analogy here.  If you want to show me how you love your country, don’t tell me your party affiliation or your ideology or what you would do if you were the king of the nation.  No…show me you love your country by what you are actually doing today to make things better.  And realize that the answers may not be all that sweeping or glorious.  What did I do today?  I picked up my neighbors recycling that spilled out of their can.  I checked on my neighbor.  I attended a meeting and tried to listen more than I spoke.  I made sure that I was registered to vote…and then I started working to make sure that I vote wisely.

If you can get that perspective, then you can hear where Paul is coming from, nearly two thousand years ago.  Whatever it is that you are doing—waking up or going to bed at night; parenting your toddler or caring for your aging parents; doing your job or getting the work done around the house that just, plain needed to get done—do what you do to the glory of God.  Do what you do as the best chance you have in this moment to say thank you to God for the chance that you have to do it at all.  

When someone is in need, we can look the other way or we can think, “Thank God that I get to help!”  When today is some seriously rough going, instead of thinking, “Why me?” I can have the grace and vision to think, “Why not me?” and find a way to make it through the moment faithfully.  When what needs to be done seems average and everyday and mundane, my changed living might lead me to realize that even the run-of-the-mill can be made full of the presence of God, depending on how I choose to do what needs to be done.

Of course, all of this hinges on where Paul’s verse starts:  “With God’s help.”  To live differently is to be willing to pray constantly, again, not prayers that sound like prayers are “supposed” to sound but the heartfelt, honest prayers:  “God, help me!”  “God, show me!”  “God, I need you with me here!”  Maybe, we even become willing to offer the most dangerous prayer of all:  “God, change me and work through me, now.”

Of course, the best news of all is that such offerings have nothing to do with what we put in a brass plate at church on a Sunday morning.  (Those offerings do matter, too, by the way!)  Instead, the daily things that we offer to God are the choices we make that change us and change how we look at the people around us and change the world in which we live.  This may lead us into the church as a part of a community in which we share the desire to offer our lives to God.  This may lead us into the church as part of a community which works together to meet the needs of others that we could never meet on our own.  However, at its very best, learning to offer up our lives to God—to live gratefully—is to realize that God is present in and among us all no matter where we go.

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