A Homily for Epiphany I

Text: Romans 12:1-5

January 11th, 2015

Rev. Ian E. Dunn

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen. 

We live in a time of tremendous busy-ness. A time when it seems that to have a full calendar is to have a virtuous life. Children are rushed from soccer practice to violin practice to ballet while our lives are filled with their own demands, so that we scurry around without a moment to pause or think. This life is the normal for so many of us that we don’t even bat an eye or question if it’s normal, healthy or what God wants. 

We were created to work, we were created to tend to the garden and the earth, to be stewards of it and tend to it, so it is natural for us to long to work, to long to be busy and create good things. For this is what God has created us to do, to be hard workers and to be creative. We see evidence of this on the 6th day of creation. Where we see that humans are created not only in the image of God, but in order to be fruitful and multiply to fill the world and subdue it. That is to say to have families and with those families go into the world and create order - work the land that God gave humanity. However, the end of our hard work is not hard work and when hard work becomes the only goal, we have lost sight of the important things, we have lost sight of what our calling is as created — creative beings. 

Instead we work in order to glorify God, we work hard because we are called to give all we do as living sacrifices. This is in part what St. Paul is talking about in the epistle today. To be a living sacrifice is to live out our lives in order to glorify God. That means that God is to be always first in our mind, whether we are a banker or a teacher or a housewife or a mother or a father or a farmer or soldier, or any combination of these, it is to God that we work to glorify. 

Let’s look again at those first chapters of Genesis - more specifically chapter 4 when we learn of Cain and Abel: 

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

It is clear from this passage that Cain did something that displeased the Lord, but what was it? Was it that he didn’t bring God some deliciously juicy meat? No, this is not the case - the key to this is in what Abel did as compared to Cain’s actions, and when we look at that we realize what Cain failed to do. The attitude between the two men provides the answer, when Abel brings his sacrifice to the Lord, it is the first born of his flock. The first fruit of his hard labor goes to the Lord, not to himself or his family, but to the Lord. However in this text — the omission is key —Cain does not bring his first fruits to the Lord, his attitude was not that of a joyous giver, but it would seem he was rather begrudging when he gave his sacrifice to the Lord. It also implies a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide. It is in giving of our first fruits, our first thoughts to God, that we both become a living sacrifice and learn to trust Him completely for all we need.

The fact of the matter is, is that as people living in a state of sin, we are much more likely to be like Cain than Abel, that we are more apt to give a little bit begrudgingly than to give our whole selves as living sacrifices; however the later is what we are called to do. We are to turn from the sinful ways of selfishness, to rule over those affections and learn what it is to be a living sacrifice. But the first step is we prayerfully retrain our mind to make our whole lives such that they glorify God, that our first thought is to Glorify him and not our own self, to make all we do an action of self-giving to the creator of all. 

We retrain ourselves by learning to be a in constant prayer, by daily spending time in His word, by breaking bread both in fellowship and at the Lord’s table in the sacrament. We learn to let our minds be turned to Him in all we do and not let the world dictate our actions but let God our creator be the guide of all we do. 

Do not be fooled into thinking this is an easy endeavor, however because of our sinful nature struggle in the turmoil and brokeness of the world this is no easy task, so we should not grow discouraged when our walk with Christ seems to be more of a trudge than stroll. However, the world will tell us that it can give us happiness, and it will for a moment, but that happiness is fleeting. St. Augustine once said that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” that is to say that all these fleeting moments of happiness will inevitably disappoint us, whereas the joy and peace found in God will last for eternity. Yet we can always turn back to God no matter how far we wander, for there is a tremendous grace found in Christ. 

Beyond becoming a living sacrifice to God in Christ, the fruit of our devoted prayer life — the giving of all we do to God is also a learning of His will for our lives, a learning of what it is we should do with our moments and our vocation. That is what we were created to be. Vocations are our calling within the church — are we to be husbands, wives or celibates? Mothers, fathers or not? Are we to be priests, architects, engineers or chefs? 

Each vocation is no higher or lower than the other, and the demand on the Christian is no different, each person living as a sacrifice to God, brings glory to him, each person in the church is as important as the next. It is easy to think that the priest or senior warden are more important that the lady who quietly vacuums the floors of the church while no one notices or someone whose only offering is to occasionally bring a tasty basket of treats in. All of these actions are important and we don’t do them for our own glory, but rather they are given to the glory of God. 

When I graduated from college, life gave me a bit of a curve ball and I was hurled into confusion and felt very lost and alone in the world. I was going to a church in Portland, Maine, it was small and sometimes, if the weather was bad, it was only me and the priest. It only furthered the pain of isolation and while I knew I could go up the street to a much bigger church where there were a lot of young people, I had this strange nagging feeling God wanted me there, which incidentally didn’t make me feel terribly endeared to Him. At this church there was a woman there, who was a mere 90 years old when I met her. Learning of her life later, I learned that it had not been easy on here, yet in that fire, God had given her a joy that I long to have some day. She did very little for the church because of her age, yet her smile became something I looked forward to seeing every week. Her smile was something of a gift, not only to me, but to all who know her. She was living out her vocation by simply loving all those whom she met. 

Where I am going with this story is that we should not, as the saint tells us, think more highly of ourselves, or if we are able to do very little for the church more lowly for as we learn from the simple, loving widow that when we live as living sacrifices we can do more than the priest in healing the soul of a broken hearted young man, and so each of us are to act out our calling, not to our own glory, but to the glory of God. 

Likewise when we are acting out our vocation in humility and joy we work together with the rest of the church to build the church. You may be an appalling apologist, but are excellent at making disciples or you may be a terrible teacher, but excellent at hospitality so we live these callings out and glorify God, not holding a grudge against those who hold gifts that we lack, but rather joyously working with them to further the goal of the church of Christ. 

We are called to be the body of Christ — in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he writes about the theme of all being different parts of the same body. It should be clear to us that we all play an important part in the body, and when we work as a body - we become both Christ to the world and become what the church is to truly be — a shining light on the hill, a beacon calling all to come, taste and see that the Christ is Lord, and this is ultimately what the calling of the church is. 

Finally the saint reminds us of that wonderful dichotomy of an individual relationship with Christ as well as a corporate one. We cannot have only one or the other. One of the biggest reasons for the reformation was because of this false idea that only the priest could have a relationship with God and we needed him for that purpose. The priest ended up taking the place of Christ, not being an icon of Christ but rather a little christs. So the Roman church had grown to over emphasis the corporate relationship with God, in the same way the modern American evangelical church over emphasizes the individual relationship with Christ — which comes to this idea of it’s just me and Christ. As you can imagine both of these are dangerous ideas. Rather we need to have an individual and corporate relationship with God. They keep each other in check and with them both we grow as Christians and as a body of believers. 

We, as Christians and part of the church, are all called to a very big thing, that is to be a living sacrifice. To give our lives daily to God, to make him our first and foremost so that we may glorify him in all we do, no matter what our vocation may be. In doing this we learn both humility and to act as the church should, act as one body. So when our lives are given to glorify God, we become shining beacons no matter how simple or complex our callings seem to be. So take heart, do not grow weary in this race and let your light shine before all men, so that all our works may be both good and more importantly giving glory to God. 

Dear Lord, may we learn what it is to present our selves, our souls and our bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.