At first, it would appear that we’ve been dealt a weird hand by the folks who assembled the lectionary for this Sunday. We get part of Romans 11 tacked on to part of Romans 12. The part that begins with “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” and ends with “Amen” is the closing to chapter 11. What Paul is so amazed over is how God works in an upside down, inside out, completely counterintuitive way. His chosen people reject their own Christ so the formerly unchosen can proclaim Christ to the chosen. Or to use Paul’s metaphor, a native branch (unbelieving Israel) gets chopped off so that a wild branch (the Gentiles) can be grafted onto Israelite rootstock with the hope and expectation that the wild branch would again be joined to its native root through the preaching of the Gentiles.
Paul sums it up it all up in this one, mighty sentence, worthy of all remembering: God has consigned all (everyone without exception) to disobedience (under the Law) in order that He might have mercy upon all (everyone without exception) in Christ. Everyone condemned under the Law; everyone the object of mercy in Christ. Wow! That’s when Paul busts out in a hymn of praise and says the opening verses in today’s reading from Romans: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are His ways! For who has know 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.”
This is most certainly true, that’s the way it is, you can’t get more sure than this, all because of dead and risen Jesus. Paul has come to the end of a journey that began in chapter 1, where he said ”For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew (ethnic Israelite) first and also to the Greek (the Gentile). For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”
Paul then shows how both Gentile and Jew, the uncircumcised and the circumcised alike a guilty and condemned under God’s Law. The Gentile, by his conscience and the Law written as firmware in his heart; and the Jew by the Law of the Torah, which he doesn’t keep. Paul then reveals the purpose of the Torah as not being a Torah of works by which people do works to be saved, but a Torah of faith, by which people trust the promise of a righteousness that is not their own, that comes through faith in the blood of Jesus. In other words, we stand before God forensically righteous, under a verdict of “innocent for Jesus’ sake.” This is the very faith that Father Abraham demonstrated before his circumcision. This is faith that trusts that what Adam did, Christ, the second Adam has undone. This is a faith born in Baptism, in which the forensic sentence of “innocent for Jesus’ sake” is pronounced over your guilty head. This faith sets us in a life lived in tension between a renewed mind in Christ and a flesh steeped in Adam, so that we now live a double-existence – in Christ and in ourselves, as Luther said, “simultaneously a sinner and a saint” until the day we die.
And this marvelous way of working, wherein God justifies the ungodly by the force of His promise and not by their works, is demonstrated in the very life and history of God’s chosen people, OT Israel, that God grace is an unearned gift in Jesus, that He declines to use firstborn Esau in favor of second born Jacob, that He even uses the hardened rejection of Israel to work the salvation of the world. And in the end, when you sum it all up and total it out, God condemns all under the Law, and He has mercy on all in Jesus Christ.
Now, at last, you’re ready for Romans 12. And not a minute too soon. So then, what are we supposed to do? Sit back and let sin abound that God’s grace may much more abound? Nonsense! Do whatever we please because we already pleasing to God? Absolute silliness!
Listen. “I appeal to you, therefore, (on the basis of everything that has come before), by the mercies of God (get that – by the mercies of God, which are found in Jesus), to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Stop right there. By the mercies of God. Not by the merits of men. Not to earn grace but under the umbrella of grace. Covered with the righteousness of Christ, redeemed by His blood, rescued from sin, death, and the sentence of the Law. By the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Yes, those bodies are steeped in sin. Yes, those bodies have all the bad reflexes of the old Adam. Yes, there is, as Paul said a few chapters ago, nothing good that dwells in your flesh. But offer those bodies anyway. Not as an atoning sacrifice. That would be dead. Atonement requires blood. Atoning sacrifices are bled to death. Like the sin offering or the goat on the day of atonement. Christ on the cross.
You can’t atone for your sins. There is no sacrifice you can offer, though we try don’t we? We offer our works, our religions, our prayers, our pieties. We offer others – our marriage, our children, our coworkers. Our altars are piled high with sacrifices that can’t save. This isn’t what God is asking for. He wants you, justified sinner. He wants your body that has been baptized, that has been fed the Body and Blood of Christ. He wants to do something good and constructive with that sinful flesh of yours.
That’s what it means to be baptized. That’s what it means to be declared righteous for Jesus’ sake. That’s what forensic righteousness is all about. God declares you to be holy and acceptable through Jesus Christ so that now your whole life lived in the flesh – your work, your play, your vocation – is all a living sacrifice, a thankoffering to God. Life is liturgy for the baptized believer. Life is liturgy, a spiritual act of worship.
Get this. Worship isn’t just about what happens on Sunday morning. Spiritual worship goes on in the body, in your day to day life, when you arise in the morning, and when you lie down in your beds at night. That’s why the catechism would have you make the sign of the cross and invoke the Name of God. Every day, not just Sunday. LIfe is liturgy for the baptized. This is more than “doing good works,” which sounds like drudgery. This is liturgy – playful, joyful, exuberant, living large before God, embracing His gifts, putting them to use, serving others, giving yourself away because you have nothing to lose.
That means a new way of thinking, which is what repentance is all about. A change of thinking. No longer conformed to this world’s way of thinking but transformed by a renewed mind. LIfe as liturgy means we don’t think the same as the world because we have the mind of Christ, which changes your perspective on things. The world couldn’t care less about God or what pleases Him, but we are constantly testing what is and isn’t good and acceptable and perfect. That makes us baptized believers a bit of an oddity in this world. “In the world but not of the world.” Sometimes even a little “out of this world.” But we’re in Christ now, He’s our life, and that changes things considerably.
As liturgists in the liturgy of life, we need to see ourselves in a sober light, not think more highly of ourselves than the old Adam in us would have us think. Liturgists need to be servants of the liturgy, not masters. We serve the One who served us to His death and who serves us His own Body and Blood. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. That’s what a liturgist does, he serves. In the liturgy of life, we serve others, and in others, especially the least, the lost, and the lowly, we serve Christ.
A liturgy has a variety of servants – preachers, cantors, readers, assistants, acolytes. A team working together as one. A body has many diverse members – fingers, toes, eyes, ears, nose, organs, bones. Not everything is the same thing. Not everyone is the same as the next. We have different gifts, but we all are gifted in some way.
The liturgy of life begins in the divine service, in the congregation. It moves out into the home and society and work, but it begins where the body of Christ is gathered to hear and eat and drink together as a body. And within that body, there are a diversity of ways in which we offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Some preach, others serve, teach, encourage, give, govern, do works of mercy. Some teach the kids in Sunday School, some balance the books, some encourage others with phone calls, cards, letters, prayers. I preach and preside. We may not be a well-oiled machine or some slick corporation, but we are the body of Christ and the baptized family of God.
Living sacrifices. Priests offer sacrifices. And that’s what you are. Priests. Not everyone is a pastor or a deacon or an elder. But every baptized believer in Christ is a priest to God in priestly service to his or her neighbor. That’s the main reason why the word “priest” is used only of the Christian in the NT. You are baptized to be a priest to God in the priesthood of Christ. And the offering you lift up is your bodies, a living sacrifice, not for sin but rescued from sin, made holy and acceptable through Jesus’ sacrifice of His body on the cross.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, in all times and in all places. It is good and right so to do.
In the name of Jesus, Amen