I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. – Romans 12:1
Some of us may recognize this passage, as it is one of the passages used for the so-called “Offertory Sentence” that follows the Peace, just before Communion. It is a curious passage: I mean, “presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice?” What is Paul saying here?
Let me back up a bit. I have a hunch that a lot of us, perhaps all of us, deep down, would like to give our life to something. Deep down, we know it’s not satisfying to live a life focused on ourselves. We want to know that our life means something, that our life has an impact beyond ourselves, that we are giving of ourselves for a greater good. We want to know, too, that we are living lives “whole” in which all parts of our life are brought together, maybe focused on this higher purpose. And perhaps we want to know, too, that when we’ve left this world, we’ve left it a better place. I may be looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but this is what I see. I see people who want to give their lives to something greater, because we’ve found that ultimately it’s not satisfying to live life only for ourselves.
I think Paul saw this, too. Paul knew that people were craving something deeper, something that made sense of their lives and maybe focused their lives on something noble, something higher, something that would bring them ultimate satisfaction and maybe peace, and maybe even joy. And I have a hunch that Paul had found the way to live life in such a way.
That one way that Paul found was to live his life for Jesus Christ. Paul had tried multiple other options: he was a tentmaker by training, he was a Pharisee by education, and – because being a Pharisee wasn’t enough – he was even a persecutor of the early Church. Paul writes about all the things he was, or had tried, that ostensibly should bring satisfaction, in his letter to the Philippians:
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Paul goes on to say that all of these things – the best boarding schools, as it were, an Ivy League education, the house in the ‘burbs, the club memberships, the nice car, the beautiful wife… you name it – none of those things brought what he was looking for.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Paul had found a way to live life whole, he found the one thing necessary, he had found the pearl of great price, that brought him the satisfaction, the peace, the joy, that he longed for. That one thing was “knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.”
Having discovered this, Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” “Look,” says Paul. “I’ve tried everything and had all sorts of opportunities that should have brought me satisfaction, but none did. But then, Jesus Christ appeared to me on the Damascus Road. Jesus changed everything. Oh, my goodness, it has not been easy,” I can hear Paul saying.
Five times I have received… the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea… [I have been] in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters…
But, OMG, has it been worth it! I can’t imagine life without Jesus.” “And why don’t you, Romans, do the same?” Paul asks. “Why not give yourselves to Christ? Why don’t you live your life for him. Why not give him everything?” And so Paul wrote to the Romans,
I appeal to you, therefore… to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
I think Paul is right. From what I can tell, the only satisfying way to live life, the only way we to truly find peace and joy, the only way we can be fully alive, is to live our life for Jesus Christ.
There is a wonderful story from the desert fathers, the men and women who lived as monks in the deserts of Egypt in the 4th and 5th centuries, that tells of one brother’s desire to live life whole, to give himself to a higher cause, to find ultimate meaning and purpose for his life. This brother, Abba Lot…
…came to Abba Joseph and said: “Father, as I am able, I keep my rule, and I keep my fast. I say my prayers every day, and I meditate and keep silence; and, as I am able, I cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What more should I do?” The elder rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. Abba Joseph said: Why not become all fire?
I wonder, what about you? What is stopping you from becoming all fire?