Spiritual Worship (August 23, 2020)
Romans 12: 1-8
As I was reading through this passage this week, my focus was drawn away from the section about the spiritual gifts and the body metaphor, and was drawn toward one of the lines in the first verse. There Paul talks about the importance of spiritual worship. I’ll read it again: “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, which is your spiritual worship.” And that language of presenting our bodies as a holy and living sacrifice to God is familiar to us, because it’s in our communion Liturgy. Every month we hear that we are “offering ourselves as a holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ’s offering for us.” We are a living sacrifice, or at least we try to be. And Paul says that this is our spiritual worship. I really want to dig in and ask what that phrase means for us?
I know that there have been times in my past when I have walked into a church building to worship on Sunday morning and I have been physically present at the church building, but maybe I haven’t been completely mentally or spiritually present at the church building. My body is here, but maybe my mind is elsewhere, maybe my soul is elsewhere. Maybe my soul is so crushed by the things that have happened over the past week that my soul just is unable to come in, and stayed in the parking lot. Maybe I’m physically here, but my mind is not. Maybe my mind is at K & M after church, trying to figure out who’s gonna be at lunch, and how are we going to work that out with the pandemic, and who’s gonna sit where so we’re 6 feet away from others. Maybe my mind is stuck in the past week, trying to to think through what I didn’t do or what I could have done; maybe try to figure out where I could have been more productive, or was too productive, or where I could have better served my family. Maybe I’m just anywhere but here. Maybe I’m so worn down that my mind is still back in bed asleep. My body is here, but I am not engaging in spiritual worship. I’m engaging in bodily worship, but not spiritual or mental worship. Those three things that I’m supposed to love the Lord my God with: with all my mind, with all my soul, with all my strength; I’ve got strength here, but my mind and my soul might be elsewhere.
I don’t want to speak for you all, but I suspect that there’s a few of you who have experienced what I am talking about. Maybe there might even be a few of you here today that are experiencing it right now. It’s a very human phenomenon. It's a very human thing to show up someplace, but not really show up someplace; to not really be here when you’re here.
Now I’m not going to say that bodily worship only is worthless. In fact I’ll probably go so far as to say it is worth something to just show up. Sometimes we have to just show up until our soul can walk back in the door. I’m not going to sit here and say that body-only worship is completely completely worthless, but what I will say is it is far more valuable to be worshiping in spirit than just in body. Having all three of those things (body, mind, and spirit) loving the Lord our God in the mist of worship is much more refreshing and rejuvenating than having just one or two. And what Paul is saying here, I think, is that it is vital that we engage in full worship of God with all three components.
I want to mention also that sometimes there are things we need to do to be mentally here, particularly if you’re not mentally here because your mind is at lunch trying to figure out the seating arrangements. For some of us that might mean that you need to hold a Bible in front of you on your lap, and be taking notes in order to be mentally here. That’s one of the reasons that when I preach I try not to pull from 17 different locations throughout Scripture giving you your five seconds of warning before I go and quote something else. I try and stay in just one or maybe two passages specifically so that if you are the kind of person who has your Bible open in front of you wanting to take notes, you’re not having to sift through the entire Bible 17 times during the sermon. Because while you’re looking through the pages trying to figure out where the book of Habakkuk is you’re not listening; you’re not listening to me, you’re not listening to the Holy Spirit. So I try and make sure that if you are one who needs their Bible either physically or even on a phone, that you can have it without being distracted. So you can be mentally present. That’s the goal.
For some of you that might mean holding something in your hand, such as knitting or crocheting or even just fiddling with a pen. You’ll notice sometimes I have fiddled with a pin up here. I try not to, but sometimes I do it absentmindedly. But if I’m sitting there, if I’m listening to a sermon, I really need something in my hands. Maybe that’s the case with you. It is the reason that so many people doodle on the margins of the paper in class, because it helps to pay attention. If that was you: there’s margins on your bulletin. Feel free to doodle if it helps you to be mentally and spiritually here as well.
For some people, that might be closing your eyes; shutting off one sense that you can enhance another. For some of you that might just mean praying. When I was younger, the pastor would oftentimes be giving the prayer of joys and concerns, and during the midst of that prayer the pastor would say, “and we now confess to you these things that are on our hearts in this moment of silence.” And then the pastor would go silent. And you’re supposed to start confessing to God the things that are on your heart. And the thing was, the pastor never gave me enough time; and I would start confessing the things that were on my heart, and the pastor would start back up before I was done. So I just keep going. I would completely ignore whatever it was the pastor was saying and I would just keep going however long I needed. I would continue to pray, and usually it didn’t stay a prayer of confession, it would turn into something else. That might be where it is for you, you might need to sit here and just pray for 40 minutes and completely ignore me. And that might be the worship that you need in this moment in order to be truly worshiping.
And what I want to say to you here today is that any of those things I mentioned, or anything else that you need to do to be spiritually here is OK. You have my express permission, because it is that important that we are all spiritually worship, that we are all here in mind and body and spirit fully loving God. Because, as Paul says later in the passage, the church is the body of Christ. A body was made up of members. And the reality is that if one part of the body goes down, it’s not quite like the Kansas City Royals where if the centerfielder goes down we just put them on the IR and up comes another one. With a body, when a knee goes down the whole body can feel that. One of the most interesting facts that I have read on this passage is that when a pinky toe, one of the smallest things the body, is broken it’s harder to keep your balance. When it is a part of the church that is hurting, it affects us all. So let me give you that express permission to do what you need to do so that we as a church as a whole can be better; and can church better, because don’t forget that church is a verb. It is not a thing, it is not a building, it is a community of people acting out worship of God and showing the fruit of the Spirit.
The fruits of the Spirit that we like to talk about so much, and oftentimes are even the spiritual gifts that we see Paul talk about at the end of the passage, are really the product of spiritual worship. That’s really what is happening in the spiritual gifts that we see. Because you are saved there now is fruit that is growing in you, if you allow it to grow. Because the thing about fruit is that the fruit grows while it is connected to the plant. If I pick an apple it stops growing. It might continue to ripen, which can in the short term make us think that there’s still good things happening inside, but it will stop growing and eventually it will rot. But if it is connected to the tree it will continue to grow bigger, and bigger, and bigger until it is ready and the tree sends it off into the world. So it is with us, the fruit of our spirit grows when it is being fed by the vine. That’s when the fruit grows and ripens and becomes ready to be used in the world. But we must remain connected to the vine for a fruit to grow. That is true for you as a person, and that is true for us as a church as well.
And of course Paul’s message in the rest of this passage is that no one’s fruit is actually better than anyone else’s. That body metaphor reminds us that the eyes aren’t better than the small intestine. They may look better; there’s no love song about the small intestine and the beauty of the small intestine, but in truth the eyes are not more important in the small intestine.
But another way you could look at this is that we’re all ingredients. God is making something. When you’re cooking something, no one ingredient is more important than another ingredient. I used to think that maybe that wasn’t the case, that some ingredients are more important than others. And there were times where I would look at a recipe and I would say, “well this requires a teaspoon of a spice. I’m not gonna spend 4 bucks getting a gigantic thing of spice for a teaspoon. What could that possibly do?” It can do a lot to the taste of the dish. You don’t have the dish without all the ingredients.
And God, through the church, is making a product: a fruit. God, perhaps, is making a pie. And we all are ingredients. God is tugging on each of us to use our ingredient, to use our gift, in a certain moment in order to all collectively make the pie. And it can seem like some of us are more important than others: some of us have the apples, while others have the cinnamon, while others have heat. But God needs all of us. It is important for us to listen to that small voice in the back of her head, to listen to our conscience, to listen to God telling us when it’s our turn to step up and work.
But it’s also important to just listen to God and not assume. Because the reality is we might be making an apple pie filling, but we might also be making applesauce. And that requires similar ingredients, might even require the same ingredients, but it requires them in different amounts and its purpose is different. When we sit here and we assume that we are better than somebody else, or we sit here and we assume that we are less than somebody else, what we are doing is we are assuming we are making something, but we might be making something else. So we might be working against God. Our job is to simply act when called upon, to church when called upon to serve and to use our gift. That is our purpose. And that’s what spiritual worship does on the other six days of the week: it strengthens you and prepares you to do God’s work. And that’s what the church is doing: God’s work. That’s why it’s vital that we renew and refresh ourselves in full worship here.
That’s what we are called to do. Church is not a noun, church is not a building, it’s not a thing, it’s not a place, it’s not even a collection of people. Church is an activity of God that we are taking part in. So I call upon you today as you are here worshiping, I call upon you today to go and church in the world this week. Let’s do it. Amen.