Living Sacrifices; Acts of Worship
by Lietta Ruger
Gospel Reading: Matthew 16; 21-27.
Lesson Jeremiah 15;
Espistle Romans 12; 1-8
May the words
of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable to you, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
This work of preaching is reminisent of other very hard personal work I have done - that of peeling the onion, layer by layer
to get down to the core stuff.
Today's lesson from Jeremiah addresses a lamenting of suffering and un-ending
pain; a request to the Lord to remember and care for me; a request to be avenged from those who persecute; and a concern that
Jermiah will find the Lord as a "deceptive brook, a spring that fails". The references to water sources in the brook
and the spring likely reference "spirit". Our baptism by water has us give up what was to become a Living Spirit, washed
The Lord answers Jeremiah that he will be restored if he repents and restored to speak worthy words -
that Jeremiah will be a Spokesman. The Lord than advises that Jeremiah allow the people to turn to him and not
the other way around with Jermiah turning to the people. The Lord further advises that he will make Jermiah a Wall,
a fortified Wall of Bronze and people will fight against him and will Not overcome him because the Lord is with him and will
Rescue and Save him from the hands of the wicked and Redeem him from the hands of the cruel.
Well that does
seem prophetic for what our gospel reading has Jesus preparing for in the time just before Jesus takes up the cross.
It seems in today's lesson it is not God's intent that Jeremiah shall enjoy a popular place amongst the people, rather that
he is being set-apart and will be rescued, saved and redeemed. I'm not wholly convinced the lesson teaches us how we
are required to behave as much as it points out an expectation of how Jesus will be required to respond as the Messianic Spokesman
wherein all our subsequent lessons are given and taught. This really ought to be a pretty straightforward and fairly
easy to perceive. I fear it is not, I fear it is like an onion indeed with many layers to be peeled back revealing the
Mystery in increments rather than in a flash of insight.
Listen to our Epistle for today. Paul is urging
an offering of our bodies as living sacrifices. LIVING sacrificies. Let's think on what that means, really.
Paul says "offer your bodies as Living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this IS your spiritual act of worship."
My living body in all it's imperfections is holy and pleasing to God and it is with my living body that I demonstrate my spiritual
act of worship. I do not have to make sacrifices of my body in acts of denial, withholding, doing without, abusing my
body or dis-avowing the beauty of my body, re-arrange my body, slim it, fatten it or reshape it, redefine it, dress it or
undress it - none of this do I have to do but merely offer my living body, AS IS, and this IS my spiritual worship....holy
and pleasing to God.
Why is this important to me to emphasize today? Because to be very candid, unless
I can find something in the verses that is liberating and celebratory, I find the verses are heavy, wearisome, gloomy, pessimistic
and entrapping. I need to honor God, I need to honor Jesus and is so doing, I honor myself. But I do not need
to carry the weight of the great sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf as as a guilty reminder. To do so, in my opinion,
quite diminishes the act of sacrifice Jesus gifted to us all. I'm quite convinced Jesus intended us to value his sacrifice
as a gift. Once the gift is given, the recipient is free to enjoy it (or reject it) and one "thank you" is quite enough.
I'm rather sure Jesus, nor God, need us to say thank you continually day after day, time after time. Rather once gifted,
the freedom or liberation to celebrate in the gift rather than focus in the suffering sacrifice is the intent of the gift.
Again, in my opinion, when we focus on the suffering we can lose sight of the gift itself.
We are long weeks
into the Pentecost now and I'm growing weary of the gospel Matthew. To adequately address the Matthew gospel reading
today, it seems fair I tell you that it is becoming difficult to appreciate the Jesus I know and love when we have to continually
focus on his trauma. I think we learn the value of long-suffering in our own traumas and few people I've met over my
life-time are "trauma-free". Mostly it seems a matter of degree on a continuum, some suffer less and in shorter time
frames, some suffer more over longer periods of time; some suffer suddenly and instantly without any fore-warning; some suffer
with plenty of warning knowing there is more suffering to come.
On the subject of suffering and trauma, comes
another path or direction -- that of healing, restoration, redemption, if you will. And I will tell you again candidly,
one does not do the healing journey by dwelling in the trauma and suffering. One does spend time with that part of the
journey where the focus is on the pain, the injustice, the cruelties, the anquish and the damage to the very precious self.
In fact, that is a critical part of the journey. And, the Good News, is somewhere along the way, one learns to heal,
one learns to find one's own strength in the broken places and one learns gradually over time how to renew one-self, body,
spirit, mind and soul.
Let Jesus teach us that as well for that can be most liberating and freeing and the verses
take on new meaning, a re-newed way of looking at life, at spirituality, at relationhip to a God of Love and Jesus of compassion
beyond our capacity to explain.
So in proceeding with the Epistle, Paul speaks of each of us as having one body
and many members and those members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we who are many form one body and each
member belongs to all the others. Then he speaks on the different gifts; prophesizing, serving, teaching, encouraging,
contributing to the need of others, leadership, showing mercy to others. He encourages those of us who have these variety
of gifts to give freely of them --- because (and these become my words) we are Many with Differences and yet One. I
do not have to be all these things to all people at all times. I am not an incomplete member of the Body of Christ if
I cannot do all these things. I offer my body as a living body, holy and pleasing to God as my spiritual act of worship.
And what my body is capable to do is my gift; what it is not capable to do is no less a gift, Rather if I demand of
my body to give what it cannot, then I do myself an injustice in failing to recognize that what I can do is gift enough, the
act of spiritual worship and that of itself is holy and pleasing to God.
I think, for us, at this time in our
church, we must appreciate our limitations, no so much as limitations but as gifts we offer in the sacrifice of our Living
bodies. We may be but fingertips in the whole body of the diocese, the worldwide church, the wider still Church of Humanity
that is the Church of Christ...but without us, the whole body is less than it was, less than it could be.
gotten this far, let me be bold enough to tackle the gospel reading today. Don't worry, I'm only going to address a
few elements, not give a whole second sermon here.
The verses preceding today's reading have Jesus saying to
Peter "Blessed are you, Simon, Son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you but by my Father in Heaven and I tell you that
you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church." Notice two things here; Son of Jonah and Peter = rock.
The verses preceding this have Jesus being tested by the Pharisees and Sadducees asking for a sign and Jesus says no sign
but the Sign of Jonah will be given.
What is the Sign of Jonah? Found in Matthew 12; 39-43 we read
of Jesus pointing out 3 days and 3 nights was Jonah in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be 3 days and 3 nights
in the heart of the earth. Jesus talks of a judgement of that generation as being condemned, that the Queen of the South
will rise at judgement of that generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's Wisdom.
Jesus points out that now one greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon is here.
In today's gospel Jesus is teaching
only the disciples, not the crowds. He discloses to the disciples what is to come and Peter cries out, it cannot be
so, it cannot be allowed to happen to Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter, saying, "Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling
block to me and don't have in mind the things of God but the things of men."
Hold that thought .... Jesus has
now twice spoken directly to Simon Peter using imagery of rock, stone, block. This will be the same Peter who will later
3 times deny knowing Jesus in the dark of the night before the light of the morning.
Back to the verse, Jesus
still speaking to the disciples says "if anyone come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me." I'm not going
to develop these verses as I believe many sermons have already developed these verses fully, they are not little known verses.
I'm going to take the last of the verse because I think this is another of those layers of the onion to be peeled back and
looked at in different ways. Jesus says "I tell you the truth, some standing here will not taste death before the see
the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
Let's go back to Jonah and the big fish. I know the
obvious thing is to correlate that to Jesus death and resurrection but I'd like to introduce another way to look at it.
Several ways actually. The fish is under water. Water has powerful symbolic and metaphorical meanings biblically
and otherwise. It is depth, what is hidden, what is beneath. It is Spirit, it is life, it is life-giving, life-generating.
The fish ate Jonah. There's reference in today's lesson from Jeremiah "when your words came, I ate them". Was
Jesus showing the disciples that the new belief system may swallow the old? Or perhaps how as a Sign and using Jonah
as that sign Jesus would eat the old Law of the Prophets?
In Native American spiritual belief systems, one form
of baptism in a vision quest or spiritual quest is a ritual of being buried in Mother Earth, the heart of the earth.
It's not a burial with being covered by earh but lying in a dug-out part of Mother Earth as a grave, giving up the old self
to be re-born or re-newed to the new self -- death and rebirth. I see Jonah's experience as not unlike that. I
see Jesus experience as teaching us that we each must do some act of shedding, death and re-birth, transformation and to be
meaningful it must usually be done at some deep level, under the surface, below the surface, deeper than superficial.
When Jesus says to that generation some standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom,
how literal do you think Jesus means this? For is not the Kingdom of Heaven within you? Lastly, I ask how
does one see the Kingdom of Heaven? Is it some distant event to yet happen? Is it an internal transformation that
gives eyes for those to see, ears for those to hear? Maybe in that generation when Jesus spoke those words, indeed,
some standing there did see the Son of Man coming his kingdom before they tasted literal death. If the Gifts of God
for the people of God are not received and valued as gifts, it is no less a gift and the recipients of these gifts are rewarded
in accordance to the value they place on the gifts. They are not rewarded less or more than another, the gift remains
the same for us all.
Thank you, Jesus, for the sacrifice of your living body tht we may scrifice our living
bodies in the life-giving pursuits as a spiritual worship.
Oh, and the rock as well as the stumbing stone, Jesus
speaking to Peter ..... well you will have to do your own research and speculation, I'm not brave enough to present
that sermon - yet.
One more by the way, did you notice mention of the Queen of the South and the Wisdom?
You know there's sure a lot of feminine references I've come across in just the 3 sermons I've presented - as my 28 year old
son would say "What's up with This?"
And one last thing; when we are thinking about death and re-birth, healing
from insufferable pain, going deep inside, beneath the surface of things, living for a time in the belly of the fish or the
heart of the earth, what will it look like when we emerge re-newed?
by Lietta Ruger
Sept 1, 2002