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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Romans Series #9 - - 12:1-2 Spiritual Worship - The Christian Challeng

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G.K. Chesterton did a great job expressing to our world the reality of so-called Christianized areas of Europe and the Americas when he said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”  And the fact of our culture is that many people leave it at that.  We often don’t try, since there’s more than enough interesting things out there to keep our attention and distract us from the fact that our lives are really not satisfying and fulfilling without God.  Most of our culture only knows that Christianity, especially Catholics, simply have some very firm stances on things like human life (abortion, euthanasia, etc), sexuality, marriage, and poor, and just about no one outside the Church agrees with these teachings as a whole.  But they are truly a part of who we are, and we can’t sidestep them.
In chapters 12-15 we have the final section of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and it is focused on moral exhortation.  This is not some last chance to squeeze things in and take care of business, but rather Paul is keeping things in proper order: the Gospel first, and the moral life second.  Relationship to Jesus always has a priority to Christian morality, even though the two can never be totally separated.  Thus Jesus tells us today: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. In other words, we cannot truly love God without trying to follow his commands and live as Christ lived (take up our cross), and as we learn to follow the moral demands of Christianity we grow in our love of God (and neighbor). 
All of Chapter 12 is worth reading and re-reading, but I would encourage you to begin memorizing today’s two verses, which are a short summary of vocation of the Christian life.  When Paul tells us to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.  Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind – he is contrasting Christian worship against not only the pagan sacrifices of the day, but also the Jewish rituals of the Old Covenant that have been fulfilled in the work of Christ Jesus.  Hebrews 10:5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for me.
Our entire Christian life is summarized here.  Worship is the center of religion, and thus is the sort of pinnacle of religious practice.  But you see here that Paul makes it impossible for us to compartmentalize our religious practice from the rest of our lives.  Because we cannot simply go buy a goat and roast it (which might take a few hours) and leave it at that, and move on with life.  No, Paul makes it clear that it is we ourselves that our being sacrificed. 
And he also makes it clear that it isn’t just external or physical requirements that God is looking for – that was already included in the Old Covenant of Judaism.  Rather, God wants spiritual worship, and a renewal of our minds.  This is the whole person: body and soul.  Our entire person is what we are to offer.  Wow, that’s not easy. 
You know, the real problem with a “living sacrifice” (thanks especially our fallen human nature) is that a living sacrifice is able to get up and walk off the altar.  If the goat had known ahead of time, I’m sure it would passionately object to the proposal of sacrifice, and this is why Christianity is so challenging!  We, like Saint Peter, would rather things be quite different: God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen! But that living sacrifice is exactly what makes us Christians. 

When we offer the bread and wine, as well as the collection basket and our gifts for the food pantry, we are offering symbolically our entire selves.  This is an outward sign of our spiritual worship.  Let us pray that every day we truly allow this Eucharist to transform and renew our minds, so we can carry our crosses behind the Lord.

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