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You Are As You Worship 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
08/21/11

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
AUGUST 21, 2011

You Are As You Worship
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8


One of the many good things about being a part of the First Presbyterian Church family is that we are a people engaged in mission. Almost every week of the year we have some group or mission team heading to serve somewhere in this community, or someplace in this country, or somewhere around the world. This summer, one hundred twenty of our high school students and their advisors spent a week in New Orleans. As a part of Vacation Bible School, sixty older elementary school students went to Preston Taylor Ministries, to the Martha O'Bryan Center and the Cumberland to engage in ministry and service, and a team of over twenty returned from finishing and dedicating a large, brand new, Presbyterian church in Rwanda built with First Presbyterian Church dollars. Last spring, we sent another team to Cuba, and I heard that one of the things one of our members taught the women of Dora Valentin Presbyterian Church of Varadero Beach was "the Hokey-Pokey." This is not anything I have ever read about in any book on missional theology, but I learned that it was a huge hit! You know how the Hokey-Pokey goes, don't you? "You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out, you put your right hand in, and you shake it all about. You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all about!" (The hokey-pokey can last a really long time, if you ever have a group of people and you need to kill some time.) But it starts small, and pretty soon you find yourself singing, "You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in, and you shake it all about. You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all about!"

You are probably wondering by now, "Where's he going with this?" Well, I will tell you. Paul starts Romans 12, one of the greatest chapters in the whole Bible, with these words, "I appeal to you, therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." And what Paul is asking us to do is the same thing the hokey-pokey asks! Paul is pleading with us to worship God rightly, honorably, life-givingly. And you cannot do that by only putting part of yourself into it. You cannot just put your toe in to test the waters and know what it is to worship and serve God. You cannot just sit back and play the critic, or wait to be stimulated or entertained and know a thing about true worship. No, Paul believed that truly to worship the Lord, you have to put your whole self in!

Thomas Cranmer believed this as well. Cranmer lived from 1489 to 1556 in England, and as the Archbishop of Canterbury, he wrote much of what we know today as the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer. It includes the great Eucharistic Prayer of Cranmer, inspired by Paul's words in Romans 12: "Here we offer and present unto Thee our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto Thee…." Cranmer put his "whole self" in as he was burned at the stake by Mary Tudor as she tried to make England Roman Catholic once again. Cranmer understood that there is no worship and service of God that does not include putting "your whole self" into it.

Then Paul says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." In his paraphrase of the New Testament, J.B. Phillips says, "Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold." The world is always seeking to make you conform, and it is hard not to be overly influenced by it in all the wrong ways. Yesterday Connie and I took a walk in the park. As we walked in, I noted two people sitting in their cars, attending to their IPhones (or maybe they were Droids!). A moment later, as we started up the steps, a young woman was walking down, talking nonstop on her cell phone. I thought you went to the park to be renewed and blessed by the beauty of creation, to be transformed by the singing of the birds and the majesty of tree branches blowing slowly in the wind. I thought you went to the park to get away from cell phones and email. Not anymore! I wonder about the impact of always being plugged in, always being online, always being "on the phone." Everybody is on the phone! How renewing can this be of your mind? And what else is happening to us when we are fed a steady, constant stream of information, of data, of sound bites, of endless chatter? I cannot help but to think that the net effect of it all is that we are being "conformed to this world," what Paul said would happen and from which only the "renewal of our minds" can save us.

Note, the two are not disconnected. "Presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice," or "putting your whole self in," is not unrelated to "the renewal of your mind." It is the work of God, the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that "renews our minds." But we have to do our part. We have to put ourselves in position and in the places where God's Word can renew and refresh us.

I went many years ago to a seminar on "Clergy Stress and Burnout" led by Speed Leas of the Alban Institute, a man some of you know from his work with this congregation many years ago. I still remember Speed asking us, "What gives you life? What brings you joy? What makes you enthusiastic?" He then said something that literally changed my life. He said, "The single greatest gift you have to give to the world, to your congregation, to your family, to your friends, is your enthusiasm, your joy." "Lose that and you lose the greatest gift God has given you to share with this world."

Then he asked us again, "What gives you joy? What makes you feel alive?" "For the sake of God, you need to invest in those things." It has kept me alive in the ministry for over thirty years now, and it keeps me enthusiastic and full of hope for tomorrow. What Speed Leas was saying in different words was what Paul is saying here in Romans: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Let me tell you what is always "good and acceptable" to God: Worship is always "the will of God" for you. Especially when "you put your whole self in!" Prayer is always renewing and pleasing to God. Meditating upon God's Word is always life-giving. Filling your mind with God's Word by reading the Psalms or focusing on one of the Gospels or rereading the great Biblical narratives of Genesis or Exodus can refire your imagination and refresh your spirit. In this four hundredth year birthday of the King James Version of the Bible, I am reading and memorizing Psalms from this seminal Book. They are so beautiful they can make you weep. When I recite Psalm 121, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills…," sometimes these words can lift my whole being. And they lift me up out of the grind of this life into the realm of the Spirit.

It is always the work of the Holy Spirit that renews, but we have to do our part. We have to notice the majesty and sheer beauty of God's world; we have to listen to great music and view great art and architecture if ever the Spirit is to move in our lives. We have to read good stories if the Spirit is to move and help us find better stories for our own lives.

Finally, Paul says, "For by the grace given to me, I bid everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment." Paul is calling us to know ourselves. And you never come to know yourself apart from knowing God. Calvin said this in the opening lines of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. True and saving wisdom consists of two things: the knowledge of ourselves and the knowledge of God. Calvin said that you can never separate these two. Apart from coming to know God, you can never hope to know yourself. It is why so many people in this "age of anxiety" are so totally clueless about themselves. If all you ever think about and worry about is yourself all day long, you will never come to know yourself, and you will remain clueless.

To have what Paul calls "sober judgment" about yourself is a precious and life-giving gift. And I might add that it is rare. Remember the poem by Robert Burns? I cannot match Burns' broad Scots tongue. But hear his words in prosaic English: "O would some Power the gift to give us, To see ourselves as other see us!" Burns then adds, "It would from many a blunder free us…."

Note as well that Paul follows his call to think on ourselves with "sober judgment" with a call to community. When we commit ourselves to the Body, to the Church, we assess ourselves in the light of God and others. And we see our gifts for what they are: Blessings from God to be used for "the common good." Then we look at ourselves and our gifts, and we ask, "How can I use my gifts, my life, to serve others and to contribute to this world?"

Churchill was right. "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." And the people who really make a difference in this world are those who discover who they are. It is devastating to think of yourself more highly than you ought, or more lowly, for that matter.

I am told that during the last years of his Presidency, after the Monica Lewinsky affair and the impeachment proceedings, whenever anyone would ask Bill Clinton how he was doing, he would invariably respond, "Better than I deserve, thank you." Now maybe this was a carefully crafted political statement by Clinton; maybe it was heartfelt. That is not for any of us to decide. What is surely was, was true. We are all "doing better than we deserve, thank you!"

So by the mercies of God, I beg you, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Put your whole self in! The offering of God's Son for us meets with our corresponding offering of ourselves to Him in worship and service to one another. Put your whole self in! "That's what it's all about!"

AMEN.
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