Belonging Begins with…Offering Our Whole Selves to God

Sunday, October 1, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Romans 12:1-13

Let’s pray together…

God, help us trust in your transforming power. Guide our lives so that we seek your good will above all else. Unite us and our gifts for the sake of the gospel, and lead us to offer our whole selves to you. Amen.

Who in your life has taught you what it means to give your all for others?

My grandfather was that for me. At 14, as the oldest of 8 kids during the depression, he left his family farm to work for his uncle so his parents could better support his younger siblings. At 22, he enlisted in the army to fight in World War II. He narrowly survived after being shot through the mid-section. He spent months in the hospital enduring surgeries and recovery. These early life experiences transformed how he lived the rest of his life. In spite of the hardships he faced, he always focused on giving himself to others, and talked about the generosity of people who helped him along the way. He and my grandma were never wealthy. He never went to college. They lived on his military disability benefit and his salary as an auto parts store employee. But his early life experiences and his faith in God taught him that he was always part of something bigger than himself, and that to offer yourself to others and to God is a life worth living.

We are kicking off four weeks of stewardship emphasis today. Some of you might think of stewardship as a churchy way of saying fundraising. But, stewardship goes far beyond making sure we meet a ministry budget for the next year or setting goals for what we can accomplish together through our shared financial gifts – though this is part of what we ask you to plan for in your stewarding of resources. At the core of it, stewardship is a practice of faith. Focusing on stewardship gives us a chance to do an intentional spiritual check in with ourselves and with God about how we use what God has given us. It allows us to examine our relationship with our stuff and others; and consider all the gifts God has given us to live a worthwhile life.

The dominant message of this world tells us to ask, “what’s in it for me.” We’re encouraged to climb social and economic ladders, taking as much advantage and power we can in the process. In a lot of places, life is not much more than an adult version of “king of the hill”. The messages we hear and see every day encourage us to, “Make as much as we can for yourselves. Spend all that we have on whatever we want. Make sure we get the best deal and don’t let anyone tell you ‘no’!” We are bombarded by messages that we are only as good as the things we have. That’s a lie.

When we’re honest, this only works for the luckiest and most advantaged among us. That way of living turns out to be a zero-sum game. We’re left competing and comparing what we have or don’t have with others, never really feeling totally satisfied. In this kind of world, we can’t help but focus on our deficits and have a hard time seeing the variety and abundance of gifts God has given to each person. When we let go of that lie, and cling to the new life God has given us in Christ, we see the abundance of God’s gifts all around us.

Stewarding all that we have is one way Christians present our whole selves to God. We are NOT conformed to this world but are transformed by the renewing of our minds through faith. In the letter to the Romans, we hear that what God has done in Jesus’ death and resurrection changes everything. No longer are we captive to zero-sum games and endless self-promotion, rather we become alive as the body of Christ, where there is room enough for all. As Christians, we are always part of something bigger than ourselves. We don’t make it in the world alone. We belong to each other and to God. All that we have is not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of the world God loves. Paul writes that faith in Christ renews our minds and transforms our lives. We let go of old ways that pit us against each other. Faith meets life when we see it through this lens and give our whole lives to this new way of being. It takes shape in our bodies and our actions. God gives us each gifts. Not all the same ones, thank God, but a diversity of gifts that are meant to work together through all of us to create good in this world.

I was talking to someone last week after worship who was telling me how much he loved to sing. He said almost under his breath, “I think it’s okay for me to say this, but I think I have a gift for it.” Then he looked at me very seriously and said, “It’s okay to say that, right?’” I told him, “Of course, it’s alright! It’s even faithful to want to use your gifts for the glory of God!”

It’s funny, but I’m sure he’s not alone. Midwesterners are known for being shy about naming our gifts. And if someone else says we’re good at something, the natural thing to do is downplay it. Right?

I’m not sure where any of us got the idea that naming our gifts and the things that bring us and others joy and meaning is somehow contrary to being a Christian. When we read a passage of Scripture like today’s it’s clear that naming and claiming our gifts is an act of faith. What’s equally faithful is naming for others the gifts we see in them. Paul writes that our gifts come from God. Naming our gifts and the gifts of others is the first way we know God is at work in our lives, building us into the body of Christ. Offering our gifts and inviting others to offer theirs for the sake of the gospel, is the way God transforms the world, and the way we discover a life worth living.

I’m grateful for the all the ways God has already called us into this kind of community; for the ways you offer yourselves to God in service to our neighbors. When we work together to honor the diversity of gifts we bring into this body, to share in mutual love, to rejoice in hope, to persevere in prayer, and extend hospitality to strangers, lives are changed, we are changed, and the world bends a little more toward the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

We celebrate the ways we are God’s new creation when we bring Christ’s light and hope to others. But I also know there are untapped gifts among us. There are ministries God is calling us to do that need you in order to thrive. Some of those ministries may not yet exist because God is still at work transforming us.  There are people in your daily lives that need grace and hope that come from God. You may hold the gift they need to receive that grace, but you may need to dig deep and offer your whole self to God in order for them to receive it. Let me assure you, it will be worth it. God will bless it, as God continues to bless the body of Christ with his love. As we seek to ensure that everyone feels they are right where they belong in Christ’s body and here at Augustana, I invite you this month to name your gifts, and find one way to offer that to God. When we offer our whole selves to God, we find that we have all that need for a life so worth living. Amen.

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