Offering Yourself Up To God
September 5, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Faith Life: A Life Of Dedication
1. The sermon title for today is "Offering Yourself Up To God." It is about "committing oneself or dedicating oneself unto God." [In Japan] the word "commitment or dedication" is used often times in the church with a meaning that comes out as "to become a gospel worker." When somebody goes to seminary [in Japan] to become a pastor, we [Japanese] say, "He has dedicated himself [unto God]." But, as one might expect, not every meaning it has is "commitment." "Commitment" is a common theme for all of us here in this place. Paul says, "For that reason then, o brothers, by the mercy of God I exhort you. Offer up your own bodies as a holy and living sacrifice that is pleasing to God! This very thing is the worship you ought to give," (Romans 12:1). The faith life could be defined as the life one lives by offering oneself up to God. "The monetary offering" on the Lord's Day expresses it best. As the minister at the offering prays, "We offer you this as a sign of our presenting ourselves to you," the offering is a symbolic act in which we offer ourselves up [to God]. On Sundays we don't go to "a lecture that has hymns with it." We get together in order to offer ourselves up.
2. The gateway into the faith may often be that one "seeks God for personal reasons." That's fine. But, when decades of one's faith life have gone by, and you still only have the mindset of [seeking and asking] "God for [just] my stuff," something is a bit off. Somewhere you have to switch it around. That is, you will eventually start living with the mindset of "My stuff [is all] for God." That's important to do.
3. Once ago St Francis of Assisi made this prayer, "Dear Lord, please make me an instrument of your peace!" In saying, "Make me an instrument," he meant, "Please use me as your very own!" You probably know what comes next.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
5. This prayer, too, is one form of "commitment." Any way, it is important that the following petition has a firm footing within our faith lives, [the prayer] that "I offer myself up to you, [God]. My body, my life I offer to you. Please use me for your glory within your plan."
Beware Of The Scribes Of The Law
6. As you think about what this "dedication" is and you listen close to the words of today's gospel, the statement "Beware of the scribes of the law!" can be heard. What comes next is this acrimonious statement from Jesus. "Beware of the scribes of the law! They desire to walk around wearing long robes, be greeted in the town square, sit in the seats of honor in the synagogue, and prey upon widow's homes, and make long prayers for show. Persons such as these will receive a more severe judgment than others," (verses thirty-eight through forty).
7. That's pretty easy to see, isn't it? -- This important-looking figure [of theirs] in which their outward appearance pretends modesty, but all the while kicking at the weak, throwing around their authority, enjoying the respect they receive from others. No doubt, I suppose this is somewhat of an exaggeration. But factually speaking, there were such elements among the scribes of the law at that time.
8. But yet, what about them? Were they that way from the start? Going backward [in time], what were they like at the time they used to study the law under a rabbi with all their might in order to be a scribe of the law? Going back even further, what were they like when they were seeking a teacher whom they should follow and attach themselves? Even more back, what were they like during childhood as they said, "Oh when I get big I want to work serving God like that teacher!" as they were attracted by the work in which one works for the law.
9. Perhaps every single one of them made their start by offering themselves unto the work working for God, wanting to live as servants to God's word, happy to be obedient to God's word as they were attracted by the world of the eternal God. Paul had once studied under the renown rabbi named Gamaliel and he made this statement, "I am a Jew born in Tarsus in the province of Cilicia. And raised in this hometown of mine, I received a strict education on the law of [our] ancestors under Gamaliel, and like all of you today, I have served God with zeal," (Acts 22:3). Yes, indeed, [this statement shows] an awareness that he was already serving God after having offered himself up to him when he was [still] receiving [his] education. Was Paul an isolated case? No, he wasn't. Every youth with his sights on becoming a scribe of the law must have been that way.
10. But yet without even knowing it they ended up as Jesus described them. They had begun their walks with pure intentions, but after becoming scribes they started to be respected and honored by the people, and in no time at all, they came to the point of preferring to walk around wearing long robes. Long robes are a symbol of authority. At first their primary matter of concern and interest was to protect the authority of the law. However, gradually, the acknowledgement of their own authority by others took on importance, didn't it? Therefore, not only did they prefer to walk around wearing long robes, but they also got to the point they sought to be greeted in the town squares. Being respected became their primary matter of interest. They got to the point they desired to sit in the chief seats in the synagogues and in the seats of honor in the banquets. Being placed higher up than others became important [to them]. Before too long, they got to the point of using people in weaker positions than theirs for their own benefit. But meanwhile, they did not lose their pious demeanor. They made long prayers not to speak to God but to have them seen by men and women; because as scribes of the law it was essential that they be considered pious by the people.
11. What in the world is going on inside these guys? The problem is clear. It is that they had shifted their focus of interest from God to human. It is not evil in and of itself to be respected, honored, appreciated, or admired by others. Moreover, we should be respected and honored. However, worldly honor will constantly be accompanied by the potential danger of pulling our interests away from God. That is pretty much fact. We often call failures and frustrations a test. But the really severest test in the sense of our being tested or tempted is more so at the times we are appreciated, honored, respected, and admired by men and women. Even though we start out with pure thoughts for the sake of God as we offer ourselves up to God with full intentions to work for God, in no time at all our interests turn towards human beings alone. They have at heart only the eyes of humankind and their treatment by others. [He is talking] about how this kind of thing does really happen. Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes of the law!" It's not because the scribes are dangerous characters. It's because there is a danger in becoming like the scribes. Yes, it's because there is the danger to become that way even for the disciples, as well as the future disciples, and even for us here in this place.
The Offering Of The Poor Widow
12. Yet as we consider the theme of "dedication and commitment unto God," whether we are turned towards God or to only humans becomes an issue in different [time] settings. What kind of times would that be? It is the moments we think of what [kind of person] "I" [am]. "I'm good for nothing." "Even if I did offer myself up, I can't do anything for God." We end up thinking that way. "Because I have no ability." "Because I'm no longer young." "Because I'm not healthy." "Because I have no experience." "Because I'm not wealthy." Therefore, we end up thinking that even if we did offer ourselves up, it would have no meaning. However, when we say things like that, are we really turning towards God. Are we factoring God in?
13. After the story of "Beware of the scribes!" comes the story of the offering of the widow. "Jesus was sitting across from where the treasury box was, he was looking at the situations in which the crowd was placing their money in [the box]. Many of the rich put a lot in it. However, as one poor widow came, she put in two copper lepton coins (lepta), that is, one kodrantes (kodranthV)," (verses forty-one and forty-two). That's the story. If we wonder about the two copper coins in today's sense of using money, it would be about ten yen. Actually, according to Jesus' statement, that ten yen sounds like all her money for living expenses. Since she had two coins, even though one would have been good, she put in two. When you hear Jesus' explanation, you may think, "Oh, this person put it all in, not half. That's awesome!"
14. But, according to how you look at it, one could still ask, "So, what does it really mean?" What good was it? Whom will be helped by it? What meaning is there in doing something so illogical? His saying that she had given all her living expenses up to God may make for a moving tale; however, is there really any substantial significance to it? I don't think it is odd if anyone should make such a statement like that.
15. Really. When we think "Is there any significance in this offering that she herself had made?" or "What good is there in it?," nobody would expect her to have been able to make the offering. When considering how it looked in the eyes of humans, including not just how it looked in the eyes of others, but how it looked even in her own eyes, nobody would expect her to make that gift of an offering. They would have thought it best for her to keep it for the next day's living expense. But, she gave it up as an offering. She offered it to God. She offered it simply thinking of God. I want to offer it unto God, I want to, I do. Just trusting in God, turning herself over to God, turning her poor and destitute self over, she offered unto God her poor self, as is.
16. And, that someone was there looking on is important. It was Jesus. Jesus was watching. Is [the offering] useful? Does it have meaning? Such matters don't matter to Jesus. [Someone] made an offering unto God. He was looking at the dedicating of the self, the commitment.
17. Why did the person's commitment catch Jesus' attention? It is because Jesus himself was about to offer himself up to God. In what form [was he about to do] that? In the manner of dying upon a cross. As seen from the eyes of the world, it would wonder "What will that come to?" "His death is for nothing, isn't it?" But, Jesus turned his life over to God. And God gave meaning to his death. According to his will, God used the commitment of Jesus, the obedience of Jesus, for the salvation of this world.
18. Dedication. Commitment. We offer it thinking of God. We offer it to God because God has accepted us. And our commitment lies in God's hands and we have meaning. Therefore, during worship, we offer ourselves to God. God will accept and receive us.