Paul writes “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1ff)
This sounds rather etherial and mystical, but that could not be further from what Paul is saying. Chapter 12 of Romans shifts from a theological discussion of what to believe to an ethical discussion of how to live.
Unlike Paul, we don’t sacrifice animals to pagan deities. In those days, you offered the very best animal out of your flock to be slaughtered and burnt (cooked). The idea is that the smell of roasting meat would be pleasing to God. But more than that, the offering was symbolic of your devotion to God. The farmer lost the best animal from his flock, his most prized possession, as a sign of devotion to God. This was no “toss a dollar in the collection plate.” It was a gift from the heart.
So, since we no longer sacrifice animals, what do we sacrifice? The Book of Common Prayer puts it: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee.”
Like Jesus, we are a sacrificial offering to God. Jesus and all of the Apostles (except for John) were actually sacrificed, martyred for their faith. Even today, Christians are martyred on a daily basis in other parts of the world.
Here and now, most of us are sacrificed in thousands of lesser ways that makes up our worship of God. For our “spiritual worship” does not consist only of an hour of prayer on Sunday morning. Our spiritual worship includes our daily devotions, random acts of kindness, little things we do for one another, labor pangs of childbirth, blisters on our hands and feet, nail driven into the Habitat House, food and clothes for the Cooperative Ministry, hours of tutoring in the public schools, polishing the tarnished brass at church, laundering the soiled clothes of our parents in the nursing home, hours of choir practice, cooking a meal for others, making sure that others have something in their cupboard to cook.
Our thousands of little sacrifices are ripples radiating out from the great sacrifice of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The measure of faith is Jesus and his sacrifice. Elizabeth Shively of the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland writes “[T]he measure of faith is not a portion but a norm. It is the measuring stick that God has given to every believer to ‘test and approve” God’s will and our lives.”
She continues: “For Paul, worship is full-bodied. It happens in community as we live out our faith by serving one another to build up the body of Christ.”