I appeal to you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present
yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual worship. –p. 376, Book of Common Prayer
If you’re Episcopalian, today’s Epistle might be one of those days where you go, “Ohhhhhh, it’s in the Bible, too–not just the prayer book!”
Indeed it is–and our reading in Romans today takes us one step further than the familiar line we hear in the offertory on Sunday, and tells us how. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” Paul continues, “so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
When one thinks about it, this is a radical departure from Hebrew tradition, courtesy of the New Covenant. Prior to Christ, it was the most perfect, least blemished animal, slaughtered and drained of blood, that was offered. Thanks to the cross, the tomb, and the Resurrection, our imperfect, un-redeemable selves are good enough–freckles, scars, scabs–physical or spiritual–with blood coursing through our veins and fully animate.
Yet we still erect barriers between our own two ears about God and that “good enough” thing. We point to all the “bad people” in the news and deep down, think (or even hope) they’re not good enough. Yet, at the same time, our own secrets, our own unnoticed sins, stand in defiant opposition to our own hopes of being good enough in the sight of God. Too often, it boils down to something Paul says later in Romans I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
The short version is this: No one is good enough. We’re all a tidbit of a broken humanity. Yet we are simultaneously good enough, thanks to Christ. Our bodies, our minds, our actions are our offerings, and the more we use these things toward bringing Christ an inch or two closer to this world and our lives in it, the more opportunities we have to offer to God as the animate sacrifices of our lives and work.
Conforming to the world’s expectations is anything but transformative. When we sign on to being part of of a Christian community, one of the biggest challenges is to see things differently than the world does, particularly as it relates to all those various sorts of folks we’ve been conditioned to believe are “the other.” It takes work, and practice, and at times, it hurts. Yet it’s also the way God’s regenerative power works through our own flawed humanity.
It’s probably pretty significant that the rite we embrace to seal our covenant with Christian community is called CONFIRMation, not CONFORMation. It’s probably equally significant that the particular bidding from our Epistle today was placed in a spot in our prayer book where it has the opportunity to be used multiple times a year rather than once a year, as opposed to the Collects of the Day. One of the marvelous devices about the structure of the Book of Common Prayer is that, generally speaking, the things we ought to be doing more often in life, we do more often in the liturgy. The stark reality is we probably don’t offer ourselves to God often enough for a variety of reasons that don’t hold much water, theologically speaking.
Yet each of us–open wounds, visible scars and all–has something unique to offer–and it’s truly good enough.
What is the unique feature of your seemingly defective spiritual anatomy (that might actually be your most beautiful gift to God), that you can place on the altar the next time you hear this bidding in the Offertory?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.