This Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Traditionally, we know this day as a day of feasting and gathering our families, friends, and neighbors. It is a time of sharing with closeness. We know this year will be different. Our gatherings will be small, if at all. Very few will invite neighbors or folks they do not know to join them for dinner. We will not invite the relatives from out of state. Afterall they might have to stay with us for 14 days! Thanksgiving will feel different. Undoubtedly, we will feel some sadness over what or who is not present on Thursday. But on the other hand, perhaps, the changes in the day will give us space to consider more fully the essential elements of Thanksgiving.
In this country, we attribute Thanksgiving Day to the Pilgrims of Plimouth Plantation; that is what they called the original settlement in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims were a collection of men, women, and children. They were an odd bunch. They originated in England, lived a time in Holland, and then set sail for America in two small sailing ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. They did not get far before they had to stop. The Speedwell was sinking. The group reassembled with as many on the Mayflower as it could accommodate. Some families were divided. Some never to be reunited again. They ventured across the Atlantic Ocean. Battered by storms and blown off course the ship arrived far north of their intended destination of Virginia. They came ashore in Plymouth, supposedly on what is now, Plymouth Rock.
Why had they come? They came because they wanted something. The spiritual leader of the group, Elder Brewster, said they came because they believed in the new world they would be able to have “The right worship of God and discipline of Christ established in the church, according to the simplicity of the gospel, without the mixture of men’s inventions, and to have and to be ruled by the laws of God’s word, dispensed in those offices, and by those officers of Pastors, Teachers, and Elders, and to do according to the Scriptures.” The Pilgrims, from whom we get Thanksgiving, wanted only to worship God in everything they did, period. They desired that nothing be added to the Scriptures and nothing be taken away. And for that opportunity, they would be thankful.
Last week, we spoke about the topic of worship when we briefly spoke about Paul’s letter to the church at Rome and as we heard in our New Testament reading today. Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). What is it that Paul wanted his readers to do or not do because of these words and what should we do or not do, some 2,000 years later?
Paul’s message is a call for us to be transformed for and by worship of God. He is seeking a renewal of our minds so that everything we do, not just everything we do when we come together on Sunday mornings, but everything we do, will worship God. If we are honest with ourselves, what Paul is asking frightens us. If we take his message seriously, he is asking us to first to accept Jesus unreservedly and allow Him to make us into a new person, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. Then completely changed, Paul wants us to let the Spirit of God lead us into worship of God in everything we do. This is what the Pilgrims desired; that their lives would be seen as worship of God as the Scriptures made clear. The Pilgrims felt the restrictive government of England would not allow them to worship and live in this manner. So, the Pilgrims moved to Holland. There, in Holland, the Pilgrims learned that the permissive and promiscuous culture of Holland was corrupting their youth and leading them away from the faith. And so they boarded a small ship and sailed across the ocean to find a place where worship was possible. Nearly one-half of the Pilgrims died seeking a place to worship.
To risk one’s life to worship God frightens us almost as much as worshipping God without reservation frightens us. To risk our lives or worship without reservation would cause us to do things we cannot imagine doing. So, we tend to approach this Scripture and worship in the manner described by author Wilbur Rees. He wrote with satire, “I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant worker. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal, just put it in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please."
Rees’ satire points out that the idea of transformation really scares us. We realize that with transformation comes a major overhaul of our lives and priorities. Worship though, genuine worship of God, is uncomfortable to natural man but is to be the most natural thing to do with one who has Christ within. Because we still fight against our own nature, we tend to treat worship as an optional thing to do. Paul understands these emotions and fears but he has one fear greater than being anxious or uncomfortable in worshipping God. It is the fear of going astray and not worshipping God. Paul does not want to miss an occasion to worship because in worship we acknowledge and rejoice in God’s presence among his people. Paul is concerned that his readers will be paralyzed by fear and stay within the structure of the church itself and worship God only there. We must not let ourselves and our church become as though we were mummies in a museum. Paul calls us to be transformed by and for worship of God.
Let us take a look at Paul’s words from the book of Romans. Paul began his letter this way, “1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1-7). Do you get the sense of the difference in Paul’s introduction? Do you get the sense that Paul is going to use every opportunity to worship God? How does he do that? Right from the opening of his letter, Paul gives an account of the Gospel story and makes clear that his salvation is a gift from God. It also makes it clear that Paul has a purpose in life, namely, to shared gospel and he is seeking the same mission from those reading his letter. It may seem to us to be just a letter, but Paul makes it an occasion to worship God. Now Paul does not do that just because he is trying to prove some point. He is doing it as a response to the joy of the Gospel. He knows that in receiving Christ and his offer of salvation, he, Paul, is free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. We might find it difficult to match Paul and write a 135-word introduction to every letter, card, or email we send. However, the point is clear, make the most of every opportunity to worship God because doing so says we are in awe of God’s creative and redemptive power. When we give away that Gospel message and invest it into other people through worship, our life grows larger. When we live our lives only for ourselves hoping to conserve our strength, we grow weaker.
From our New Testament reading today, Chapter 12, verse 1, Paul wrote, “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.” In saying, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” Paul challenged his readers to see their lives rich with action, movement, and flow of daily activity was an integral extension of God’s creativity. Secondly, those holy and acceptable bodies are to be “living sacrifices.” Sacrifices of that time were animals killed for blood and burning. Paul saying, “Make your living the sacrifice,” meaning express your worship of God through daily and routine activities of the body. When we engage our bodies in worship outside the church, then we can bring healing to others, as Christ did, we can break injustices by our actions, as Christ did, and we promote and reinforce the dignity of life, as Christ did. Third, Paul says, that fully acceptable body, properly engaged in life’s activities with God at the center of them is spiritual worship. Meaning simply, you are glorifying God and showing His presence to all those around you. This is worship.
Paul continues along this line in verse 2. “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.” Paul is saying the way to get your body engaged in the right activities is to get your mind engaged on Christ. He argues against conformance to the world, meaning do not follow the patterns of behavior of the world because they are not Christ-like, but be transformed. The Greek word for transformed is the same Greek word that we get the English word, metamorphosis, which we use to describe the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly. You cannot miss significance of such change. Paul is saying that our mind must change similarly in order to know God’s will and empower our body into acts of worship. When we take on the mind of Christ, then we are asking God to change the deepest decisions that shape the way we live. We worship God and serve others; rather than essentially ignoring both God and those in need.
Paul provided some practical guidance over the next few verses. He said, through grace, God gave different gifts to each believer and fitted them together as if different parts in the same body. Every body part has a function and operates for a purpose. In verses 6 through 8, Paul lists some of those gifts given by God’s grace and he says use them in worship of God. If you have the gift of prophesy, then speak God’s word. If you have the gift of ministering to others through hospitality or compassion, then minister. Do so because that is the part of the body of Christ you represent. Extending hospitality and compassion then is your spiritual act of worship. If you can teach, then teach in ways that worship God. If you are gifted to encourage then do not wait for someone to collapse in despair; give them a call, a card, an email, or a visit and let them know you are encouraging them in their giftedness, in their purpose of sharing God. When you do so, you worship God. If you are a giver of funds, then give as an act of worship to God. If you are a leader, then lead. That does not mean enslave others. Leadership is about empowering others to accomplish great things for God. However, to be transformed, you have to do this all day, every day. This was how Christ lived, and Paul calls us to imitate Jesus.
Let me give you a couple of illustrations of transformed behavior that sets the stage to worship God in your everyday life. Some will eat in a restaurant at some point this month? That still happens. Most Americans will not say a prayer before eating a meal and most Christians who do pray before meals at home will not do so in a restaurant. When we do not say a blessing in public, we are missing an opportunity to worship God and we are conforming to the ways of the world. So you say, “OK, Pastor, I will say grace at the next time I dine out.” I would say wonderful, but if you want to be transformed and make it a memorable act of worship, then when your server comes and introduces themselves and says, “I’m John or Jane, I will be taking care of you today.” You say to them, “John or Jane, nice to meet you. We pray before we eat. Is there something we can pray to God for you?” That is transformational worship because you are revealing the presence of God among His people and you are inviting others to be part of that experience.
Perhaps you like to take photographs. Look through them all and see which ones speak to you about God’s presence. Find someone to show them to and tell them, these are some of my favorite photos because I see God in them. Ask God what he wants you to do. I felt Him pushing me some years ago to write something poetic. I wrote a poem adapted to a song for a Maundy Thursday service and asked my son to sing it. The poem and song title is Hallelujah, which translates to “Glory to the Lord.” It was an act of worship. Each of us is called to worship God, in and through our daily activities.
This week when we celebrate Thanksgiving and we have space now for new traditions, make Thanksgiving a worshipful event. Instead of making the turkey and the trimmings the star of the day, make God the center point of the day. Instead of simply saying, “What are you thankful for?” Ask each other, “How has God been present and made you thankful?” “What story in the Bible makes you most thankful to God?” “What will you do to worship God this year?” We can transform our dinner into worship. Through that celebration, we will remember with our minds the outpouring of His grace through Jesus. We will worship through our bodies and taste, see, touch, smell, and feel the experience of Thanksgiving to God and in doing so we worship. Let the moments at the Thanksgiving Table be a moment at the Lord’s Table and let it be a defining point in your life to transform your mind into that of Christ and worship God like never before. Amen and Amen.