Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have bought and paid for our lives and our souls with Your precious blood. You have called us to a higher plane of human existence and equipped us to live not just for the here and now, but for eternity. Yes, you have lifted us up on eagle’s wings, angel’s wings above the garbage dump of this earth. Thank You for so great a gift and compel us by Your grace to carry our cross, Your cross, in hope, confidence and undying faith. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE MIRACLE WORKER!
TEXT: Romans 12: 1-8
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
The year was 354 AD. The place was North Africa, modern day Libya. A wonderful, patient Christian woman named Monica who had a worthless husband who slept around a lot gave birth to a son. She tried to raise him to be a Christian. She prayed for him daily and took him to church as a little boy. But, as he grew up it was obvious that he took after his father. At age 12 he was sent away to school. His mother told him not to get caught up with the sexual promiscuity that was so rampant at that time. To not try to seduce and sleep with another man’s wife. But, as he later wrote: “These seemed to me no better than women’s counsels, which it would be a shame for me to follow.” So, her son was active sexually very early in life.
While at school he proved adept in Latin, music, mathematics and philosophy. Upon graduation he taught grammar and rhetoric—the art of public speaking. All this at age 16! At that time he also took a sex slave, known as a concubine. He was fairly faithful to her for the next 12 years. During that time he also became a father to a boy he was devoted to. He called him “the son of my sin,” but more often Adeodatus—a gift from God. That shows that this man still had a fond place in his heart for his mother and her faith.
At age 29 he left North Africa for Rome. He was supposed to take his mother along, but ditched her at the last minute and boarded ship. Like all loving mothers, she followed him on her own. Then he took a teaching job in Milan and also arranged a marriage to a rich young lady—age 10! He had to wait 2 years for her to reach marriageable age, but his sex drive got the better of him and he left his mistress for various prostitutes. His famous prayer at this time was: “God, give me chastity—but not yet!”
While at Milan he also came in contact with a very famous Christian preacher named: Ambrose. St. Ambrose worked on this young man. He didn’t write him off. Meanwhile, Monica prayed even harder for her son. For 9 long years this fellow followed the ancient heresy of Manichean dualism. That is, there are 2 equally powerful forces in the universe, good and evil, and we humans are trapped between them.—What a hopeless and helpless view of life! But Ambrose kept preaching and Monica kept praying. Then, one day, he was reading Paul’s letter to the Romans about how immoral and sexually promiscuous people will not inherit the kingdom of God. It made an impact on him and the Spirit worked through that Word to change his heart. He repented of his sins and gave himself over to Christ. On Easter Sunday, year 387 he was baptized by St. Ambrose with Monica standing happily by. And it was then that the life of St. Augustine, perhaps the greatest theologian of the early church began. And for the next 43 years he made such an impact on the world that we still are influenced by him today.
There’s another story about Augustine I want to share with you, too. It seems that one day he was walking down the street shortly after his conversion and a former mistress accosted him. He turned and walked in the opposite direction. Surprised, the woman called out: “Augustine, it is I.” To which he turned and replied: “Yes, but it is not I.” Having Christ in your heart is a life-changing event. As our lesson says: it “transforms” you into a different human being. And because of that fact, I want to remind you that:
GOD’S PLANS ARE BIGGER AND BETTER THAN YOUR OWN
Listen to these amazing words: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Yes, Christianity is not just learning some confirmation verses and talking in religious code. It is walking the walk of faith. It is willingly carrying the cross of your sins through humble repentance and faith in Christ—Who died for those sins to save your soul eternally.
We see true Christian humbleness addressed and defined in the next section of Paul’s epistle: “For by the grace given me (God’s love alone saves and transforms us!) I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Recently I heard about a lady I know, in another church, which has a little school. She volunteers at that school. But she has grown disenchanted with the school’s director and is bad-mouthing him so that she can take over his job. Obviously she has forgotten the 10th commandment about coveting another’s job. And she has also forgotten about this little section of the Bible where Paul basically says: Let God be God and don’t think so highly of yourself but be humble and let the job seek you instead of vice-versa.
Since you and I have been given His grace in Christ, we are to use our blessings to be a blessing to Him and to all whom we meet.—Just like Augustine was after his conversion. Now Paul lays out specifics of exactly how to do that. “Just as each of us has one body with many members—(eyes, hands, arms, legs, etc.)—and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying (proclaiming God’s truth), let him use in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, (assisting others in love because God has made them an extrovert) let him serve; if it is teaching (applying Godly wisdom to those in their sphere of influence) let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others (being actively involved in hands on help) let him give generously; if it is leadership (the vision thing is needed in God’s Church, too) let him govern diligently, if it is showing mercy (being kind and compassionate), let him do it cheerfully.”
Well, there you have it. Those are God’s plans for you. Do they match your own plans for your own life? If we’re honest we have to admit: not totally. That’s because God’s Plans are bigger and better than your own. But when you embrace that fact, then like Augustine, good and blessing will flow from even the most stained of lives. Why? “Because the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins” and in the process transforms us from sinners into saints! Amen