The BEMA (βῆμα, בּימה ): The Trouble With a living Sacrifice
I have been teaching my way through Acts this last month, as part of our PACE program. As a congregation, we can be very proud of our students, who have been doing very well and are known for doing good quality work at Alberta Bible College. There is great joy for me in teaching such keen minds and open hearts.
Last night we focused on the last ten chapters, where Paul is being dragged relentlessly towards Rome, in spite of dungeon, murderous plots and shipwrecks. Of course he was not going through all this alone, as at least three other companions, one being Luke, went along, perhaps wondering at times what they had got themselves into. Did Luke, sizing up the waves and looking for a piece of ship to cling onto as he drifted towards shore, ask himself if this was what happened when one became a living sacrifice?
If he did, he was remembering what Paul, spending a wet and cold winter in Corinth, had written in his letter to the Romans. Turning to that church, after explaining how richly God had blessed both Jew and Gentile whose hearts had been transformed by faith, he called them to address their lives to being dedicated living sacrifices to God, as was only reasonable service after receiving so great a salvation. Paul urged them to no longer follow the pattern of the world’s thinking, but have their minds renewed, to test and know God’s will, good, pleasing and perfect, for them. He goes on to remind them to think like adults, to measure their gifts and faith and offer service with energy, and cheerfully, wherever they fit in.
The whole chapter rings with the voice of a tremendous coach and mentor as well as Apostle. I remember the shiver of realization I felt the first time I read it for myself so many years ago. I was thrilled to know that I had a place, a unique and special role to fill, and that my work in any capacity was exactly how I could offer love back to God: in my case, taking up offering, ringing the church bell at 11 am, going to Young People’s and taking a share in leading our own group. When the young people’s group sent off a few people (including my future wife) to a conference in Windsor, they came back with a picture of graffiti taken from what was scribbled on posters by the attendees. The one I remember best went something like this…
“The trouble with a living sacrifice is that it is always crawling off the altar”.
Clever, that. And it comes back to haunt me from time to time. Am I a good steward of my time serving Jesus? Am I a good steward with my money? When I have little money, do I compensate by donating more time? When I have little time, do I give more money to support others who can do the work I can’t? When I give money, do I think about supporting in a balanced way both the home expenses of our congregation and the needs of our workers overseas? Should I check whether I have balanced my giving between Christian causes and other community needs (because, after all, both giving and volunteering in community causes is part of our witness to the world)?
In short, have I had an adult conversation with myself, or Carol, or my brothers and sisters in the church, about being a living sacrifice? More importantly, have I had an adult conversation about all this with Jesus?
I have seen over the years some tremendous giving in service of Christ. I have seen military chaplains give up their lives, not because they love war, but because, for Jesus, they love soldiers. I have watched ministers and pastors and priests work for peanuts (well, small wages, actually!), and serve in churches with congregations of twenty or thirty people ranging from sixty to eighty years’ old, sometimes driving to three of these congregations a Sunday. I have seen men and women give hours and days and weeks to others in youth work, visiting, and a dozen other ways to serve Christ for free. I have seen youth pastors run themselves into the ground. I have seen music leaders put up with some of the crankiest people I have ever known.
But I have also seen, and wondered at, some strange phenomenon in churches. Avoidance? Depression? Misplaced priorities? Promises made without planning? Cheaping out on Jesus because of some discontentedness with the church? Distractedness? Indifference?
Or Disappointment? If there is one way that I can be motivated to slink off the altar, it is experiencing disappointment. With church? With Christians? With God? Sometimes I do not realize that is what’s happening until it is — almost — too late. I always have my reasons, and they are always good, in my own mind. And then, God help me, I see Jesus heading down the road. Like Peter.
You see, there is an old story, not in the New Testament, that when Peter was in Rome and Nero was killing the Christians, he ran. He was heading out of Rome on one of those good Roman roads when he ran into Jesus, going the other way. “Where are you going, Lord?” “Into Rome, since somebody has to look after the flock”. Quo vadis? is the name of the story, for the Latin version of Peter’s question.
Can you guess what Peter did after that?
Can you see what I am getting at?
Is it time, as we get back into our schedule for the fall to have an adult conversation with Jesus, and maybe with some other folk in the church about whatever is hindering our enthusiasm and service?