Bolton United Methodist Church
1041 Boston Turnpike, Bolton, CT 06043  (860) 643-5287
Morning Message, by David Martin
August 27 2017

I remember reading O Henry short stories in Middle school. My favorite story was the Gift of the Magi. Mr. James Dillingham Young ("Jim") and his wife, Della, are a couple living in a modest apartment. They have only two  possessions between them in which they take pride: Della's beautiful long, flowing hair, almost touching to her knees, and Jim's shiny gold watch, which had  belonged to his father and grandfather.

On Christmas Eve, and desperate to find a gift for Jim, Della sells her hair for $20 to a nearby hairdresser, and eventually finds a platinum pocket watch fob  chain for Jim's watch. Satisfied with the perfect gift for Jim, Della runs home  and begins to prepare dinner.

Later, Della sits at a table near the door, waiting for Jim to come home. Unusually late, Jim walks in and immediately stops short at the sight of Della, who had previously prayed that she was still pretty to Jim. Della then admits to Jim that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present Ė
an assortment of combs, useless now that her hair is short. Della then shows Jim the  chain she bought for him, to which Jim says he sold his watch to get the money to buy  her combs.

What Jim and Della thought was their most valuable possessions were not. Their most valuable possession was their love for each other. The gift they gave one another wasnít combs or fobs, it was love.

Sometimes when we give a gift the receiver doesnít see the gift the same way that we the givers intended. Sometimes whatís really valuable isnít the gift we expect or see, but some other outcome.

Our text from Romans 12 talks about spiritual gifts. We read verses 1-8, but this is
just a continuation of the argument Paul is making in chapter 11. Paul says that God  is inscrutable in all his ways. Godís wisdom, knowledge and love are richer than we  can ever truly understand. So, Paul appeals to the reader to present themselves as  a sacrifice which is our spiritual worship. The word here for spiritual worship is leitourgia in Greek. Which is of course the word from which we get liturgy. As Paul  argues it is through this liturgical worship that we eschew and reject the conforming  of our minds to worldly understanding. Through worship we are renewed and transformed.

As this passage is a continuation of the discussion of spiritual gifts, Paul lists what those gifts are, and how each are given gifts according to Godís grace: generous spirits, prophecy, the ability to teach, to encourage. These are ways in which the body of Christ are built up, and ways that we support one another. Everyone  lifts up and admires those very public gifts like prophecy, but we rarely recognize  the importance of someone who is good at encouraging others. God gives us gifts,  but we donít always recognize what the real gift is.

Romans 12:1 says that we are to offer ourselves as a holy sacrifice, and that this is our spiritual worship. Unlike other religions of that time, they did not offer an animal to be slaughtered upon an altar, but rather they presented ourselves, their  full selves to the proposition of worship. Worship is conducted in an embodied way offering all of oneself before God. In the temple practices of Judaism and Greek  and Roman pan theologies priests mediated and offered our sacrifices for us, we need  not be present.

In the second verse Paul ties the body to the mind. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophies were predicated on the idea that human beings were composed of body, mind, and spirit. We do not worship with just our spirits, but our bodies and our  minds. In the process of presenting ourselves fully and completely before God, our  minds are renewed, our spirits are renewed, and we become transformed to the Spirit  and not to the world. This the work that God does in us. We present ourselves as a  holy and living sacrifice, and God gives to us the gift of transformation and renewal.
This is our leitourgia, our liturgy, our worship. Sometimes the gifts that we give and receive are not the real gifts. Our very  beings, our bodies, our minds and our spirits are gifts from God.

We receive Spiritual gifts from God, we are given this gift of renewal. I think the real gift, the one we donít always think about is the leitourgia, the liturgy, the worship. True worship so satisfies our most complete selves that we don't have a need  for man-made substitutes. William Temple made this clear in his definition of worship,  where he says: For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the  quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth;  the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love;  the surrender of will to His purpose -- and all of this gathered up in adoration, the  most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy  for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

God gives us many gifts, but the greatest gift is found where we give ourselves wholly and fully, in body mind and spirit to God, and in worship God nourishes us, blesses us, fills us, loves us, and transforms us. Like the gift of the magi, we sacrifice in the giving of ourselves, but the real gift is founded upon love and
the loving relationship between God and his children, expressed through worship.  Thanks be to God for the gift of worship.