When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What kind of life did you want to lead? Maybe you knew from a very young age what you were going to do when you grew up, but I tried on several possibilities in my mind. At one point I thought about being an oceanographer and then a photographer. Back in ninth grade, I took a class called “Self Understanding through Occupational Exploration.” One of the class assignments required visiting with people whose jobs we might pursue. I chose to visit an attorney and toured a radio station. I will confess that at one point I even thought about being a politician. As you can see, ministry wasn’t among my earliest aspirations.
We tend to answer the questions about what should we do and who we should be in terms of our vocations, our jobs. Early in life children are encouraged to decide on a vocational path, but is this the only way to answer these questions? What if we thought in terms of Leading Lives that Matter, which is the title of an anthology I recently reviewed?
As we approach the reading from Romans 12, we hear Paul appealing to the church in Rome, asking them to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice that is “holy and acceptable to God.” This living sacrifice, according to the rendering in the NRSV, is our “spiritual worship.” Although the NRSV uses the word spiritual here, the Greek word is actually logikos. And as Mr. Spock would say, it would be logical to translate this word as reasonable. Here is what Sarah Heaner Lancaster has to say about this word logikos: “A logikos worship could be understood as worship that conforms to the logos incarnated in Jesus Christ.” In other words, this is worship that is, “embodied and enacted as we seek to be more and more Christlike.” [Lancaster, Romans, p. 205].
If we offer our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, we shouldn’t conform our lives to patterns of this present age. Instead, Paul urges us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we can discern the will of God. Yes, Paul wants us to present ourselves to God in body and in mind. This is what it means to lead a life that matters. So, when it comes to our vocation as Christians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests that our “vocation is the place at which one responds to the call of Christ and lives responsibly. The task given to me by my vocation is thus limited; but my responsibility to the call of Jesus Christ knows no bounds.” That is, “the call of Jesus Christ is the call to belong to Christ completely.” [Leading Lives that Matter, p. 178].
When we offer our bodies and our minds to God as a living sacrifice, we commit ourselves to living transformed lives that conform to the way of Jesus. This not only involves asking what Jesus would do, but it involves conforming our lives to his life. Therefore, Paul tells the Romans not to think too highly of themselves. That is, don’t be arrogant or narcissistic. When you look at yourself in the mirror do so with sober judgment. And, remember that because you belong to the body of Christ you are gifted according to the grace given you for service to God’s realm. Some might be gifted with a prophetic voice. Others will be called to ministries of service. Still others are gifted to teach, while others are gifted to exhort or encourage. Those who are gifted to give should do so generously, and those gifted and called to lead should do so diligently. Paul closes by telling the people gifted for ministries of compassion, to do so cheerfully. It’s good to remember that there are other lists of gifts in the New Testament, which expands the possibilities beyond what’s listed here.
It is good to remember that when Paul speaks here of spiritual gifts, he is addressing a community and not just individuals. So, as each of us contributes our gifts, our individuality, to the life of the covenant community, together we lead transformed lives. This act of transformation enables us to discern the will of God; that which is “good and acceptable and perfect.”
Because we live in a society that values freedom and independence, we might miss Paul’s point here. That’s because, for Paul, leading lives that matter, or becoming who we should be, requires a community. That’s why he tells the Corinthian church that these gifts of the Spirit are intended for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). According to Paul, we have been created for community.
This is the point Martin Luther King, Jr. made in the very last chapter of his very last book. Here is what he wrote: “Every nation is an heir of a vast treasury of ideas and labor to which the living and the dead of all nations have contributed. Whether we realize it or not, each of us lives eternally ‘in the red.’ We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women.” [Leading Lives that Matter, p. 389]. Not only are we debtors to those who have gone before us, but if we embrace the call of God we become contributors to that legacy. This is what it means to live lives that matter as followers of Jesus who are filled with the Spirit of the Living God.