To God be the Glory Forever. Amen.

[33] “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

[34] For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? [35 ] Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?

[36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

[1] I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

[3] For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. [4] For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, [5] so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. [6] Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; [7] if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; [8] the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 11:33-8:8, ESV)

This reading is divided into two distinct parts and I have a picture to go with each of the two parts.

The first picture is a detail of Michelangelo’s painting entitled the “Creation of Adam.” It is part of a series of paintings that the famous artist did on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome. It is one of the most replicated paintings of all time.

The hand on the left is the hand of Adam. It hangs lifeless without any strength. The hand on the right is the hand of God, reaching out to touch Adam.

This is based on the account of Adam’s creation in Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

The creation of Adam was a two-step process. First he formed Adam from the dust of the ground. Then he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

Michelangelo depicts God breathing life into Adam’s nostrils as God reaching out and touching him with his hand.

This is what Paul is saying in the first part of this passage: “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.”

God created each of us. He created Michelangelo and gave him the ability to create amazing works of art.

He is so far above us that none of us can know his ways. We cannot be his counselors or given him any gift that we might be repaid.

The direction of life and knowledge is always from God to us, not the other way around.

Even when we fell away from God into sin he did not abandon us. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins on the cross and rise again to bring us forgiveness and salvation.

The second part of this passage is about our response to God. The picture that I have to go with this part of the passage is a sculpture that is in Three Mills Green in London. It pictures two hands, joined together.

Over a hundred years ago, Thomas Pickett was working in a well. He was overcome by the carbonic acid (the “foul air”) that gathered in the well. Godfrey Nicholson responded. He went and reached out his hand to help. He was followed by Frederick Eliot and then Robert Underhill. Each worker, in succession, offering a saving hand in rescue. Each worker dying in the end. To remember these men and their self-sacrificial service, a workers’ memorial was erected. Two hands, joined together, in self-sacrificial service.

If you were to go to London, it would be easy to miss this monument. After all, London is filled with so many glorious things to see. The crown jewels. Big Ben. Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guard. But there, in east London, at Three Mills Green, stands a much humbler sight.

In response to God’s gracious gift of life and all that goes with it, we serve others. It does not mean that we give our lives for others as those well workers did but we do live lives of sacrificial service to others.

The poet, Elizabeth Barret Browning, once wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven

and every common bush afire with God

but only he who sees takes off his shoes.1

As the first part of this passage from Romans points out, earth is crammed with heaven. Every common bush is afire with God. Or as Paul puts it: “From him and through him and to him are all things.”

But only he who sees takes off his shoes. This is a reference to the story in the Old Testament when God called out to Moses from a burning bush. The bush was on fire but it was not burned up so Moses went over to take a look.

God spoke to him out of the burning bush. He said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

God’s appearance to Moses was to call him to serve him. Moses was the one God had chosen to lead his people out of their slavery in Egypt. Moses put his shoes back on and from then on he saw every common bush afire with God. He went and served the Lord.

God calls us too. As Paul says, we are living sacrifices. We present our bodies to God for his service. We see every common bush afire with God.

Paul says we do are not to be conformed to the ways of the world. The people of this world also do acts of service but they do it for their own glory. As members of the body of Christ we serve others for God’s glory.

We serve according to the gifts God has given us:

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; [7] if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; [8] the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Our whole existence is summed up in these two pictures. God reaches out to our lifeless bodies and give us both physical and spiritual life and everything else. In response to the gift of all things, we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God.

1 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “Aurora Leigh” in The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London: University Press, 1920), 499.

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