“One More Thing,” or “The Whole Thing?”
Romans 12:1-8

Pastor Todd BuurstraIt’s not very often that one sermon changes a whole life, but this one did. Today we are imagining that it is the 50th anniversary of this sermon. On September 30, 1957, right here, though the sanctuary looked different, a newlywed couple John and Joan sat in the back. But even from the distance of space and time, both have remembered the sermon, and one’s life was changed. As the Rev. Bob Henniges preached a sermon on this text John and Joan leaned forward in their pews. Pastor Henninges declared:

The motivation for service is the mercies of God. God has so loved the world that he created it, and sent his only son to redeem it. God’s mercies are infinite! John nodded. So before our blessing count tops 1000 we offer our lives as a thank you note.

The memory of service is the Old Testament sacrifices. Rev. Henninges went on to describe in vivid detail how the ancient Hebrew priests would arrange the bull, or goat, or ram on the altar, ignite it as a sacrifice to become a pleasing aroma to God. Bob read a new translation of Romans 12:1, read it with me… Joan’s eyebrow raised at the thought.

So after chatting about serving God on the way home in the car, Joan was so impressed that she cross-stitched the verses and put them on the bedroom wall. So everyday as John slipped on his pants, and as she made the bed they could read it. When Joan looked up from fluffing the pillows at this service verse she felt guilty to try to fit in one more thing. When John glanced at it while tightening his belt, he felt grateful for all God had given and forgiven, so he tried to do the whole thing, whatever it was, for God.

That sermon and this verse effected their prayer life. When the alarm went off at 6 AM and they each stumbled to their respective chairs for their quiet time with God, both tended to start prayer with Gimmes. Gimme a good work day, gimme peace… When both realized it they felt guilty. Joan would punish herself by staying longer in prayer to say more thank yous. One more thing before she rushed into her day. John, however, gradually shifted his thoughts to the blessing of the sunrise, the gift of breath, a job—though too busy—to go to… so that the whole spirit of his prayer became thanks.

This verse effected their family life. The night their 17 year-old son crashed his second car, this time by wrapping it around a tree, the bedroom discussion became, since his Shop Rite job doesn’t afford another car shall we pay for #3? Joan opened the sheets, looked up at the verse and told John, if we’re going to serve God we better buy one more car. John pulled his pajama leg up and replied, Hey, I’ve given his whole life over to God even more since the first accident, but I believe that he’s best helped by consequences.

This verse changed their work life. After decades of career-climbing by their 50s both were rather high up in their companies, and the bosses became more demanding. By now both Joan and John had put this service life verse on their office walls. So when Joan’s boss came in at 4:59 PM with one more thing, her face got red, but after a quick glance, she did it. When John’s boss wanted him to travel to Europe for the second time in the month, John saw it out of the corner of his eye, and marched into the boss’ office. Look, if you want me to continue to be as a top salesman for the company this whole thing has to change. I need help so that I can stay home enough to be healthy and happy.

This verse changed their retirement. One morning in the second year of retire-ment the wall-hanging gave Joan an anxious thought: If we don’t get out of here to travel more I’m going to explode because I can’t say Yes to one more ‘volunteer opportunity!’ John put his arm around her replying, Let’s go to the Pocono place, but I want to be back by Thursday because I love this whole tutoring thing with Pedro at the inner-city school!

And, this verse changed how they faced John’s recent cancer. Hospice has been called in and I have visited often. But their reaction to my prayers at John’s bedside has been different. When Joan noticed the verse out of the corner of her eye, her back stiffened and her lips pursed. She seems to resent that God is giving her, who has so often served beyond the call of duty, one more thing to bear. Its not fair! John thanks me for prayers with the words, You know, I’m grateful for a long and full life. I wish that I could still do stuff for my family and the church, but whenever I look at my service verse, I try to think of someone to pray for. So Todd, I can still serve because I’m so grateful!

So how do you want to look at service? As a guilt-induced one more thing in a life already too busy? Or through gratitude as the whole thing in the way you live life?