Last week on Sunday morning I was at Gen Con- the best four days in gaming. Something I have done every year on Sunday morning at Gen Con is attend the Gen Con Christian worship service. The preacher this year, was a Fellow UMC pastor from Tennessee. Being Gen Con, he was able to make all of the geeky analogies that he wanted, so is primary illustration is that the kingdom of God and by extension the church, is like the TARDIS-It’s bigger on the inside. If that last sentence did not make any sense, find a Dr. Who fan to ask. In the course of his sermon, one of the things he talked about was growing up was how he experienced the quintessential geeks vs. jocks struggle. If we have ever watched any movie or TV based in high school then we are immediately familiar with the stereotypes. Afterwards, I had to wonder if those old stereotypes of the jocks being the popular bullies, and the geeks being the socially inept losers really had any bearing in reality. Now I am painfully well aware that bullying exist in schools still today, but I am not quite sure it draws down so simple clique lines. In fact, I do not think being a geek is even a bad thing anymore. The culture wars are over, and the geeks won. The proof of this is everywhere. Just a couple of weeks ago, Guardians of the Galaxy, a comic based movie that has a walking tree and rocket launcher armed raccoon as characters, was released to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. Some of the most popular TV shows on right now such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Big Bang Theory are very much in the domain of geekdom.
Give how popular geeky things are, I wonder what does it mean to be a geek, does the word still have any meaning? Will Wheaton, the actor who portrayed Wesley Crusher on Star Trek (or Sheldon’s arch nemesis on the Big Bang Theory if you prefer), answered this question very well at the Calgary Comic Expo in 2013. At a panel discussion a woman in the audience asked Will to tell her soon to be born daughter, why it is awesome to be a geek. In his answer Will Wheaton gave a two part answer to what makes someone a geek. First he said, “I liked things a little weird, things that took a little effort to enjoy or understand.” That defines the typical geek things like science fiction, fantasy, comic books, games, and more. However, it was the second part of the answer that really defines what makes people geeks: “It’s not about what you live-it’s about how you love it.” What makes people geeks is that they passionately love something. Moreover, they passionately love something that non-geeks just can not understand why someone would love it that much. This passion was clearly on display at Gen Con last week. I met a group of guys who traveled from Canada and built their entire weekend all around playing one game. We saw elaborate costumes that took hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars to make, just so the person dressed up could express their love for wherever that character came from. Abigail and I played a game with the Train Gamers Association who come from all over the world to spend four straight days just playing train games. Geeks were everywhere and it was glorious. One of the reasons why I like Gen Con is because I am surrounded by people who I understand. We may not like the same games or be fans of the same thing, but we understand what it means to love something passionately. I think one of the reasons why geeks have won the culture war, is because honestly we are all geeks. I geek out about things like Star Wars and board games, but the same passion and love I feel for those things are the way other people feel about the Indiana Pacers, or dirt track racing, or quilting, or golf. Many of us know what it is like to geek out about something, and we understand what it means to love something passionately like that.
Gen Con might be influencing my reading of this morning’s scripture, but I think the main point that Paul is getting at is that the church needs more geeks. This morning’s scripture begins with “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices- this is your true and proper worship.” This sounds really good and spiritual, but what does it mean? This is a scripture that gets quoted on Christian T-shirts and posters a lot, but it is one that really requires the full context to understand. One of the keys to understanding this passage is understanding the idea of sacrifice. In the ancient world, not just for Jews, but for nearly everyone in the Roman Empire, sacrifice was their primary and greatest act of worship. The main way that people expressed their devotion to the divine, and the main way they interacted with their deity was through sacrifice. This was true for the Israelites. That is why they had the temple in Jerusalem. Every Jew was expected to travel there at least once a year during one of the holy festivals, such as Passover, to make a sacrifice. The sacrifice was a way of expressing repentance, a way of asking for forgiveness. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul makes the argument that Jesus was essentially the final sacrifice. In Romans 8:3 Paul wrote, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” Making annual sacrifices was not enough to reunite people with God, it was not enough to get over the gulf of sin, so Jesus being fully human lived the perfect, sinless life. He became the final sacrifice that reunites us with God for all time.
For the first century people who heard this for the first time, this could have caused a bit of a worship crisis for them. Remember, their primary way of worship, the highest way they could show devotion and reverence to God was through a sacrifice. They were now being told that the final sacrifice had been made, and more over God made the sacrifice on their behalf, as we are reminded in Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The letter of Romans contains the great news of the gospel, but for these early Christians it leaves them without knowing how to express their devotion to God, their gratitude for saving grace, and their commitment to living transformed lives. This is where this morning’s scripture comes in because Paul reintroduces the idea of sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing an animal to reinstate God’s favor, we are to make our lives a sacrifice to God as an act of worship. This is not to earn God’s favor but to further our relationship with Him, because verse two states when we do this we come to know what God’s will is. Knowing someone, even God on that level, requires intentional relationship building, and we do that by being a living sacrifice.
The kind of sacrifice that is evoked by the imagery of this morning’s scripture is that of a burnt offering. In ancient Judaism, the burnt offering was the highest form of a sacrifice. It was the greatest way to show devotion to God, and it was the kind of offering given up for the atonement of sins. What made the burnt offering different, is that the entire offering was consumed by the fire. In other types of offerings, only a portion was offered up in a sacrifice, but in a burnt offering it was all consuming. To be a living sacrifice means that our faith, our devotion to God, and our desire to be more like Christ is all consuming. It defines who we are, it is the heartbeat at the center of our day. It is our first, most true, and greatest passion.
The church, Christianity as a whole, needs more geeks. What makes people geeks is how the passionately love something. Last week I saw over 56,000 people travel from all over the world so they could do something they love with people who share the same passion. People spent hundreds to thousands of dollars for this privilege, without even thinking about it. As soon as one Gen Con ends, many people begin thinking about and preparing for the next one a year away. When is the last time you saw that kind of passion, that kind of fire, that kind of excitement in the church? When is the last time you saw that kind of commitment to faith? To be a living a sacrifice is to have that same kind of driving love for God. To be a living sacrifice is to have a love for God that drives us to do things that other people might see as unusual or crazy, but we do it because of what we love and how we love it so much. To be a living sacrifice is to be a geek.
This is especially true when we consider verse 2 which states, “do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I know from a lifetime of personal experience and from the friends I have had over the years, one of the things that geeks pride themselves the most on, is that they are different. There is a decent chance that whatever you geek out on, probably also sets you apart. For example, having a fabric room-that’s not normal. The passion and love that geeks have sets us apart, different from the rest of the world. Being a living sacrifice should also set us apart, make us different. Usually, if someone is a geek about something it does not take long to figure it out. Usually either by the way they dressed, the way they act, or by how quickly they display their passion their geeky nature comes through. Why can not the same thing be said about our Christian nature? A humbling question that all of us should face, is if a stranger meets us and we talk will it be very obvious to the stranger that we are a Christian? Will our conduct, our conversation, and our passion communicate that God is the most important thing in the world to us? Will we be perceived as living sacrifice?
A good example of someone who lived their life as a living sacrifice was Amy Carmichael. Amy, an Irish woman born in 1867, felt called by God at the age of 20 to be a missionary. She initially met resistance, but eventually found herself with a missionary organization stationed in India. During this era, the common way missions was done involved preaching to the locals-and not always in their native language. Amy discovered that the way to reach Indian people was not through preaching but through sacrifice. She made herself a living sacrifice, to better reach the local population she assimilated to their diet, dress, and way of life. She specifically reached out to the poorest, youngest, and most oppressed population. In India during this time it was common practice to give unwanted children over to Hindu temples, where they essentially had to serve a lifetime of forced servitude, of slavery. Amy began rescuing these children. Despite threat of death, she built a home to protect these children that became known as the Dohnavur Fellowship. To those who profited from these enslavement practices, she was known as the “white woman who steals children.” She would often travel for days just to rescue a single child. Every day she sought to be a living sacrifice by following God’s will and loving the least of these. Amy did this for fifty-five straight years. She never took a break, she never went home. Amy’s lifetime of being a living sacrifice resulted in over 1,000 abused, abandoned, and enslaved children having freedom.
God does not call all of us to rescue enslaved children, but we all have a way that we choose to be used by God and being a living sacrifice. Just like we all have something we geek out about, as Romans 12: 6 says “We all have different gifts according to the grace given to us.” If your gift is teaching, then be a living sacrifice and pour your heart in to teaching a Sunday school class. If your gift is encouraging then be a living sacrifice and make it your daily goal to brighten someone else day. If your gift is generosity then be a living sacrifice by being truly excited about the way that you can bless others.
Whatever your gift from God is, may you use that gift and may you be a living sacrifice through it. May you have the same passion and love about serving God that you have for whatever it is that you geek out about. No, may you have MORE passion and love for God than anything else. May that love, passion, and excitement define your life. May it define how you view yourself, how others understand you, and what you do. When it comes to your faith, may you indeed be a geek, and may you be proud of that fact. And may Edinburgh UMC always be a place where geeks are wanted.