24 August 2014
The simplest outline of the book of Romans and many of Paul’s
letters is found in seeing the two major sections – the theology part (what we
believe) and the ethics part (how we live).
In Romans, the division between the two parts happens at chapter 12, the
part we are reading. The word
“Therefore” is a clue that we are switching over. Paul has spelled out Christian doctrine – what
we believe and now he’s telling us how to live.
Elizabeth M. Deibert
He’s already talked about the fact that all sin and fall short of God’s glory and all are justified by God’s grace as a gift.” He’s talked about the value of faith. He’s said that suffering leads to endurance which leads to character which leads to hope which keeps us from disappointment because of God’s love and the Spirit. He’s talked about dying to sin and trusting in the goodness of God to triumph over every evil because if God is for us no one can be against us. He has said that nothing (not even the Jews rejection of their Messiah) can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For the promises of God can never be erased. They are irrevocable because the wisdom and knowledge and judgments of God are not to be questioned.
So then....here comes our passage....hear the word of the Lord.
Romans 12:1-8 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, 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 renewing of your minds, so that 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 yourself more highly than you 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 not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (NRSV & NIV)
We could say that all of Romans up to this point was about being justified by God, being saved by the grace of God – something God does for us as a gift, which we receive by faith but not by anything we have done. And that from this point on, Paul is talking about sanctification, the process of becoming holy, becoming the person God wants us to be. Sanctification requires some discipline on our part. We have to want it, work it out, never stop trying, even though we know when we change that it is really the Spirit working in us, enabling us to grow.
Let me talk about transformation in a very personal way for a moment. Many of you know Andrew, our 21 year-old son. He is setting sail today in Southampton, England to travel to 14 countries to learn and grow, a semester at sea study abroad program. He has already traveled on his own or with his sister Emily, to Rome, Paris, Barcelona, in the last two weeks since we left him in Geneva. While we traveled with him in Europe, he was so grown-up, so helpful and kind to others, I could not believe this was the same young man who at 17 kept his parents up sometimes until 2:00 am on Saturday nights worrying about where he might be and what he might be doing. This is the same kid whose poor performance and general irresponsibility in junior year meant that Tracy Jordan, wonderful guidance counselor, had to call a meeting of parents, Andrew, and all his teachers. This is the kid that the church did not give up on, but kept nurturing, even surprisingly to service as a youth elder senior year. Now I am not claiming that Andrew has morphed into a mature Christian, but that he has morphed from irresponsible teen to responsible young adult. And this is nothing short of a miracle in this mother’s eyes. It is a changed mindset, and a changed mindset is Paul’s appeal to the Romans.
Paul says, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” And now I’m going to issue a challenge. If you are spending several hours a day with television or computer media, I think you are choosing to conform yourself to this world. Maybe I’ve stopped preaching and gone to meddling, but I really believe this is a problem for today’s Christian. Compare the time you spend daily reading scripture or other devotional books, going out to serve, praying and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation (all of those things that develop your faith) with the time you spend daily watching television. We justify it by saying we want to be informed – we are watching news. But most of us are more than informed. We are conformed by the media.
Don’t be conformed to this world. Be transformed by the renewing of your minds. And we wonder why the world seems to be going crazy with all the polarization over issues and events – because we are more than informed about Ferguson. We are conformed by Ferguson, thanks to our obsession with the media. Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may know what is the will of Anderson Cooper – no, so you may know what is the will of God. How will you know the will of God? How will you discern the mind of your maker? By spending time reading the stories of God’s people, and the words of the faithful saints who have gone before us. By prayer and meditation and participation in the community of faith. By living in the cocoon of SPSPS (Scripture, Praise, Sacraments, Prayer, and Service). Christians don’t do very well in these disciplines, so it is no wonder churches are suffering, and it is no wonder people are not coming to church because they look at us and say, “Why would I want to be part of a church?”
We are not being transformed by the renewing of our minds to know the will of God. God can work miracles, but this miracle is not often seen – the person who is undisciplined in the devotional life of SPSPS becomes a miraculously strong and faithful Christian. Nope. Doesn’t happen that way.
As Paul says in the first two key verses – words that we should know by heart.....being a Christian involves presenting ourselves as an offering to God, turning away from the values of the world and seeking the transformation God desires in us. Be transformed. Metamorphosis is the Greek word. Changed by the Spirit of God because we spend time attuned to the Spirit of God. We must stay in our devotional, spiritually nourishing cocoon enough to grow beautiful butterfly wings – to become the people God wants us to be – a people who use their gifts to glorify God and serve others.
Both here in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wants people to appreciate the value of differently gifted people, working together, in unity. Problems begin when I see my gifts as more valuable or less valuable than the gifts of others. So growing in maturity as a Christian means coming to understand and utilize my gifts, while being both humble and confident. Not self-deprecating nor self-aggrandizing, for both are manifestations of insecurity. No with a humble confidence and a generous spirit we are called to share our gifts and glad for the gifts of others. “Be careful how you are talking to yourself, because you are listening.” (Lisa M. Hayes)
Let me tell you about two people who live in humble confidence with a generous spirit. Richard and I went to officiate a wedding this week-end in Alabama at Lake Martin. The family members of the bride were charter members of the new church Immanuel back in 1991. The mother of the bride grew up right here – in the Oneco area along Hwy 70.
It was a joy to officiate this wedding for a young woman we had ushered through baptism and confirmation. What was even more joyful was to see how this family had matured. The teen girls not surprisingly, had become lovely, articulate, kind young women. And the parents who were great people in the 90’s – the kind of people who always offered to help us with our four little kids sending the girls to babysit or taking the kids themselves, would also hand us a Christmas card with hundreds of dollars – just because, as the father of the bride said, “We’ve been blessed and want to share.” Even knowing their kindness from 20 years ago, we were amazed at how much more they exhibited a calm and peaceful spirit over the week-end. They both have an inner intensity, but years of Christian growth have transformed them into the calmest, least anxious parents of the bride we have ever seen. They had 14 family members plus the two of us staying in their lovely house. Because the groom’s French-speaking family had just flown in from Guadeloupe, our friends were also hosting the rehearsal dinner at their house and the reception at a local club house. The engaged couple had planned well. And so seemed the parents were free to simply enjoy the moment and help keep everyone calm and peaceful.
It has been more than a decade since we spent time with this family. But they’ve kept growing into the mind of Jesus Christ, into the likeness of Christ. So what will people say about you in ten years? Some of you are wondering if you will still be on earth in ten years. If you are gone from us, I am quite sure that a face-to-face encounter with the living Christ will be the most radically transformative moment you have ever experienced. So whether you have moved through that amazing transformation or not, the question still stands. What will people say about you? Will they speak of the maturity of faith they witnessed in you? Will they have seen your growth, even toward your last years on this earth? Will they see that you have matured in wisdom and faith or that you became more entrenched in your own ways?
Our Presbyterian forebear John Calvin, whose home Geneva we saw while traveling earlier this summer says, "it is difficult to express how ingenious almost all [people] are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess. They deceive not only others, but also themselves…." Let us be honest with ourselves and let us work together to live faithfully into our baptism, seeking with undying devotion to know and to live according to the will of God – according to that which is good and acceptable and perfect.