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Dare to Be Transformed!

Romans 12:1-2

5-13-18

Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Good morning!  This month, worship has ended up having a very special emphasis.  Last week, we were led by our College Age Ministry, our next generation, the next group of leaders in our church, and what a great experience that was!  We just saw a great Ministry Moment video that featured our 5th Grade Club, which helps prepare our 5th graders for the transition to middle school and youth group, and you could see that they learn as well as have a lot of fun together.  Next Sunday is Youth Sunday, when we’ll be led by another group of our young people. You’re hearing a lot about Family VBS, which is just around the corner.  It’s our second year with this new model of Vacation Bible School, and it’s built around valuing of the importance of the family as we grow in our faith. Today we’ll be talking about our participation in the family of God.

A few moments ago, we shared together in saying the Apostles’ Creed.  It’s something Christians the world over share together, what we say about who God is.  It’s a part of our identity as the family of God.

And today is Mother’s Day!  

 

May has ended up having an emphasis on family and on God’s work in our lives.  I don’t know if it was originally envisioned that way or not, but it has certainly turned out that way.  Recognizing and celebrating the milestones in life, the important people in our lives, the changed lives in our midst, what we believe as a family of believers, what it means to be a part of God’s family.  It’s quite a month!

 

And speaking of families, or at least families with kids, or at least families who used to have kids at home, or at least families with kids at heart…   How many of you are familiar with Transformers toys? With the original cartoon series? Not the newer stuff, the movies, the whole franchise. I mean the good version.  Now, I know this may seem like a strange transition, but bear with me.  With the Transformers, each one has a role and skill set. Sometimes they have to change into their special form, and sometimes they join together to accomplish a great task, usually to combat an evil villain.  And in this process, they submit to a higher power, usually without questioning. They know their purpose, and they do it. I used to enjoy catching bits of the show when my son was small. I was fascinated by how they heard the call and seamlessly came together for their task.  

 

Or think about a real-world example:  the butterfly. Reflect on the beautiful image on our bulletin and on the slides today.  Butterflies begin as caterpillars, and then they form a cocoon to transform into a butterfly.  That’s quite a transformation!

 

Can you imagine making a transformation so radical that you weren’t sure you would recognize yourself any more?  That would be crazy, wouldn’t it?

 

As we heard just a few moments ago, from the book of Romans, Paul talks about transformation.  He tells us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice and to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

 

This passage is familiar to many of us.  But I have a confession to make. I have often thought that this passage is so mysterious that it would be easier just to skip on past it.  Just a couple of sentences, but there’s so much in there. And what on earth does Paul mean? Living sacrifice? Be transformed by the renewing of your mind?  What does that even mean? And yet, I return to it time and again. Or perhaps, better yet, it returns to me. And I ponder it.

 

Today, I invite us all to walk through this passage together, and let’s see what we discover.

 

Paul begins this section by saying,

 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

 

Now, just what does Paul mean by “living sacrifice”?  Some would say that he means “newness of life,” and I do think that’s part of it.  But I invite you to think of an additional meaning. You know, Paul’s writing is often complex, and rich, and multi-layered.  And the depth here is that Paul is also saying that instead of offering dead animal sacrifices to God, as has been the tradition, and even the commandment, what he’s saying is that every believer, and all believers together, are to offer themselves—their whole selves, their lives, their actions, everything—to God.  Yes, there is newness of life, but it’s not just something that abstract. We are to offer everything about our here-and-now selves, our day-to-day lives, to God, daily. The actual things we do. All the things. Every day. We are to offer them all to God. Paul has taken imagery straight out of the Jewish tradition and teaching, and he has turned it on its head.  The sacrifice God wants is not dead, it’s living. It’s our very lives, as we live them, each and every day.

 

And more than that, this type of sacrifice is our true and proper worship.  It’s how we praise God and show that we love God. An interesting note here is that the Greek word for this kind of worship is logikos, which means that it’s logical or reasonable or rational.  This sacrifice, this living sacrifice, isn’t just what God desires from us. It is the logical, reasonable response, the obvious response, to what God has done for us through Christ, through the gospel of life.  

 

Another interesting note here is that Paul is using the plural form of “you” and “your.”  It’s not a distinction we catch easily in English because the words are the same, and in our individualistic culture we tend to default to thinking of it as singular.  We tend to think you, or you, or you, or me. Not YOU. But Paul is talking to the community, not just to the individuals. So yes, we offer ourselves as individuals, and as we do that, we also do it as a community, together.  

 

And what we do with our lives, with our daily lives and decisions, it matters, and it inevitably reveals the extent of the lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives.  And to the degree that we, we individually, and we collectively, are drawn into God’s realm, the powers of the world lose their ability to conform us to the world.  We are no longer swayed and deceived by those powers.  We no longer belong to those powers.  Did you catch that?  When we allow Jesus lordship in our lives, we no longer belong to worldly powers.  

 

Now, let me pause and ask you a question.  How do you feel about what I just shared? Ask yourself this:  What about this idea, that we might belong to worldly powers, makes you feel uncomfortable?  Feel edgy? In what areas of your life are you saying, “Yes, but…”? Scripture tells us that if we don’t belong to God, we belong to the worldly powers.  It is one or the other.

 

As Christians, the life we live, we live for God, and as we allow it, as we work with the Spirit, the Spirit transforms us, creating our minds anew to be like Christ.  We are transformed, so that we are conformed to God, not conformed to the world. Which takes us to the second verse.

 

Here, Paul tells us:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Yes, authentic worship is devotion to God with our whole selves, including our minds, but it is a “renewed mind,” a mind that no longer says that God must conform to our logic.  How often we do that—expect God to conform to our logic!  Of course, if we’re asked, we say we want God’s will, but how often do we really mean it, do we even seek it?  Most of the time, we tend to want God to get on board with our plan.  But it’s this renewing and transforming that makes it possible for us to discern and do God’s intentions for our lives.  And I would say it also makes our desiring of it possible.  

 

I can remember a stage in my life when I was afraid of that, afraid of what I would lose, afraid I would lose myself.  I knew enough to know what it was asking, but I was afraid to let go. Of course, now, on the other side of things, that seems silly.  I know that God’s will and purpose is good and can be trusted. But I remember when it didn’t feel silly.  Now, you may be thinking, of course you get it…but I can tell you with certainty.  I didn’t start out where I am today. It took a while for me to accept the identity God has given me.  It took me a while to realize that I could trust God. My mind had to begin being renewed so that my life could become an offering to God.  And, I will confess, I’m still a work in progress!

 

In fact, a renewed mind is essential to the discernment of God’s will and the transformation of life.   The two go hand in hand. As our mind is renewed, we allow our lives to be transformed.  As our lives are transformed, our minds are renewed.

 

So just what is a renewed mind?  It’s a mind sees things with the eyes of Christ.  A renewed mind is calibrated to God’s love, to God’s purposes.  It takes place in Christian community, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and it no longer measures life and life’s meaning by the standard of secular values.  Paul always assumes Christians are working this out in the context of Christian community, not individually. And whether it’s for the individual or for the community, he knows that people can’t do this alone.

 

You know, we are being conformed by something.  What will it be?

 

If we think of these things otherwise, we fail to understand the relationship of what God and the Bible say about our choices and about our actions.  And our actions bear witness to what we believe. What we do is what we believe, whether we realize it or not.

 

You know, there is an amazing thing about all this, and that is that when we do this, when we live this way as individuals and as a community of faith, our whole is something different than the sum of our parts.  When we, all of us together, take seriously Christ’s call to be a living sacrifice and not conform to the world, we’re more than.  More than we can be on our own.  And that’s the kind of community it takes in order for us to be who the world needs us to be.    

 

So, what is Paul saying here?  We are called to a new way of thinking, as people who have experienced God’s grace and mercy, and our whole lives are “Christianized.”  What Paul is ultimately saying is that a renewed mind and a sacrificial life is not something to do.  It’s a way to be.  

 

The Message version of the Bible puts it like this:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

 

Immediately following this passage, in verses 4-8, Paul talks about the various parts of the body working together for the good of the whole, and he clarifies that he’s talking about disciples and their purpose on behalf of the church.  Our purpose is not just for ourselves. We have a common need for one another, and our gifts are to be used for the health of the community, not for our own glory. And hear me now, just as we are to not think too highly of ourselves, we’re also not to underrate what we have to contribute.  We are not deny God’s gifts to us. The body needs all of us.  We are each needed for the body of Christ to function in the world, as it seeks to discern and live out the will of God.  The transformation can be that someone stops denying their gifts and steps out in faith, taking a risk to serve.

 

To think, “God can use me?  That’s ridiculous, blasphemous.”  That’s nonsense. From the oldest to the youngest, from the most able to those of us who need more assistance, we are all needed.  Every one of us. We need the body, and the body needs us. And we are all called to live all-out for Christ, together.

 

It’s a fundamental transformation in the in the way we think and live, isn’t it?  Godly sacrifice, radical commitment, sacred mindfulness, transformative grace, intentionality, communal unity, vocational awareness.  Do we dare make this kind of transformation?

 

You know, just last week, we heard stories of just this kind of transformation.  We heard of a life that was hurt deeply at an early age, and we heard of the pain that caused.  And we heard of a choice to seek a renewed mind and of a life that’s becoming a lifestyle of faithful witness to the power of Christ’s redeeming love and mercy.

And we heard of a life that is learning to see with God’s eyes.  Learning to really see. Learning to see the purpose of gifts from God, learning to see not as the world sees with its labels and assumptions and values.

We heard that we’re all good and wonderfully made, that the Creator loves us all equally and unequivocally.  And we heard how this radical shift in “eyesight” changes everything, how it changes focus and purpose, and how it bring true peace and true joy, how it creates a life lived for Christ.

 

That’s what we say we want, right?  Do we dare believe it? Do we dare to be transformed?  

 

And just who is this God we’re transforming for?  For the God who made everything and who did everything, for us.

 

When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we’re saying this is who we believe in, who we are worshiping, who our sacrifice is to, who we’re allowing to transform us.  This is what we say we believe. Do we? Do we really?  

 

You know, what we’re talking about is a call to true, authentic discipleship.

 

And what does this look like?  We talk about some of this when we share together in our membership vows, when we commit in life together in Christian community through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  

 

Through our prayers.

Did you know that we have many people who pray faithfully each week, who gather here at the church to pray, who participate through our prayer line, who pray for needs and joys within their groups, who take seriously the needs and joys that you share?  People who may not always know how prayer works, but who take seriously this amazing partnership we have with God, this God who calls us to participate with him in this mystery. What is God saying to you about prayer?

 

Through our presence.

You know, it’s not just for you.  Have you ever thought about that? You are here for you, but not just for you.  You are here for the rest of us, too.  Our body is not complete unless we are all sharing in learning and worship together.  As we participate in the life of the church together, we grow in Christ, and the body of Christ is enriched by what each of us brings, what each of has been gifted with by God.  Remember, we’re talking about the whole being something more than the sum of its parts! Think of a group of dancers in a stage production like Hamilton or Jesus Christ Superstar or Oklahoma, or any number of great productions.  The dancers are all excellent, gifted performers who are very good as individuals. But the purpose is not generally to watch an individual. The purpose is to see the beautiful picture they present as a group, but if each dancer doesn’t do their part, the picture is distracting and incomplete.  It’s much more than just the sum of the individual dancers, isn’t it? In fact, it’s not much of a picture at all otherwise.  What is God saying to you about presence?

 

Through our gifts.

Yes, I’m going to talk about money!  You may be thinking, okay, here it comes.  But hear me—It’s not about paying the bills, although that’s nice.  It’s not about meeting a budget, although the budget has a purpose. What it’s about is not holding on to something that our culture is committed to telling us unbiblical, unchristian messages about.  The world wants us to think it’s all ours, for our purposes, and that we have to get more and buy more and cling to more. And that if we’re not careful, the world is going to run out of stuff and we might miss out.  Think about it! This is the world’s message, isn’t it. Do you, do we, operate from a scarcity paradigm? Or do we remember that everything we have needed, God has provided, that God’s faithfulness is great, even unto us, unto you, unto me.  Generosity isn’t about giving the same amount as others. It’s not about the amount at all. It’s about where we think it comes from. Does it come from gifts and talents and skills that God gave us? Of course it does. Then whose is it? As Christians, we believe that all we have comes from God, and that everything we have is to be used for furthering the kingdom of God.  God only asks for a small portion of what he gives us, but he is very clear about that portion! And as I shared in a letter recently, God doesn’t ask, expect, or want that one or a few of us carry the load for all of us. God calls us to each do our part, for the good of his work, and for the good of our souls. What is God saying to you about money?

 

Through our service.  

It’s not just about filling a spot, although that’s nice.  It’s also about what you learn about God and about yourself when you serve.  It’s about being Christ and seeing Christ. Being the face of Christ to those who need to know of the hope and love and forgiveness that Christ offers.  Seeing Christ in the face of the least among us, in the face of need, in the face of hunger, in the face of illness, in the face of hopelessness, in the face of fear, in the face of loneliness, in the face of desperation, in the face of gratitude.  What is God saying to you about service?

 

Through our witness,

our witness to who God is, our witness to what Christ has done for us, our witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  You may be thinking, do I have to? Well, yes. If we are who we say we are, then yes. But more than that, if we are who we say we are, if we believe what we say we believe, then we want to.  We long to!  We seek opportunities.  We prioritize it.  You may not realize this, but when Lauren and Matt shared their stories last week, no one had to beg them to do it.  There was no arm-twisting that went on. They wanted to do it. They were excited to do it. They were compelled to do it.  It was a driving force in how the whole service took shape last week.  Think about that.

 

As I mentioned, we have Family VBS coming up.  Who do you know that needs to know about it? To whom can you say, “Our church has a really unique way of doing VBS, and I think you’d like it.”  

 

I was honored and humbled to share in the most beautiful experience recently.  A person in our congregation heard about our Prayer Shawl Ministry, and they wanted to not just take a prayer shawl to their neighbor who has cancer, but to also use it as a bridge to the church.  They saw it as an opportunity to connect their neighbor with a faith community. And they went way out of their comfort zone and put a lot of energy into making sure it happened.

 

And what about St. Luke Basketball?  It’s not offered just as an activity, although it’s a great one, but also as an opportunity, an opportunity to get to know people, share Christ, help them see who we are and get to know us, and then invite them to be a part of our family.  

 

There are so many ways, so many natural opportunities, for us to show people just how important, just how good, God is.  What is God saying to you about witness?

 

In this passage we’ve studied today, Paul gives us a practical theology that tells us how to practice love in our lives, in households of faith, and toward the world at large.  He has given us weighty, useful truth about what we must do in order not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed to the things of God. And Transformed people become transformed community.  

 

One body, transformed.  Does it sound like an impossible dream?  Does it sound distant and far away? Does it sound crazy?  Does it sound safely abstract? Does it even sound desirable?  Do we want it?  Do you, do we?

 

Do we dare to be transformed?  

 

Is Jesus lord of our lives?  Do we believe what we say we believe?

 

Do we do what we believe?  Remember, what we do is what we believe.    

 

We are called to be and do as Christ’s disciples according to the gifts God has given each of us, in order to be fully one body in Christ, in order to be who we are truly meant to be.  No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

 

Do the Transformers lose themselves when they change?  Are they essentially different? No. Their individuality is still fully present, but they are more than who they were.  They are fully who they are designed to be.  And surely we are more than toys.

 

Think about the butterfly.  Transformed, yes. Transformed into what it was meant to be.  If, when it was a caterpillar, it chose to not to form its cocoon, it would never become a butterfly.  And see how it flies?

 

I challenge us—me, you, all of us—to commit.  Do you dare to be transformed? Be open, listen to God, be honest with ourselves.  What is God saying to you? I invite and encourage you to take a moment now, while God’s voice is fresh in your heart, to write down whatever you hear God saying.  On the back of your bulletin, write down your commitment to God and with God.  I will give you a moment.

 

And now, as we sing this beautiful hymn, “I Surrender All,” I would like for your to prayerfully reflect on the words.

 

Amen.

© 2014 St. Luke UMC | Made with love by Mark Walz, Jr..
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