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Non-conforming

So, brothers and sisters, because of God's mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don't be conformed to the patters of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God's will is-what is good and pleasing and mature. Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don't think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don't all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God's grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful. Romans 12:1-8 Read the whole chapter.



Over the past several weeks prior to the series that I had just preached on Overcoming Racism, we've been working our way through the letter to the Romans. We've covered a fair amount of that. It's not been verse by verse from beginning until now, but we've skipped along and hist some of those high points. Coming to this chapter 12 is a moment where Paul kind of says 'alright, everything that I've written in those first 11 chapters, here is where it all comes together'. So we heard in that first verse he said "I appeal to you, therefore..." That therefore indicates alright here's the main point, here's what I've been building up to, here's one of the things that I want you to take away from this.


He begins by saying "By the mercies of God, present your bodies as living sacrifices." Now, I think it's important for us to understand Paul's perspective on this as well. That we don't present ourselves to God in order that God might show us mercy. But rather Paul says I appeal to you, brothers and sisters by the mercies, not just mercy but mercies the abundant, mercies of God has already shown you that your response should be to present yourselves as a living sacrifice. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, not just your thoughts, not just your pocketbook, not just some component or aspect of who you are but present yourself fully to God and God's work. He says this is holy and acceptable to God. This is your spiritual worship that we make ourselves fully, completely, and without reservation available to God in God's work in this world. To be a part of all that God is doing. Paul continues by saying this is something that's going to challenge you because this runs contrary to what the world would be telling you. This isn't a natural thing for us. Now it is natural for us to offer ourselves to something. It's not a question of if we will offer ourselves to something. But rather to what will we offer our bodies. It's easy to offer ourselves to the right things that the world says are important to climbing the corporate ladder, to pursuing wealth or status or position. But Paul is going to be redirecting us and saying 'you know what, there's something different, there's something more that God is calling us to.'


So, we come to that second verse where he says "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Don't be conformed to the patters of this world. Don't be conformed to that mold that the world says this is how you should live, this is how you should act and speak and treat other people. That is not what we should be conformed to anymore. And yet, the pull and the tension and the power of that is there. Because much like the flow of a river the current that just carries things along, it's easy for us to just get into that stream and that flow and go along with things. Because that's the way the world around us is, that's what everybody else is doing. We often talk about young people, particularly junior high and high school kids and the temptation and that pressure, that peer pressure to conform to the students and those around them. We talk about it in that negative sense of conforming to bad behavior or drugs or alcohol or things like that. But the truth of it is, we never outgrow it. We still have those temptations. We still have those pressures. We call it something different. Rather than the temptation to go and drink alcohol, the temptation for us is keeping up with the Joneses. That sounds a lot nicer than engaging in bad behavior or harmful things. But the truth of it is our lives are driven by what we think other people will think about us. Our position, our status, how people perceive us. So we want to live in the right neighborhood. We want to have the right car, the right house, the right clothes. We want to belong to the right social clubs and all of those organizations. We often run ourselves ragged just trying to keep up with these elusive Joneses. The problem is, I don't think anybody ever stopped to ask: are the Joneses really happy? Because my guess is they're not. It's this hamster wheel of life that we get on and we run and run and run never getting anywhere. That's the pattern of the world that's what we're called to conform to. For some reason we've bought into the idea that that's the only way to be. That everybody is doing it and so we should as well.


Now the temptations, the challenges, the things we face may be different than the world that Paul lived in. But Paul was pretty wise in saying 'look you need to not be conformed to the patters of this world but you need to be transformed by the renewing of your minds. So conformity is adhering to the patterns formed alongside or formed with what the world says is important. And 'trans' means across a change. So how does this change happen? What does it look like?


I was a huge fan of, and I still am, of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Anybody else? Anybody else lament the day that December 31st, 1995 came along and the strip came to an end? Well, you may remember young Calvin and his tiger Hobbs would have all kinds of adventures. One of the adventures they would often have involved a cardboard box that had a dial that he had put on it and scribbled in marker. It said a number of things. It was his transmogrifier and he could turn himself into a dinosaur or a gorilla or any other wonderful creature that a child would just love to be. Well, transmogrification does involve a change but often it is mysterious almost magical in how it happens. A person suddenly going from one thing to a completely different something else. That's not what Paul's talking about. It's not magical. It's not mysterious. It's an act of non-conformity. It's an act of will and faith on our part to say that you know what I'm going to live differently. I'm going to be different. I'm not going to be conformed to this world anymore but I'm going to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.


What does the renewing of our mind look like? How does our mindset change so much that how we live actually is different? A transformation that allows us to discern the will of God. To discern what is good and acceptable and perfect sounds like a tall order. Sounds like a lot. So what is it that Paul is saying needs to happen in our lives? Well, you may remember those rubber bracelets that were very popular a number of years ago that had those four letters on them: WWJD, what would Jesus do? They were popular among Christians, among youth. They were on bumper stickers and t-shirts. It's become somewhat cliche. And yet what better question to ask ourselves. If we're truly going to be transformed, if we're really going to think about being and living and acting differently in our lives that when we're confronted with a situation and we have a decision to make, what would it mean for us to step back for a moment and say, 'well, what would Jesus do here?" It might not be what you want to do. But it's an important question to consider.


A few years ago, I had an opportunity to spend some time with a group of pastors in conversation with retired South African Bishop Peter Storey. And if I have Christian heroes in my life, he's one of the people that I would look to. He was a man who was a pastor of a Methodist Church in Cape Town, South Africa who led his congregation to stand against apartheid and say this isn't right and would go and march in front of the crowds in his clergy apparel. He said there were a number of occasions where he and his colleagues, his fellow pastors, would be walking in front of these large groups with armed forces surrounding them saying 'well we're pastors, they won't shoot us right?' They weren't sure. But it was his response to this question. He said the greatest things that I have done in my life have all been the result of asking the question, what would Jesus do? And then doing it. It's a powerful question for us to think about. What would Jesus do when it comes to personal decisions? When it comes to how do we vote? When it comes to how do we interact with a stranger? When it comes to our response and our conversations about any other social situation going on? To begin at least thinking about what would Jesus do begins to change how we think.


I think Paul understood that for us to change our actions, for us to change the way that we live first begins with changing how we think. Most of us have computers, tablets, and smartphones and you occasionally have those notices that come up and you have to hit the button for it to update. It has to update the operating system, the software, the thinking that goes on inside of that device to allow it to function a little bit better to fix problems, to correct things that are maybe not working as they should. In many ways Pauls's call for us to be transformed is like us getting an update to our operating system, having our thinking changed and reoriented to something different. Well, that something different is to begin thinking a little bit more like Jesus.


Elsewhere in his writing in Philippians chapter 2 verse 5, Paul says "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." And then we have a series of verses where Paul talks about what it was about this thinking, this way of Jesus. He says "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who though he was in the form of God did not regard quality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself taking the form of a slave. Being born in human likeness and being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death. Even death on a cross." So Paul says that this mind of Christ is the same mind that we should have. Jesus though, he was one with God, didn't regard that equality with God as something to be exploited. He didn't take advantage of or use his position or privilege over others. In fact, it says he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness, the mind of Jesus was one of humility. He didn't think more highly of himself than others. But rather he humbled himself and he became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Obedience to the will of God was one of the aspects of that mind of Christ as well that God has a purpose and a plan for him. And Jesus stepped forward and much like we sang in our opening hymn, here I am Lord.


The other aspect that I see woven through that is that word that we began with this morning of love. What does the mind of Christ focus on first and foremost? The focus is on love. It focuses on the love of God. It focuses on the love of others and the way in which that love is shared with everyone equally without reservation, with strangers, with sinners, with the people that others rejected, with the people that rejected him. Jesus still loved them. That love continued and persisted and flowed regardless of whatever situation he was facing. Jesus was the original non-conformist, in many ways of rejecting the way of the world, the status quo, the things that were, and the way it had always been. Jesus said no to those things. As his followers, we too are called to say no to live a life of non-conformity, to not be driven by the whim and the wishes and the will of this world. To not allow the plans that the world has for us. To push us into something that maybe isn't what we want but to non-confirm to this world. That means to allow ourselves to be transformed by God's Spirit, by the grace and mercies that God has bless us with. We are called to be a changed and a different people. The people that look upon others as children of God. As people who look for opportunities to share love anywhere and everywhere. This life we live, this faith we have requires a transformation that we be changed. But in doing so, Paul continued in Romans to say that it is for the good of the body. For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ. And individually we are members, one of another.


Friends, this transformation isn't just for you or another person or me. It's for all of us. And in doing so, our community of faith is transformed. In doing so each one of us through our connections with God and with one another is a part of something greater than all of us. We're a part of making this world a little bit more the world that God intended. And it's only possible through Jesus. So may we seek to be transformed that our minds, our internal operating system would be changed to be more like him that we might love and live and act like him and be living examples for others to see and to know what is possible through Jesus Christ.


Amen.

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