October 29, 2017
Romans 12:1-3, The Message
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 transformed 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.
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
Romans 12:4-18, 21
In this way we’re like the different parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. So it is with the body of Christ. We are parts of one body, and as individuals we belong to each other. Each of us is fashioned by God’s grace with different gifts so we do different things well. If you preach, speak with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, just help, don’t take over. If your gift is teaching, then teach. If your gift is giving encouraging guidance, then encourage, don’t get bossy. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. If you’re a leader, take your responsibility seriously, and don’t manipulate. If you have a gift for showing kindness, do it gladly.
Let love be genuine and real. Run from what is wrong, and hold on tight to what is good. Love each other deeply, and take delight in honoring each other. Work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically!
Be confident in hope, patient in suffering, faithful in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—don’t curse them but pray God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Associate with people the world treats as nobodies. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t repay anyone evil for evil, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with everybody. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
* * * * *
It’s a celebration that only comes around once every 500 years – and we’re privileged to get to be here for it. The Protestant Reformation was a watershed in the history of the Christian church. It impacted all of Europe and, over time, the whole world – not just in the realm of religion, but in government, commerce, the arts…. All because the German monk and theologian Martin Luther dared to voice his grievances with the one holy Roman Church, and to share his discovery of the power of God’s grace. And men like John Calvin carried it forward and developed whole new ways of being church, of living together as the people of God.
We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at some of the core beliefs of the Reformers and how those truths are still essential to our faith.
- Things like the priesthood of all believers - how God blesses each of us with unique gifts, and uses our gifts for the good of the whole body; and that no one is holier than others, and we don’t need intermediaries to get close to God;
- But salvation isn’t something we do by ourselves. We faced the truth that each one of us needs the grace of God in Jesus Christ to set us free from the power of sin to rule our lives, but that freedom is real and powerful;
- We looked at the role scripture plays, and how important it was to Luther that everyone be able to read it for ourselves, in our own language, so we can hear God’s voice speaking to us. Scripture isn’t a law code to follow, but an avenue of grace, a conversation with God.
- And how it’s the power of the Holy Spirit moving in us and through us that gives us a living faith - a living, breathing faith, God-in-us.
The Reformers set the world on fire, and it’s never been the same. Countless experiments in Christianity have followed since, each generation trying to embody the Gospel in their own way, for their own time. This thing we call “Church” is not a static entity or an artifact to preserve, but a living, breathing organism, evolving and changing over time.
From the beginning, the Reformers knew it would be this way. “Reformed and always reforming,” they said. Some translate the Latin: “Reformed and always being re-formed.” It’s not like we’re reforming ourselves – it’s God. God is the one who changes us.
Reformed and always being re-formed. It acknowledges the simple truth that we are a work in progress. God isn’t finished with us yet. And thank God for that. Thank God.
See, what God wants for us is nothing short of a miracle. God wants us to be like Jesus Christ. That’s what being “Christian” means, right? Or should mean?
That’s how Paul puts it when he was writing to the Christians in Rome. You’re part of the body of Christ, he said. You as an individual are part of something much, much bigger than yourself. It’s really important not to lose sight of that. Our whole goal, our whole purpose, is to take our everyday, ordinary lives and place them before God as an offering. God wants what’s good for us – for us to grow up strong, and well – but not just for our own benefit. It’s because we’re part of what God is doing in the world. That’s what we’re here for. To be part of what God is doing in the world.
Five years ago when I was in Austin, Texas, starting my Doctor of Ministry program, I met a pastor who was recommended to me as a good person for wise counsel. Our church was in transition then, and I wasn’t sure where we were going, let alone how to get there. I went to him prepared to hear about strategic planning and how-to-make-your-church-grow kinds of wisdom. I wanted to know how to get us unstuck.
What he said to me threw me for a loop. He simply asked a question, “What kind of people do you want to send into the world?” Once you figure that out, he said, then you figure out what kind of church creates that kind of Christian.
Those simple questions started a process of renewal for us, and it has not slowed down. We started to be re-formed. All because we weren’t worried about making our church grow, or have the best programs, or be the go-to-church in town.
We were focused on God re-forming us. “Transformed from the inside out,” is how Paul puts it.
What’s important is that we keep trying to become the kind of people Paul describes in his letter, with “well-formed maturity,” as he puts it. Loving genuinely, loving each other deeply. Being confident in hope, patient in suffering, faithful in prayer. Being generous people, ready to give for the sake of other people’s needs. Bringing our whole lives – not just our incomes or paychecks – to God as an offering. Because we belong to him.
This world is a challenging place, and it’s easy to conform to the priorities and demands of our culture. The competitiveness, the fear-mongering, the meanness. It’s easy to buy the marketing that says that if you have more you’ll be happier, that the only way to be secure is to focus on number one. That it’s all about you.
The Gospel tells us something else entirely. Yes, it’s all about you, in the sense that God loves you extravagantly, lavishly, profusely… but the story doesn’t end there. If it did, our world would be very, very small, our own little bubble of self-importance. It’s about you and how you fit into God’s great plan for this world, where evil is overcome by good, where people laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep, and no one is left to battle hardship alone. God knows what’s good for our souls; that arrogance gets us nowhere, and retaliation only breeds more fighting.
No, “the only accurate way to understand ourselves,” Paul says, “is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”
That’s what our pledges are about. It’s not ‘doing something good for God,’ though it is good what you are doing. It’s seeing ourselves for who we really are – God’s people, God’s children, God’s servants, God’s beloved – seeing ourselves the way God sees us, then putting our lives on the line to let God re-form us again. Re-form us into the body of Christ.
The Reformers didn’t set out to make a new church. They set out to make new Christians. Faithful, free and bold, equipped to be the body of Christ. Re-formed, and always being re-formed.
Rev. Karen Chakoian