Romans 12: 1-8
August 27th, 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“May our ears be attuned to the shifting and moving words of this ancient scripture lesson which the Apostle Paul wrote so long ago for the early church in Rome.”
1 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 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 gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
“Let us now allow the Spirit of the Living God to alter and change the way we view one another – within this body, this fellowship of faith.”
Without a doubt, the most amazing thing, in all of Creation, is the body; the human body. Its vast complexity is something which scientists continue to learn about and they are still discovering new things, virtually everyday!! Yes, we learn more about the uniqueness of our bodies all the time! It seems like there is always something new being discussed! I am not personally knowledgeable on the complexities of the human system. But now and then, I read about new understandings and discoveries from the medical field which are presented in that higher language which scientists use! Which means it is important, even if I don’t fully understand all of what I am reading or hearing! Yet, because of these findings new medical processes for trying to improve the quality, as-well-as the length of life seems to continue moving forward! It is no wonder that our scripture this morning uses it as the center piece to talk about how we can come together as faith communities. Coming together, working together to do all which our God has envisioned for us to be and to do! Fascinating, what the possibilities are when we contrast the simplistic and clumsy ways we see our communities, and the delicate and complex structures our Creator has imbedded within our own bodies.
If we could, and if we would start to simply realize how important the wellbeing of our community is, just as we appreciate the importance of caring for our individual bodies, this would be a moment of growth! For no matter where we are as individuals within the communities we live, function and operate in… there is always an opportunity to improve. I do not put this forward as criticism… but as an occasion for each one of us to take a careful and critical look at ‘how’ we might enhance ‘who’ and ‘what,’ we ‘are’ within the larger communities which are intergraded into our lives. We cannot just limit this to our faith community either. This is indeed a good place to practice those new ideas, those new skills and improve this body; but, it is also an opportunity to improve the social systems outside the walls of this church or any church for that matter.
Let us digress for a moment. Most of us begin our educations as children. We first learn to crawl then walk. As time moves forward we learn how to develop and cultivate our motor skills. Great athletes begin training their skills, at a very early age. How often have we seen a picture of a famous athlete, throwing a football or swinging a golf club, as a young child? We go on to learn how to use our vocal cords; first we cry, then we yell a bit, cry some more… and the process begins as we learn to form words and then sentences and by the time we are my age – some of us have forgotten how to stop the flow of words. Yes, sometimes silence is a blessing! Hopefully, along the way, we each learn the proper use of our native languages to effectively communicate with others. And in a similar manner we learn all of the other basics which we humans need to master, one step at a time; one day at a time. Ultimately, we are all expected to learn the basics and start taking care of ourselves first, as we learn how to develop our life styles as adults. And then we get involved in the interactions of different circles of people within our system of life. Clearly, I am only generalizing here, hopefully, you are getting the point of this thought process!
There is an old saying we often hear kicked around as we become adults. “Everything we need to know as adults we learned in kindergarten!” Do you remember some of the things we were taught at that age? Play nice! Don’t hit others. Share with others. Clean up after yourself. Many times, it is apparent we are getting bogged down in the simplest of things, especially when we are interacting with others. You all know what is meant by getting ‘bogged’ down, right? Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to say to others – we forget to listen to them! Can you imagine! Other times we get stuck on some trivial, petty thing. Usually, this is caused by something someone careless says to us, or about us, and it spoils our ability to interact as we ought! Life isn’t as simple as when we were in kindergarten, but, idealistically, wouldn’t it be great if adults followed some of those basic early guidelines we were given as children?
“When we relate to the people around us with compassion, we find God’s compassion surrounding us all. That’s where we look for God: in ordinary, everyday compassion towards other people.” This simple thought comes from a theologian named Alan Brehm whom I have quoted before. Could it be all that simple? This is like when the nutritionist tells us to only eat foods with vitamins and protein, rather than empty calories with high sugar and or fat content! Be compassionate! Isn’t this like sharing and playing nice, but in grown up language! As adults, we must come to realize that being kind, considerate and actually-caring for others is what Jesus and our early Sunday School teachers taught – all the time!
What is it that the Apostle Paul is trying to communicate to us in this lesson before us today? Looking at verse two we hear how we ought “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.” /Romans 12:2/ This is a complex sentence with a lot to consider! The sentence concludes by telling us if we ‘discern’ the will of God, we will be led to know and understand what is good, acceptable and perfect! This means we must distinguish, separate and come to recognize the will of God in our lives, if we are to fully use our human bodies in an acceptable way, thereby being ‘in tune’ to the Spiritual life, which is in-essence a state of perpetual worship! Again, we must fall back upon what we learned early in life. You have heard me say or infer this, many times when I talk with the children. To be in relationship with God, to be connected to what God is wanting us to do, we need to interact and build a communications network between God and ourselves. That’s right, we need to be hooked up to the Spiritual network of God. This is a lot more powerful than this thing we call the internet!
Let’s go back to the first part of that second verse: we ought “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” /Romans 12:2/ Which means we are not to imitate, follow nor adapt ourselves to the ways of the world; meaning the material and physical world. Not if we wish to be in tune with the Spiritual world! Rather, Paul is saying: we are to be transformed! Wow, that is a big word! We are to be changed, converted and made over in a new way! Clearly, Paul is saying to us: if we want to be truly connected to God, in the realm of the spiritual world we must go through a change! It is important to understand that we are not talking about changing our physical selves, for we have already established that God wants us to use our bodies for good purposes. We are talking about the spiritual domain and jurisdiction of the “Heavenly, Mystifying God of Creation!” By imitating Christ in the words, which we use, words filled with kindness and compassion at-all-times. It is then that we shall move closer and closer to this awesome mind changing state of mind and heart! By following in the example Jesus set, in his deeds, helping others, reaching across social norms when necessary to show acts of kindness and mercy, being compassionate towards others always! This will more closely center us in the opportune space – where God’s ‘will’ shall be most often heard and understood.
Hear these thoughts from other pastors. “Paul is clear about the general direction of the journey with Jesus: transformed non-conformity.” /Daniel B. Clendenin/ “When we are free from the obsession with establishing our own importance, we can then see ourselves for who we are.” /William Loader, Murdoch University/ As these clergymen are pointing out, we need to be striving for different values than the crowd we see ‘strutting’ their things and ‘boasting’ of their powers and ‘bragging’ about their talents for all to see and hear! No, as we use our bodies for the good of others and the service of the needy, out of love of God and the children of God, we shall have no need for these self-edifying practices of a selfish people! This is what transformation is all about! It is looking to God for approval and direction; not those we callously, heartlessly and coldly interact with along our journey. The challenge: is to seek a makeover, stepping out of the herd and learning to love with total empathy and compassion; just as we have been taught that Jesus did!
The question is not what are the details and how do all our arteries work? We can leave that up to the medical research teams whom at least know the difference between a vein and an artery! The question we need to reflect on, for our own spiritual wellbeing, is what does God want us to do with our physical bodies, as we work to be more in touch with the ‘will’ of God? This needs to be considered as we get more in touch with the bodies, the communities and the circles of people we interact with, as-well-as the body of Christ to which we have committed to serve and love. Let us strive to come together, with love and kindness for ‘one another’ as we serve from this body of faith, worshipping and praising God! When we do this, then we shall be ready to serve God with gladness and serve God’s children with compassion and love!