January 26, 2020

 “United and Renovated”

Romans 12:1-8

 

I don’t know about you, but I have had a lot of difficulties engaging with the impeachment trial happening in the senate. I watch the news or listen on radio for about a minute, then hear something so polarly opposite to what I believe, that I find myself quickly changing the channel to watch or listen to something less partisan and more peaceful. Partisan, a word thrown around in almost all conversations on newscasts these days means- “A militant supporter of a party, cause, faction, person or idea.” (American Heritage Dictionary, Dell Publishing, 1980) There certainly is a lot of strong partisanship on both sides of the political aisle at the moment, as they argue into next week, almost through the night over what the president did and didn’t do.

 

Clearly, there is a true divide in the United States with at least two camps, if not more. We are divided about how to view our current administration, help our nation, how to protect the environment and deal with climate change, how best to help the poor, how to create jobs, how to deal with immigration and those who come to our border, and what the role of government should and should not be.  Personally, I do not see that sense of militant partisanship changing anytime soon, especially with a very important presidential election looming on the horizon in November. I did, however, find some solace in scripture, where the psalmist writes, “Do not put your trust in the princes, in mortals, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are they whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God...” (Psalm 146:3-4) I may need to memorize that one this year…

 

 

I share this story of the partisan bickering over the soul of our nation because there was also a partisan divide going on in the church in the 1st century. It is exactly about which Paul was writing. This divide was between Jewish Christian converts, who saw themselves as authentic people of God, and Gentile, non-Jewish Christian converts, who saw themselves as equally authentic Christians. This situation created a lot of tension and disunity in the church. While Jewish Christians seem to have claimed privilege with God on the basis of their ethnicity, the Gentiles emphasized God’s rejection of Israel in favor of them. The divide between the two groups is laid out quite well in chapters 9-11of Romans, and again in chapter 12:3- (cf. 14:1‑15:13). There was a lot of partisanship going on in that church, and it was falling apart as a result.

 

Here Paul says there is no place for a partisan divide in the church. Instead, Paul encourages reconciliation, and acceptance of diversity. Paul begins the section with his appeal for unity, calling these two opposing factions “Brothers and sisters” appealing for them to firstly, recognize their common faith in God which unites them as family. He then says, thanks to God’s mercy, they are “to present their bodies as a living sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God.” Paul uses an example that many Jewish Christian converts were familiar with- sacrifice at the temple. But, instead of bringing offerings to the temple, now the emphasis was on holy living. How then does this section apply to us today? Holy living- following God’s ways in our lives becomes a form of worship to God.

 

How do we live sacrificial lives that are holy and acceptable to God? How do we worship God with our lives? Paul tells us. He says, “Do not be conformed (Greek-union with & fashion = conform to the same pattern) to this world.” 

 

When I was in college, living at the dorms at San Francisco State, that first year I was pretty much conforming to the same pattern as those around me. It wasn’t very easy to tell that I was a person of faith, in part because I really wanted to fit in with everyone else. I didn’t talk much at all about my spiritual beliefs, and went to an occasional party(Although I’m thankful I didn’t go to a lot of those dorm parties on weekends because I had a church job elsewhere in the Bay Area, which kept me out of trouble, most of the time!) I found myself struggling with my faith and feeling frustrated.

 

The next year, I began attending a Bible study and carried my Bible around in my backpack. I began living my faith out a bit more. As a result, some of those folks whom I thought were my friends in the dorm suddenly felt uncomfortable around me, and I found myself shunned by them. Paul never said not conforming would be easy...

 

He goes on- but be transformed (Greek-Metamorpho-with fashion= changed, transfigured,) by the renewing(Greek-Anakainosis- renovation) of your minds. I love this idea of the renovation of the mind. To Renovate, by the way, means “to restore to an earlier condition.” (American Heritage Dictionary, Dell Publishing, 1980)

 

There’s a show on television called, “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network.  The show’s premise is that they find a formerly famous restaurant which once was going great guns that finds itself falling apart, losing money and in real danger of closing. They bring in an excellent chef who teaches the cooking staff to remember how to cook well. They reteach the waiting staff on customer service. Then they dress up the interior of the restaurant. When all is said and done, the restaurant has been fully renovated- restored to the condition it was when it made money and was thriving.

 

 

Paul calls us to have our minds renovated, that is restored back to an earlier condition of our identity as a creation of God, and a person of faith, so that our lives thrive. Our minds are cleared of sinful clutter. We are re-taught how we were initially created to think, to speak, to act- as a person of faith. This renovating of the mind through the power and mercy of God enables us to discern God’s will- what in this life is good, acceptable and perfect.

 

My mind in college was getting full of sinful clutter, was being squeezed into a party/ have fun lifestyle, and needed to be renovated to its former condition. Through going to a weekly Bible study, the Spirit renovated my mind back to being a person of faith, which then enabled me to help discern what God’s will was and what it wasn’t in my life, which led me to where I am standing in front of you right now.

 

So then how are we to keep from being conformed to the world in which we live? The difficult part is knowing what this means in practice. Throughout the history of the church, the “not being conformed part” for the Christian has often been confined to legalistic lists of taboos- Prohibitions regarding smoking, sex, drinking, dancing, and card playing.  Today, in the church,  there are Christians of both right and left which continue to define Christian distinctiveness by a list of “dont’s”. Christian distinctiveness might be defined by some groups as adhering to an approved stance on abortion, evolution, inclusive language, sexuality, politics, or something else.  While each of these issues should be thought about, prayed about, and led by study and Spirit, they often generate extremely divisive conflict, which is exactly what Paul is trying to keep from happening.

 

Paul's discussion may prove helpful in sorting out how we are in the world, but not of the world.  Paul might say that the behavior that is congruent with Christian belief is peaceable behavior and is directed to two different groups: Other Christians (12:3‑13; 14:1‑15:13) and non‑Christians (12:14‑21; 13:8‑10). It is also a life that is led by grace, which then enables us to perceive what is God’s will- what in this life is good, acceptable and perfect. Theologian Paul Achtemeier translated this section as follows- “Do not let yourselves be shaped by what everyone else does, but rather let yourselves be transformed by a whole new way of thinking, so you can discern what conforms to God’s will, namely what is good, pleasing and perfect in God’s eyes.”

 

Paul goes on to encourage these Jewish and Gentile Christian converts to remember God’s grace, and through that grace not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. Paul called them to think with “sober judgment”- that is honest thinking...Paul here is leveling the playing field- no one person in that first-century church, whether Jewish or Gentile, was better than another.

 

The same holds true for us. All of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and it doesn’t matter how long you have been a member or friend, how many times you have served on session or as a deacon, how many times you have given flowers, ushered or how long you’ve sung in the choir. In sober judgment, we are all equal and are united equally as "one body in Christ"(vv. 4‑5). Christ unifies us as one, beyond any ethnic, political, or other differences. This passage encourages us to recognize that "in Christ" we are "one body." We function as this body in our acts of service, in living out our faith.

 

I am sure we all remember when we gathered as Christ’s body a little over a month ago to vote on a way forward for our congregation; either to look into selling a portion or all of our property, or fixing up the facility with a capital campaign. The result of a tie vote was a surprise and God’s somewhat foggy answer to what is next, upon which a number of us are working. It is my sincere hope that as we consider the next steps, we too will think of ourselves as a body made up of many parts, UNITED in the Spirit of Christ. United does not mean uniformity-we may not all agree on ideas or way chosen. We can voice differing opinions and have varied ideas. Yet when all is said and done, we are still united as one body in Christ. We have a common faith in God that unites us as a family. If we don’t see ourselves in this way, we may end up breaking into angry partisan factions. If that happens, we are no different than Rotary, Kiwanis, or some social club that meets together on a regular basis. Unity in Christ is what sets us apart from those secular organizations. Bodies united by Christ see each other, despite their differences as sisters and brothers. Partisanship has no place in the body of Christ.

 

 

 

As we move forward and discern what is next, we will need a variety of gifts. Paul lists them beginning in verse 6. All believers are equipped to serve each other with varied "grace‑gifts" (v. 6). God's saving power claims our lives, energizes and equips us for service as God's people in God's world. We extend gifts of grace to one another, which means we treat each other with grace.

 Every believer, by definition, has some manifestation of God's grace, and therefore, of God’s gifts of grace, which include 7:

1) The prophet/Visionary-which can include being able to sense what the future may hold as led by God’s Spirit, or taking on the prophetic role calling people to God’s justice. This role will be so needed as we seek a way forward together as a congregation.

2) The minister-caring for others, being Christ-like and compassionate- During this time of uncertainty, we’ll need people to come alongside others, to listen to their concerns and treat them with Christ’s love.

3) The Teacher- We will need folks to study possibilities and bring information about them, teaching us the ins and outs of what directions we can choose.

4) The exhorter-that is one who can urge others through strong argument or appeal; those who can help shape dialogue in a session or at coffee hour- The enthusiastic, the cheerleaders will be needed as we move forward.

5) The Giver- The church needs people to give to the ministry to the church in time, talent and treasure, or that ministry fails.

6) The Leader- one who has diligence-persistence in leading others, in helping shape a vision for what can be. We will need many people with that gift as we begin to break into working groups.

And, finally -

7) The compassionate –Ones who see and know when to reach out to those who are struggling or hurting through this visioning process and can bring about reconciliation. ,

 

SO, there are two things we can take from today’s passage:

We will be successful in moving forward together as a united body through getting back to our original state of being- as children of the Creator, renovated by Christ-shaped and molded by the things of God, rather than the things of the world.

 

We all need each other, especially now in this uncertain time for this body of Christ. We need to be united and see each other as valued parts of the body, and as sisters and brothers in Christ- whether Jew or Gentile, Black or White, Republican or Democrat, progressive or conservative, capital campaign supporter or property sale supporter, Ducks or Beavers fan. We all are one in Christ’s Spirit. Thanks be to God!

God be with us as we seek a way forward together in the unity of Christ, and the renovation of our minds through the power of Christ. Alleluia! Amen.

 

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