By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you have cable television in your home, then perhaps you’ve seen it. The show Trading Spaces features two people or two couples who agree to let each other remodel a room in their apartment. There is only one condition: they can do whatever they want to your place, and you can do whatever you want to theirs.
With the help of the Trading Spaces staff, the renovation takes place in just 24 hours, and only $1000 can be spent on each project. At the end of the show, you see each person’s response. Sometimes they are quite pleased with the results, but other times, their disappointment is monumental.
Though I am not a frequent watcher, the show I saw two weeks ago had a couple remodeling their best friend’s family room. Out went the cedar paneling, the brick fireplace was covered up, and the carpeting removed. Then the entire room was painted a Pepto-Bismol pink. When the homeowners came in, and took their blindfolds off, the man was angry and the woman wept! Not good for their friendship, I am sure, but great for TV ratings!
It occurs to me as I watch Trading Spaces that all the changes are merely cosmetic. They’re not changing anything; they’re simply rearranging what is already there. If they really wanted to change the house, they would spend the thousand dollars to rent a bulldozer and tear off the guest bedroom! Can you imagine? “Bill and Angie, you know that room with the terrible green carpet? Well you don’t have to worry about that anymore!”
As ludicrous as that sounds, I want to spend our time this morning making the distinction between the things in this life that are truly changed, and those that are merely rearranged. Specifically, I want to focus on our spiritual lives, and consider whether God has called us to be radically different people in this world, or if rearranged is good enough.
This sermon actually finds its beginning some 2000 years ago, when the Apostle Paul is writing a letter to the Church at Rome. Christianity was only a few years old at the time, and Paul was crafting a doctrine by which the church would operate. This new religion needed a structure to run on, so for the better part of 11 chapters in Romans, Paul creates a theology; a sort of “standard operating procedure.” But now in the 12th chapter, Paul changes gears abruptly. He seems to be answering the question “So, how does all this theology stuff affect our lives?” Paul uses the rest of the Letter of Romans – but specifically the eight verses that we read this morning – to answer that critical question. “If Jesus died for sinful people, how then shall we live our lives?” It’s a question that still stands today: If Jesus died for me, how should I then live?
First, Paul says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice; holy and acceptable to God.” That’s a strange phrase for we who live in the 21st century, but for people of the 1st century, it was astounding. You see, for centuries, faithful Jews had pleased God through the sacrificing of animals. If God was angry, kill a cow! If you wanted to atone for some sins in your life, pitch a dead lamb up on the altar. Paul is now saying ENOUGH OF THE KILLING! God doesn’t want dead animals; God wants alive people! God wants vibrant, joyful people, living out their faith in every corner of this world.
Strangely, though, Christians are still pretty good at sacrificing. We don’t slaughter a lamb when we feel remorse over our sin; we punish ourselves with guilt and shame. Even when we believe that God has forgiven us, we often refuse to forgive ourselves. And we punish others for their sins, too. We judge them, we criticize them, and we condemn them. It has been said that “The Christian Church is the only army in the world that shoots its own wounded.”
But in his very next breath, Paul says that God doesn’t want the process to end there; forgiveness is just the beginning. But the Christian life is a journey in which we take thousands and thousands of baby steps to become more and more like Jesus. In other words, it doesn’t happen all at once; it happens over a lifetime. So these are Paul’s words:
“Do not be conformed by this world,
but be transformed by God.”
Do not be conformed by this world, but be transformed by God.
Do you know how easy it is to be conformed to the standards of this world? Of course you do, and so do I. It happens to us everyday. The world tells us to wear narrow solid neckties, so I buy narrow, solid neckties. The world says to wear small framed eyeglasses, so I bought these. The world says to drink gourmet coffee instead of good ol’ fashioned Folgers, so I pay two bucks for a cup of Caribou, and I feel good about it!
The problem is, the world’s standards are constantly changing. Fueled by slick marketing techniques and amazing technology, we are constantly told that we need the next new thing in order to be up to date. Meanwhile, I have a closet full of wide flowery ties, and bell-bottom plaid pants and polyester leisure suits, hoping that I live long enough for them to come back into style. And I do all of this because I want to conform…I want to fit in to the culture in which I live.
The words are interesting, I think. The word “conform” means to rearrange the shape, or color, or form of something. It’s cosmetic; it’s temporary. Paul says “don’t be conformed by this world. Rather,” Paul writes, “be transformed by God.” The word “transform” means to change from the inside. And Paul’s assessment was exactly correct; that we spend much of our time and much of our energy rearranging our lives in order to fit into this world, and we spend precious little of our time and energy allowing God to change us at the core.
And finally, Paul says that the Church is a body, and that every person in the body has a vital part to play. In the world, we say that doctors are more valuable than nurses, and that principals are more important than teachers, and that those who work for pay are more esteemed than those who volunteer. In the church, we say that is nonsense! There is no pecking order in the Kingdom of God; all are equal, all are valuable, and all are necessary.
But Paul’s concept of the Church being a body has another feature to it, and it is this: We all have a function in the body, and if someone doesn’t perform their function to the best of their ability – or if the person doesn’t perform their function at all – then the entire body becomes less than what it could have been. If the choir has no tenors, it’s not a full choir. If Jane Gay decides to only play the keyboard with her left hand, something is noticeably missing. If a number of people decide that they’re not going to share their offering any longer, the body is handicapped.
Today at 11:00 o’clock, we will break ground on our new Community Life Center. One of the fears of the members of this congregation is that, if our church grows, it will change our church dramatically. In one sense, I agree. If the church grows, and people who formerly taught Sunday School, or sang in the choir, or made beautiful quilts decided not to do those tasks anymore, our church will change significantly. But if we see the church as a body, and even when the body grows, every body part is necessary, then our church will change very little. It will be rearranged; cosmetically, it will look and feel a bit different. But it will be the same church, because it will be comprised of a people whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ. It is his church, not ours. God is the source of our growth and change. God is the purpose of our life together here. May our joy come only in that which God has done. And may God’s joy come in our faithful response. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Copyright 2002 Steven Molin. Used by permission.