April 11, 2021
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
The first in a series of four.
Last week we celebrated Easter. This week we start a series on what Easter means for us. Our theme verse: “As Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
In other words, the resurrection of Jesus makes a difference in the way we live. We are not the same after the resurrection as we were before the resurrection. We are new people. We are different people. We are Easter people.
We read about this in the Bible. The disciples of Jesus after the resurrection bear little resemblance to the disciples of Jesus before the resurrection. Before they were cowards. They ran away when Jesus was arrested. After they were fearless. All they could talk about was the resurrection. Even when it got them arrested and beaten and martyred. Their faith was contagious. The new church grew rapidly. “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Paul was a persecutor of Christians. Then he met the risen Jesus and he became a Christian. In fact he became the most effective Christian missionary ever. He is the one who wrote that verse: “As Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). He also wrote this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17). He knew. Because that was true for him.
And it can be true for us. It should be true for us. But is it? Does the fact that Jesus rose from the dead make any difference at all in the way you live your life?
Here is how some of us are living our lives. And here are a couple of senior citizens who have chosen a different way to live their lives. (See featured image)
(Watch on YouTube: Dietmar and Nellia ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMglBwfhsN4 )
Now tell me the truth. Which would you rather be?
Being a Christian doesn’t mean you will be able to dance like that. But being a Christian does mean there should be some joy in your life. Some life in your step. And it will show. We are Easter people. What does that mean? How will that show in the way we live? Today we start a series of four sermons on the subject, “Resurrection Living.”
I love what N.T. Wright says about this:
How can we learn to live as wide-awake Easter people? In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume and in due course, bearing fruit. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project, not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.
Don’t you love that! Don’t you long for that! The life of heaven lived on earth. That’s what I mean by “Resurrection Living.”
Today we’re going focus on two words: conform and transform. If we are going to conform, it means we are going to be like everyone else. We are going to fit in. We are going to let other people tell us who we are. If we are going to be transformed, it means change. We will be different from other people. We will be different from the person we used to be. We will not let other people tell us who we are.
Of course, sometimes it is the nonconformists who are the true conformists. Here is some “South Park” wisdom: (See featured image 2)
It is scary to stand out and be different. So conformity has its appeal. It’s easier to let other people tell us who we are. We often let them. The problem is that other people don’t know who we are. We don’t even know who we are. Only God knows who we are. Only God who made us knows who we truly are and who we truly can become. So:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).
It says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” Paul knows that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been conforming to the pattern of this world. He knows we’ve been doing that because it’s human nature to do that. He says “stop it.” You’ve been doing it, we’ve all been doing it, but don’t need to do it any longer. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” Because the Resurrection Life is distinctly non-comformative.
The world is always going to be tugging on you. Like a giant magnet, which if you’ve studied physics you know is exactly what the world actually is. That’s the reason a compass works. In a similar way, we are always being pulled by the prevailing opinions of those around us.
It used to be we heard the same opinions on the nightly news. ABC, CBS, and NBC. Most people just went along. If Walter Cronkite said it, that’s the way it was. But that’s not the way it is any longer. We have access to more information and more opinions than ever before. So of course, we are so much smarter, so much wiser, and the world is such a better place!
Just the opposite. There is so much confusion. There is so much polarization. There is so much anger toward those who don’t see it the way we do. And there is such a tendency to conform to those who do see it the way we do. We all seem to find our own “echo chambers” that conform to our biases. Which is very convenient, because that way we never have to question our biases. That way we never have to do the hard work of understanding those who happen to have biases that differ from ours.
And just like that South Park cartoon, we all become non-conformists who just happen to think exactly the same as all the other non-conformists who agree with us. I don’t think that’s what it means when it says: “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world.” Do not conform means being different. Different from other people. Different from the person we used to be.
So now we’re ready to talk about transformation.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Paul is telling us it begins with our minds. It doesn’t end with our minds. It ends with our hearts. It ends with our whole selves. Resurrection living is about heart, soul, body, mind, and strength. The whole enchilada. But it begins with the mind.
Our praise band has Scott Underwood’s song, “Holiness” in their repertoire:
So take my heart and form it,
Take my mind transform it,
Take my will conform it,
To yours, to yours, O Lord.
A song like this illustrates the point. If you go through your day with a song like that stuck in your head, you are way better off than with negativity stuck in your head. Or anger. Or fear. Or hatred. Or beating up on yourself. Or resentment toward others. Negative thoughts are more than just thoughts. They don’t stay neatly compartmentalized in your head. They invade your whole self.
That’s what Paul is getting at in that verse where he tells us what we’re supposed to think about.
Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).
What business is it of his what we think about? It’s a free country. I can think about whatever I want to think about. Of course I can. But there are consequences to what I think about. So, for my own good, not to mention yours, I need to train my mind to think thoughts that are true and gracious and excellent and worthy of praise.
Yes, it’s true, we are not always in control of what we think about. The mind has a life of its own. It can take us places whether we want to go there or not. So it’s a matter of training the mind.
There is a whole field of study called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It teaches you to think about your thoughts. Don’t let them control you. You control them. When your thinking is distorted or negative or harmful, you learn to recognize that and challenge those unhealthy thoughts. Kind of like you become your own therapist. You talk back to yourself. You take control. Or we might even say, you become “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
I quoted N.T. Wright earlier. He was describing Easter people as those who are filling their gardens with color and perfume and eventually, fruit. This expands on that:
Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds.
The harvest can either be flowers or weeds.
It’s kind of like the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out.” So we fill our minds with good things. Like good music. Like good conversation with good people. Like good books. Like the one book that is called for a very good reason The Good Book.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).
This is the verse just before the one that talks about conforming and transforming. I think I’d rather be a living sacrifice than a dead sacrifice, how about you? The old way was to offer animal sacrifices in order to please God. We don’t do that anymore. God’s new way was coming to us in Jesus and dying for us on the cross. That was the “one full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world” (Communion Ritual, 1964 Book of Hymns). And now, because of Jesus, because of his sacrifice on the cross, we “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices.”
Because Jesus died, we live. Because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, we can make a living sacrifice. We can die to self. We can live in Jesus. We are told this is holy and pleasing to God. And then we are told something else. This is our spiritual worship.
Which is real interesting, especially for those of us who are in the habit of giving God one hour a week for worship. Because this is telling us one hour a week isn’t enough. Worship is more than what we think of as worship. Worship is becoming like Jesus. It is Resurrection Living. It is not one hour a week. It is 168 hours a week. It is 365 days a year.
And a sermon is not something you sit still for and, if you’re lucky, it’s over in 20 minutes. You haven’t been very lucky here lately. If your spiritual worship never ends, neither does the sermon. Except you are preaching the sermon. You are preaching it with your life. “Preach the Gospel at all times,” said Francis of Assisi. “If necessary, use words.”
Paul says we are a new creation in Jesus. Because he died and rose again. Because of Easter, we not only get to hear an Easter sermon one day a year. We get to preach Easter sermons every day of the year. In the way we live. If necessary, we use words.
And then we are told this: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (II Corinthians 5:20).
You know what an ambassador is? We send someone from our country to represent our country in a foreign country. Or the foreign country sends someone to represent their country in our country. The idea is that heads of state can’t be everywhere, so they send ambassadors to speak for them. When you meet the ambassador, it is the next best thing to meeting the head of state.
This is a remarkable verse. It’s not that Christ can’t be everywhere. He can. He is. But still Christ chooses his followers, like you and me to serve as his ambassadors. We are representing him. It is almost as if we are him. God is making his appeal through us. People who don’t know Jesus but who know that we go to church, see us and it’s like they are looking at Jesus. They hear us and it’s like they are listening to Jesus. We may be the only Jesus they ever meet.
We are representing him. That much is for sure. The only question is whether we are representing him well or representing him poorly.
There’s a saying that, if I’m not mistaken, had its origin in the 1960’s. At least that’s when first heard it.
If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
What do you think? I think if that question doesn’t make you uncomfortable, that means it should.
In my imagination, I am sitting in a courtroom. I am the defendant. A lawyer is reading from the Bible. He is speaking to the jury. He says:
Christians offer their bodies as living sacrifices. That is their spiritual worship. It is lived out, not once a week but every day. Christians don’t conform to the patterns of the world. They are transformed, mind, body, and soul. Christians are new creations in Christ. The old has gone. The new has come. Christians are ambassadors of Christ. God makes his appeal through them.
It is time now, ladies and gentlemen, for you to render your verdict. You have heard the evidence. Is the evidence presented sufficient, beyond a reasonable doubt, to render a verdict of guilty?
O God, we call ourselves Christians, but we do we know what we’re saying? Do we know? Do we care? Are we all in? Or is “Christian” just a label we conveniently wear so we can conform to the people around us. We wouldn’t want to be different. We wouldn’t want to stand out. Transformation is a nice thing for other people, but not so much for us. God, speak to our minds. Speak to our hearts. Grant us your gift of spiritual discontentment. For Christ is risen, that is true. But are we living a new life? That is in doubt. We pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.