Here at First Church, we distill our mission statement to three two-word sentences: Love God. Serve People. Transform Lives.
The apostle Paul was very interested in transformation. In our text for today, he contrasts transformation with conformity. Paul knew them both in his own life and in the lives the people he knew. He knew the power of being conformed and the power of being transformed. And, out of his experiences with both, Paul chooses transformation as the far better path.
Remember Paul’s story? Paul was a persecutor of the Church. He simply conformed zealously to the traditions and understandings in which he was steeped. He was suspicious and afraid of those not like himself. His conformity had just about closed his heart and mind to hearing and experiencing the freeing and life-giving love of Christ. He had zealously earned his way onto the church’s “greatest enemies” list. He was headed for Damascus to drag Christians back in chains, but Saul (the Hebrew version of his name, as he is called in that part of the Bible), through his encounter with the living Christ on the road, spun 180 degrees in his life orientation. His bitterness and hatred turned to peace and joy and love.
It was a real transformation!
This Sunday is Aldersgate Day, which commemorates the day John Wesley’s life was “transformed by the renewing of [his] mind.” It was May 24, 1738. He had been struggling with his faith. He had begun to wonder if the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus Christ was an abstract concept that maybe applied to others, but not to him. Then, he had his powerful, transforming experience. Here is his journal entry from that day:
“In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, ‘Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is mercy with thee; therefore thou shalt be feared. …. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins.’
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society on Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
The good news of our faith is not that John Wesley felt his “heart strangely warmed” 282 years ago, but that God still works in our lives to warm our hearts today, to transform our lives today, and to make us instruments of transformation as we go out to be God’s people in the world, today.
I invite you to think about conforming and being transformed and what that means for you today. How are you conformed to the world? How have you been “transformed by the renewing of your mind?”
I look forward to exploring these questions with you on Sunday in Sanctuary worship, live-streamed at 11:00 am.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Romans 12:1-8 Common English Bible (CEB)
1 So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.