by Rev. Karen W. Berns
Rom. 12:1-2: 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. [NRSV]
PRAY – Present, powerful & personal God, I ask for the illumination of Word by your Spirit as we reflect now. Where my words are your words, may they be remembered, taken to heart and acted on. Where they are mine alone, may they be quickly forgotten, as I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
Not only is today the fifth Sunday in the new year, we have just been through Epiphany—a time of God’s presence, power and incarnation showing forth in the world. We can appreciate this in nature. Especially after our first winter soakings of rain, the foothills are greener than I recall ever before. Like green cut velvet. And have you seen the beautiful magnolia trees in bloom? It’s really winter, not yet Spring, but the landscape is changing so significantly that you can almost see plants growing, like the amazing amaryllis that stretches up, buds and blossoms for Christmas or Easter—What a metamorphosis!
In our Epistle lesson, Rom 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul looks us straight in the eyes and tells us how we are to live so we can be God’s people to serve in everyday work and life. In the 1st eleven chapters of this letter written to Christ’s followers in Rome, Paul painstakingly set forth a rich new pattern of how they are to understand themselves & who you & I are, who God is & what God has done for us thru the life, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is true that “Each one of us lives in pure grace, the free gift of God’s forgiveness and new life and filling of the Holy Spirit. We understand that God brings it all to us. “The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by who God is and by what God does for us, not by what we are and what we do for God.”
John Calvin said it this way, “We know our self as we know God.” We are God’s creations, made in God’s image, we are the creatures. With God’s Holy Spirit which we receive when we say, “Yes!” & open our lives to God through Christ, we’re called to be part of Christ’s Body on earth, called to be renewed & transformed, since God’s image in us was blurred, cracked, distorted by sin, but now is cleansed.
In Rom. 12, turning from what we are to believe, often written in terms of soaring theology, & how we are to have a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul begins the how-to’s.
Paul exhorts us to total renewal and transformation-of our bodies, minds, hearts and gifts.
That’s one of the reasons I love this passage – it’s so whole. Paul mirrors Jesus’ answer in Mk. 12: 29-31 to the question, “What’s the greatest commandment?” “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: [Jesus quotes Deut. 6:5, the great “Shema O Israel”] the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
We understand in our Reformed tradition that God is always the initiator. God creates us God’s own image and it is God who initiates relationship with us by sending Jesus. We see this in the baptism of infants and children – there is nothing they [or we] can do to earn God’s love. Our response to God’s initiative is to love God.
In Epistles Now, a paraphrase I’ve appreciated for years by Lutheran pastor, Leslie Brandt, puts Romans 12: 1-2, “The relationship between God and us is a two-way street. Our great God gives; we must respond to God’s gracious gifts. Our response is the offering of our lives, the placing of ourselves at God’s disposal, for the accomplishment of God’s purposes in our world about us. We are, once we acknowledge God’s love and accept salvation, under new management. This is what worship is all about – it is turning our hearts, minds and bodies over to God’s ownership and dedicating our abilities and gifts to God’s service.”
You may remember several years ago on TV a group of teenage super-heroes called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. “They dominated the interest of most 6-yr olds in the US. This show was an unlikely hit–originally made in Japan on a low budget & poorly dubbed into English. The key to show’s appeal was characters’ ability to “morph.” With rallying cry, “It’s morphin’ time!” normal adolescents were miraculously transformed into martial arts heroes for justice. This show became such a huge hit that term morph began creeping into magazine articles & everyday conversations.
The word morph probably sounds familiar? It’s part of metamorphosis, meaning transformation. The little word morph actually comes from one of richest Greek words in NT– morphoo– which means ‘inward & real formation of the essential nature of a person.’ It’s the very term used to describe the formation & growth of an embryo in a mother’s body.
The apostle Paul used this word and meaning in his letter to Galatian Christians in 4:19″ My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
Another form of the word appears when Paul writes in 2 Cor 3:18: ‘We, who w/ unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness.’
It’s not just 6 yr olds who want to morph. The desire for real transformation is deep in heart of every human being.
The goal of life in Christ is spiritual transformation – being transformed into his likeness! This is living as if Jesus held unhindered sway over your whole self. Of course, it’s still YOU & I doing the living–your temperament, your gene pool, your history, so you can be who and do what God has gifted you to do. To grow spiritually is to be renewed & transformed to live increasingly as Jesus would– in your unique place–seeing as Jesus would see if he looked thru your eyes, thinking what he would think, feeling what he would feel, & therefore doing what he would do.
Over time an amazing thing happens. You and I begin to WANT to live this way. It appeals to us–makes sense. We no longer want simply to ‘do the right thing’ because we should; instead, we want to become the right kind of person.
Transformation is a holy and mysterious process. It doesn’t happen quickly, neatly or predictably. But the promise of Scripture is that ordinary people can receive power for extraordinary change.
The Apostle Paul says it this way in Rom 12:1 in The Message translation by Eugene Peterson:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”
That’s presenting yourselves as a living sacrifice, and I don’t know you very well, but my experience is that living sacrifices keep crawling off the altar! I surely do!
We’re to love God with our hearts – our emotions, and with our souls, our psyches. We open them to God for forming, filling, healing and freeing – for transformation! How do you need God’s Spirit forming, filling, healing, conforming, freeing or transforming you in this new year? That’s a good question on which to reflect, & perhaps, to journal before January is over.
We love God with our minds as we allow God’s Word and truth to permeate us. To take every thought captive to Christ is a tall order, which can’t be accomplished as though transformation were just a new coat of paint. Transformation is about re-creation.
Mark Labberton, President of Fuller Seminary, wrote,
“Paul’s view of our minds stems from both his Hebrew & Greek contexts. ‘Mind’ here certainly connotes reason & thought; hence 11 chapters of tight, measured argument to ponder. But ‘mind’ is not mere rationality. Instead, it refers to that reality that, as human beings made in God’s image, we are vested with the capacity for thought & feeling, insight & understanding. ‘Minds’ in verse 2 cannot be limited to ‘brains’ any more than ‘bodies’ in verse 1 can be limited to ‘physiques.’ Paul urges the church, ‘let your lives be transformed by the renewal of how you perceive, interpret, value & respond.’”
Augustine asserted that “a Christian is one who thinks in believing and believes in thinking.” Calvin affirmed that God’s revelation always comes by Word and Spirit. Developing the mind of Christ and loving God with our minds takes committing ourselves with fresh energy to study Scripture, alone & with others. This is so important to commit to at the beginning of a new year & to be accountable not only to God, but to the Body of Christ, especially through a small group or spiritual partner. As Mark Labberton says, “Scripture is essential grist in the mill that enables God to renew our minds.”
Also, we are transformed to love God with our bodies. That means careful stewardship of them, understanding that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. You know what that means for you in terms of diet & exercise, rest and renewal. That’s crucial for every Christian, so probably you need to commit to exercise, as I have just again, thanks to a gym membership Christmas gift. Let’s encourage one another’s self care.
Did you know that recreation as transformation is an important business in our culture? The International Spa Assoc. reports the number of hotels or resorts offering spas has more than tripled in a 4 year period at the beginning of this century- 473 in 2000, 1,662 spas in 2004. How many more now?! An anthropologist reflecting on this phenomenon said this: “A vacation should make you feel like a new person. People feel ready for a transformation, which is exactly what a spa offers.”
That’s not really the kind of transformation business God is in. It reminds me, though, of how JB Phillips translated our text: With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers [& we would add sisters], as an act of intelligent worship, to give God your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to God & acceptable to God. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all God’s demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity.
This has always been God’s way. God calls ‘everyday, ordinary’ people and sends them to serve God by serving other people. Former Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson said it this way, “We are to be servants of the Servant of the Servant.” And though we’re everyday, ordinary, we are each unique in our minds, bodies, experience, gifts and God has unique work for us who worship God to do.
The Apostle Paul says” the reason for a renewed mind and a transformed life is the we may discern or prove what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect. The stakes involved could hardly be higher or broader. ‘Proving what is the will of God’ explodes petty, private motivations which are sometimes no greater than hopes for being happy. And the process of transformation isn’t done when we simply have a renewed inner script telling us who or whose we are. Clear thinking is a moral act. And its morality is to be plainly visible in action.” [Labberton- renews 11/93]
Then, as we, the church, are renewed in mind and heart and soul and body, as we are transformed, some outside the church may notice as we care and serve and work for justice and they may be drawn to Jesus Christ who shines through us.
So Friends, Let God transform you & your life with God’s mighty power. It’s not just true for power rangers- Believe me,”It’s morphin’ time!” Amen & hallelujah!
Powerful God, may we each in 2017, continue to be transformed, knowing we have been formed in your image by You. May we allow your Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, knowing that transformation is not always glorious and victorious, but slow and through the crucible of struggle and suffering, as we know of the caterpillar in the chrysalis becoming a butterfly.
In the year of our Lord, 2017, Holy Spirit, help us in our next phase of transformation, more and more to reflect the image of Christ as we love, serve, comfort, encourage, & serve the church and the world You created and so love.
We surely pray this for our new President and his appointees, our Congress people and local leaders, also.
In the strong name of Jesus, Amen.