August 30, 2015
I should start today by reading the title of this sermon. The emphasis should not be on the word “world,” but on the word “of.” If you say that something is “Not of this world,” that implies that it is “otherworldly,” perhaps “alien” in some way. (Almost like “Out of this world.”) I’m using this in the sense Jesus (and Paul) used it. I’m saying, “Not of this world,” which means something that is not part of this world. Jesus said of his followers that they are in the world, but not of the world. Do you see the difference?
That’s what we’re thinking about today. Paul told the Corinthians that “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation, the past is finished and done, behold the new has come.” I want us to consider that statement for the next couple of weeks. What does it mean to be a “new creation?” And do you feel like you are a “new creation?”
Today I’d like us to think of that in terms of the passage I just read from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. And as we think about this, I’d like us to keep in mind the kind of “new creation” he had become. He, Paul, the former Pharisee! He, the intense keeper of the law! He, the persecutor of the Church! He, of all people, knew what it was like to be a “new creation” in Christ!
So, to the Romans he wrote these words. “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Interesting!) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
“Presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice, is part of your spiritual worship.” That’s what he told them. That seems a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? How can that which is the “physical” part of us is actually be our “spiritual” worship?
Well, if you think about it, that had always been the case for them. As we said a few weeks go, their sacrifices, had everything to do with their sustenance. Their food supply system, was spiritual in nature, because they brought their sacrifices to the very altar of God. That’s harder for us to comprehend. We don’t have that kind of physical/spiritual connection. So I think we need to be reminded that what we do with all of our lives is part of our faith and devotion to God.
Sometimes that’s not “convenient,” is it? Sometimes we feel it would be better if such things could be taken separately. If only God could look more on our “spiritual devotion” and not so much on how we live out our actual “physical lives.” There were those in Paul’s time who actually believed the two were separate. They believed that, as long as they were “spiritually sound,” what they did with their bodies didn’t matter. Some were even know to have taken part in pagan “fertility rituals.” (Just use your imagination about what that involved! Yes some of the pagan religions actually had temple prostitutes!)
Well, Paul told the people that both worlds were connected. (The spiritual – the vertical element in our lives, and the Physical – the horizontal element, meet in the cross!) The physical and the spiritual parts of our lives cannot be separated! “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God!” he told them. “That is your spiritual worship.” Everything we do reflects on our spiritual lives!
Then he told them something else that was very important. He told them about “the world.” Now, remember that the world in which we live is God’s world! (Some want to say that the world is Satan’s! No, it’s God’s!) He created it. He made it amazing and beautiful. He showed his mighty power in what he created. The psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Well, Paul wasn’t talking about that. He was talking about “the world” in the sense of the “worldliness” around them. He was talking about “the world” in terms of the philosophy and behavior of people in the world. And he was telling them that there is a dichotomy between the things of that “world” and the things of God. He told them that those two things were often in opposition!
He said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed!” I pulled up a web page that compared all the various translations and paraphrases of that verse. I’ve heard a number of them over the years. But the one I’ve always liked best comes from the Phillips translation. Actually, Phillips is a paraphrase. And a paraphrase is a version of the scripture that takes the concept in a passage and attempts to capture the meaning of that passage. But it doesn’t necessarily translate it word for word. Well Mr. Phillips said this verse in this way. Where the RSV says, “Do not be conformed to this world,” he said “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold!” Isn’t that great?
I think the world does a lot of “squeezing.” The world demands a lot of “conformity,” doesn’t it? I remember the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s when the young generation (of which I was one!) was talking a lot about being “non-conformists.” We were not going to conform to society’s expectations of us! We were non-conformists. Of course, the interesting thing about us “non-conformists” was that is that we all looked exactly alike! We had the same style in clothes, the same hair, and we listened to the same music. (We were being conformists in our non-conformity!)
I’ll never forget when I told someone in those days that I really didn’t like the Beatles. Oh boy, did I get to find out what it was really like to be a non-conformist! “What?! You have to like the Beatles!!!” “Really? Why do I have to?” Now for those of you who are shocked, I do appreciate their music these days. But, I don’t like them or their music simply because everybody said I had to! (I never liked someone telling me what I should like!)
I think that’s sort of like what Paul is getting at here. “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” Don’t let the world tell you the things you should like, or you should not like, or what you should think! There are a lot of “worldly influences” out there that cry for our attention. And some of them are not what we would call “godly.” There are things in the world we should avoid. How do we have the things in this world, how do we participate in the things we need to participate in, without being “of them?” How are we as God’s people “in” the world, but not “of” the world?
The bottom line is that, when we are in Christ, we are different. When we strive to follow him, things are different. We seek the “renewal of our minds,” as Paul said here. We seek to be live by, and be guided by, the Holy Spirit. When we do, that “newness” is evident in our lives. When we do that, we show the fruits of the spirit. Do you remember them – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Things are different when we decide to follow Jesus. And remember how I’ve been challenging you this year to think about what it means to be followers – not just believers. Paul calls us to be different. “Be transformed,” he says “by the renewing of your mind.”
So, as Jesus said to his followers, be “in the world, but not of the world.” (John 17:16) Know that you are different when you seek to follow him. Be transformed, by the renewal of your mind. “Do not let the world ‘squeeze you into its mold.’” You are new creations! Let all that you do be your “spiritual worship!”
Eternal God, we thank you that you have called us to be your people, and that you have called us to follow Jesus. Help us to know your spirit living within us, giving us the power to follow, to be transformed, to be empowered to be the people you want us to be. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.