Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
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. 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.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
You probably saw it. There was an ad that ran a couple of years ago. In it two couples are out on a double date. They sit across from each other and each of the guys start scoping out the other one's date thinking what a fox she is. They don't put anything past the girls. And then while they're both drooling over each other's date, a real hunk of a guy walks by their table in tight jeans and both women follow his every move, smiling and drooling just like the guys. The announcer asks, "Why ask why?" Then the ad says, drink such and such a beer.
It's sort of a funny commercial that puts sexist attitudes in their place. But the underlying message is really very destructive. Have you ever really watched and listened to commercials? The message of most commercials is very destructive. A commercial is designed to make us dissatisfied with ourselves, dissatisfied with our appearance and dissatisfied with the products we use. They are designed to entice us to conform to their standards. In some cases, they can have such a powerful influence that they set the standard or set the trend for the next few months.
There are some commercial phrases that may never die, like: "I've fallen and I can't get up." "Where's the beef?" "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." and "Just Do It."
Look at the influence Michael Jordan has had on the kids of America. From Bulls caps and clothes to NIKE tennis shoes. If Michael endorses it, it's going to be a hit. And the implicit message of all commercials is that if we use their product, then we will be a hit, too. Or we'll be sexy and surrounded by babes or hunks if we drink this beer or this pop; we'll be a hunk or a babe ourselves if we use such and such a shampoo, hair spray or cologne; we'll be popular and athletic if we wear such and such a designer shirt or shoes or whatever. According to the advertisments, if we conform to the advertiser's expectations then we'll be successful. If we conform to the lifestyle they are promoting, then we'll find happiness. If we conform to the ideals they espouse, then we'll never have any problems. If we conform.
I. DO NOT BE CONFORMED:
A. Conform? That's a nasty word. At least in my generation's vocabulary. I grew up in the sixties. I was one of the charter members of the counter culture. We were proud of the fact that we DIDN'T conform to the world's standards. We DIDN'T conform to the rules of the day. we chose to do our OWN thing. And we could prove it by wearing our uniforms of nonconformity. Our long hair, beads, headbands, moccasins, sandals, bell bottoms and tie dyed shirts were worn with pride. They were our uniforms in a movement of nonconformity.
Conform? We DIDN'T conform to anything except our own expectations and idealistic dreams and hopes. And now the advertising people are using the images, messages and music of that generation to get the nonconformists to conform and buy their product. Jimi Hendrix in the background of a car ad, ZZ Top selling Tacos, Richie Havens selling cotton, Crosby Stills and Nash songs used to sell underwear. The music of the rebels is being used to get the rebels to conform.
And that bothers me. It means I'm getting old. But it bothers for another reason, too. Especially when I read this passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome. I have to tell you, this is one of those great passages of scripture. If I had to boil down everything that I believe about living the Christian life, it would be these verses. These verses are at the core of what I believe the Christian life is all about. The words of Paul caught the attention of this former rebel and nonconformist. And they still get my attention everyday. They challenge me and I believe they challenge every Christian to look at the world differently and to live in the world differently because we have experienced the love, mercy and grace of Christ in our lives.
B. Paul begins and grounds everything in our relationship with Christ. He builds, not upon what we have done, but upon what has been done for us. Paul builds upon God's grace. He appeals to the grace, mercy and forgiveness we have experienced through Christ. He says in verse 1: "I appeal to you by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God..." And then in verse 2, Paul throws down the challenge. He writes: "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." I love that challenge.
Hagar, that intrepid Viking from the comics is talking with a monk. The monk says, "My son, if you find yourself in a disagreement with a stranger and tempers flare, never throw the first punch!"
Much to the chagrin of the monk, Hagar excitedly says, "Throw a big rock or a bottle, right!?" (1) That's the standards of the world talking. That's conforming.
But here, Paul challenges us to see ourselves, our relationship with God and our relationship with others in whole new light. Paul challenges us. He dares us. He double dog dares us. He triple dares us to deviate from the norm of society, to deviate from the norm of the world's standards. He dares us not to conform to the world but through Christ to be transformed and live lives that reflect the message and the joy and the grace of the Kingdom of God.
Paul says: "Do not be CONFORMED to this world, but be TRANSFORMED."
He dares us to be different. Paul dares us to throw out the rules of the world and live the life of the Kingdom. He challenges us to be living sacrifices, holy in all that we do. Building upon the grace we have experienced through Christ's death on the cross us and the forgiveness which we have experienced. Paul dares us to deviate.
II. DARE TO DEVIATE:
A. If you really want to be a rebel, if you really want to be part of something challenging, something world changing and something different, this is it. The life of faith and the faithful life is the greatest counterculture movement there ever was.
If you've wondered where the revolution of the sixties went, this is it. because the Christian faith is a counterculture revolution. Christianity is about change and the transformation of the world, one person at a time. It doesn't start with others. It starts with us. The Christian faith says "Dare to deviate."
Society says conform to the world's rules where the homeless person on the street is worthless.
The Christian faith dares us to deviate because Jesus reached out to all, no matter what their station or place in life. He said: "Come to me ALL, who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
Society says you can only have worth if you wear such and such a designer label or drive a such and such a car.
The Kingdom of God says dare to deviate. Believe in yourself. Believe in your worth because you are created in the image of God. You ARE a designer original. And the Son of God gave his life for you.
The world says: "Do unto others before they do unto you." And if they do, do unto you first, then lick your wounds, nurse those old hurts, pick at them and keep them festered and sore and tender while you plan how to get even.
The Kingdom of God dares us to deviate. Jesus, our example and redeemer, though sinless and innocent of any crime, was condemned to death on the cross. Hanging there in the agony and pain of the sum total of all of our sins, Jesus looked out across the crowd at his accusers and executioners, and then he looked to heaven and said: "Father forgive them..."
Dare to deviate. When someone hurts you. When someone slights you. When someone sins against you, remember Christ on the cross and follow his example. Dare to deviate and forgive them as you have been forgiven. Ask Christ to heal the hurts; and then love them despite the hurts they have caused. Remember, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus said: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
The world says: Put down others. Down play everyone else's abilities. Think only of yourself. Success and getting your won way are all the matters. Step on each other to get to the top.
The Kingdom of God says dare to deviate and, "Love your neighbor as your self." "Do justice and seek mercy." Remember, the golden rule only works when you make the first move.
Society says conform to the world and use whatever means possible to get what you want: lie, cheat, steal; don't worry about others just get what you want no matter what the cost. If it takes pulling a gun to get a parking space do it. If you want someone else's car just shoot them and take it. It doesn't matter, winning is everything.
The Kingdom of God says throw out the rules, dare to deviate: "Run the good race." The Kingdom of God says it's NOT winning that's important, it's how you run the race. "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave." Think of others first.
The world says love yourself first and foremost. Forget about everyone else. Put self first. If you go to Church toss them a few bucks to keep them quite but don't make any great sacrifices. Just give the Church what's leftover, what you don't need, what won't hurt the checking account. Give a little and you'll never notice it.
The Kingdom of God says dare to deviate by "loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." Being a living sacrifice means giving sacrificially.
It's discouraging some Sunday's to get the report of the offering. Many times it comes out to about $10 a head. I don't go there, but I'm told you can't even get into a decent bar or a night club for $10.00. You can't go to the movies and get popcorn and a coke for $10. You can't go to a nice restaurant for $10. $10 doesn't even cover the Church's operating expenses. I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty but the Kingdom of God says dare to deviate by giving your best to God, by giving your first to God and the work of the Kingdom. Dare to deviate and think of God first. Think of all the things the Church is doing for you through the gifts and the offering which you give.
The world would fill us with fear; fear for our lives, fear for our children, fear of losing our position, fear of death. You name it. The world holds us at bay with fear.
The Kingdom of God says throw out the rules, dare to deviate. "Do not fear, only believe," as Jesus said to the Centurion, whose daughter, Jesus raised from the dead.
Dare to deviate, replace your fear with faith. Sure, it looks like the world is out of control. No one knows what the future holds but we DO know who holds the future. The Kingdom of God says dare to deviate and trust in Jesus, have faith in the Son of God.
B. Paul says: "Do not be CONFORMED to this world, but be TRANSFORMED."
That's our purpose as the Church, to reach out to the world around us, to the people in the community around us with this radical, counterculture, life changing message of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We're called to throw out the rules and the ways of the world and be transformed. We're called to step out on faith, so that we can bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to others and be instruments of Christ's transforming power.
That's the main reason for the Building Committee and the purchase of the new property, so that we can reach out to others and help them become instruments of Christ's transforming power.
It doesn't take much effort really. Sometimes it can be accomplished with something as simple as a smile.
One day as a woman was crossing a street at London station, an old man stopped her. He said to her, "Excuse me, Ma'am, but I want to thank you." She looked up and exclaimed, "Thank me?"
He replied, "Yes'm, I used to be a ticket collector, and whenever you went by you always gave me a cheerful smile and a good morning. I knew that smile must come from inside somewhere. Then one morning I saw a little Bible in your hand. So, I bought one too, and I found Jesus."
Dare to deviate. Live the Kingdom not the world. That's what Jesus meant when he told us "to live in the world but not of it." Dare to deviate.
Just like the Burger King commercials said a couple of years back, "Sometimes you've got to break the rules." Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we should all go out and break every rule there is, just for the heck of it, that would be wrong. Chaos would rule the world.
But neither should we conform and live down to the standards of the world. Instead we should allow ourselves to be transformed by the grace of God. And then, live up to the standard of the Gospel, the standard of the Kingdom, the standard set by Christ Jesus.
Most of us don't come to worship prepared to turn our whole selves over to God. We bring sins which need confessing and for which we need cleansing before we leave. We bring questions that need answers and problems that need solutions. We bring burdens that need to be lifted and anxieties and fears that need to be dispelled.
Today thought, we're challenged, instead, to offer our entire lives as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. For most of us it would be easier to get out our checkbook and double, triple or even quadruple our offering than it would be to completely turn ourselves over to God.
But the truth is that we will never transform the world by using the world's tactics or by following the world's rules. Transformation will only come when we break the rules of the world and obey the code of the Kingdom of God, the Law of Love and Grace. Dare to deviate. Become a living sacrifice. Surrender yourself completely to God through Christ.
"Why ask why?" Because the Son of God gave his life for you.
This is the Word of the Lord for this Day.
1. Hagar The Horrible by Chris Browne, 10-9-91
2. Parables, Etc. (Platteville, Colorado: Saratoga Press), Nov. 1984. Adapted from the Wesleyan Methodist Sermon Builder. Submitted by Judy Howard of Downey, California.