A sermon by the Rev Linda S Harrison
Proper 16 / Ordinary 21; August 27, 2017
Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice … do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds …
So how exhausted are we this week? The rhetoric among our elected servants continues to ratchet up to unbelievable levels of division while that division continues to play out among the citizens of this country. Add to that our own personal stuff: job issues, illnesses, the death of a beloved church member, family quarrels and angst.
And yet, in the midst of that bone weariness that we may feel from time to time, we are called to be continually transformed, to live lives of obedience to the will of God through the love of Christ. It is living fully in response to what God has done for us in the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is living in right relationship with one another and with God. It is living the love ethic of Jesus because we can do no other when we are full to overflowing with Jesus’ love for us.
Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice means we worship the God who is all with all that we are and all that we have. We respond to the one from whom, through whom, and to whom all things exist with our all – our actions, our words, our praise, our prayers, our way of “being” in this world.
To be transformed and not conformed means we live fully and truly as citizens of the dominion of God, not as citizens of this world. We do not conform to the forces of fear and hate; we do not conform to the media forces that deny our worth because we are not blonde enough or skinny enough or rich enough or have enough things or the newest electronics. We do not conform to the forces that try to tell us our worth is based on our zip code or job title or ethnicity. We do not conform to the forces that insist that the number of likes, shares, retweets, reposts, and media engagements is what matters.
We do not conform to the lie that there is not enough of God’s love to go around.
To the contrary, we push back against these forces.
To be transformed means we live ‘already’ lives in a ‘not yet’ world. We live in the assurance that God’s love has indeed already broken into the here and now, while at the same time knowing that is not yet fully perfected and trusting the future to God.
That’s damn hard to do. Along with 24 hour news cycles and social media outlets that always seem to need to out-do each other in the bad news and worst-case scenarios department, we are continually bombarded with those advertising images I mentioned. I thought it was bad enough when print ads began to appear on the inside of public bathroom stalls! I now avoid a couple of gas stations that blast advertising from screens at the pumps …
To be transformed means we push back against the prevailing forces of the world that worships money and ‘power-over’ another person or a people. It is counter-cultural.
To live lives not conformed to this world is not just counter-cultural but nearly seditious when there are voices in our government and the wider society that shout that being a ‘good Christian’ is synonymous with being a ‘true patriot’. The Body of Christ, the Church, exists for the world, not to be of the world. The Church exists to be a blessing to the world and for the world. The Body of Christ is called to bring God’s justice, mercy, compassion, and love. The Church calls out and holds accountable hateful ways – evil ways that thwart the will of God … and the will of God is the flourishing of all creation in the love of God. We are Christians, followers of the love ethic of Jesus, before we ever claim any other group identity.
So how do we live lives transformed and not conformed, so that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice? So that our worship and our way of being tell the world that there is indeed a better way, a loving way, a way of dignity for all creation? So that we continue to push back and call out what is evil in this world, what is against the love of God?
We answer for ourselves the question Jesus asks every disciple through the ages, “Who do you say that I am?”
This is where the index cards in your bulletins come in … At the top of the card I want you to write, “Who do I say Jesus is?” That’s it for now … just: “Who do I say Jesus is?”
It wouldn’t be fair to ask you that question without offering a glimpse of my own imperfect answer … so here goes:
Who do I say Jesus is?
Jesus is the Incarnation of the living God; God’s boundary-busting love made visible – a love that brings healing and wholeness, that touches leapers, sits with notorious sinners, heals Gentiles’ children, and invites outcast Samaritan women. Jesus is love that knows no conditions and forgives flagrantly. In Jesus, I see the lengths and depths to which God is wiling to go to show God’s love for ALL. In Jesus, I know a God who intimately knows the human condition – no joy, no sorrow, no anguish is beyond the knowledge of God. I know a God who laughs and delights with me, and who cries and wails with me. In Jesus’ resurrection, I know a love that is stronger than fear, more powerful that hate, and has overcome death. In Jesus, I know the empty tomb and that is my assurance that God keeps promises, loves abundantly, and that God is indeed with us, for us, and among us to the end of the age … and the gates of Hades will not prevail – indeed we push back against the gates of Hades because of that love.
That is my beginning; that is where I begin to draw courage, stamina, and strength to continue in the work God calls us to do.
So, take the index card home. Pray, meditate, and answer for yourself “Who do I say Jesus is?” Write down images, words, full sentences. And in the coming days and months ahead, as we continue to be called upon to present our bodies as a living sacrifice in this world – individually and corporately – draw upon the convictions of your own faith. Stand on your conviction – not someone else’s. Draw upon the convictions of your faith for the strength to be transformed and not conformed. Own your convictions for the strength, wisdom, and stamina to be continually transformed and transforming through the love of Christ.