Making Us New

Romans 12:1-7
--- “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.” (Romans 12:1-7)
I read an article about a popular burger chain that had fired it’s old advertising company and its distinctively weird mascot to compete with McDonalds more effectively. Their new tactic was to just focus – get this – on the food. Rather than a slew of gimmicky bizarre commercials, we now are treated to shots of freshly washed veggies and steaming hot burgers. This “new” tactic is to help combat the market share they keep losing to McDonalds – and why not? Something new has got to be better than the old way they were doing thing. Though – in my opinion, unless they’re willing to start with a whole new burger their advertising isn’t going to matter much. A sub-par burger in a sparkly new package is still just a sub-par burger. The quality of packaging is not always a good indicator of the quality of a product.
And that standard – that a nice cover doesn’t always house a good book – is one that applies to people as well. And it’s one that Jesus, his disciples and most of our new testament writers would agree with. Being “put together” in the eyes of the world doesn’t mean that we’re actually in any kind of shape at all. Paul will reiterate over and over again in Romans, that despite how we appear on the outside, we’re all messed up – Jews and Gentiles alike. In fact, we’re so messed up, so broken, that if we stay like we are, we’re damned. Our brokenness is so pervasive that we’re lost without some kind of intervention. Which thankfully, we receive through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But that sacrifice does more than just restore our relationship with God. The death and resurrection of Christ invades our very being and brings about a total transformation of who we are, of how we live, of how we love, of how we participate in the kingdom of God. And that is our good – and troubling – news this morning: Christ Makes Us New
Though it may hurt to admit that the way we are isn’t the way we need to stay, it’s the truth. And God’s process of transforming us begins at our deepest level - Christ Renews our Mind.
If you’ve ever been a part of some kind of social, religious or political group, you may have experienced a phenomenon which I’ll call the “group mind.” This phenomenon occurs when a whole slew of people think the same thing at the same time without any premeditated decision to do so. Sometimes you can even be the cause of this event. You would see “group mind” at work if you walked into a Tea-Party rally and said the phrase “Raise Taxes.” You would see “group mind” at work if you walked into a anti-war demonstration and said “weapons of mass destruction,” or “George W Bush.” You would see “group mind” at work if went to a state teacher’s convention and said “standardized testing.” The reactions would be immediate, visceral and eerily in concert. And that’s because when like-minded people get together, they tend to think about the same things, to value the same things, to oppose the same things. And that group mind can be powerful, can be life-changing, can be corrupted.
A couple things first. Our scripture this morning makes mention of the need to be renewed by Christ. Our first inclination is to take this at face value, and translate it like Christ is restoring us to a better period of our life, or paying our membership fees for the next fiscal year. But in this context, when Paul says renew, there’s something going on in the Greek that we’re not catching. A better translation of this would be we are being transformed by the new-newing of our mind. Renew is an emphatic way of saying SUPER, SHINY NEW. This isn’t restoration – this is recreation. And also – in this passage, we’re also hearing a lot of “you” – Your mind, your worship. But this you is a plural you. Better translated – y’alls minds, y’alls worship. To sum up – the mind that is being made new-new? It’s ours – our mind, our mindset, TOGETHER. WE, US, the way we think, function, believe, hope, relate – all that has to be made new. And not just for our own sake – but so we can better serve the gospel of mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. Because as a group, without Christ? We’re broken, we’re sinful, and our mindset is conformed to this fallen world which values power, money, sex and subjugation instead of humility, service, purity and sacrifice.
Perhaps this is difficult to ponder because we’re so – separate from each other. We tend to think in “I’s” and “me’s” not “us” or “we”. We tend to focus on “my” spiritual walk or “my” service to God or “my” relationship with Jesus – and while that’s part of the story, it’s not the whole shebang. In reality, the gospel is also about “our” spiritual walk as a community, “our” service to God as a church and “our” relationship with God as a family in Christ. Our mind – our way of thinking – has to be conformed to Christ and that can only happen when we have offered up our whole church – past, present and future - as a sacrifice to God, giving over that which we cherish into the hands of our wild, unpredictable Creator. And why? So that when we are confronted with uncertainty as a community, our group mind’s first thought is GRACE rather than fear. So that when we are faced with conflict, our group mind seeks out Reconciliation rather than armed-warfare. So that when encounter a chance to serve in new ways, our group mind says “yes” rather than “no.”
But the renewal of our minds, of our MIND, is only the beginning. Because when we let Christ make us NEW, the way we do CHURCH changes! When Christ Renews US - Christ Renews our Church.
During college I worked for a fancy chocolate store and as part of my training I had to learn about the whole system of making and selling chocolate. I learned about the location of chocolate farms, the process of treating cocoa beans, the cooking, the chemistry, the packaging, the marketing and the selling of all things chocolate. We were all industrious little cogs in the system of pimping chocolate, carrying out our varied responsibilities to keep the company thriving and solvent. We were a ruthlessly trained bunch – I still remember how to answer the phone, what kind of up-sells to make, the schedule of product arrival and how to do inventory. I wasn’t valued so much for my natural abilities as my ability to be compliant and sales-focused. My worth as an employee was measured against the bottom line – and that has a way of being very hollow at the end of the day. I think many of you have had or are in jobs much like that.
Church – our community of faith – is NOT supposed to work like that. Paul lays out to his readers his vision – Christ’s Vision – of how the Church “works” together for the sake of the gospel. The church is a place of grace – where each member is valued equally, where no one boasts, where UNITY is more important than the individual. And why? Because believers in Christ have each been graced with different gifts, with different functions, with the Holy Spirit in diverse and beautiful ways – and all of those ways have to be in concert with each other for the CHURCH to truly be serving the Kingdom of God. Paul reminds his readers (both original and current) that they are more than just a group of like-minded folks – but a metaphysical BODY that moves, thinks, acts in CONCERT. The CHURCH is a complex organism, growing, thriving, changing according to the movement of God’s will – not a reluctant quorum of quarrelsome individuals who squabble over carpet color or worship music. The CHURCH is not a series of interlocking cogs – the CHURCH is the delicate and infinitely varied twining of living flesh.
But what does that mean for us? What does it mean that God makes us new, that God makes our Church new? Well, it means our language changes. Now we speak in terms of “We”, “Us”, “Our”. It also means we change our focus. Now we look to Christ, now we look to the leading of the Spirit, now we focus on fulfilling God’s kingdom plans. It also means that we have to relearn the value of each other. God has gifted me to teach and to preach, but man I am NOT a great administrator and I’m NOT a fearless evangelist. But some of you ARE – I NEED YOU. I CANNOT DO CHURCH WITHOUT YOU. And that’s a phrase we need to learn to say to each other – I NEED YOU. CHURCH ISN’T CHURCH WITHOUT YOU. We need to learn to say – YOU ARE A GIFT FROM GOD. We need to learn to really SEE each other with God’s eyes and with God’s purposes in mind. We need to encourage the gifts of others, we need to develop the gifts of our church family members, we need to help build up the BODY of CHRIST that we are a part of. And that means letting go of pride. Letting go of the need for preeminence or influence or control. Letting go of preconceived notions, of preference, of our long-held traditions. And that means receiving a spirit of courage, of hope, of trust that God is bringing about a better thing than we’ve had before, of assurance that our transformation is for the sake of the Gospel – not the sake of change itself.
When Paul first wrote these assurances of transformation, he wrote to a community in crisis, struggling with their identity, with their past, with their future, with their ability to know how to serve the God they loved so dearly. And for them to hear that grace was free, that God’s loved transformed them as individuals and as a community, that God’s love would transform even the way they functioned, this was a great relief. And a great challenge.
What better words for us then? That our very minds are being made new. That our Church and the way we serve God’s kingdom is being made new. That our future depends not on money or fame or political clout but on how we think and work together as a living body for the sake of the gospel! That should startle you – and it should comfort you. Our future is in God’s Hands. Christ is MAKING Us New.
May Christ make you into a new creation in this New Year.
Rev. Elizabeth Grasham-Reeves