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Not Conformed, but Transformed

  • November 5, 2017
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for November 5, 2017 (All Saints’ Sunday, Year A REV)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Romans 12:1-13; Psalm 34; Matthew 5:1-12

Title:               Not Conformed, But Transformed

“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” (Romans 12:2).

My friends, do you ever wonder what it actually means to be a saint? Or, at least what it means to follow the blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living?

Well, would it surprise you to find that Saint Paul offers us sound guidance in understanding this matter?

I hope not, because to be a saint means quite literally to be someone who is different. That’s all. Different. Out-of-the-ordinary. Not following the normal, expected pattern.

And this is precisely what Paul was calling the church in Rome to be!

Different. To be people who refuse to go along with the flow of society. And why? Because of the mercies of God who has called them into a new and different kind of community.

To be a saint is to not be conformed to the normal pattern of life in society, but rather to be transformed by an inner renewal which allows us to recognize and to understand the will of God.

You and I can do this as well, if we want to. If we choose to. We can actually renew our minds in a way that changes what we do, how we react to the varied circumstances of life. And we begin that process by coming to Jesus as people who need help and guidance.

Please indulge me as I take this opportunity to remind us all that these famous Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel are not prescriptive. Rather, they are descriptive.

These Beatitudes carry no judgment. They imply no guilt. They simply recognize what is, in clear and simple terms.

The Teacher has gone up the hillside and a large crowd is following him. He sits down to teach and he looks around him. And this is what he sees:

The poor and weak in spirit, those in mourning, the meek, those hungry for true goodness and rightness and justice in the world, the merciful, the simple and pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for doing what is right.

These are the ones who were drawn to the Teacher in those days. And these are the same ones who have been drawn to him ever since.

After all, consider the converse side of things.

The strong in spirit don’t need this Messiah. They already have what they need.

Those who have never known pain and loss are not in need of God’s comfort.

Those who attack others and start wars have never been drawn to walk with Jesus.

Those who are complicated and devious and scheming – these people have no interest in learning from Jesus how to love their neighbors as they love themselves.

These words of Jesus describe the reality of the ones who are drawn to him.

And somehow, in some paradoxical way, according to the different values of God’s realm, he lets them know that there is a direct correlation between their sense of need and their blessedness, their joy and happiness.

One of my first jobs after college was working with a landscaper up in Vermont, Dave Keszey. As we worked together each day, we talked a bunch. He was always quite dismissive of my Christian faith. And I’ll never forget one time when we were planting some new trees and shrubs in Burlington, Vermont, Dave said to me, “You know what your problem is? You’re a groupie. You’re a joiner. You’re a follower.”

On one hand, he was clearly intending that as an insult. And I thought a lot about what he said. Obviously so, because I still remember it vividly!

But in one sense, he was absolutely right! You see, Dave Keszey was one of those who are strong in spirit. One who was not hungering or thirsting for righteousness. He had no felt need for God. He was one who would never have gathered around Jesus on the hillside to listen eagerly to his life-giving words. He didn’t need a Teacher to show him how to live! He knew that already. At least, he thought he did.

But not me. I felt a deep need for God’s mercy and grace in my life. And I still do! And I am convinced that this is the foundation of what it means to be a saint, to be different than others.

Blessed are those who are keenly aware of their need, those who feel the gap between what it and who they are AND what ought to be and who they ought to be.

To be a saint then does not mean that we must have special powers and abilities.

There have been some like that. You know about many of these famous saints. Their names are remembered and honored throughout the course of the Christian year.

But most of the blessed and different ones, the vast majority of the saints – they are just ordinary people.

While I was working for Dave Keszey up in Vermont, Erin and I were part of a beautiful small congregation of faithful souls. It was this small group which confirmed my gifts of preaching and teaching and leadership, and they sent Erin and me off to seminary down in Virginia.

There was one family in particular from that small Vermont parish who demonstrated what it means to show genuine love by contributing to the needs of the saints.

Don and Louise Adams – they were the patriarch and matriarch of their clan. They didn’t have much at all. They had a simple ranch house. And a few of their troubled grandchildren lived at home with them.

But every month down in Virginia, a letter would arrive from Don and Louise Adams with $25 or $30 in it – and a note encouraging us to buy some pizza with the money. In seminary, Erin and I had nothing. When Angus and Se’ were born, we were receiving public assistance – WIC coupons (Women, Infants, Children)– in order to buy food.

You know, by the world’s standards, that $25 or $30 each month wasn’t worth much at all. It didn’t really accomplish anything. It didn’t solve any problems.

The author Dan Millman once said that, “Saints were saints because they acted with loving kindness whether they felt like it or not.”

I know for a fact that Don and Louise Adams could have used that $25 or $30 in their own household. I’m sure there were times when they did not feel like sending that check.

But what did they do? Well, they didn’t do anything grand. Nothing that will be remembered on any church calendar. But they were givers who showed generosity and faithfulness.

They were faithful in sending those little packages south each month, and they helped to lighten our load just a bit.

Don and Louise Adams were different. Willing to act with love and generosity month after month after month.

What does it mean to be a saint? To be a holy one? To follow the blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living?

It means that we recognize our need for God. It means that we are willing to listen and to learn and to follow in what Jesus teaches, what the Holy Spirit tells us.

Because my old employer, Dave Keszey up in Vermont – you know what? He was wrong!

We are ALL followers! Some of us will follow the pattern of society around us and do whatever others expect of us. Most will be conformed to this world, to the demands of the present age.

But some of us will join a different group and follow a different path, and will live according to a more ancient blueprint, walking the way of Jesus which countless others have walked before us.

It’s not very difficult to walk this way. There is no great mystical secret. There are no special languages that you need to learn. No special powers that you need to develop.

All that’s required is desire and commitment. So are you ready to be different, and to live like a saint?

Then: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  And all the saints of God said, AMEN!

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