First Congregational Church
February 22, 2015
First Sunday in Lent
Metamorphosis: Christian Character, Total Surrender and Renewing of the Mind”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In honor of this year’s Lenten theme of “character,” I have a few questions for you. What is Peter Pan’s favorite restaurant? Wendy’s, of course. Why does Alice ask so many questions? 'Cause she is in “Wonder”land. What did Snow White say when her photos weren't ready yet? Some Day My Prints Will come!
A few months ago, I came across the idea for a sermon series by Peter Schuurman of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Guelph, Ontario. The initial word comes from the second verse of today’s scripture passage. We will hear “transformed,” but metamorphosis is the actual Greek word the apostle Paul chose when writing his greatest work to the Roman Jewish-Christian community - maybe the most important word Paul ever used.
It’s a two part word, “meta” meaning change and “morph" meaning form. Many of us learn about metamorphosis when we’re very young, when we learn about the change that happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly. In Christian terms, it signals the work of grace in us when we surrender our lives to God’s service. It’s also a concept that makes some people uncomfortable.
And yet, the goal of the Christian life is not just belief and entry into a community of belief. It’s a common misconception that once we “arrive” at such a community and faith, that’s all there is. Jesus summed up the goal of Christian living in two words, “Follow me.” We are called to become like Jesus—to develop his character, to practice being like him.
When Peter Schuurman put the word metamorphosis with the phrase “total surrender,” I really wondered if it was a good idea. When it comes to faith, the concept of surrender can carry some real baggage; i.e., the Branch Davidian group near Waco, Texas, Jim Jones in Jonestown and other notorious religious leaders.
But sometimes looking into things that we aren’t that excited about can be quite enlightening, and that is unequivocally true when it comes to the idea of surrender. Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” Prolific classic Christian author, A.W. Tozer said, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us. ” From the book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou: “At fifteen, life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.” Christian author and comedian, Joyce Meyer, “Go home, and let all your relatives off the potter's wheel. You are not the potter!”
And then there was the anecdote from author Bruce Larson. When working with people and the idea of surrender, sometimes they would walk from his office in New York to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue. Outside the building is that gigantic statue of Atlas, that beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he stands, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. 'Now that's one way to live,' Mr. Larson would point out to his companion, 'trying to carry the world on your shoulders.” And then they would walk across the street to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand. Mr. Larson would point out the choice we all have. “We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, 'I give up, Lord; here's my life. I give you my world, the whole world.’"
Because we can, but more so because it makes the lesson come more alive, I’ve asked Julie to read our short passage from the New International Version and Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Thank you, Julie. During Lent, we are more conscious of the end of Jesus’ life, most especially his last week. In fact, we perhaps appreciate the glory of Christ’s resurrection when it is viewed against the gory backdrop of his last night and day. Even though Christ asked God for any other avenue, even though he surely cried out in pain, what is striking about Christ’s last 24 hours is the calm assurance that God had everything in hand. To “follow” Christ, even in and to such poignancy, is not something that happens with a snap of the fingers or a click of the heels.
It would be interesting to know if Jesus already possessed such a determination and assurance about his impending death before that last week or day. We know he knew something about what was coming, and from the records we have, it seems that there was never a sense of panic. But I wonder if Jesus, like us, had to renew his mind and his heart, if he had to “work” at that calm and assurance. Perhaps his times of retreat and prayer we not only about recovering from the press and needs of the people, but were also about renewing his mind and heart, realigning his path with God’s mission for him. And maybe that’s a reason we need this season of Lent, to help us renew our hearts and minds.
We live in such a wonderful world, despite all the ugliness that accompanies the good. As much as it pains us to lose loved ones, what would our lives be without them? Grief hurts, but what would life be like without love and joy? As much as the muscles hurt from shoveling and the costs of moving snow are killing the pocketbook, it is beautiful and we are reminded that we are not God, which is certainly a relief some days.
God could have created everything without people, but ours is a God that desires relationship, which includes good and ill, beauty and warts. God could have set the universes and planets in motion and called it a day, but God had more to give. And God could have left us to our own demise, centers of our own little universes. But God gave us life, and light and love and mercy and every other gift. How we respond to such gifts matters, and for the gift of life - never to be alone ever - to never die - ever, we can chose to respond - or not.
If we chose not to respond, to live our lives without care or interaction with God - reduces us, limits us. I wonder if that is - at least in a small part - why we have addictions - behaviors that seek to make us whole, yet end up making real, living people - empty and reduced.
So we take the other option, to respond, to follow Christ, to give our lives to God to lead us, inspire us and love us. We decide to revolutionize our thinking that moves us from seeing the world as a big machine or seeing ourselves at the center, to seeing God’s presence and power as the hope of all creation. In a more light-hearted comparison, we move from crawling downcast along the earth to flying to heights we never dreamt of, to see the world and all of life in at least a part of its grandeur.
Last night I was watching the Smithsonian Channel, and a program on the Stonehenge Empire. Geologists have been surveying the land, with all kinds of new technologies to create a huge picture that modern man has never been able to see before. The digging and excavating reveals layers that give evidence of people and a culture that are mind boggling in the complexity and advancements.
When we take the moments we have, this season that we enter today, and do a little digging into our character, we begin to see that our lives are not just about believing in God and showing up at church when it works for our schedule - and this is not a rag on anyone - just a statement. When we work on becoming more like Christ, we begin to see layers and depths of love and care that make the offering of our lives not an obligation, but a response that goes beyond words and speech. Which seems like the very place to pray.
God Beyond Our Human Understanding, we are humbled by your love for us, for Christ’s total surrender of his life to you and your will. It can feel too big, too hard, too much to surrender our lives to you. So help us; renew our minds and hearts that we become more like Christ. Help us to help the world see the honor we have in being your beloved. Encourage us to look at our character, that we may genuinely desire to become all that you created us to be. For all the blessings you bestow on us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.