Milborne and Dewlish
Sunday 27th August 2017
Romans 12.1-8; Matthew 16.13-20
I wonder if any of you make jelly these days. I don’t now because of being a vegetarian but when I was a child one of the things we enjoyed doing was stirring the mix of jelly cubes and hot water in the plastic measuring jug until the cubes had all dissolved.
We would sometimes sneak a warm partially dissolved cube into our mouths – somehow they always tasted great – and would then pour out the liquid into a dish, or on top of trifle sponges, or into a mould.
Whatever we poured the liquid jelly into, by the time it had set, it had become that shape. The jelly had taken on the form of the receptacle into which it had been poured.
In those days there weren’t that many different shaped moulds you could buy, but you’d be surprised how many there are today: traditional shapes, rabbits, jelly babies, dogs, lions, teddy bears, castles, flowers, names, cats, hearts, there’s even a large St Paul’s cathedral mould that was made for an exhibition.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . ”: J. B. Phillips in his translation of Romans 12 verse 2 put it like this: “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within . . .”
This is one of my favourite Bible verses – of which I have a few. It’s a reminder that, as Christians, we are called to be different from those around us, but it’s a reminder too that we can do that only with God’s transformation.
The word that is translated “transformed” is only used twice elsewhere in the New Testament – the first time is at the Transfiguration, when Jesus is revealed in divine glory, shining white and dazzling.
The other use is found in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians talks about how those who follow God and see his glory will be changed/transformed into that same image of glory.
Be transformed so that we may be like God – that’s a pretty powerful statement.
So it’s a formidable word, connected with the glory of God that somehow in the world to come we will share. It’s also the roots of the word metamorphosis, which we use for the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.
Do you feel most like a humble, wriggly caterpillar confined to crawling around or a beautiful butterfly free to soar at will? I’d love to think that metaphorically God can turn me into the equivalent of a butterfly.
So how do we do it?
First we need to resist allowing the world to squeeze us into its shape. Let’s think for a moment about some aspects of the prevailing culture. But before we do, let me say that the word translated “this world” is actually the word for “of this age”.
Now Paul means this age as opposed to the age to come, but I find it helpful think of it in terms of this age rather than this world, because it reminds me that times and cultures change and what we might be called to avoid today is perhaps not the same as in times past.
What are the features of our culture and our age? It would seem to me that we can list some of these:
viewing people as units of economic worth rather than human beings of value in themselves;
the power of celebrity;
the glorification of sex;
the desire to be popular;
the need to be seen to be busy;
the gap between rich and poor in our world;
the desire for power;
the need to sell, sell, sell and buy, buy, buy;
the influence of media;
blame everybody else for one’s own failings or misfortune;
mass communication through screens rather than face-to-face;
the sense that we can write anything however rude or discouraging on a website without compunction;
the widespread acceptance of swearing as everyday language, not to mention the use of God and Christ as expletives;
the devaluing of life in war and conflict;
families spread geographically further and further apart;
divorce and relationship breakdown;
the rise of zero-hours contracts;
the throwaway what doesn’t work attitude;
the gap between old and young;
the anything goes ideal.
I could go on and I’m sure you can add your own ideas to the list. There are all sorts of things that are part of this age that, in my opinion, directly conflict with the life God desires for us to lead.
These are the particular outworkings in our day and age, but if we look carefully, we can see that underlying them are the same issues that have plagued people from the start: thinking they know better than God, selfishness, pride, injustice, a lack of care for one’s neighbour or those less fortunate than ourselves. envy, greed, prejudice, and so on.
So we face age-old problems wrapped in new and seemingly glittering paper.
There is only one way in which we will manage to overcome these temptations – and that is allowing God to transform us from the inside out. It is God’s mould we should be shaped by as Christians.
The more we become part of the things that are not of God, the more desensitised we become and the less likely we are to notice when we have fallen short of the mark. It is all too easy to become part of the crowd.
Allowing God to make us more like him requires sacrifice. At the end of many communion services, we pray:
we thank you for feeding us
with the body and blood
of your Son Jesus Christ.
Through him we offer you
our souls and bodies
to be a living sacrifice.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work
to your praise and glory.
We claim that we are offering ourselves to God as a “living sacrifice” – those words first had life in today’s message from Paul. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, he wrote.
We must remember that Paul is writing against a background of sacrificial temple worship in both Jewish and pagan religions. Offering of animals was common as a gift to God or the gods. The live gift was placed on the altar and the offering of it involved its extinction – an animal could not be half given; the sacrifice involved its total demise. It was wholly given.
If we are to be a living sacrifice, we are to be wholly given to God. We offer ourselves completely on the altar, nothing held back, but we discover in doing so that this sacrifice of ourselves brings life to us not death.
Now the animals in the sacrificial system clearly had no choice about their future; we do. As Christians, we have made a decision to centre our lives around Christ.
We don’t like to think that it will involve sacrifice but it can and does. What we forget though is that any sacrifice we make in our lives because of God will be amply rewarded in the age to come.
The biggest sacrifice we are called to make is to take ourselves out of the central position in our lives and replace that with Jesus. That is the only way we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
But it’s not easy because we naturally want to put ourselves first. God can and will transform us when we open ourselves to his love.
Think about your diary for the coming week. How much time are you planning to spend working, whether that be paid or unpaid? How much time sleeping? How much time taking your leisure? How much time devoted to family or friends? And how much time is there marked out for God?
Now of course God is with us all day long and the callings many of us have require action, but we also need times to allow ourselves to rest in his presence, to be open enough to receive the healing and transformation that God brings.
Time for us to listen to what God might be calling us to, space for prayer, a diligence about reading Scripture. God’s transformation in us will be so much deeper and greater if we allow ourselves to be open to it.
A human relationship would go nowhere, if only one of the partners paid attention to the other. God’s always there for us; we’re often not attentive to God.
Are our diaries ordered by our desires or by God’s?
And what about our pockets? Jesus spoke about money more than almost anything – I think because he knew how hard it was for people to trust in God’s providence rather than in coins and notes in the pocket or figures in a bank statement.
Look back over the spending of the past month – is the proportion and balance a godly one or is it too much one our own favour? Do we really trust God to provide?
How do we treat others? For instance, are we polite or rude to the person on the end of the cold-call? None of us like the calls but how do we respond to the person on the other end of the line – with love or with irritation? Do we see the good in others or are we blinded to that because we focus on their less than perfect characteristics? And that goes for ourselves too? Do we allow God to love us?
For most of us this transformation will be a lifetime’s work not fully realised until the age to come, the age of God’s Kingdom.
The more open we are to God the more transformed we will be. It’s God’s work in us that will make the difference, and we have been given the community of the Church to support and encourage us and share with us – and God knows we need that too.
All the members have a place and function, and we need each other to enable us to utilise the gifts God as given us.
Paul uses the metaphor of a body – think how useless a leg or an arm is if it’s not attached to the rest of the body. As God transforms us, God transforms the community, and we can make a real difference as we allow God to pour us into his mould and not squeeze ourselves the mould of the world around.
Eugene Peterson, pastor and theologian, wrote this: “a changed world begins with us, and a changed us begins when we pray”.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . . Let us open ourselves to God’s change.
 Matthew 17.2; Mark 9.2
 2 Corinthians 3.18
 From Twitter account @PetersonDaily 21/8/17