United Methodist Parish

Transformed Lives – Sunday, August 23, 2020

Transformed Lives – Sunday, August 23, 2020

Read Romans 12: 1-8 (MSG) and Matthew 16:13-20 (NRSV)

Some scriptures preach themselves and make the preacher’s job easy. Others take some hard work, and others are deceptive. They may seem to have an easy message at face value but after spending more time with them, things just get more and more obscure.

Like a butterfly, it’s sometimes hard to find where to land. Which blossom of sweet goodness will I select? You hope that I’ll finally find one and stay with it long enough to have a coherent message.

I’ve spent time this week fascinated by the activity around a clump of Joe Pye Weed. It is a magnet for lots of insects including butterflies. I think it may have such a sweet nectar that the butterflies over indulge. They will stay on the same blossom for several minutes without moving.

I watched one in particular (a Viceroy) for a long time, and after drinking long and deep, it seemed to realize I was trying to take its picture. It flew onto a tall piece of grass very close to me, spread its wings and sunbathed, posing very still for several minutes. I had the feeling that it was too drunk to do much more than that!

How sweet it would be to land on a verse of scripture and drink long and deep and feel so overwhelmed by the goodness that all you could do would be to bask in the light.

So, you are wondering, all right, where is she going to land today? With Matthew’s text? Peter’s confession that Jesus is the son of the Living God? Jesus naming Peter, Rock, and declaring upon this rock I will build my church? The keys of the kingdom? Don’t tell anyone that I am the Messiah?

Or the text from Romans? Present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God? Don’t be conformed to this world? Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought? We are one body in Christ? We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to each of us? So many blossoms – where is today’s sweetness?

What goodness do we need to drink in today at this very moment and time and place?

In the Message, Eugene Peterson worded Romans 12:

12 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.

“Take your everyday, ordinary, life and place it before God as an offering…. Fix your attention on God – you’ll be changed from the inside out.”

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.”

When we pay attention to the news and look at the world around us, do we want to be adjusted to or conformed to it? We want to be better than this, don’t we? Yes!–we can be so much better than this as a society, as followers of Christ. We have to be. God created us to be. Jesus’ life and death and resurrection are so that we can be better than this.

We who have joined the body that is founded on the rock of faith in who Jesus Christ is, we who are one body though many members, we who have each been graced with gifts for the strengthening of the Body, need to “fix our attention on God.”

We are to be transformed by God so that we can recognize God’s desire for the world – that which is good and acceptable and perfect in our thoughts and words and deeds. Another way of saying it is so that we can love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, changing us from the inside out so that it is God’s Spirit that directs our thoughts and actions. As Peterson phrased it in the Message, “God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

With minds set on God – loving God with all we have and all we are – we come closer to knowing what God intends; and with bodies offered as signs of spiritual worship, or with our ‘everyday going about our lives’ selves offered to God, we become that living Body of Christ in the world and for the world.

This work of transformation requires our cooperation. We have some practicing, some exercises, some structured disciplines or methods to engage in to help it along. The spiritual means of grace are ways that the Holy Spirit can get to work in us.

  • Acts of piety: Praying – together and individually; corporate worship and individual devotions; scripture reading and study; fasting and abstinence; sharing our faith and being accountable to each other; the sacraments – Holy Communion – yes! we can celebrate this again!! I have my license;
  • Acts of mercy – doing works as we go about our lives, giving of our time, talents, gifts, money; seeking justice and working to end discrimination and oppression, addressing the needs of the poor.

How are we doing with these?  Are there some that we’re ignoring? Is it time for small group for accountability via Zoom and answer together the questions of how and where have you encountered God, and how are you serving neighbor?

I’ve used the images of butterflies today. We connect transformation with the amazing change from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly, but our spiritual transformation may not be as distinct as that.

There may be days when we feel like we have the new wings of a butterfly as something in us is transformed, and there will be days when we feel like we’re back in the goop of the pupa as God gets back to work on us, and even days when we feel like a caterpillar inching along in life, lucky just to have our legs synchronized so we can move.

But whether we feel like we’re in a place of goop, inching along, or flying with new wings, God is at work. And rather than think of the spiritual disciplines as chores to feel guilty about when we neglect them, let’s reframe them and think of them as sweet blossoms full of nectar. We can discover in them the sweet relationship we can have of knowing God through the love of Jesus Christ.

This nectar is so sweet we’ll want to linger there and drink deeply. Then take some time to bask in the Light but then be ready to take flight back into the world refreshed and renewed. And with our attention so fixed on God, we’ll be ready to “recognize what [God] wants from [us], and quickly respond to it.” (MSG Rom. 12: 2)

~Evie Doyon August 2020