OUR WORDS AND ACTIONS
A Reflection of our Faith
The text for this sermon is Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on August 24, 2008, the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today’s second less from Romans is the inspiration for this sermon. Did you know that thirteen letters in the New Testament are attributed to the apostle Paul? His Letter to the Romans is recognized as his most carefully worded statement of Christian theology. What I really like about this letter is his emphasis on God’s grace. Paul explains God’s grace more fully in Romans than in any of his other letters. Some of the verses that come from the first 11 chapter of Romans are cherished greatly by many of us here:
· This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus ( 3:21-24).
· You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (5:6-9).
· If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (8:31b-32).
Paul’s Letter to the Romans had a great impact on Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation and now impacts greatly on us today as Lutheran Christians. Here is what Martin Luther said about this letter:
This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes (LW35:365)
In this epistle we thus find most abundantly the things that a Christian ought to know, namely, what is law, gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, righteousness, Christ, God, good works, love, hope, and the cross; and also how we are to conduct ourselves toward everyone, be he righteous or sinner, strong or weak, friend or foe – and even toward our own selves (LW 35:380)
The first 11 chapters of Romans are good theology, laying out the chief elements of our Christian faith and God’s plan of salvation. Then Paul starts something different in his letter. He now addresses the practical matters of being a Christian. If the first 11 chapters have been about what we believe, then the concluding 5 chapters are about how this belief is to be played out in our everyday lives. Paul emphatically addresses us on the ethical and practical issues of life. The very first thing he writes is today’s second lesson, Romans 12:1-8:
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone that we encounter in life would treat each other in ways that are full of grace? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the concept of grace flavored the words and actions of our spouses and children and friends and co-workers and the people we encounter in stores and sporting events and theaters and restaurants? Oh that all the folks we encounter would measure their words and actions in ways that were loving and kind and generous.
Most people want to act in the right way. It is when life is not calm and controlled that bad behavior occurs with normally reasonable folks. Highly anxious people do not choose their words and actions carefully. They shoot from the hip, they react often in hurtful ways instead of proactively choosing the most Christ-like approach to life. It happens in our everyday lives out there and, unfortunately, it happens more than it should inside the walls of the Church. I remember something that happened in the last congregation that Pastor Carol and I served. Our Congregation President was beginning to show signs of forgetfulness that only later were diagnosed as the beginning of Alzheimer’s. At one of the Congregational Meetings, he was asked a question by a member and this congregational president gave a response that was a bit rambling and confusing. The church member verbally charged into him, berating him in front of all of us, including his wife and daughter and grandchildren. I will always remember that it was Pastor Carol, newly ordained, who was sitting next to this church member and she leaned over to him, put her hand on his arm, and said in his ear: “Can’t you see what is going on here? Back off.”
Here’s another remembrance: One day I received a phone call from someone in the nearby community. He was a businessman, a member of another church, someone I had met at a Kiwanis Club function. He was apologetic for the phone call and said he had thought and prayed about it and then determined he had to phone and talk with me. It seems that he and a member of my congregation were involved in a business negotiation. It involved leasing some space for a restaurant. They could not come to final agreement on the contract. My member who always seemed to be such a stickler for doing the right thing at church and seemed to be a very pious person, had used every four-letter word in the book in anger when the business deal could not be completed. What this community person wanted from me was this: could I in some way address my congregation on Christ-like ethical and moral ways of doing business, how to act when things don’ go your way, and why folks out in the community do judge your church by their interactions with church members? That was another time, another congregation. How about you? I am not with you at your work or school or home. How are you doing? Are you living a grace-filled life and projecting that truth in your words and actions every day?
Paul uses 3 words that I think are a key to understanding today’s second lesson. The words are: “conformed” and “ transformed” and “renewed.” One who “conforms” takes on all the characteristics and actions of another. It is so easy to take on the ways of the world, to act selfishly and unethically and harshly, but followers of Christ are called to a better way. When Christ comes into our life, when we accept him as Savior, we are changed (transformed) into something different than what we have been or what the world expects of us. In Christ we become a “new” person, a new creature. Everything is renewed, including our minds and how we perceive what is good and right and acceptable as a follower of Jesus Christ. No longer can we compartmentalize our lives. Christ is Lord everyday, in every situation.
So we hear again the words of God through Paul to the entire Christian Community:
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.
It is my hope and prayer that all of us here, me included, will take to heart this message. May our words and actions reflect our faith as followers of the Lord Jesus. Amen