Vision & Mission Conversations (5 of 5): “Reformed & Transformed…Never Conformed”
Ps. 138 & Rom. 12: 1-8 ~ October 31, 2021 ~ Northwood United ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
What do the Christian life and Punk Rock have in common? Absolutely nothing, you might say. Well, actually…this morning we will discover that we share a lot! We may not sing loud, angry lyrics in our hymnody or exhibit destructive behaviour or require our members to sport mohawk hair styles or ripped clothing, but if we look back in our history, Christ followers have a lot in common with the non-conformity movement embedded in punk rock. Punk rock started as a non-confirming rage against the established ways of society. And at our origin, long before Emperor Constantine adopted the Christian faith as the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, Jesus’ followers were non-conformists.
Christians met illegally, held ideals in opposition to that of Rome. Christians sought to break away from the ways of the world as Jesus taught a new way. A way in opposition to the Kingdom of Rome…the Way of the Kingdom of God. Jesus challenged the authoritative ways of the Scribes and Pharisees, teaching his followers NOT to conform. With rage, Jesus turned the tables of the money changers causing havoc at the temple. Jesus challenged his followers, calling them not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed to the ways of the Kingdom of God which he was ushering in. I recall years ago back in seminary when a professor challenged our images of Jesus. Asking what words we would use to describe Jesus, we first came up with comforting ones: caring, loving, compassionate. He challenged us to consider Jesus as an angry, non-conformist, actively opposing the ways of the world. The ‘gentle-Jesus’ image we have developed since Rome domesticated him is far from authentic. Now, to be clear, Jesus and his later followers (such as Paul) always maintained the importance of following the laws of the world, however, there was that challenge to not be conformed to the ways of the world. Indeed, we have more in common with punk rockers than we ever realized!
As Paul wrote this passionate message to the church in Rome, he is urging them: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” Do not be conformed! The message continues to us today. Do not be conformed! In fact, I would argue that our contemporary culture contains an empire that is more powerful, more pervasive and more cunning than that of Rome’s empire. We live in a market economy; a market society which values people based on their wealth, status, and earnings; it is a modern-day idol which commands us to value one another NOT as brothers and sisters in need…or as brothers and sisters who are Children of God, but rather to view one another within the competitive market empire in which we live. And to this, Paul urges us: “Do not be conformed!” Do not be conformed to this modern-day idol of market which seductively seeks to dictate your value and your worth. Non-conforming Christians today are actively (and angrily) protesting injustices against people based on their colour, or culture or sexuality; non-conforming Christians are passionately protesting (and boycotting) practices which harm Creation; non-conforming Christians are angrily speaking up for those who are harmed by predators and predatorial practices. How angry many of us have become over the unfolding story this week with the Chicago Blackhawks covering up a sexual crime! “Do not be conformed” are the words of Paul echoing through two Millennia unto us today. “Do not be conformed!”
What Paul prescribes as an alternative to being conformed is being 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.” And through this passage, Paul proceeds to describe what transformation looks like through our expression as the Body of Christ. Paul, here in Romans, will use an image that will be pervasive through so much of his writing: ‘The Body of Christ’. The transformation of our minds becomes this shift of seeing ourselves not as separated from one another, competitive with one another, but rather as physically part of an interconnected organism. The body of Christ image is one that, I think, is one that we can understand. We have an understanding of how the whole body works together. And, we know how we need each part of our interconnected body…especially when it fails to function as it should! Aches and pains can set the body off in a horrible direction. And when serious disease overtakes our body, we become unable to live in the ways in which we were created. That is the way that the living body of Christ, the living church, functions or dysfunctions as well! Paul offers a range of ways that we are gifted and might unite these gifts for Christ’s fuller expression in the world. Not an exhaustive list of gifts we might have, but a range to make us aware of the diversity of the church, Christ’s body, and how it might be expressed.
The transformation of caterpillar into butterfly might be a metaphor that is overused in the church; however, it is one that aptly describes how the baptismal waters reveal the true depth and beauty of each member of the body of Christ. Paul is urging us here, not to remain as caterpillars…or be stuck in the cocoon. He urges us to bravely emerge as a transformed being…realizing and participating as a member of the body of Christ. “Do not be conformed, but rather be transformed!” This is a historical Sunday to consider the continuously transforming church, for October 31st is the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, a Priest in the Church, had 95 ways in which he saw the church as changing. He nailed his 95 theses to the church door, the equivalent of the community bulletin board, for all to see. Buoyed by the invention of the printing press the changes began shifting the basis of power from the church to the people. You might recall that we did a big focus on the Reformation on the 500th anniversary back in 2017 which is still on the website on the October 29th service.
But, this year, we focus on our reformation, our transformation as a church as we consider our 4th, and final, mission goal. “Northwood United Church has the following goal. In 5 years, we want, as followers of Jesus, to be a community where Jesus is alive and present, where people feel love, belonging, safety, cared for, supported, accepted, experience growth and are spiritually engaged.” A community where Jesus is “alive and present” is exactly what Paul is speaking to the Romans about! This IS the body of Christ…love, belongingness, safety, care, support, acceptance, growth and engagement. These are the arms and legs, the eyes and ear, the living Body of Christ here in our beautiful little corner of the world. I love that moment in the AGM when we consider how we are involved in the church. Slowly one by one, people (who are able) are invited to stand to indicate their involvement in the various areas of the church. We start with leadership positions…board chair, vice-chair, treasurer, and all the ministry leads and the various committees, and we consider all the varied ways people are involved from Children’s Church, to Youth, to fellowship – coffee time, greeting, lawn mowing, gutter cleaning, thrift shop…and before we know it everyone is standing. Because we know that it takes EVERYONE in order to be the church! The body of Christ is…love and belongingness, safety and care, support and acceptance, growth and engagement.
It has been an interesting experience ‘starting back up’ after having so many of our regular ministries closed for the past 18 months. And the common thread ~ that we already knew ~ is that we need each and every part of the living Body of Christ….YOU…in order for the church to be healthy, effective, and life-giving in the ways we are called. As the recruitment poster from our neighbours south of the border depicting Uncle Sam pointing his finger and the caption reading: ‘We Need You’. The same applies to the church. I think that is what the goal is speaking to hear. The body of Christ is…love and belongingness, safety and care, support and acceptance, growth and engagement.
As in the previous weeks, the Board and I need your feedback on this final goal. You will find in the insert (email and in the bulletin) an opportunity to respond to this goal. Is this the way we still see the church? Is this the way we are all participating as ‘the Church’? Are all welcomed, encouraged, and included? We ARE the Body of Christ…and when we ALL ARE Christ’s body…Christ is alive in this place.