Change is Good: Transformation is Better

Romans 12:1-8                   

          My kids are just a bit too old to have been caught up in the full force of the Transformers craze.  They were more the Power Rangers generation!  But I imagine many of us have at least a passing acquaintance with the “Transformers phenomenon”.  The basic idea is that fairly ordinary cars and trucks transform – change – into towering engines of battle for good or evil.  I’m pretty sure that Paul did not have those sorts of Transformers in mind when he wrote to the Christians in Rome saying: “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  But he may have had an strikingly similar idea – ordinary folk like you and me, changed into disciples of Jesus and making a difference in the world.

          Nature is trumpeting the change of seasons all around us.  Surely biting winds and freezing temperatures have become a distant memory.  A few days of warm weather and a bit of rain and transformation is everywhere.  The truth is, though, change is pretty constant.  It’s a fundamental part of being human.  Indeed, if we aren’t changing we aren’t alive.  Which doesn’t necessarily make it fun.  Do you recall the saying from a few decades ago: “Stop the world I want to get off”?  At least in part it was a plea for calm in the midst of what was experienced as too great and demanding a rate of change.  There are people who relish constant change.  I know people who can’t be sure what colour their hair will be on any given day!  But some folks find change very troubling – and will do anything they can to pretend it didn’t happen.  Change rattles our cages.  It challenges the tidy boundaries we put around our lives.  It reminds us that a lot of what we think we know we don’t know for sure. 

          However, Paul is surely onto something when he says we can choose the sort of change we make.  He writes: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  Change is always happening – is the change in our life for good or not?  Paul urges us not to be conformed to the world.  “Do not be conformed to this world.”  What does he have in mind?  When one thing is conformed to something else, it gradually takes on the the shape and characteristics of that thing.  In human beings it generally means that we mold our behaviour or our language or our outlook to suit someone else’s ideas of what is correct.  That’s not always bad.  Some of you work in occupations where, over time, standards have developed for handling situations or materials.  When you’re in a dangerous work setting you don’t want someone making it up on their own.  When you’re on an airplane you don’t want the pilot deciding all of a sudden to try a whole new idea for flying!  When I’m in a taxi I really don’t want the driver to suddenly decide to use the other side of the road!  If I want you to understand what I’m saying, it helps if I conform to standard patterns of speaking rather than arranging sentences anyway I choose.  So, some conformity is helpful.

          But the conformity that Paul has in mind when he says, “Do not be conformed to the world,” is not so positive.  Because the world often views life in very different ways than Jesus did.  One of the big ideas to which the world tries to conform us is “not enough”.  That’s the idea of scarcity.  So we learn to talk about how there aren’t enough hours – rather than about how we use those we have.  And talk about how there aren’t enough resources to do what we want to do threatens to swamp the talk of what we can do.  We look at situations in our community where we could make a difference and think “I can’t fix all that” and miss the truth that maybe there is something I can do – even if I can’t do it all.  We get drawn into valuing people according to surface appearance rather than getting to know them as unique and special.

          “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  It’s up here – in our heads.  Athletes and other competitors often speak about how a huge percentage of the game is mental.  Developing winning attitudes starts in the head.  They will spend hours going over each moment of a coming event getting ready and preparing to succeed.  So, let me into your mind for a moment (which hopefully is not as scary as it sounds).  What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Obviously it’s a face, but what’s behind those eyes?  Who is looking back at you and what do you think of them?  For a lot of people it’s not so good.  They are constantly playing the tapes that recite what they can’t do, or don’t deserve or aren’t worthy of – love, respect, success, happiness, peace – you name it.  Now, if you have no idea what I’m talking about from your own life, then God bless you.  You are a rare and special person – you may even have been transformed already!  For many others, those negative tapes play a constant message that it’s easy to conform to. 

“Do not be conformed but be transformed.”  We could be conformed to the message that says we’re inadequate.  Or we could be transformed to God’s viewpoint.  You are a child of God.  The universe is constantly evolving and so matter which was once part of stars is in your cells.  You are literally a star child.  There’s an old poster that I haven’t seen in a while, that still has a place in my heart.  It shows a young boy, baseball glove in hand, wad of gum in his mouth, one shoe untied, shirt untucked, ball cap on sideways.  The caption: “I know I’m special ‘cause God don’t make no junk.”  “God don’t make no junk” – repeat that with me please.  You are ok, because God isn’t in the business of making junk and wasn’t doing junk patrol the day you were made.  That is the beginning of our transformation.  Realizing our true identity.   Not because of anything the world around us might value.  Not because of the boxes we can tick off on the accomplishment form.  But because God declares, here and now: “You are my beloved.”

Change is going to happen – individually and corporately.   We cannot prevent that.  Despite any of our denials and our tight hold on the notion that we can stop it.  Change is happening.  However, transformation is optional.  We can choose to embrace the new life God offers.  I can’t say that it won’t hurt – but we may save ourselves some wasted energy and – along the way – discover possibilities greater than we ever imagined.  If Paul is right, then God is in the business of transforming the world and us, so that it is more peaceful, just, and loving.  Let me offer some hints of what transformation might look like.

Let’s think about fear.  A lot of people are afraid.  Lots of organizations are anxious and fearful.  This is very personal because our fears are very individual.  Some of the things we’re afraid of are grounded in reality.  They have a certain realistic possibility of happening even if they are remote: you

may lose your job; you or someone you love may get ill; the stock market may

tank and affect your pension income.  Things like that are in the realm of the possible; there may be things we wish to do to prepare for them.  Some of the things we’re afraid of are entirely in our heads:  the world is not likely to be impacted by a meteor this week; there is unlikely to be a revolutionary takeover of the government tomorrow; chances are that I will not be hit by a bus if I use common sense.  Fearing those things saps vital energy.  Then there are things that may happen over which my fear has no control: it may be a bad hurricane season this fall and we might get sideswiped.  It might be a very dry – or a very wet – summer and that will affect produce prices.  Those are things over which I have no control and living in constant fear about them has a negative effect on life without making an iota of difference.  We can – through our choices and the transforming of our minds – have an effect on how fear impacts us.

Let me give you a couple of concrete examples from my past – different folks, from decades ago, in another part of the country.  One parishioner, her name was Marg.  She was a vibrant, active, athletic, new retiree.  One day she received a negative report about a possible shadow on her lung.  That day, Marg retired to her chair and never moved again.  Regardless of her medical situation she gave up.  All quality of life was gone because she conformed to her fear.  The other example is Harold.  When I met him he was in his early 60s, 10 years into a diagnosis which had given him six months to live.  His special formula: joy.  Wherever he went there was laughter.  He was an active real estate agent, deputy reeve, church elder, choir member – and most important a loving husband, father and amazing grandfather.  I conducted Harold’s funeral, fifteen years after the diagnosis.  Instead of being conformed to fear he was transformed, through his faith, into an individual of joy.  God can transform our fear if we open ourselves to it.

Here’s another place for transformation.  Let me quote a famous individual: “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage.  What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage.  What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk? Courage.  What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.  What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage.  What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage.  What makes the Hottentot so hot? Courage.  What puts the ape in apricot? Courage.  What have they got that I ain’t got?  Courage.”  I can’t believe I just quoted the Cowardly Lion from the

Wizard of Oz

as a sermon illustration!  But if we read the bible, that wonderful story of human interaction with the Divine, the message is constantly repeated: “Be strong; and of good courage.”  In the most challenging of situations, an incredible array of different people received the message: “Be strong and of good courage.”  Don’t conform, be transformed!

Why?  Well, transformation will probably make us better partners or parents or employees or volunteers.  Those are worthy, but they are good side effects.  The real reason is so that “you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  So, when I’m wandering around in that cloud of confusion, not sure where to turn.  Or when we see a problem or a need and we’re not sure how to respond.  Or when we feel weighed down by all the negative junk that comes at us or those tapes that play in our head.  Being transformed will help us cut through the muck and mire and draw closer to God’s will for us – and God only, ever wants the best for us. 

There is one more step to this why.  Why are we being transformed?  Of course it is because of God’s incredible love for us, for you.  But there’s a step two.  God’s gift to us is not just for our own enjoyment but because God has a high and holy task for us to be part of.  Through individuals and communities like the church, God’s Spirit is at work to transform the world.  Whether it’s some of the ladies who make big pots of soup each month for Hope Cottage, or the folk who volunteer at Beacon House, or the adults who work so hard to prepare a wonderful experience of faith for youth at Maritime Conference, or groups that work to make our city safer or to reconcile different communities or any of you who do something special to make your space a little less toxic and a little more just and nurturing – you are participating in God’s great transformation of the world.  You’re not alone – even if it sometimes feels like it.  There are countless millions transforming the world by the power of God’s Spirit.  You are one of them.

So this week I want you to think about where you might be resisting transformation.  Where is that place in life where you are still giving into fears?  Are there points in life where the old tapes about how inadequate you are, or how undeserving you are, or how unattractive you are or whatever – are there places where those tapes still play and sour your life.  Here’s what you do: when you hear the message write it down on a piece of paper, because when it’s written down we can combat it.  Then underneath what the tape says, write down the truth.  If the tape says, “You don’t deserve it,” write down, “It’s all a gift, it’s not about deserving.”  Or if the tape says, “You’re not good enough”, write down all the things you’ve accomplished.  Are you with me?  If you’re having trouble figuring out the response come and see me or email me and we’ll figure it out together.  The power of transformation is so much greater than the power of those messages if only we can connect to it and open ourselves to it.  Transformed from ordinary people to the world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ.

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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.”  May that be the lived truth of our lives.  Let those with ears hear the Spirit’s word to the Church.