This week’s sermon begins just before the 22 minute mark.
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.
Paul writes that you and I have to change our minds, our way of thinking if we are ever going to align ourselves more fully with what God wants for us, and our world. And change is hard but as I read the other day Cinderella is proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life!
We get stuck in the ruts of the status quo – and we can’t get to new places by the same old roads. Some minds are like concrete—thoroughly mixed and permanently set.
Now Lois warned me: “John, don’t get too theological, be practical!” OK, I will try!
What you give your mind to matters – what you listen to, what you read, what you watch, who you talk to – it shapes the world in which you live.
I have been reading articles about teenagers and pornography and how that affects their understanding love and intimacy.
You give your mind to Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories on his show Infowars, and it will affect how you view the world. Alex Jones’ tag line is “There’s a war on for your mind!” Indeed there is.
Sometimes my mind is so full of stuff, so overwhelmed by noise, that I find myself stumbling from one place to another with no real direction, no real purpose, no real sense of connection to anything, or anyone, let alone God.
So my first piece of practical and spiritual advice is this: turn off the TV, or watch a comedy! Laugh a little bit. Get off Facebook. Go take a walk and get some fresh air. “Consider the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin and yet they are more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory.” Jesus knew that he had to pay attention and make space so that he could more closely follow God’s call on his life.
Exercise is a key for me– makes me feel better. If I get stuck writing a sermon – I go to the gym, works almost every time. You have to clear your plate, makes just a little room for the spirit to move in you.
St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Think – use your minds to move in the direction of what is good and true and compassionate – and it will change your world – you will be in better alignment with God.
That which you give your mind to shapes your worldview.
My second piece of practical spiritual advice is this: find someone who had a different perspective than you do and start a relationship. Listen before speaking.
Find someone to trust that can hold you accountable and check your stuff.
I have three friends who do not agree with me politically and several friends who have a different theological take. They give me the “other side’s” opinion to read. We have developed a level of trust so that we can be honest with each other – and it is almost, most of the time, refreshing and even fun.
Folks who originally were unsure or negative about becoming a Sanctuary church – changed their minds when they had a meal with Leonor.
So there are things that you can do to renew your mind, reboot the synapses, create space for the Spirit.
But then there are things that happen to you that you don’t control that force you to change.
Getting new facts, having a new experience, being shaken to the core by some tragedy, falling in love – or what Thomas Chalmers – a Scottish pastor of the 19th Century, called “the expulsive power of a new affection.”
When I was in Scotland and received the news that my brother Peter’s cancer was terminal – it caused me to re-think things, it challenged my simplistic theology that God blesses good people, because Peter was a good, sweet man. As I look back that experience changed my perspective dramatically.
First time I met Deanne – she transformed me, talk about the “expulsive power of a new affection!”
The birth of our children – Deanne and I could no longer conform to the world of young marrieds with no kids. We were transformed by middle of the night feedings and changings.
The tragic news of Diona Shaw’s sudden death – changes everything for husband Wesley, mother Elizabeth and Lucy, Isaiah and Solomon – and frankly has shaken many of us to the core.
How do we discern the will of the God in that?
Paul of Tarsus – got knocked off his horse on the rode to Damascus because he bumped into the reality of Jesus Christ – it turned his world topsy-turvy; frankly it turned the history of the world in a new direction.
What has changed your mind lately, or are you stuck? And by “mind” Paul meant more than an intellectual opinion. In the first century the “mind” included the “heart” and “gut.” Being transformed by the renewing of your mind changes everything.
The person who hits rock bottom and must confess to him or herself and to others: “I am an addict,”
No longer closeted – God made me this way. Can’t be conformed any longer.
Those of you who are engaged in PRISM forcing you to do the hard work of unpacking white privilege. And getting a new mind.
As Bride Stine says: “If the truth conflicts with my beliefs, I change my beliefs.” But for Christians that shouldn’t be threatening because beliefs aren’t just a series of intellectual propositions that you check off – it is rather a trust in the presence of God in all things – so we hold things loosely – and are always coming to deeper and deeper truths. I think this is fundamental to Christian faith.
So things happen, we get new truths that transform our minds – and we have to figure it out; discern God’s will for us, God’s desire for us – our path going forward.
However, discerning the will of God is not child’s play. It is not like choosing between going to Palm Springs or Coral Gables for a spa holiday or having apple pie or cheesecake for dessert.
Natasha Betingfield’s popular song of several years ago “Unwritten” gets it.
Staring at the blank page before you//Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance//So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibition//Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you//Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else//Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken//Live your life with arms wide open
Today is when your book begins//The rest is still unwritten
Discernment is more than a choice – it is surrender: reaching and feeling and being drenched.
St. Ignatius reminds us to consider the ends we seek. He writes that “our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.” Our loving relationship with God is the goal and end of our life. Our first choice or decision is simply to be a follower of Christ. Everything else – all our choices, big and small, follows from this.”
And then ask yourself about the choices that lie before you:
Is it grounded in love?
Is it opening rather than closing my mind?
Is it challenging a previously held conviction?
It is guided by generosity and abundance rather then scarcity and fear?
Am I letting go or trying to control?
Does my heart leap towards contentment or is there a weight of dis-ease?
“Simply to be a follower of Christ”: Start there. Let that thought resonate as you watch the news, or volunteer, or raise your voice in protest, or fall in love, or cry inconsolable tears. Let “Simply be a follower of Christ” be the first words on your lips each morning. See what happens.
The real transformation, the renewing your minds will come not when you choose between this or that – but when you decide to jump into a love so rich, and deep and wide – that you will begin to see the world in a different way. And the new mind will lead to new risks and new actions.
In the 8th chapter of Romans, Paul wrote: “What are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You can’t say that unless you have been transformed by the renewing of your mind – by changing the way you look at the world – by not conforming, but by leaping.
I can’t prove this to you – I can only share that what Paul is talking about is true.
We won’t change the world unless we change our minds and throw ourselves into the craziness boldly, bravely, unapologetically – trusting God in all things.