Sermon for Easter: The Way of Renewal
The Way of Renewal
Resurrection; April 4, 2021
Since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of everything that Christian people believe, I can’t talk about Romans 12 without thinking about the holiday we celebrate today, which we began celebrating on Thursday evening. On Thursday evening I talked about the Jewish roots of our communion; on Friday at noon we read the story of the Crucifixion. On Friday evening we reflected on the Way of the Cross in light of the coronavirus pandemic we have been experiencing, a Way of Sickness, Loneliness, Anger, Fear, and Death. And today we finish that Way reflecting on one other aspect of the pandemic: the Way of Renewal.
How many times in the last thirteen months have you said or heard someone say, “I can’t wait to get back to normal!” or perhaps, “When is everything going to be the way it was?” For people who take seriously the message of our celebration today, the answer is, “Never.” Things will never be the way they were; things will not get back to normal. Not if we believe that Christ is raised from the dead and live our lives in that belief.
Although most of Romans 12 is a list of things to do in order to live as a follower of Jesus – and wouldn’t it be a challenging project to make an Excel spreadsheet of that list and keep notes on how you’re doing? – the real meat of Romans 12 is in the first two verses: I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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. The “therefore” at the beginning refers to everything Paul has written in chapters 1 to 11: that because of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, salvation is for everyone. Okay, that’s the foundation. And trying to avoid saying more than you can absorb in one sermon, I will call out the three important points for today.
The third point is the challenge to be changed by the renewal of your minds. A lot of us started the pandemic with a list of projects; one possible project has been to rethink what is important. One man told me the other day that one of the blessings to come out of the pandemic has been his family having dinner together every day, instead of only once or twice a week. He hopes that as we emerge from the pandemic that his family’s life will not go back to “normal.” I hope that Church life will not go back to normal, fighting over the color of carpets rather than struggling with the question, “Who does Jesus want us to be?” Although many of us probably have spent the pandemic numbing ourselves with binge-watching Netflix and eating too many sweets or drinking too much wine, I suspect that most of you have taken some time to ask yourselves what is really important to you. You too don’t want things to go back to normal. Part of our society’s normal for centuries has been that the poor exist to serve the rich, women exist to serve men, and people of color exist to serve white people. We don’t want things to go back to normal.
So let’s not go back to normal. With the confidence that Christ is alive, that Christ gives us strength and courage and hope, let’s go instead a way of renewal. “Renewal” literally means being made new. Again. And again. We can be made new again in the way we think about ourselves. We can be made new again in the way we think about others. That’s what that spreadsheet for the rest of chapter twelve is about: the constant renewal of our minds.
The second point is not to be conformed to this world. People who listen to me week after week are probably tired of hearing me say it: You and I don’t have to accept the priorities of this world, this “present age” to give it a more literal translation. Some of you may know the J. B. Phillips translation of the New Testament; he translates this line as “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” Our present age says that you are a “consumer;” I say to you that you are a “child of God.” Our present age tags you with the label “liberal” or “conservative;” I say to you that you are “redeemed by Jesus Christ.” Our present age calls you “worker” or “job creator,” “retiree” or “student;” I say that you are a guest at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb of God.
And so to the first point, which depends on what follows it: Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. It isn’t enough simply to toss some money in the offering plate or send a check to the church office or enter your credit card number in our online giving platform; those are the modern-day equivalent to taking your lamb or pigeon to the Temple for a sacrifice on the altar. That is an essential component to being part of the family of God, but it is only a component.
The real sacrifice is what you yourself do, you, that body right there, what you do hour by hour as a child of God. In addition to giving money to the Church, what do you do with the rest of your money? Do you pay attention to the products you buy, the services you use? Do you choose them based on how they benefit people? What do you do with your free time? Do you take care of your body by getting some exercise and making time to play? And do you spend some time helping out somebody else? Is your body kind and forgiving and playful? Okay, I’ll not go on; you’re at least as clever as I am and can make your own list, if you want a list.
When Jesus was raised from the dead, he himself, body, mind, and spirit was raised from the dead. Not merely a disembodied spirit, he ate and drank with his friends. He touched them; they touched him. One thing this pandemic has taken from us is human touch; for the last thirteen months the only people who have regularly touched me have been my wife and my chiropractor. I remember saying to some friends, when they talked about being able to shake hands once again, that I’m not shaking hands: I’m hugging everybody. Okay, I exaggerate; I’m not hugging anybody who doesn’t want to be hugged.
Christ is raised from the dead, truly raised, and so we have his power, his presence, his body to help us renew our minds and not be conformed to this world. And to remind us that the worship we offer to God is not only the hymns we sing, the prayers we say, the Sacraments we celebrate, and the sermons we listen to. Our worship is also what we do with our bodies, our precious, complex, and beautiful physical selves.
So once again, I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master