God Wants Me to Change?

“God Wants Me to Change?”

Rom 12-2 be transformed, words

Romans 12:1-2 (12:2) – September 10, 2017

The date of September 11th is a significant date to remember. Just as many people remember where they were on November 22, 1963, the date John F. Kennedy was assassinated, so, too, many people remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when planes flew into buildings, and horror upon horror was seen on televisions and video monitors around the world..

When we think of the inhumanity that people display—people who assassinate a national leader, or who cold-bloodedly kill dozens, or even hundreds of their fellow human beings—man’s inhumanity to man can leave our jaws hanging open, shaking our heads in disbelief.

We are horrified when we think about such things. I am sorry to bring this up, but Romans, the book of the New Testament from which our Scripture reading comes, has some very bad news in it. All of us fall short of what God wants for us. All of us miss the mark, as far as God is concerned. As Romans 3:11 tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one seeks after God.” We are all self-centered, not God-centered.

However, the book of Romans also has some very good news! The Apostle Paul says we are not deserted in such a hopeless situation. No! “The message of [the book of] Romans is that sin’s mastery over humankind has been broken in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” [1] We all know that the wages of sin is death—death, meaning separation from God forever. But the free gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ! Those are the blessed words of Romans 6:23!

I wanted to remind everyone about this difference, this separation that the Apostle Paul tells us about, us and the Roman believers. Here, on this side, is the BEFORE side. Life without God. Life is really bad news! Eternal darkness, and separation from God, forever. Here, on the other side, is the AFTER side. Life with Christ, and life eternally in God’s presence and light.

Just in case anyone is wondering exactly how we develop a relationship with Christ, we tell our Lord Jesus that we have sinned. We are truly sorry, we confess our sins to Him, and ask Him to forgive us. The best part? He will forgive us, freely! No strings attached. And then, we will enter into the best relationship we will ever have in our lives—true friendship with God.

Thanks be to God that we are accepted through our Lord Jesus Christ, and as Romans 8 tells us, nothing—in the whole universe—can separate us from the love of God!

That, in a nutshell, is the message of the first half of the letter to the Romans. But, now that we are in Christ, now what? What do we do now? How shall we then live? These first two verses of Romans chapter 12 hit home. Paul gives us several strong commands.

Let’s read Romans 12:1 again from that wonderful modern translation by Eugene Peterson, “The Message.” “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

We were just asking, now that I—you—all of us believe in Jesus, confess our sins, and are welcomed by God into the family of God, what next? Right here, Paul tells us. Paul wants us to place our whole lives before God as our offering.

Did you know the Jewish people in Israel (before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that is) sacrificed all kinds of things at the Temple, often? That was a requirement for being obedient to God, for being a fine, upstanding Jew. There were thank offerings, and guilt offerings, offerings for forgiveness and for harvest time, wave offerings, drink offerings, and animal offerings. Offerings on special occasions, and everyday offerings. There were enough animal, grain, wine, and other offerings to keep the many priests at the Temple in Jerusalem very busy, indeed! I’m not talking about only the Pharisees, but all of Israel. God expected offerings from everyone.

That was then—during the time of Jesus, and before. But, what about now? What kinds of offerings is Paul talking about? How do we bring offerings to God? I’ll say it again. Or rather, Paul will tell us, from Romans 12:1: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

A number of years ago, my children, my husband and I went to Michigan to see my in-laws. They decided we all should go to a really nice public garden, some distance away from their home. The public garden included a butterfly house. I don’t know whether anyone here has ever been to a butterfly house, but all different kinds and colors of butterflies fly around. Plus, there is a special section where the caterpillars make their cocoons and become a chrysalis. It takes some time, but finally they transform into a butterfly. My children just loved watching the butterflies flit around from flower to flower. I decided to sit still, and several butterflies came and landed on my arms. One even landed on my head.

Is there a difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly? I think we all would say, yes! Certainly! Is there a difference between the sinful us, and the forgiven us? I think so. That is what the Apostle Paul is getting at.

God is so pleased when we bring our whole selves to God. Before, our old selves were sinful, self-centered, and not doing or thinking or saying the things that pleased God. That sinful self is what the Apostle Paul talks about in the first half of this letter to the Romans! But now we have a relationship with God, we are being changed from the inside out. A complete change of our inner, spiritual selves, from being self-centered to God-centered!

A caterpillar changes or transforms into a butterfly. In the same way, “Paul speaks of radical inward change. The mind is key in the renewal process. The renewed mind is able to think, discern, and test what will please God instead of being deceived by sin.” [2]

Now, I need to let everyone know: this change is still happening. We are not completely sin-less. With God’s help, we sin less and less.

Sadly, the world we inhabit is still very much affected by sin. We can see that from natural disasters, like hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes (to mention some catastrophic things happening in our world right now). Our fellow human beings are also very much affected by sin and self-involvement, self-centered fear and self-important egotism, focusing on their own issues to the neglect of any one or any thing else.

Which brings us full circle to what we started this sermon with: man’s inhumanity to man. It is not difficult to tick off on both hands the horrible things people do to other people. We can feel sadness for the sin we still have in our own lives, too. We can shake our heads, in sorrow and grief. And, yes, we can praise God that God is not finished with us yet!

As the Apostle Paul reminds us in our Scripture reading in Romans 12:2, “fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it.”

Does God want all of us to change? You bet! Each day we are becoming more and more changed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus. We can all say “amen!” to that.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1038

Commentary, Romans 12:1-8, Mary Hinkle Shore,, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[2] Chesser, Dawn  – Director of Preaching Ministries, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/book-of-romans-sermon-starters-week-13

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Reconciled to God

“Reconciled to God”

2 Cor 5-19 God reconciles the world

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 –September 13, 2015

Last Friday was a typical day, in many ways. People had a normal day of work. Since it was the second Friday in September, for most school children it was a normal day of school. Except—it wasn’t quite a normal day here in the United States after all. Friday was September 11th. 9/11. A day that will remain in the forefront of many people’s memories.

I wanted to depart from the Sermon Series on Acts I’ve been preaching to bring a message about this serious and sobering day of remembrance. Yes, we remember the fateful day, fourteen years ago. The horrific happenings in Manhattan, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. And, we will remember the bravery of so many who served so selflessly, and gave so willingly.

As I prayed about this service and what bible passage I ought to preach on, I thought of several Scripture verses. Yes, I could focus on the past, and preach for those thousands of people who died on September 11, and who since have died as a result of injuries or challenges they experienced on that day and in the aftermath. We can remember. We ought to remember.

However, I also want to hold up a vision of hope. I try to keep my personal outlook on life and living firmly on hope and hopefulness. Even when looking at terribly sad events, even horrible situations, I earnestly try to see where God might have a place. Even in the worst situations, God is there. Hope is there. Somewhere.

That’s the situation we all find ourselves in. We all sin. Some sins are worse than others, and more visible. Some people sin a lot! Some people have particularly hard hearts, and they walk all over others. Hurt them, and do even more callous things to them. Did you know that Jesus came into the world for them, too? Jesus died on the cross for the people in and out of jail who have committed three, four, five and more felonies, just as much as Jesus died on the cross for the people who have not been to jail.

I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to take a closer look at this paragraph from the second letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the town of Corinth. In verse 18 of chapter 5, Paul tells us that God was reconciling us to Himself. Wait a minute! That sounds like making peace and harmony. Reconcile? That is not a term for a mean, angry God, one who just wants to smite anyone who gets in the way!

Do you know a bookkeeper? Has anyone here ever reconciled accounts, or financial statements? I mean, taken two separate and different lists of numbers, and make them compatible? See that both are in agreement? That’s another way of thinking about reconciliation. Our accounts, the deeds that we’ve done, the words spoken, the thoughts that go through our heads? The long lists of those things on our accounts are reconciled to God’s accounts.

I want to be up front and clear. I am a sinner. I freely admit that. I am stained with the dark stain of sin. But God—but God removes that stain. Through the provision of God’s love, through the coming of Christ into the world, through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, the stain of sin has been taken away. And, I am reconciled to God. Do you hear? The sins, the awful things I have done, have been cleansed, and taken away.

That’s not only me, but it’s you, too. All of you. All of us!

I am going to talk now about some disturbing things. If anyone wishes to leave, I will not be offended at all. I wanted to let you all know before I spoke about it. It is terribly upsetting.

I’d like to take a detour, and tell you about a woman. Eva Mozes Kor. Eva and her twin sister Miriam—born in 1934, and their family were from a small village in Romania. They were the only Jewish family in their village. Shortly after the Nazis took over that area of the country, Eva, Miriam and the rest of their family were taken to a Jewish ghetto in a larger town and they lived there several years.

In 1944, their family was shipped to the Auschwitz death camp. The twins’ parents and older sisters were immediately killed. Since Eva and Miriam were identical twins, Dr. Josef Mengele wanted them as human guinea pigs for horrific medical and genetic experiments. He and his team abused approximately 1500 twins; that’s 3000 children and young people.

Eva and Miriam were among about 200 children liberated from the camp by the Soviet Army in January 1945. Almost all of these were twins abused by Mengele.[1]

Eva spent years working through her deep-seated feelings and emotions about being in the death camp. She finally came to the place where she made a decision to forgive those who had harmed her, because she needed to take this critical step for her own, personal mental health and well-being.

It did not happen overnight. It took a long while. But now, she has forgiven those who harmed her, her family, and those she loved.

What I am wondering: does God need to do deep thinking before God forgives people? When I sin against God, and knowingly do things displeasing to Him, how does God feel? Now let’s multiply that times all of the people in the state of Illinois. Make that all the people in the United States. No, let’s up that to all of the people alive today. Does God need to do deep thinking, working through deep-seated feelings and emotions, before God forgives the world?

Consider verse 19: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” God satisfies God’s anger, enmity and displeasure through Jesus Christ. Jesus and His mediation—He steps in between and takes the burden of sin for us. Jesus restores the world—that’s all of us—to God’s love, nurture, caring, and favor.

In the original language of Greek, the word “reconcile” has the meaning “obtain the good favor of” or “lay aside enmity.” That is exactly what God does for us. But God justly ought to be filled with righteous anger at us. At all of us! We sin. We go against the things we know very well that God wants us to do or to think or to say. Or, we go out of our way to do or say or think things that out and out displease God very much! But God forgives us. God reconciles us to Himself through Jesus and His death on the Cross.

Eva Kor and her forgiveness of those who hurt her and her sister as well as those who killed her family and others she knew is one way for us to begin to understand the huge amount of forgiveness and reconciliation that God has accomplished on our behalf. That’s all of us! On all of our behalfs.

Eva Kor not only is “a Holocaust survivor and a forgiveness advocate, and public speaker. Powered by a never-give-up attitude, Eva has emerged from a trauma-filled childhood as a brilliant example of the human spirit’s power to overcome. She is a community leader, champion of human rights, and tireless educator.” [2] She has founded a Holocaust museum in Terra Haute, Indiana, and my friend Josh Thomas who started and maintains the Episcopal website www.dailyoffice.org had Eva as their Daily Office retreat speaker several weeks ago. She has a brilliant and straight-forward definition of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma and/or tragedy.” I’m including her further explanation on the hand-out in your bulletins.

But what does Eva and her words about forgiveness have to do with me? Or with you? Great question! I’ll read verse 19 one more time: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Did you hear? Paul says this in a little different way in verse 18: “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

So, God’s forgiven me! Amen! God’s forgiven you, too! Amen, again! But wait—there’s more! God has also given us—that’s you and me, and all of us—the message of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation.

What a wonderful way to show people the power of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. We can show people love, caring, nurture, and forgiveness. Each of us can reconcile ourselves to one another whenever we go astray. Or whenever anyone says a mean word, or does something unkind. Is there any way more powerful to show God’s love and care? I don’t think so.

Yes, this is really hard, sometimes almost impossible. It is so difficult to show love and caring for those who have hurt us, and have been mean to us. And have been uncaring, unkind, even cruel and heartless. Like Eva forgiving those in the death camps. Or, for those who have been enemies in war. Or even for murderers or terrorists. That’s why we can go to God. We can ask for help to show God’s love. God’s forgiveness. God’s reconciliation.

So, help us, God. Amen.

[1] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

[2] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!