Not of This World!

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), August 21, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Sorry, no auido is available for this message. 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” [Matthew 16:2a]

 INTRODUCTION: The story’s told about a neurologist who performed an amazing surgical procedure on a 50 year old man named Virgil, who was born blind.  As a result of the surgery the man was given the gift of sight.  But very soon it became apparent to the doctor and the patient that having the physical capacity to see isn’t the same thing as seeing. 

Virgil’s first experiences with sight were very confusing.  He could make out colors and motion, but putting them in some logical pattern proved difficult and frustrating.  Over time, with the help of his doctor he learned to identify different things, but his habits—his behaviors—were still those of a blind man.  The doctor, in an attempt to help Virgil adjust made this profound statement to him: “Virgil, you must die as a blind person (in order) to be born again as a seeing person.”  And that is the work God’s Word will be doing in our hearts this morning! 

To truly see Jesus and understand God’s grace in His Word means more than just hearing and agreeing with the message in our Bibles; you see, we must learn to die to our old way of thinking, agree with God’s Word and allow it to change our identity!  This morning in our gospel Jesus asks each of us an important question: “Who do you say that I am?”  In this question, Jesus is asking for a confession of faith from each of us.  It is a question that can only be truthfully answered by our hearts.  Now you can mouth words similar to Peter’s and say something like, “Oh, you’re my Savior.  You’re the Son of God!” but unless you mean that Jesus is your Savior, that He is the Son of God who died for you and your sins, your confession of faith is simply something you say when you’re in church.  Unless it is more than that, unless it is a statement of faith that radically changes and guides your whole life, change, real change is impossible.  In other words, each of us must learn to die to your old sinful nature so that we can be transformed!  This kind of transformation  happens among us in two different ways:  First it is personal and second it is corporate, that is, it will change the way our congregation lives and breathes within our community! 

I. In our Epistle lesson (Romans 11:33-12:8), St. Paul addresses us with words that talk about change; real change.  Listen: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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 renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:1-3]  What St. Paul is talking about is first and foremost a real spiritual transformation?  He is talking about a change in the very core of who we are!  Now it’s true that this transformation first took place in our baptism, but if we let it just stop there, I’m afraid that we’re simply frustrating the miraculous work that God began in us.  You see, while it’s true that all of the work of our salvation is entirely God’s work, it’s also true that it is an on-going process! 

Maybe a better way to translate Paul’s words is that we should be transformed by the “renewing” of our minds.  How are our minds being renewed?  Through the work of God and His gift of faith!  How do we receive this gift?  Through the Word of God!  Our Old Testament cries out to us with this same message in these words: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]  Where did your new nature, your citizenship in heaven come from?  Through the Word of God, specifically that Gospel Word that is about Jesus Christ! 

So this morning, like St. Paul, as your pastor, I am appealing to you as one who looks to the same rock as you, faith in Jesus Christ; I appeal as one who was hewn from the same quarry and called through the same Word of God and placed into the kingdom of God as you were placed, do not turn back to the ways of this world, but stay connected to God through His Word and Sacraments, and let Him continue to change you; let Him continue to reshape you into His image!  I appeal to you to live your life as one who is already dead to this world; one who is already offered to God as a living sacrifice.  

As each of us are daily resting in God’s Word and praying for His power to not just save us but sustain us in our new identity, something interesting is happening… we are being transformed!  Every day you care less about what you want and more about God’s plan for you and how He will use you here in this world.  This is your reasonable service, your spiritual service to God.  

Now, as this transformation continues in our lives, we begin to look less like our neighbors and more like our Savior.  This is when we begin to understand that our true citizenship is in heaven and not of this earth.  And as God continues to change us, we’ll begin to see that everything that we have and everything that we are is by God’s design, so that we can glorify and please Him!  This then is what we might call kingdom thinking; it’s a way of life that no longer thinks, understands or judges as those who are still of this world, but instead it is being led by the heart and mind of Jesus!  But there is something else that each of us must always remember, we are not in this alone! 

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” [Romans 12:3]  Yes, while it is true that you have been called out of the dark sin of this world and into God’s wonderful Kingdom of Light, you have not been called alone or without a purpose!  You are not alone because we are with you!  We are many but we are one.  Each of us has been called out as individuals, but we have been put together in one spiritual body, and our heart and mind is Jesus Christ!  Now as individuals who make up the body of Jesus, we are to realize that each of us is simply a lost sheep who’s been gathered together by the same Good Shepherd.  We must never to lose sight of this truth or we will begin to see ourselves as less than or greater than others.  The truth is,  I need you and you need me, and together we each need Jesus!  Each one of us has a purpose in the Kingdom of God.  Each one of us has the gift of faith that activates special talents that help the body, our church live, grow, and function! 

II. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” [Romans 12:4-8]  You see, as individuals our calling out of darkness into God’s Kingdom of light makes each of us fellow members of Christ’s church and citizens in His Kingdom.  As such a member, I belong to you and you all belong to me, and together we each belong to Jesus Christ! 

Did you notice that the very first calling or ministry that Paul mentions is prophecy?  This is no accident friends; you see it is the proclamation of the Word of God that feeds and strengthens all of the other ministries.  As your pastor, I have been called into this office as my ministry so that God can feed and clothe you with the very things that will strengthen your own ministry; He feeds and clothes you with the forgiveness of sins!  And because you receive this gift through His Word and Sacraments, He now equips and sends you out into your own ministry.  So in each calling or ministry, when you are serving others, it’s really Christ within you who is the one serving them!  If you are busy in one of the many ministries of love we have here at Trinity, then I’m sure you already realize that it’s Jesus who is loving and serving others through you, and this truth moves you to continue serving with excitement and joy!  Each of us do these things not because we have to, but because we want to; we do them because we have been changed, and we know that the reason we’re changed is because we are forgiven! 

III. In our gospel lesson Jesus gives us the very key that unlocks this truth; He pulls the curtain aside and shows us why we are who we are; and it is entirely because of Jesus authority to forgive sins!  But that’s not all, He’s actually given us His authority to do the very same thing!  Listen to what He says after Peter’s confession of faith: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:18,19]  

What is the rock that Jesus builds His church on?  It’s the confession of Peter which is our confession!  What is that confession?  That Jesus is our rock; that Jesus is our Christ, the Son of the Living God!  Because we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord (our Lord), we are saved!  [Romans 10:9] We are no longer of this World!  Our sins have been forgiven, and we have become citizens of heaven!  But what we must never forget is that we are forgiven with a purpose! 

And what is that purpose?  To tell others about Jesus!  We tell them with the same Word of God that saved us and then we tell them by the life we are living!  We tell them about Jesus when we tell them about God’s desire to forgive even their sins if they will simply agree with God’s Word and admit that they need Jesus forgiveness!  If they do this, then it is our privilege to tell them that they are forgiven! 

But what if they will not believe?  What if they will not turn to Jesus?  Well then, I’m afraid they won’t be forgive; but that doesn’t meant that God has given up on them and neither should we.  We can still invite them to come to church with us, because we know that “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God which is the message about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins!” [Romans 10:17]  That is how God saved you and is saving you, and that is how He will save each unbeliever in our community!  And the most amazing part of all of this is that He chooses to use you to help build His kingdom, one forgiven sinner at a time!  

CONCLUSION: I’d like to close with a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He decided one day to turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and he chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, a neighbor asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?”  The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like an elephant!” 

If you have anything in your life right now that’s interfering with God’s work of transformation and renewal, then let God chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn’t look like compassion or mercy then let God chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, then for God’s sake and the sake of His Kingdom let Him get rid of it for you! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn’t belong in His kingdom and you will see two wonderful things happen: you will see His kingdom grow within you and you will see it  grow around you!  We will do this because we remember that we are not of this world!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

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