Sunday, September 03, 2023

The Renewed Mind

The following is a more or less verbatim transcript of the sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity. I have lightly edited it for clarity, but it is not meant as a written version of the sermon.

The sermon itself can be listened to wherever you get your podcasts or at the link below!

The Renewed Mind

The Renewed Mind

Romans 12:1-8

Over the summer, we've been reading through St Paul's letter to the Romans, and today we reach Romans chapter 12. In Romans chapter 12, St Paul begins a new section of the letter, and it's very much a practical section in which St Paul talks about how we are to live out our Christian lives. I think many people breathe something of a sigh of relief when they get to Romans chapter 12 because they feel we can leave behind all the theoretical, heavy stuff that we've been looking at in chapters 1 to 11. In the following chapters, from chapter 12 onwards, St Paul really gets down to practicalities. For example, in Romans 13, he will tell people that they have to pay their taxes. Perhaps when we get onto that, we'll wish ourselves back in Romans 1 to 11!

We shouldn't, however, be too quick to leave behind chapters 1 to 11, because St Paul himself links what he is about to say in chapters 12 to 16 with what he has said in chapters 1 to 11. In chapters 1 to 11, he closes by writing of the mercy of God. In the light of all that he has had to say in chapters 1 to 11, St Paul now asks his readers to do certain things and to live out what he has written in a certain way. Given God's mercy shown to us in Christ, this is how we should respond.

But you might say, ‘Oh, but Ross, I've been away on holiday over the summer. I've missed all your amazing sermons on chapters 1 to 11. How do I know what those mercies are?’ The good news, everybody, is that they are available online in the normal places. So go back, listen to them, and then you'll know what we're talking about!

In Romans chapter 12, verse one, St. Paul tells us that we are to present our bodies to God, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. The Jews presented the dead bodies of animals in worship. St Paul tells us we are to present our own living bodies in worship. St Paul means by this that we need to offer God not just individual acts of obedience, but the whole of ourselves, all that we are, in His service. We are to do what God wants us to do. We are to do His will.

But how are we to know what God wants of us? How are we to know what his will for us is? Well, we cannot know while our outlook is conformed to this world and to its way of thinking and doing things. We need a complete change of mindset. St. Paul writes that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, because it's only with renewed minds that we will be able to know, to discern God's will.

These are such important verses. Many people, understandably, want to concentrate on what we do. What we do, however, depends on how we think. In other words, our minds matter. It is only when we understand something of what St Paul has been saying in Romans 1-11, that we will be able to work out what God's will for us is. Our offering of ourselves is a reasoned response to God's mercy as St Paul has described it.

So, we need above all things to get our thinking straight. Those of you who do listen to my sermons will know that I believe that many parts of the church have fallen victim to some strange thinking. It is no wonder, then, that we find it hard to discern God's will for us. St Paul wants us to think differently to the world around us. We are not to take the values and attitudes of this world and baptize them into the Church, but to be transformed, to be renewed in our minds and in our thinking.

The first thing St Paul tells us we will think differently about when our minds are renewed is ourselves. The danger for all of us is to think too highly of ourselves. You've probably heard the phrase, ‘he or she has a very high opinion of themselves’. The first thing our renewed mind needs to do is not to think highly of ourselves but to think with sound judgment. The Bible version that we use in church says with ‘sober judgment’. I think that doesn't quite capture the right nuance somehow. ‘Sound judgment’ is the sense of Paul's word here. In other words, St Paul wants us to see ourselves as created and loved by God but also dependent on God and powerless to do anything without him. St Paul encourages us to appreciate the gifts that God gives us, not with a view to finding fulfillment for ourselves, but to discover how we can find our place in the body of Christ and to know what that place is.

St Paul writes that we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. This, I think, is a very important insight. In some political philosophies, the individual counts for nothing or for very little. What matters is not individual freedom, but the greater good of the State. I think this is the basic idea behind communism.

In other systems, however, the emphasis is firmly on the individual. We must all be allowed to pursue our own goals and ambitions, free from external control and constraints, and this, I would suggest, underlies Western capitalism. It is behind what is often described as the ‘American dream’. Everyone can be a winner. The reality is, however, that there have to be losers too.

The Lionesses, England women's football team, were held up as individuals who had followed their dreams. But as the Lionesses have realized, sometimes you have to wake up from your dreams. The Lionesses, at least, will wake up to a big paycheck, certainly a bigger paycheck than I will ever see! Others are not so fortunate. They wake from their dreams battered, bruised, and bereft. And if you want another B, many wake up bankrupt, bankrupt emotionally, financially, and mentally.

State socialism doesn't work, neither does idealistic individualism. So where does the answer lie? St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 4 verse 7, ‘What have you that you did not receive?’ Seeing that what we have comes from God, gives us purpose and direction, the purpose and direction we need. St Paul writes in our reading that we each have gifts that differ according to the grace we have been given. We are individuals in the body of Christ. We are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.

Our gifts differ. Your gifts are different to mine. I am different to you. But the gifts that we are given are not to benefit ourselves, but to benefit the body of Christ, to enable us to serve in the body of Christ.

The world we are not to be conformed to teaches us to ask, ‘What can I get?’ Jesus teaches us to ask, ‘What can I give?’ The Gospel does not focus on what the benefit is to us, but what use I can be to others. Jesus taught that it is in giving that we receive, and that the measure we give will be the measure we receive back (Luke 6:38).

The service God is calling me to is not the same as the service God is calling you to, but he is calling each one of us, without exception, to service, and what is more, he has given us the grace we need to accomplish the service he has allotted to us. Some people don't have a high opinion of themselves but instead despise themselves and even harm themselves. They think they're useless and have no gifts. St Paul would challenge both those who have a high opinion of themselves and those who have a low opinion of themselves to look away from themselves, and instead look to the love of God; to look at what God thinks of us and what God can do through us.

Well, the relevance of all this today should be clear. We are today commissioning those who will help lead us in worship and in the teaching of our children. With this we come back to what Paul writes about not being conformed to this world. As our children start back at school very soon, it is our children who are actively being taught, everywhere they go, in everything they do, and in everything they see, to conform to this world and to its lies. They are being given the values and attitudes of this world.

Our children need people who are transformed with renewed minds to teach them the love of God and to help them understand God's love for them. We are, then, especially grateful today to those who are willing to undertake this work and commit to it. In a moment, we will formally commission them for it.

This year in Sunday School and Junior Church will be starting an exciting new curriculum. It's not only new to us; it’s only just been released - in June, in fact. This new curriculum is one which focuses fully on the Bible and on God's message to us. Because if our minds are to be renewed and if we are to be transformed, we need to hear God's word to us. And having heard it, we need to obey it. St Paul will write later in chapter 15 of Romans:

‘For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.’ (Romans 15:4)

It is not just our children who need to hear the Word of God. Each and every one of us needs to hear it. The messages we hear in the world around us are often messages of despair and of defeat. It is the instruction of the Scriptures that gives us hope.

So today, as we commit and commission our teachers and those who will lead us in our worship of God, may we also commit ourselves, each one of us, to listening to the Word of God, so that our minds may be renewed and our lives transformed as we offer ourselves wholly and completely to God.

‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship.’ (Romans 12:1)

May God grant us to present ourselves to him in service and may he do great things through us in the weeks and months ahead.


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