The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2011
The Epistle: Romans 12:1-8
Sermon: "Don’t Fit In, Get Fitted Out!
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles, Rector
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.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Don't Fit In, Get Fitted Out!
Several years ago, a barber’s supply company held a large convention in a metropolitan city. To show the world how good their products were they organized a publicity stunt. They went to the worst section of town and brought back the dirtiest and most helpless drunk they could find. They presented him on stage. Everyone saw how dirty and unkempt his hair and beard were. Then they took him out and cleaned him up with their products. They shaved him. They shampooed and styled his hair. They washed him with a new kind of soap they were trying to sell. They sprayed him with their cologne. They bought him a new suit, a new shirt, new tie, and shoes. He looked great. They brought him back to the stage to show him off, saying to the world, “This is what our barber supplies can do for you.” The audience could hardly believe their eyes. Looking at the man on stage, no one would ever have guessed that he had been living in the streets just a few hours before. He was now socially acceptable.
The very next day the organizers of the convention went looking for this man again. You can probably guess where they found him. I’m sure you’re ahead of me. That’s right; he was lying in some gutter, filthy and drunk. They had made him socially acceptable on the outside, but…
Of course, social acceptability doesn’t have to be that extreme. We’ve all had our moments of public unacceptability; as when we make some glorious faux paus, leaving our socially embarrassed spouse to say, “I can dress him up, but…”
But in our Scripture passage from the twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us clearly, that there are moments when being socially acceptable is unacceptable to the Gospel. “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice…don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” Paul wasn’t so concerned with how people look on the outside, or how they appear in public, as he was concerned about inner change. In effect he is saying, “Don’t fit in, get fitted out!” Don’t just be; be changed! This powerful passage has some things to tell us this morning about the truly Christian life; three things, in fact, that can make a huge difference in how you and I live each day.
The first thing Paul would have us hear this morning is this: Don’t let the world make you fit in. “Do not be conformed to this world…” Paul tells us. Nothing is more deceptive than the social spirit of our times. The standards by which a culture lives, even our culture whose foundational text is the Bible, (even though few are at all familiar with it anymore) are not always the standards of God. I think we all understand this one, so I’m not going to beat it to death.
Suffice it to say that social acceptance, always trying to fit in with the social spirit of our times, not only doesn’t always fit the Gospel, sometimes it’s not even particularly healthy. That’s a message that can free us all from the tyranny of fitting in. The words of Paul challenge us to live our lives, not conformed to the standards of the present age, but to allow ourselves to live beyond those standards. Don’t let the world make you fit in! That’s the first thing to hear.
Here’s the second thing this morning: Get fitted out! “Present your body as a living sacrifice…[and] let your mind be renewed…” Paul says. In other words, let your whole being become fit for God. No longer are we to compartmentalize portions of our lives; a part for God and other parts for fitting in. This directive can be a hard one for us all, for its opposite idea is the way of social acceptance in this world; “It’s ok to believe in God…” the world tells us, “…just don’t be a fanatic about it.” (You know, like actually talking about it.) “Yeah, we know you believe in moral decisions, but this is business, or politics, or social convention, or whatever; it’s different.” How subtly the world would make us fit in. How difficult it is, under such influence, to get fitted out instead; to present our whole beings to God: everything we do or say, in all areas of our lives.
Richard Foster is a well known writer and teacher of Spiritual disciplines. As a teenager, he once spent a summer among the Eskimo people of Alaska. It impressed Richard that the Eskimo Christians have “a deep sense of the wholeness of life,” he says, “with no break between their prayer and their work.” Richard went to Alaska to help build the first high school above the Arctic Circle. The work, was hard, often backbreaking. One day he was trying to dig a trench for a sewer line, which was no easy task in the frozen tundra. An Eskimo man, whose face and hands displayed the leathery toughness of many winters, came by and watched him for a while. After some time passed the man spoke simply and profoundly. “You are digging a ditch to the glory of God,” he said. The words stuck with Richard. In time that ditch would be covered up and forgotten. No one would know it was there, much less remember that he dug it. But, because of that man’s words, Richard says, “I dug with all my might, for every shovelful of dirt was a prayer to God.” Richard made the discovery that everything we do, whether great or small, we do for the glory of God.
All our life belongs to God. Every task we do is for His glory. There are no neat little compartments in life marked “socially acceptable” and “don’t let this get out.” It all belongs to God. If we would get fitted out on the inside, we will not be satisfied with just fitting into this world. We will offer our whole beings as a living sacrifice. That’s the second thing to hear from our passage.
Here’s the final thing Paul would have us hear this morning: If you would get fitted out, be somewhere fit to be. Isn’t it interesting that right after all this tough talk about getting fit, Paul, in the very next breath starts talking about life in the community of believers. Paul challenges the Romans, “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” Paul then compares the church to the human body. The human body has many parts. The body functions best when all the parts forget themselves and work together. That’s how it is to be in the church. Everyone has been given a gift, and when each person shares their gift, the community of faith is strengthened. Then the church is able to reach out to change society; to transform it. The church becomes a place fit to be, as well as to become fit.
Are you looking to make St. Thomas an even more fit place for getting fitted out? There are many truly fit and genuinely noble callings we can claim from God in this life. For one, I know of none more noble than giving your life to the rising generation. I know that we are concerned about the numbers of young people here. But God doesn’t equate faithfulness with large numbers; he requires faithfulness with the numbers we have. Whether as a teacher, a youth advisor, or as a mentor, when you change a young life for the better, you change the present and the future.
Perhaps your life-changing role is in a different area. Can you see a calling to help the sick, the infirm, the elderly, or the shut in? Our Stephen’s Ministry trains people for such life-changing work. You could be that kind, familiar face, that regular friendly voice and warm presence who transforms a life.
These are just two of the many callings that could be answered here in this place, where you could make a transforming difference. On the other hand, you may have an inspiration of your own; an idea that God has planted on your heart. Come forward and speak it. You may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Your calling may be a critical ministry performed within these walls, or it may be a calling that goes out into the surrounding neighborhood, and just maybe the world at large, like the Outreach Center that started here.
So, listen for God’s call for you. It’s not hard to hear; it’s probably already on your heart, and knocking at the back of your mind. And don’t wait for me to figure it out, or your vestry to track you down and ask you first. In other words, don’t just fit in this fall, get fitted out! You can make a difference – to glory of God.