Be a non-conformist

 

Sermon for 24 August ’08

Exodus 1.8—2.10
Romans 12.1-8

We all have dreams for our children. Little things like, oh, health, happiness, success in their chosen field and finding a good life partner all stand pretty high on the list of what we want for them.

 

To put it another way, we don’t want them to suffer, we don’t want them to be unemployed, we don’t want them to be in danger. Yet we can’t ensure that. We can’t keep them out of harm’s way for ever.

 

I’m sure the ancient Hebrews were just like us, in that they wanted the best for their children. It may have been a spare chisel, a nicely-swept dirt floor in their one-room house, a spare tunic—but they wanted the best they could do.

 

It wasn’t enough, of course—a new king of Egypt, a new pharaoh, came to power who had forgotten the good things the people of Israel had done in the past for Egypt. He enslaved them, and put them to forced labour. He persecuted them, and ordered that their newborn boys should be killed. It’s hard to look at James, just-baptised today, and know that this was the fate of other babies just as innocent.

 

But something else was at work. Ordinary people were doing some extraordinary things. A woman hid her baby in the bullrushes at the edge of the River Nile. That baby became Moses, the deliverer of the Hebrew people. Two midwives were brave enough to stand up and be counted. They defied pharaoh, and let the boys live.

 

The Bible says they ‘feared’ God. Let’s not imagine that means that God is a threat to us; it’s better to say they were in awe of God. They were more in awe of God than they were of pharaoh. They were more in awe of God than they were of the king. Are we, in our easier time of life?

 

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, about fifteen hundred years later, he said this:

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…

 

He could have been talking about Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives. He could have been talking about Moses’ mother. He could have been talking about anyone who has ever stood up against evil. But he was talking to ordinary believers, like you and me.

 

We live in a beautiful part of the world. Things are good for us. Why should we be nonconformists when it comes to the world? Why should our minds be renewed? Well, it’s partly because this beautiful world is in a mess. Climate change is making its presence felt. Wars are flaring up in different places. People are still hungry. And we sometimes just don’t notice. And people in our time have found themselves in the situation of the ancient Hebrews, a situation in which they and their children are under threat.

 

The Bible says, don’t be a conformist. Stand up and be counted, like the Hebrew midwives. Be transformed, let your way of thinking be renewed so that you can live differently.

 

Paul makes it very practical: don’t ‘think of yourself more highly than you ought to think…’

 

Instead, realise how much you depend on others, and value them! It can be a helpful thing when next you eat to give thanks for everyone you depend on for that meal: shop assistants, truck drivers, farmers, makers of fertilizer. To name only a few. We can’t get through a day without the contribution of dozens of other people. What thought do we give to them?

 

All this takes a lifetime of spiritual practice. Today, James has been initiated into this path. He’s not going to learn it next week, next year or next decade. Being transformed means a life of faith, nothing less.

 

You know, whatever else our faith is, it’s a way of life. It’s a commitment to a way of living and relating to God, to one another, and to the whole creation itself.

 

When the earliest Christians spoke of their faith, they called it simply ‘the Way’. That’s how the Book of Acts describes it. Just ‘the Way’. A way is the route you take on a journey. You make discoveries on the way. You make new friends on the way. You see new things on the way. Bit by bit, you are less conformed to the world. Little by little, your mind is transformed.

 

The Christian faith is a journey along the Way of Jesus, guided by the Spirit. What’s the destination? God is our destination, the God whose mission is justice and peace for every human being—and indeed for planet Earth itself.

 

Some of the leaders of the congregation met on Tuesday night to look at a vision statement for Centenary Uniting Church. We have a new draft, which we’ll invite comment on soon. It’s a lot shorter than our previous draft! Here it is—

 

Living the mission of God
   
as disciples of Jesus

      united in the Spirit

 

Living this mission requires us to be nonconformists to the world’s false ways. It means we have to let the Spirit of God transform us.

 

This is the Christian path, and this is what James has begun today, even before he knows it. We are his teachers, those who have gone before him. So, let me say it one more time—

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…

 

Amen!

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