Transformation is one of the greatest hopes we hold as Christians. We can look at our lives and say we are not the same people we were last year. God is at work in us and we are being transformed to have lives that more clearly reflect God’s image and likeness. There is an even more amazing piece to all of this: as we engage the process of personal transformation we can be catalysts for transformation in the lives of others. This transformation begins with an event, a point at which the Holy Spirit speaks into the silence of our souls the next item on God’s agenda for our lives. The transformation is not only an event, however, transformation is a long, hard and often painful process of letting go of something that binds us so that we may experience the greater freedom of God. We live in a society that likes to categorize and compartmentalize things. If it doesn’t fit into our society’s nice neat categories we either make up a new one, and market it like crazy, or pretend whatever is going on is some kind of anomaly that will go away if we stomp it down hard enough. Paul was an expert stomper, and was responsible for the death of many Christians, and it took Jesus blinding him with glory to get Paul to step outside of the box he thought God was in. Later on Paul wrote to the Corinthians about what it was like to be in the box and how they will know they are leaving their boxes behind. As many of us can attest, sometimes what we need to let go of is the way we think about God.
15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Cor 13:15-18
Paul was an amazing Jew. He knew the Law the Writings and the Prophets and could quote large chunks of the scripture from memory, but something was missing. He obeyed all the rituals and could defend the Jewish faith from scripture using impeccable logic, but something clouded his ability to understand the truth behind the words of scripture. There was a veil over his mind that came from following a set of rituals and rules that tried to keep God in a strictly Jewish box. Just as Paul had to have the veils of 1st century Judaism stripped away so he could better relate to God, we also have veils lying over us that need to be stripped away so we can more clearly see God. These veils stem from living in the 21st century in the Pacific Northwest. Some of these veils come from growing up around the conservative box in modern culture, some come from the liberal box, some come from the work we do, the schools we attend, or what media we consume. Some come from living in a global world under the social-Darwinian “Free-Market” and some from hanging out with the Wobblies. Parsing out everything that converges to influence us is a daunting task and the categories we create help us to deal with this flood. The difficulty comes when we think God belongs in “our” box, the box that holds “just plain folks” like us and nobody else’s. When the people of Philippi started acting all superior because of where they were from, Paul called them back to transformation and away from pride. “20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” Philippians 3:20-21 When we open ourselves to the transforming work of God, the worldly distinctions of class, race and nationality that determine who it is OK to be friends with are broken down. Republicans can love Democrats, Democrats can love Republicans, people of all shapes, sizes and colors can love people who don’t look like them. This theme runs through Paul’s writings and was the center of the first major conflict the church experienced. Transformation is about more than kicking bad habits or stepping outside of the ways our society categorizes things and faith. Transformation is contagious. When we act on the transforming faith given to us by God we have an effect on the people around us. There are many ways this works out, and I think it would be a good thing to think back over your life and reflect on the transformations you might have seen and share the stories of those times with each other. My father died in the spring of 2000. The following spring Melody and I went back East to have a reception for my family that couldn’t come to our wedding. After the celebration, my mother pulled me aside to let me know that she had started dating my ex-roommate. My words to Mom were not seasoned with grace and mercy, and I used the gifts God had given me to build up the church as weapons against my Mom and friend. I manipulated, schemed and turned my vast social network against my Mom and at that point ex-friend. I used information my friend had given me in confidence, and ended up having minimal contact with Mom for a three year period. One day I was sitting with my then mentor Stan and talking about the situation and he very kindly agreed that I had made a mess of things. He then counseled me to seek God’s advice, to ask God what He was calling me to do to reconcile, and to transform me so I could do what God asked of me. Very reluctantly, I prayed and God began to change my heart. He asked me if I was really willing to, in Paul’s words “to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do 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.” Romans 12:1-2 Eventually I said that “I think I am as ready as I am able to be at this point.” God then said, and I remember this clearly because I had just gotten my minister’s license for the first time the day before: “Offer to perform the ceremony.” “Um. God could you repeat that, I am certain that I didn’t hear you correctly.” “Offer to perform the ceremony.” “Are you sure? I’m not sure that I could actually go through with that.” “Offer to perform the ceremony.” We went back and forth on that for a while, with me trying to figure out a way to wriggle out of that. I told my mentor what God said and, in an outpouring of sympathy I am sure, laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. A couple months later Mel and I flew back East to visit, and while we were there I did it. It wasn’t easy, but transformation happened. That offer had huge effects beyond that incident that included people coming into the kingdom, a marriage, reconciliation and hope for some other friends who were dealing with the problems of grieving children adjusting to a new step-parent.
If you want to be an agent of God’s transformation, you have to be willing to be transformed. God is calling us to sacrifice ourselves, our desires for how we want things to turn out, and allow him to renew our minds according to his agenda for us. God asks us not only to remove the idol of God that fits in our little boxes, but to step outside of the boxes we construct for ourselves. God was too big to fit in the 1st century Jewish box, and is too big to fit in all of the boxes constructed since then. Are we struggling with hearing God’s voice? Maybe, just maybe, it is because we are only looking for God in the boxes labeled “Evangelical, Emergent, Quaker, American, Church, Middle-Class, Lower Class, or Comfort”, and God is calling us to look outside of ourselves, our areas of comfort, and submit to his transformation. With those veils removed, we get to witness the fullness of the glory of God, and that glory, that holy beauty, will transform us as we focus on our savior, Jesus Christ. Communion with God is not something to be entered into lightly. Simply by sitting quietly in God’s presence we will be changed through our reflection on his glory. During our time of open worship, allow yourself to commune with God, focus on his glorious presence and allow his transforming Spirit to wash over you. If you haven’t had a conversation or hung out with Jesus for a while, take this time to hear how deeply he cares for you. If he speaks to you, ask him if his words are for you or if he desires you to share them with us. If it is his desire that you speak then stand and the microphone will be brought to you after our 5 minute time to center our thoughts.