It’s hard work keeping up with the Joneses, but we try. If we’re honest with ourselves, in one way or another we follow the trends and try to buy, think, speak, and act like the crowd. But when we get down to it, following Jesus is walking a different path. Jesus calls us to be a little odd by the standards of the world.
Since yesterday was our Bluegrass Mass out at Oakdale Park, there is no audio recording this week. The written version is below – enjoy!
11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) – Sunday, August 24, 2014 – Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“A Little Odd” – Pastor Evan Davis
conformity – it’s what we want, what we think we need – keeping up with the joneses
What was the one thing you had to have when you were growing up? We’ve got some folks that grew up in 40’s and 50’s – what was it? a refrigerator? Well, now if you watch any show on HGTV it was to be a refrigerator with a stainless steel exterior, along with granite countertops and all the rest. Was it a shiny new Ford or Chevrolet? A television? In the 70’s? In the 80’s, was it Nintendo? In the 90’s, it was definitely a computer. They called this “keeping up with the Joneses,” right? Today it’s all about having that new gadget, be that the iPhone or the best tablet. It’s about keeping up with the latest thing people are doing on facebook or social media. I used to think I could keep up with it all…but every day there seems to be a new trend, a new fashionable thing to post, a new hashtag to use (don’t worry if you don’t know what a hashtag is). [of course, the latest trend is to take a video of yourself as someone pours a bucket of ice water on your head, but that’s for a good cause – ALS research. Conformity can be used for good things, $40-50 million raised so far.] But when you were going back to school, like the kids are now, you had to have the right jeans…the right backback (LL Bean with monogrammed initials)…even the right folder (trapper keeper).
Conformity can seem like it’s about other people, about community, but it’s really all about ourselves. It’s about satisfying that little voice inside ourselves that says, “you’re not good enough” … “you look weird” … “your house is ugly” … “you listen to that?” It’s usually about shame and fear of judgment that can absolutely paralyze us. It’s about trying to out-do and one-up each other.
Maybe y’all don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing or what your house looks like or what kind of car you rolled up to the park in today. But that urge to conform can take us down a much more dangerous road too. It starts out wanting to do what all the cool kids are doing on the school playground, and maybe that’s picking on the weakest or most unique kid there. We might think we leave that on the playground as we grow older, but picking one person or group of people to be angry at, to blame for everything we don’t like or think is wrong is one of the most tragically common patterns in human life. It can be so hard to break the silence and actually say something about what’s going on…to point out that conventional wisdom is wrong, to stand up for the one or the group who’s being singled out, to say that there’s nothing worth hating about a certain group of people, to speak out about injustice.
we’re free…NOW WHAT?
The apostle Paul has been teaching us all summer one basic message that has two parts – first, we’re all slaves to Sin; second, God has come to us in Christ and set us free from sin by baptism into his death, so that we too may live forgiven and free in this new age. Christ has won, God’s kingdom has burst into this broken world, and everything will one day be as God dreams and originally created it to be. Now comes the great therefore of this letter…the “now what?” Therefore we’re called to live in that new age, to act, to speak, to live as if the kingdom were already here, because it is, even as we wait for it to fully arrive.
Paul writes, “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.” No longer is worship about offering an animal sacrifice to God, or sacrificing the one we think threatens the righteousness of the community – that’s why they killed Jesus, after all. Violent sacrifice is over. Now we follow Jesus in offering our bodies as a gift to the world, to be used by God for God’s purposes. Mary Hinkle Shore points out that Paul speaks of “plural bodies” but a “singular sacrifice.”1 That’s the body, but Paul also speaks of the mind.
Paul continues…“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.” At the end of the day, we’re called to be different. To think twice about what everyone else is doing. To question conventional wisdom. To be open to transformation by the Holy Spirit.
an odd Body in the world
Flannery O’Connor: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”2 Now I don’t know exactly the context in which she said that or what she meant by it, but I think it describes our situation very well. Christ is turning us into people who do odd and strange things.
Like recognizing that we’re not a bunch of autonomous, sovereign, self-reliant individuals in this life on our own. We’re in this together. We’re a Body, called together to be a living sacrifice to the world. One way that’s true is that we are no longer in competition with one another. Our call as Christians is not to heroic individual efforts to make God’s kingdom happen on our own, to try and see who can forgive more people, or feed more of the hungry, or pray the best prayers or be good at everything in church. Rather, we’re called to understand our giftedness, not to think of ourselves too highly, like we can do it all ourselves, but to think with sober judgment, understanding what is our personal call and what is not. [We’re going to take a gifts inventory soon….] This is a new unity in diversity. It is the same for us as congregations. Let’s talk about it specifically – the ELCA churches in Harrisonburg-Rockingham are one Body of Christ. We’re not rival bodies or competing businesses. So we’re not out to surpass each other in doing the same thing. Rather, we’re called to understand how God has uniquely gifted Trinity, Shepherd, Muhlenberg, St. Jacob’s-Spaders, and what that means for our unique role within the H-R Lutheran Body of Christ.
Likewise, Jesus calls us to say “NO” to some very popular things and “YES” to some of his counter-cultural ways of being:
no to buying everything, yes to giving the first fruits (even a 10% tithe) to God
no to scapegoating, blaming others; yes to standing up for the persecuted
no to hoarding wealth; yes to pouring it and ourselves out for the sake of the world
no to being afraid of those who are different; yes to being willing to sit down and listen
no to hearing only those voices on cable news that I already agree with; yes to being open to the possibility of having my mind changed…
who do you say that I am?
In our gospel story this week, in the midst of a world where people don’t know what to think about Jesus, a lot like today, he asks, “who do YOU say that I am?” And rather than hearing that as a question demanding from us the right doctrinal answer, consider how you might answer that question with your life. Or, as Paul says, how WE might answer that question as ONE Body composed of MANY members. God has handed our lives back to us as a free gift – we’ve been given the opportunity to tell the world, with our lives, who we say Jesus is. Maybe it will take our whole lives to give our whole answer. But it is a response the world needs to hear and see and wonder at just who could make this group of folks who call themselves Christians act so strangely, love so unconditionally, give so generously, forgive so mercifully. And when people ask why we are such nonconformists in this world, we can say, “well, let me tell you about Jesus…” Amen.
1Mary Hinkle Shore, Commentary on Romans 12:1-8, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1038 (accessed August 23, 2014).
2Flannery O’Connor, as cited here: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/f_oconnor.htm. Unfortunately, I do not have the exact citation as to whether this comes from one of her stories or her remarks at one point or another. I did not have time to more thoroughly research the source – sorry!