Message Manuscript for “Being a Church of Nonconformity” Romans 12:1-8
Delivered to Church for the Highlands Dr. John Henson
Sunday, August 27, 2017
The words we’ve just heard from Paul in his letter to the Romans (12:1-8) are a powerful and timely call for us as a church today. As we gather here for Worship this morning, we are to remember what is involved in worship. Eleazer S. Fernandez states it this way in his commentary on this text, “Worship as a ‘living sacrifice’ is an expression of a nonconformist community of believers.”¹ “A nonconformist community”—that is what we are called to be as Church for the Highlands. Before you start getting nervous about that word “nonconformist” and think that I am going to ask you to shave your head, move to a compound, or to drink some Kool-aid with me, let’s look at what Paul says about being a nonconformist and how it relates to our church.
What Paul was instructing the church at Rome to be was a community of nonconformity. I’m sure the church was tempted to take the easy way and just become like the rest of the world around them. That’s tempting when members of the church are rounded up for insurrection, persecuted for following Jesus rather than Caesar, and executed for their nonconformity to the ways of the Roman empire. Just go with the flow, meet together for worship and then blend in for the rest of the week is perhaps what some in the church were already doing. Members of the Roman church were no doubt experiencing the powerful lure to go back to their old way of life in sin, to the “flesh” as Paul often refers to it. This old way of life and its focus on pleasing one’s self first and foremost is something Paul knew would destroy their living for Jesus and the kingdom of God.
As a church today, right here in the Highland neighborhood of Shreveport, we are to live out our life as a community of nonconformity. In order to do that, it is helpful for us to recognize what a church of conformity looks like. Much has been said in social media lately about the silence of churches and their pastors in regard to the hate groups like the KKK, white nationalists, and anti Jewish groups in response to what happened in Charlottesville. But the silence of the church is nothing new as we recall that many churches condoned slavery, looked the other way during the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, and with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Churches of conformity are far too willing to go along with the powers that be rather than speak truth to them when they are wrong. One reason I am a Baptist is the belief in the separation of church and state, a vital necessity for people of faith living in freedom from the dictates of government and for a government to function free from the dictates of the church. As followers of Jesus, our allegiance is to be to God. Our citizenship is in the kingdom of God first and foremost even as we live as citizens of this nation. Whenever the two are incompatible, we are to go with God, not Caesar, as those who are willing to do whatever it takes to live out the will of God in this world. I love how we at CFTH are already nonconformists in so many ways, especially as a congregation of diversity. Where else in our world can you find a place where young, old, black, white, gay, straight, African, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat sharing one common identity and working together for the good of the world? Isn’t that how the church is to be?
Second, Paul gave the church at Rome the alternative to conformity with the world—mind renewal. Paul kept it simple: think good. Or, even better, to think God. That’s what he exhorted the Roman church to do about their God, their circumstances, and themselves. They were to think in a good way about God, making themselves familiar with the words and actions of Jesus. They were to think good about their difficult circumstances, understanding that nothing and no one could ever separate them from the love of God. They were to think good about themselves, remembering that they were children of God and that their lives mattered.
As a church today, we can be transformed into a community of nonconformity by allowing our minds to be renewed. We are to learn to “think good” about God, our circumstances, and ourselves. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, is it? We live in a world that is saturated with stinking thinking—unhealthy messages marketed to our base desires, noisy notifications serving to fragment our focus, alternative facts intended to prop up power, and impulses within us directing us to do whatever makes us happy. But, like with the church in Rome, we have an alternative; a way of renewing our minds—making ourselves familiar with the words and actions of Jesus, allowing them to be prominent and normative amidst the noise of our world.
Paul ends this section of his letter to the Roman church with an emphasis on the practical ways they could live as a transformed community of nonconformity, each of which can be seen as parts of what it meant to offer their “bodies as a living sacrifice.” Such an offering involved their own choice, initiative, bodies, gifts, and resources. Paul stressed to them that it was up to them to function and work as the body of Christ in the world. It was by grace that they became a part of the body and they were to live and work out of that grace by serving each other and the world around them.
As a church today, we can be transformed into a community of nonconformity by offering ourselves in the sacrificial service God has called us to do here in Highland. It happens as we commit to being members of this body of Christ, when we each recognize the unique gifts God has given each of us for service, and by putting our bodies to work on a missional team doing the work God has assigned us. I have some pictures on the screens here to show you some people who did that this past week. We are at our best when we are working out our body of Christ.
Martin Luther King Jr., understood and fearlessly championed the work of the church as a community of nonconformity by doing the work of God as co-laborers. As he stated,
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men [sic] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.²
May we do right as a church, one willing to stand out in the world as the body of Christ.
1 David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor. “Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/feasting-on-the-word-year-a-volume-3/id1020701793?mt=11Excerpt From: David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor. “Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3.”
2 “Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait (New York: Signet Classics, 2000), 74.” an excerpt From: David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor. “Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/feasting-on-the-word-year-a-volume-3/id1020701793?mt=11Excerpt From: David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor. “Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3.