Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
August 27, 2023 –The Congregational Church of Easton
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The Apostle Paul talks about the promise and possibility of spiritual transformation throughout his letters. For example, in Colossians 3 he says,
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Another way he talks about transformation is becoming a “new creation” or “new Creature.” In Second Corinthians 5 he says, “Therefore if any [person] is in Christ, he is a new creature.”
Most of you know Paul’s story: a strict follower of the Hebrew law – a Pharisee – he persecuted Christians in Jerusalem and was on his way to do the same in Damascus when he had a vision of the risen Christ. Paul became a new self, a new creation and changed his name from Saul to Paul.
Here in our scripture reading for today he talks about spiritual transformation with a third image – as a renewal of the mind.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Jill Bolte Taylor is a modern example of a person who was transformed by a renewing of her mind. A Harvard brain researcher, she tells a harrowing story on You Tube and in her book, “A Stroke of Insight.” She had an attack which she first thought was a stoke. She knew she was experiencing a dangerous brain event but couldn’t telephone for help. The left side of her brain, her centers of problem-solving and speech had shut down, but not completely. Her ability to reason, read the numbers on the telephone, and garble a few words – those abilities came in and out. She was finally able to communicate her plight to a friend.
In the ambulance, she was able to relax into her right brain, uncluttered by the normal chattering of left brain thoughts. She describes it as an experience of amazing peace, of wonderment, of oneness-with-things – and she didn’t want to come back.
Today she says she is able to “…shift my mind consciously into the present moment and pay attention to the information coming in through my sensory system.” She calls the process “stepping to the right,” or shifting to her brain’s right hemisphere. Taylor says, before the brain hemorrhage…
In the past was much more ‘me’ oriented, much more career oriented. And now I’m not like that. I’m much more about ‘we.’ How do I use the time that I have here to use my gifts to make a positive contribution to how we live our lives and for the health and well-being of other people who are in the place that I have been?
Jill Bolte Taylor had experienced a spiritual transformation, a renewing of her mind and a changing of her life.
Jesus’ way of saying “be transformed” is “repent.” Asking for forgiveness for sin is not the most important meaning of the word, “repent.” “Repent” comes from the Greek word, “metanoia.” Meta means “beyond.” And Noia comes from “no os” or “mind.” So the primary meaning of Jesus’ command that we repent is “change your mind.”
Taylor talks about her change of mind as shifting into the present moment. Jesus says, “Repent – change your mind, for the Kingdom of God is right now in this present moment, exactly where Jill Bolte – and you and I find it. The present moment is exactly where you and I can find our spiritual transformation, our renewal of mind.
When I was an intern at First Congregational Church in Fairfield I interviewed 20 of the congregation’s leaders, asking about their spiritual journeys. What I learned confirmed my suspicion that ALL of us have experiences of being transformed through the renewal of our minds. You don’t have to be struck blind on the road to Damascus or have a cerebral hemorrhage to experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or the Kingdom of God within us and among us.
Each of us can tell stories of transforming, renewing experiences. Each of us has mystical experiences that renew us.
Turn to the last page of your bulletin to see how Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest and contemporary mystic, describes what it is like to have a renewed or transformed mind. I love the way he begins this handout:
Mystical encounter always implies a dipping and even falling into a Great Love….It is first of all a momentary “state,” and with years of practice the state becomes a permanent trait and a way of life. But know this is available to ALL of you. In fact, you are hard wired to receive it.
[Fr. Richard Rohr’s Description of the Results of Mystical Experience
• Enlargement: You become larger in your heart and attitudes, not smaller.
• Union: You have a stronger sense of union with things, not disunion from things or others. You know you are not alone.
• Freedom: You exhibit a deep sense of inner freedom, not constriction.
• Optimism: You find a grounded hopefulness within yourself, not constriction.
• Safety: You feel a primal security and a “being held,” not anxiety.
• Rest: You have found a deep and abiding resting place, deeper than any passing restlessness.
• Possibility: You will be filled with creativity and options.
You will wonder, “Where does all this inner spaciousness come from?”]
Look through Rohr’s descriptions of mystical encounter. The second one, union, is the most common definition of mystical experience:
You have a stronger sense of union with things, not disunion from things or others. You know you are not alone.
You’ve all experienced this, I’m sure. And, I’ll bet many of you will doubt that you have. Here’s a simple demonstration that union with things is commonplace, not rare. You are listening intently to what I’m saying, RIGHT? Or at least NOW you are listening to me! Yes? When you are listening deeply to another, there is no way that you can be in your ego, your “old self” as Paul would call it. Listening deeply to another is an experience of union, not disunion. The Jewish philosopher and mystic, Martin Buber, called it an “I-Thou” experience, where the other fills the whole horizon.
So — You are having a mystical experience right now as you listen to me!
Look through Rohr’s descriptions of mystical encounter on the last page of your bulletin. Think of times in the last month when you were smelling a flower or entranced by a child or caught up in the beauty of a piece of music or in the midst of meditation or prayer. Think of times when you experienced some of these marks of what Rohr calls a dipping into a Great Love.
Take a moment right here and now to dip into that Great Love and experience God. Do whatever you do to center yourself – breathe! Allow yourself to experience the love of this community and the Great Love in which all of us live and move and have our being. [Acts 17:28]
The experience of God has nothing to do with our ideas or beliefs about God. Thinking gets in the way. I am utterly convinced that the experience of God is commonplace, even among non-believers. Because each of us, as Rohr says, is “hard wired to receive it.” Each of us is created in the very image of God, so, of course, when we are able to stop the chatter in our heads, we experience our union with all creation and with our Creator.
And, we all know what dis-union with all things is like. Take the opposites in Rohr’s list: smallness in our hearts and attitudes, inner constriction, pessimism, restlessness, anxiety. The Bible tells us not to be afraid literally hundreds of times. When we are in the present moment, when we dip into or fall into the Great Love of God, anxiety falls away.
This is the promise of spiritual transformation – freedom from unnecessary anxiety. But peace – “the peace that passes all understanding,” as Paul describes it, peace comes at a price. It requires discipline to allow God to renew our minds. It takes practice. This is what Rohr means when he says that “…mystical encounters is first of all a momentary ‘state,’ and with years of practice the state becomes a permanent trait and a way of life.”
Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. He repeatedly left the busyness of his ministry to go off and pray. I can’t think of a single spiritual teacher in any of the world’s religions who did not have a significant, disciplined practice of contemplation and prayer. Paul even tells us in Thessalonians to pray without ceasing!
The discipline and time it takes to be quiet and to let God transform us is a very real sacrifice. And that is what Paul is talking about in today’s passage — sacrifice. Freedom from the anxieties stirred up by the world does not come without sacrifice.
Listen to our passage from Romans again:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters… to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
In the pattern of Paul’s world, renewal, spiritual cleansing, worship of the gods, took place through the sacrifice of the lives of animals. Here he is urging us to sacrifice our very lives. That’s pretty strong language! We’re not asked to sacrifice our time or our money or even our first child as Abraham was. We are urged to sacrifice our very lives! – as our act of worship.
Cynthia Bourgeault in her wonderful book, The Wisdom Jesus, contrasts Jesus’ spiritual path with those of eastern mystical teachers. She says transformation or enlightenment in the east was gained through awareness. Jesus’ path, the path he calls us to follow, is not a gaining of anything. It is a path of self-emptying love. Yes – both Jesus and Paul call on us to sacrifice our very lives as we empty ourselves in love, service, and commitment to bringing in God’s Kingdom of unity, fairness, and justice.
From out of our silent depths where the Spirit of our God finds us, renews our minds, transforms us – from out of our silent depths where we find union with the love of God – from out of our silent depths we gather together the fragments of our church – from out of our silent depths together as a dynamic community of faith we engage with the world.
So transformed, we do not conform to the world with its seductive promises of individual gain. So transformed, we engaged the world in prophetic, redemptive, and reconciling ministries of love.