First Sunday after Epiphany
The Epistle. Romans 12. 1.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, hole, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world : but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think ; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office : so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
I find it interesting that the people who compiled the Prayer Book lectionary selected this particular lesson for today’s epistle. Here we are, the First Sunday in the Epiphany season, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, and we have as the selection for the epistle a reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. St. Paul, who in so many of his writings was so fixated on the sins of the flesh, is focused here more on what we think. More to the point, he is focused on renewing what and how we think. He does so, because what and how we think, about God, about Christ, about our fellow man, affects not just our own relationship with God, but also the whole Body of Christ; the Church.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven”.
Our Lords words, taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel (5:16), tell us that we should be an example to all the world of how a Christian should work, how a Christian should act, how a Christian should think. Our thoughts and actions are not motivated by what is in it for us, but rather by the reaction they elicit from others. People, believers and non-believers alike, should be able to look at us and say, “there goes a Christian”! And further, they should begin to think, “maybe they’ve got something here”. This is the beginning of a path; a path that leads to God.
“but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God”. Let’s break this down; first, transformation. We are inundated by the accounts of transformational acts throughout Christian history. St. Paul’s conversion; St. Augustine’s conversion; the vision of Constantine that lead to the eventual end of the persecutions of the Church. We can site one example after another. All very personal events. But what does it mean to be “transformed”?
Well, one of the definitions of “transform”, is to “change in character or condition”. We cannot change our condition; we are human, we are flawed. But we can change our character. We are given the ability to change, to transform, ourselves; to completely reverse our direction; to alter the way we think about things and act on things. We are able to do that, as St. Paul says, through Grace.
Next, renewing of our minds. This is where it gets kind of exciting. Renew; restore to freshness, to vigor, to perfection; to make new spiritually, to begin again; to make new.
We can start over. More to the point, we must start over. Renewal means a restoration of that which has become faded or broken, so that it seems like new. At our baptism, we are renewed; we are received into the Church, into the Kingdom of God; we are refreshed, invigorated, perfect. Over time, through our own weakness, we become faded or broken. It is by the renewal of our minds that we may return to that same state we were in at our baptism; refreshed, invigorated, perfect.
So, what does it mean to renew our minds? Do I really have to tell you? Renewal means completely changing our priorities. We get so worried about our jobs, our pensions, our benefits, our money. Why don’t we worry about our place in the Kingdom of God in the same way?
Renewal means redirecting our priorities; make God first; make witnessing to the Gospel first; make the expansion of the Church first.
Renewal means dedicating ourselves to that one thing that will last forever; the Kingdom of God. Our jobs will end. Our lives will end. But the gates of hell will not prevail against the Kingdom of God. That’s a sure thing. Why then, do we bet on those things that will end?
Renewal starts now. We are barely two weeks into the new year and some of us are still working on our resolutions. Let’s start simply, locally; our annual meeting is next week. At that time, we will discuss and decide on the direction of this parish for the coming year. What resolutions will we make for the growth of St. James? What steps will we take to make this Church our first priority? What will we do to transform ourselves, to renew our minds so that we can do that “good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God“? What light will we shine forth, so that others can see it and be drawn to it; so that they too may have the opportunity to glorify God?
Let this be our New Year’s resolution; Be born again. Be transformed. Renew your hearts and minds. Restore yourself to freshness, and vigor, and perfection. Dedicate you efforts, your actions, your lives to this parish, to the Church, to the Kingdom of God; so that you may prove that which is Gods good, acceptable, and perfect Will.