Say What, Now? (Based on Romans 12:1-21, NRSV)
a dialogue sermon delivered May 15, 2016, Aloha United Methodist Church
by Barbara and Dan Dick
Barbara: 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. 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.
Dan: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Barbara: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Dan: Oh, hi, you’re Barbara aren’t you? Barbara Dick?
Barbara: Uhm… yes.
Dan: Here for General Conference, with The United Methodist Church?
Barbara: Well, yes. (pause) Do I know you?
Dan: Oh, no. You wouldn’t know me. I’m here for the birthday party.
Barbara: Say what now? Whose birthday party?
Dan: The church’s birthday party. It’s Pentecost.
Barbara: Ah, Pentecost. (A little embarrassed) I hate to break it to you, but there’s no birthday party. Is there anything else I can do for you?
Dan: Sure. (Pause) I am an emissary of Paul the Apostle.
Barbara: Say what now?
Dan: Paul… Apostle… New Testament? Letters? Made people uncomfortable? Pretty much launched the church?
Barbara: I KNOW who Paul is! You say you’re his “emissary”?
Dan: Yeah, I’m here on Paul’s behalf to see how well The United Methodist Church does living like people of God – you know, not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, kind of thing.
Barbara: You’re here to judge our behavior??
Dan: Yeah! You got a problem with that?
Barbara: Well, some might say we aren’t getting along as well as we might. You know, we have some pretty significant differences of opinion.
Dan: And you have come together in Portland to settle all differences, reconcile all disputes, and to make Paul’s joy complete – “to be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” That is great, just great!
Barbara: Uhm… is this your first General Conference?
Dan: Yes, why?
Barbara: You see, we are really here to work on resolutions and legislation that help us govern the whole global denomination of The United Methodist Church. We have a lot of petitions to cover and The Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions to revise and edit. We have a lot of details to hammer out, and a lot of work to get done.
Barbara: You would be amazed. Over 1,200 pieces of legislation from all around the world; a dozen legislative committees, hundreds of delegates, thousands of visitors, pastors, laity, bishops, our board and agency heads and staff. It’s a wondrous gathering of faithful people coming together to serve the church.
Dan: Uh, huh. Through legislation…
Barbara: Oh, don’t get stuck there. General Conference is much more than just passing or rejecting legislation!
Dan: Good, I was worried there for a minute. I mean, I know a denomination has lots of “business” to attend to when it gets so big, but there is a whole lot more to being a church than just having a lot of rules and regulations. What about fellowship, and worship, and prayer?
Barbara: You, know? I wish every United Methodist could experience just a few days of General Conference. There are incredible worship opportunities, fantastic music, inspired preaching, and faithful witness from every corner of the church. There is a humbling and awe-inspiring aspect to General Conference.
Dan: And prayer?
Barbara: The prayer for General Conference began months—even years—ago. People prayed about offering themselves to be delegates. Annual Conference members prayed about who they would elect to represent them. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have prayed for the leadership and direction of the church. And the denomination made a commitment to have people pray every day this year for good work and wisdom to come from this General Conference!
Dan: Sounds great. And it aligns well with the message I bring you from the Apostle Paul.
Barbara: And that would be?
Dan: 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. 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.
Barbara: Say what now? What’s that supposed to mean?
Dan: Pretty much what it says – this General Conference of yours isn’t really time to debate issues or argue points – even pass legislation. This is time to seek and discern God’s will for the church and for the world. Paul hopes that all the “work” that needs to be done doesn’t get in the way of awakening to God’s vision. Sometimes we can get so very busy doing church work that we forget to be the church.
Barbara: Is there really such a difference between “doing” church and “being” church? Isn’t what a church does a pretty good reflection of what a church is? I mean, don’t our core beliefs define our behaviors, and our behaviors help us know we belong with others who share our beliefs and engage in similar behaviors? It seems to me that believing, behaving, and belonging are all aspects of the same thing.
Dan: Ah, you’re right, but there is still a difference. In Paul’s – and Jesus’ day – the word we translate “world” more accurately meant “kosmos” or “reality.” To be conformed to this reality, meant to buy into the values, priorities, and passions of this world. Similarly, the word we translate “mind” more accurately mean “essence” or “being.” When Paul calls for the renewing of your mind, he meant of your whole being, your core essence. Paul is challenging people to stop adopting the ways of this world and to begin doing things God’s way – God at the center of our beliefs, behaviors, and belonging. Too often, we try to make the church pleasing to us instead of pleasing to God.
Barbara: Well, I can assure you, we want nothing more than to be a church that is pleasing to God.
Dan: That’s fantastic, because the eyes of the world are on you this week. Over fifty-million people worldwide are “tuning in” to General Conference of The United Methodist Church, just to see how you talk to each other, how you disagree, how you work together despite differences, and just generally how the way you treat each other is different from the way anyone outside the church treats others. The reputation and image of the church is in your hands this week!
Barbara: Say what now? That’s a heavy burden to carry.
Dan: It is why it is so important that we not “conform our thinking and behavior to the way things are done in the world,” but to be transformed in our beliefs and thinking by the renewal of our minds by the Holy Spirit. The more we commit to discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect – the more we can please God and offer a grace-filled witness to the world.
Barbara: But I am not sure everyone feels the same way. I’m not sure there aren’t a lot of people with an ax to grind, or an agenda to push, or a perspective to promote. We’re only human!
Dan: Paul sends a message for that, too. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Barbara: We already know all that…
Dan: But are you doing it?
Barbara: We’re (pause) working on it…
Dan: That’s all anyone – including God – can ask. If General Conference truly were heaven on earth, we wouldn’t need a Book of Discipline or a Book of Resolutions – or even a Bible for that matter. We need all these things because we simply aren’t there yet – we have a long way to go.
Barbara: And if General Conference is any indicator, it is better to make the journey together than alone. We are a diverse group of more than 850 men and women, most of us from the United States, northern Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and Eurasia, who love God, love the church, and want nothing more than to serve and please God. We may be a long way from perfect, but we’re certainly trying.
Dan: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Barbara: Say what now? That’s not from Romans!
Dan: Consider it a “bonus feature.” Paul isn’t a one-hit wonder.
Barbara: So, the word I hear from Paul for all of us gathered in Portland is simply this: focus on what God calls us to do and be. Don’t waste time arguing about what we can’t do or don’t like or what divides us. Instead, work together to care for the things we can do, what we share in common, and what can serve and heal a broken world. Oh, and be kind to one another, for we are all part of one body, and each part brings something wonderful to the whole.
Dan: That’ll preach. It really isn’t so hard. Kind of basic “Golden Rule.”
Barbara: Ah, yes, but just because something is simple or basic doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Dan: In the immortal words of the Apostle Paul: “You’re preachin’ to the choir, sister!” Thanks be to God.