Trinity 11 – Romans 12: 1-8 and Matthew 16: 13-20
I wonder if any of you watch or listen to Prime Minister’s question time when it is broadcast? I used to often hear it on the radio when the broadcast of parliamentary proceedings was a fairly new thing and George Thomas was Speaker of the House. It is noticeable that many of the questions to the Prime Minister are the same – often asking him or her what their engagements are for the day, as the format is restricted. MPs then have a follow up question which is more pertinent, often to a matter that relates to their constituency. I mention this because when I looked at today’s gospel reading, I had a touch of deja vue, as it is the same gospel that I preached on at the end of June on the feast of St Peter and St Paul. I was tempted to do as the Prime Minister does and say ‘I refer my honourable friends to the sermon I preached on this subject recently’. I also considered an even worse cheat of just repeating the same sermon until I remembered that although I am at Pen Selwood this week, everything we do goes to both churches, and although it was Wincanton’s patronal festival, it was shared with you on line and you would certainly have caught me out! If you do want to hear my sermon on the gospel for today however, it is still available through the parish website! There is also an almost certainly better reflection on this passage available on the Diocesan website given by Rev Canon Dr Rob James, the Canon Chancellor of Wells Cathedral.
So today we are looking at the wonderful passage from Romans 12. At the end of all his letters, Paul moves on from theology to practical advice, and this is what is happening here. Over the last few weeks we have been reading chapters 8 – 11 in Romans, which are always worth studying, but take some effort. Now Paul is talking language that even I can understand. In the first verse he distances himself from the Greek way of thinking, that the spirit was the only part of a person that was important, the physical was often the problem. Paul however starts by saying that to be complete in our worship, we must dedicate our bodies to God as a spiritual act. My favourite translation of these verses is J B Philips in which verse 1 reads: ‘With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him’.
Dedicating our bodies means dedicating all that they do – whether we are writing a sermon, mending an altar frontal, cooking the dinner or weeding the garden we are serving God. If we think of it in that way, we might find ourselves approaching the mundane with a different mindset. Some of our well-known hymns take up this theme – New Every Morning is the Love, and Teach me my God and King both spring to mind.
In the next verse Paul includes our minds as well. The word ‘repentance’ is often used in the church as an act of turning to God and this often comes from the Greek word ‘metanoia’ which literally translates as changing your mind. Not changing your mind in the sense that I might decide to have coffee, then change my mind and have tea, but in a far more profound way; literally changing your mind for a new one as you might if you took a purchase back to a shop to change it. I have always liked the J B Philips translation of v2 which reads:
‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.’
I love the picture this gives me of God filling our minds like a plastic bag or a balloon and pushing them outwards to be the right shape, not the shape that the world would have us fit into, and the practical outcomes of letting Him do this. But after that Paul gets really practical – beginning to sound almost like an old-fashioned nanny – ‘don’t get above yourself’! We need to have a realistic knowledge of the gifts and abilities that God has given us and work to our strengths. The picture Paul gives of the church as a body is often used and very useful – I am very aware that if I tried to walk everywhere on my hands I would not get far, and yet without a fair assessment of ourselves and each other that is what we as a church would be trying to do. We can sometimes get downhearted when we see the skills and gifts of others, but we don’t realise how important the seemingly lesser tasks are. We recently lost a member of the leadership team at Tiny Church. She never created craft activities or told stories or lead the singing, but she is the person we miss the most as she was always there making sure that the crayons and tables were put away so that the children didn’t trip over them, and that no child escaped through the south door when parents weren’t watching. We miss her enormously, but she always said that she didn’t do anything special.
We have been thinking a lot today about the uncertainty of the future – I was pleased to hear Bishop Ruth use a phrase in her message that I included in a reflection recently – I do not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. Whatever is coming our way, whatever shape the church may take in the future, the one thing I am sure of is that we will need each other and the support we can give each other more and more as time goes on – we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
It has become clear over the past few months, that we are able, both as churches and as communities to pull together and look out for each other. I pray that when we find out what the ‘new normal’ is going to be, we will not lose this.