On being non-conformists…
Many years ago, when asked what one should do in life, the late Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan responded – “Make your story fit into the story of Jesus. Ask yourself: does your life make sense in light of the life of Jesus?”
His answer was, I believe, the most practical way to make real in a tangible way Paul’s injunction – “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,” (V. 2)
Long before Paul was born, two Egyptian midwives understood in practical terms what it truly meant to serve God. In the story about the birth of Moses, (Exodus 1:8 – 2:10) we are told the story of another unsung heroes of the faith. Shiphrah and Puah, being God-fearing, decided to act against the orders of the Pharaoh of the day. They, rather than killing all the newborn boys, they allowed them to live, and so little Moses escaped death and eventually grew up to be the leader that we all know.
But it all began not with an act of obedience to the temporal ruler, but rather with an act of disobedience. They knew that what was convenient for the ruler of the day did not square with God’s will. Certainly, they were in a quandary and, indeed, they were called to account. And then again, rather than straighten up, they came with the story about the Jewish mother’s prowess in giving birth before 911 arrived!
The prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus, the early apostles, and many men and women up to our days were challenged to reject conformism with the dictates of the society of their days and as one of then put it, “We don’t obey people. We obey God,” (Acts 5:29). And for their commitment, they paid it dearly.
Of course, perhaps we may not be called to bear witness in the same way that Shiphrah and Puah or the apostles did. But yet, Paul’s admonition is valid still.
What it is trendy but not godly? What verses of the Scripture are our favorite – both to use for ourselves and/or to throw to those who dissent from us – and which ones we rather “forget?” “All” Scripture is “all” Scripture – or is it not?
We hold personal and family traditions in high regard, but do they square with what God is intent in doing? Or we conveniently try to separate our “spiritual” life from our “everyday” life? Does your whole life – mind, body, and spirit — fit into the story of Jesus?
Naturally, we cannot pretend that Jesus or the apostles faced the same challenges the we face today. Issues of technology, science and, yes, political life are not the same that Jesus or the apostles had to face in their days. But all that we are asked to do is to check and balance our stories, beliefs, and actions with what it is “good, and acceptable, and perfect” in God’s eyes.
And then, act accordingly, even if it is – and indeed, sometimes it will be radically against the grain of the way in which one lives his or her “own” life. As we have sung in our hymn “Faith of our Fathers,” we are called to be true to our faith and not necessarily to the traditions, beliefs, or values that our ancestors held. That’s what discernment is all about.
For it is not so much to ask What Would Jesus Do but, rather, is asking oneself if Jesus would be thinking and doing what we do or think. Would be Jesus involved in the kind of dealings or relationships in which we are involved? Would He be supporting the ideals and norms that we support, or would there be a disconnect? And, if there is a disconnect, what are you going to do about it?
If you have been ever stopped by running a “Stop” sign or driving too fast, you know that, “But, officer, everyone is doing it,” or, “That’s the way I always did it,” would not cut it. So, why we should expect Jesus buying it?
Conversion of life goes beyond a once in a lifetime altar call, a raised hand on a revival night or a confirmation class. “Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live,” (Ephesians 4:30) writes Paul. And if you read the whole passage, certainly he was not referring to what we do on Sunday mornings – for we are temples of the Living God – 24/7.
It is not easy, for sure. Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly it may mean leaving behind old ways of thinking, acting, and living. It is leaving the old self behind to soar by the wind of the Breath of God. Indeed, we are told, “It is our living sacrifice.”
But here is the Good News – “The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O Lord, your love endures for ever,” (Psalm 138:9). Or as Paul writes, “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” (Philippians 2:13). Would you be willing to give it a try?
Loving Savior, you offered your life for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Inspire us both the desire and the will to offer You our whole life – past, present, and future – as a token of our willingness to serve you with gladness and singleness of heart with all our mind, spirit, and body. Amen.