Rev Tom Mumford
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
‘Do not be conformed to this world,’ Saint Paul says in our first reading, ‘but be transformed…’
A mate of mine’s brother once announced to his parents that he wanted to go to Australia for a gap year. ‘Why’d you want to do that for?’ asks my mate’s dad. ‘I want to have some time away, explore parts of the world I’ve never seen…I want to find myself’ the son says. ‘Well son,’ says my mate’s dad, ‘I’d be careful about that. What happens if you find yourself and he’s pain in the backside n’all?!’
Not the gentlest way of putting it, but my mate’s dad here robustly articulates a truth that I think holds true: you are you, whether you like it or not. And one of the best lessons I have had to learn, and am continually learning, is that as a follower of Jesus Christ, there’s no getting away from that fact, there’s no getting away from myself. Because God wants me to be me.
And God wants you to be you, too.
This is quite counter cultural when you think about it. We live in a world where we’re constantly being told that we should be someone else. That we should be prettier, more handsome, more chiselled, have more hair, have better hair. We live in a world where we’re constantly being told that we should live the life of someone else. That we should have plusher houses, sexier cars, more money, a perfect family. But despite what the adverts and the influencers tell us, this is all a bit of a lie. And we know this, or at least we come to know this after years of pushing back. And we do so, because the hairline recedes, the age takes its toll, the family…well, they’re real, and you spend Christmas with them…
And at the end, despite our trying, we realise that we can’t ‘keep up with the Jones’, we realise that we’ll never look like Brad Pitt, we realise that we can only ever be us. But don’t let this get you down, because in reality, this is a relief. Because despite what you’re led to believe, being you, being us, is exactly what we should be.
Not least because being someone else is exhausting.
But when we start on this journey, when we ask God to make us more fully who we really are, suddenly the fear, the sense in inadequacy, the sense of failure falls away. Steadily, we become much happier, much more relaxed, much more fulfilled. Ultimately, much more ourselves. Such is the transformational power of God
But notice how Paul tells us to ‘be transformed’, rather than telling us to transform ourselves. Because this is not something we can manufacture ourselves, or decide for ourselves and set the direction. This would of course be to collude with the lie we’re told by the world – that we can do such a thing. No, Paul tells us that when we allow ourselves to be transformed, we do so by discerning the will of God for us. And that starts with prayer, it starts with attention to our relationship with God, and to our relationship one another. And this is not just another religious practice alongside other commitments in life, Paul says. This is the very root of our lives before God, this is our first priority, our daily discipline. Because without it, we’re rudderless, living the life of someone else, and there is little truth in us.
As a Church, then, it must be one of our primary purposes, to help one another become who we truly are, to help one another find themselves. Because it’s worth remembering here, that if all this is true, there is no way you can be fully yourself, by preventing another from being fully their self. In other words, I cannot be the fullest version of me, the Tom that God called me to be, if in doing so I am preventing Cheryl from being the fullest version of herself, to be who she is called to be. It’s in this mutual task that the imagery of the ‘body’ helps us.
Each of us has our own role, our own part to play in the community of faith, and in wider society. Just as the arms and the eyes have different yet vital roles in the physical body, so do our gift and talents have different, yet no less vital functions in the Body of Christ. And none are better or worse. For example, as I’ve said in the past, just because Cheryl or I wear a dog collar, doesn’t make us anymore important or special in the Church, or before God, than anyone else. It’s just that this is the particular role we’re called to play in the Body of Christ, the Church. The same goes if you’re a Lay Elder, or a Lay Reader. Sit on the front row, or at the back. Ultimately, we are all called to serve one another, to serve our parish, and to serve God, as best and as truly as we can. We’re called to help build the kingdom, to help change the world.
The person in today’s gospel reading that demonstrates all this best is Peter.
Peter is someone that allows God to transform him. He is not always a particularly impressive character in the Gospels. There’s no talk of him being the best fisherman, or the shrewdest business person. He is at times rash, impetuous, not always particularly wise. He messes up, makes mistakes, even denies Jesus in his time of trial. Yet Peter is open in his heart, and Jesus chooses him, loves him. God in Christ transforms him, uses his gifts, builds his Church through him. And this is good news for us, because we can all be like Peter at times, when he’s at his best and his worst. And so we must allow God to transform us as Peter did. We must seek his will on our lives, and become more fully ourselves, more truly who we are called to be. Because we are, as Peter says, followers of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. And it is this confession that unites us, forms us and transforms us.
So let us start again today, let us be transformed today. Choose you, choose us. But let it be the real you, the real us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. Amen.