Not Waiting on the World to Change

+ A sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 30, 2020 +

Text: Romans 12:1-21


There was a popular song that debuted the summer before I started college and I remember hearing it everywhere.
My friends were playing it, it was all over the radio, it even went on to win a Grammy.
It was meant to encapsulate the frustrations of a generation as we were coming to age in a time of terrorism, during two major wars, and feeling the effects of an economy not built with our best interests in mind.
And apparently overwhelmed with all that was happening in the world at the time, the artist sang, “Now we see everything that’s going wrong / with the world and those who lead it / we just feel like we don’t have the means / to rise above and beat it. So we keep waiting / waiting on the world to change”

Now, I’ll give it to John Mayer, it’s a catchy song—it’s been stuck in my head all week.
And at first glance, its message is understandable—that there’s so much wrong in the world, that we might feel so helpless, that all we can do is wait for change.
I’ve known that feeling all too well and I’d bet many of you have too.

But the truth is, dear Church, I really hate this song.
It lulls us into complacency and feeds us the lie that if we just wait long enough, everything will magically fix itself.
That we can just sit back and wait for the world to change.

I mean, I get it.
For more than six weeks now, we’ve been working through this sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times” using St. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome as a lens to address the brokenness of our world.
And we know how deep that brokenness is, don’t we?
Just in the past few months, we’ve seen our lives change due to a deadly pandemic, we’ve heard seemingly irreparable political divisions grow even deeper, we’ve watched the frustrations over systemic racism and government violence pour into the streets—perhaps even joining protests ourselves.
And just this past week, we’ve been reminded yet again by the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin that these problems, this brokenness, will not be easily solved.
And honestly, there are days, there are many days actually, when it all just feels too big, too messed up, too broken to ever fully heal.

But I’ve come to believe that this mentality, this hopelessness, is actually part of the brokenness itself—that it’s so insidious that it creeps within us and tells us that it can’t be solved.
That it’s us against the way of the world.
That we can’t make a difference.
That all we can do is wait.

And the truth is that waiting will not fix things.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book Why We Can’t Wait, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of [those] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”[1]

We know the brokenness of this world.
For much of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, for much of this sermon series, we’ve heard the Apostle’s diagnosis of the cause of this brokenness: sin.
Not our individual moral failings, mind you, but something deeper—our isolation from God and from each other, our self-serving attitudes that focus on our own wants and desires rather than the needs of our neighbors, the very roots of individualism and self-reliance itself.

But Paul also shows us the source of our cure: the love of God which we have seen through Christ Jesus our Lord.
A sacrificial, self-giving love that crosses boarders, heals divisions, and stretches to the margins.
A love that does not depend on us or on our faithfulness, but in which we can put our trust.
A love that has been freely given to us and to all people and from which nothing can ever separate us.
That’s the good news that Paul is sending to those early Romans Christians and is sending to us here in the year 2020—that God has shown us in Christ Jesus what is right and given us an example to follow.
That God’s love can and will heal the brokenness of our world.

Now, when I started this sermon series, I told you all it was going to be a six-week series and the resource I have been using intended for me to stop last week, with the assurance that God’s love will heal our brokenness.
And while that gospel message is most certainly true, reflecting on our times and on this seminal letter, I just couldn’t end there.
Because right now, that just felt a little too much like waiting for the world to change.
And Paul doesn’t end his letter there, either.
After assuring us of God’s transformational love that can and will change the world, he writes this beautiful twelfth chapter about living the Christian life, about how we reshape our lives to live in response to the love we have received.

“Therefore,” Paul writes.
After everything he just told us about our sin, our shortcomings, the brokenness of the world and how God’s love is working to overcome it all, in response to God’s free gift of grace, he urges us to “present your bodies,” your holy bodies, your whole selves, your whole lives, “as a living sacrifice”—a gift back to God that is active and engaged in the world, ready to embody the love that we have been given.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” to its hopelessness, to its ingrained systems of oppression, to its brokenness that has infected our lives and our society, “but be transformed” by the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Renew your minds, your vision, your entire way of being and see what is possible when a love like this one enters the world.
A love that feeds the hungry and heals the sick, that defies earthly powers, heals creation, and reaches out to all people, a powerful love that even brings life out of death enters our world.
Root your minds, your hopes, your trust in that love and in its transformational ability.

What would it look like, dear Church, if we refused to be conformed to the brokenness of this world?
If we refused to conform to the systems and structures that are designed to crush us and our neighbor?
If we refused to conform to the individualism of our society that puts my interest above yours and pits us against each other?
If we refused to conform to fearmongering and division and hatred and instead allowed the Holy Spirit to transform our minds, our vision, our very way of being with the love of God?
How would this defiant act of resistance, this rejection of hopelessness, this bold trust in God transform our lives and transform the world?

Now, this may still seem like too much for us to accomplish on our own.
The transforming of our own lives may not seem like enough to transform the whole world.
And it’s true—this is too much for you or me to accomplish on our own.
But the truth is, we’re not meant to do it all on our own.
Paul is writing to a community in Rome and he is writing to a community now.
And he tells us that in Christ, we are not meant to live as isolated individuals any longer because we have been formed into one body.
That just as God formed each of our individual bodies, God has brought us together into one body, one community, breathing the same one Holy Spirit.
And just as our own bodies have many parts with their own functions and roles to play, so do we as the individual members of our collective body of Christ each have our own function and role to play.
Just as my eyes and my lungs and my fingers play crucial roles in the functioning of my own body, so do each of us play a crucial role in the functioning of the body of Christ.
And so, Paul calls us to renew our minds, to reshape our lives and live in response to the love we have received so we can find our crucial role to play as we, the collective body of Christ, work together and partner with God to transform the world.

I’m reminded of something I heard a couple months ago as the outcry over the murder of George Floyd was pouring into the streets in Minneapolis, here in Seattle, and around the country.
So many of us felt compelled to act, to do something, but with the realities of the COVID pandemic or for any number of reasons, may have felt uncomfortable joining the protests in person.
But one activist I saw online said that while not everyone can or should be in the streets, we all have a part to play in the movement.
That some will march in the streets and some will donate to bail funds.
That some will demand action from their legislators and some will write and enact more just laws.
That some will create art or write or speak to educate and inspire hope and others will learn and be inspired and help spread the movement even farther.
But remember, she said, that every one of us has an important part to play, so find your role, use your gifts and talents so we can all work together and achieve something far greater than we could by ourselves.

And really, that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul is telling us today.
God is at work, he says, working in our world to heal the brokenness that we all know too well and transform us and the whole creation into God’s perfect vision for the world.
And God is working to bring together all people who are seeking to embody God’s love in order to make that transformation happen, to be co-workers with God—and that means each of us have a role to play.

My friends, that means you have a role to play.
You are a part of this body.
A crucial member whose gifts and talents enrich our lives and our work and without whom we all are worse off.
You have an important and unique part to play in the transformation and healing of our world that is no more and no less important than any other part.
How will you use your God-given gifts to benefit our collective body, and through that body, the whole world?
How will you use your life to follow in the way of Jesus, doing what is good, acceptable, and perfect, doing the will of God?
What is your role as we come together, not just as our small congregation, not just in our community, but bound together with all God’s people, transformed by God’s love and equipped with the gifts we need?
How will you help us all to more fully embody God’s transformational power?
It’s true that none of us can transform the world on our own—no one possibly could.
But we can use our gifts, our passions, our abilities, our lives to do our part in making God’s perfect world a reality. God is asking nothing more of you than to do your part, my friends; but God is also asking nothing less of you than to do your part.

We as Christians define ourselves as followers of Jesus, as inheritors of an unimaginable, unmerited, and irrevocable gift of grace that is the love of God poured out for us and for the whole creation.
And Paul urges us to respond to that love in worship—not just on Sunday mornings, certainly not just in our church buildings, but by using our divinely inspired bodies, using the fullness of our God-given Spirit, using the community that God has formed us into to be active in the world.
To hate evil and dismantle systems of oppression while holding fast to what is good.
To preach love, justice, and hope.
To heal brokenness.
To use our very lives to work for the world’s transformation and to never cease until God’s perfect kingdom finally reigns on earth as it is in heaven. That is the essence of our worship, my friends.
That is what it means to live a Christian life.

During these seven weeks, we have received good news for our tough times: that we have the Spirit of God within our bodies, that we are loved beyond imagination, that our God is faithful to us and we can trust that God is at work to bring healing and hope and life.
And now we are being called to not only receive that good news and to abide in its life-giving message, but to bear it to our neighbors, to our community, to the whole creation.
To share it far and wide in word and deed.
To no longer sit idly by and wait for the world to change, but to find our role and take our place in God’s transformative love.
To embody that love as we work together with God and with one another to heal our broken world.

And trusting in the sure and certain hope of that day when our world is finally healed, let God’s people say: Amen.

[1] King, Jr., Martin Luther Why We Can’t Wait, 1964. p. 74

This is the seventh and final part of a seven-part sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times.”
The other sermons in the series can be found here:

  1. Broken Bodies, Healing Spirit” – July 12, 2020
  2. Groaning in Labor Pains” – July 19, 2020
  3. Nothing” – August 2, 2020
  4. All-Inclusive Love” – August 9, 2020
  5. Fulfilling the Law” – August 16, 2020
  6. Ever Faithful, Ever Merciful” – August 23, 2020
  7. Not Waiting on the World to Change” – August 30, 2020

6 thoughts on “Not Waiting on the World to Change

  1. Pingback: Ever Faithful, Ever Merciful | Paul On Grace

  2. Pingback: Fulfilling the Law | Paul On Grace

  3. Pingback: All-Inclusive Love | Paul On Grace

  4. Pingback: Nothing | Paul On Grace

  5. Pingback: Groaning in Labor Pains | Paul On Grace

  6. Pingback: Broken Bodies, Healing Spirit | Paul On Grace

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