Romans 12: 2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds."
Our family has been negotiating a lot of change the past couple of years. Moving from the Georgia rainforest to the Mojave Desert was the first shift. Being bishop of a diocese is a world apart from parish priesthood. Linda has gone from a well-settled position directing the legal writing program at Mercer School of Law to teaching Property and Wills, Trusts, and Estates at UNLV. Daughter Emilie changed her life roles from daughter and student to mother and social worker. Daughter Katie went from Georgia student/barista to California army wife. Our heads are still spinning.
It isn’t easy – but I’ll tell you what it is: It’s life! And it’s all exciting! Life moves. It shifts, changes, adapts. In one of my favorite novels, Zorba the Greek, a young accountant responds to the plans of the volatile old miner, Zorba, “But isn’t that a lot of trouble?” Zorba replies, “Trouble? Life is trouble. Only in death is there no trouble.” Zorba didn’t shy away from the trouble of life’s adventure. He embraced it in a spirit we Americans don’t even have a word for – but the French do – joi d’vivre roughly “the joy of life” – not just when it goes smoothly, but delight in the whole roller coaster ride of living.
Jesus was about life. “I came that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” So Jesus was about change. He turned over a lot of tables and raised a lot of eyebrows. He changed water into wine; sinners into saints, illiterate fishermen into globetrotting evangelists. Paul called that transformation. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
The Christian life is ongoing transformation, growing “from glory to glory” Scripture says -- “growing into the full stature of Christ.” This is the tension for churches. We have two natures. On one hand, churches are human institutions. Human institutions exist to keep things as they are. They institutionalize the status quo. On the other hand, churches are the earthly dwelling of the Holy Spirit – an irresistible hurricane of change. The Spirit moves in each of us to transform our individual lives. The Spirit moves in the Church to change the Church. The Spirit moves through the Church to change the world.
Our diocesan mission statement says God calls us “to transform our communities.” But are we doing that? I say this in all gentleness and love. I am not sure we are changing the communities around us. I am not sure we are even keeping up with them. The world is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. We are decidedly living in a new century. Is the Church an agent of change today? Or are we racing to catch up? Or are we straggling behind, on our way to becoming a footnote in the history of the 20th Century?
This metaphor that may be silly but it is apt. The children’s action heroes The Transformers are “transformers” in two ways. They change their own shape in order to change the situation. They change into the shape required to confront violence and injustice. Just so, the Church can be an agent of transformation in the world only if we are willing to be transformed ourselves. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." When Bishop Wes radically revamped our diocese almost 40 years ago, he was setting something in motion, not setting something in concrete.
Compared to some other dioceses we are doing pretty well. I am grateful for all our success. But God does not call us to “do pretty well.” God calls us to work miracles.” If “the power of God working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine,” I wonder if we are allowing God to do all that God wants in us. If we were, we’d see more young adults finding God with us, we’d be sending more mosquito nets to Tanzania, and we would be graduating more than 44% of Nevada’s children from high school.
God calls us to be transformed again so that we can be God’s change agents in Nevada today. What does that transformation look like? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that if we want to follow Christ in this new century, to carry the Gospel into this new century, to be God’s change agents – God’s transformers -- in Nevada, we have to prayerfully rethink everything. We are not here to enshrine memories. We are here to connect people to Jesus by any means necessary.
I am reading a remarkable series of books collectively called Transformations: The Church of the 21st Century. Individual titles:
These books, available from Church Publishing Co., offer ways to rethink how to be Church today. All our leaders -- lay and clergy -- would do well to read, mark, and inwardly digest this series. We would do well to meet and discuss them. They are not the answer, but they could spark us to discover our own creative action for the gospel.
Two articles in the upcoming Desert Spirit offer important possibilities for congregational renewal. The first is lifelong Christian formation. General Convention just endorsed the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. We do not send soldiers into battle without training or untrained firefighters into a fire. We cannot continue sending Christians into the world without training. Nevada Episcopalians need to know more Scripture, more theology, more church history, and more about our liturgy if they are going to share the faith in a secular society. Our congregations will soon have the opportunity to become learning communities, equipping all our members for daily life and Christian mission.
The other opportunity for change is in our Christian practice. We already do good community ministry, mostly for the homeless and the imprisoned. Today we have a new opportunity to serve children at risk in our communities. This is the most powerfully transformative kind of service we can do. And it is the kind of service that has the most power to transform us. When Louise Helton of Communities in Schools addressed our deacons this summer, there was not a dry eye in the room. We felt the call of Christ to share his love with Nevada’s children, just to give them a chance in life. We felt the power of this ministry to humanize our own lives.
I mention these two new opportunities together because transformation happens by walking forward – left, right, left right. It has a certain yin/yang balance of learning and doing, theoria and praxis, inreach and outreach, renewal and apostolate. It takes both, in balance, for healthy growth.
I cannot imagine all the new songs God will invite us to sing. I cannot imagine all the new things God will do for us, with us, and through us. But I know this much about God’s plan for us: It is life, abundant life.