Reverend Nicole Lamarche

Romans 12:1-8 and an Excerpt from The Circle by Dave Eggers
Sunday August 27th, 2023
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche

Thank you again for being here on this beautiful day!

I invite you now as you are moved, to take some deeper breaths, to let yourself arrive a bit more fully to tune into whatever word God has for each of us today.

And I offer this prayer from Psalm 19.

God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

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… I love this text! This is one of my most favorite.

Don’t be conformed to all that is going on around you, that will clear our minds on its own.
We know that Paul, the author tradition assigns to this letter, had as his target audience, Gentile converts. As writer, Christopher Hutson offered, the context and background of this letter include the lifestyle that is expected of “all Israel” Jews and Gentiles alike and this text is grounded by these questions, “How will this new people live together and how will they be related to the outside world?”
This summer on my way back from vacation, I settled into my uncomfortable plastic seat affixed to the other seats near the departure gate at the airport, and I looked around. Among the many waiting and watching, there was only one person not looking at a screen. I am not sharing this as someone who opted out of this situation. As you might know, in fact, there is often no escape! Even my boarding pass was found through an app on my smartphone. And still when I looked around I felt as if I were surrounded by zombies. Has anyone else had that experience?

I was drawn to this quote from Dave Eggars, “You willingly tie yourself to these leashes.” We have chosen this leash of conformity…

It feels everyone was tuned into something else instead of to one another.
There was but one soul reading an old-fashioned paper book and I wanted to greet her, to go up to her!
But you know, I have felt cautious because I have discovered that most of the time, if I dare to try and talk to the person in line along with me at the grocery store, for example, there are mixed reactions. Some people think it is creepy to say hi or they wonder if you have an agenda of some kind.
And I am sure I am not the only one who thought I had been drawn into a conversation with a stranger, (how exciting and rare), drawn in maybe with an equal dose of curiosity and confusion, only to discover they were on their phone with earbuds that I couldn’t see. Has that happened to anyone else?
As our family imperfectly navigates screen use I think of this text and as I look at much of life right now, I think this word from Paul is a word for us now too-

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…

And as I ponder this most challenging call to us, it also brings up for me the life and words and movement of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as tomorrow is the anniversary of the March on Washington.
And I am thinking of how much of what he was asking for, was for more people, more white people to stop conforming to what had become normal, to what was then seen as just American.
He was asking for everyone to imagine a world that was different than it was right then.

He said, “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; …. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”

But here’s the thing, in that moment in 1963, near ¾ of white Americans claimed that Black people “should have the right to use the same parks, restaurants and hotels as white people,” but not even close to that same number of them were willing to do much to actively support what Dr. King was asking for.
Because often there is a cost to not conforming. I bet we have many stories in this sanctuary and in our community, stories about the cost of not conforming to the world around you.

And do you know what, there is also a cost for conforming too. There is a hard kind of situation that develops, maybe a spiritual price for the dissonance, for the gap between what is good and acceptable and perfect and what is actually happening.

So with time, more people wanted to reduce that gap, that dissonance between what was and what was acceptable and what was pondering. But I am pondering how many of them it took. It took enough, some people in each and every place who were willing to not be conformed to the situation.
And for some it cost them relationships and jobs and in some cases it cost them their lives. There is a cost to not conforming, but I wonder if that is our call, still now too?

As it was also part of the invitation to those who were a part of the original First Century Jesus movement. It takes one person and then two and then three and then more, who are kind and brave and bold and steady…who dare to imagine what is not yet in spite of what the world around them is doing.

Beloved of God, bless you for the ways you have been faithful in not conforming where it has brought more wholeness, more love, more justice. And so I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, siblings in Christ, by the mercies of God, to keep on presenting yourselves fully to this life! To what we know is holy and wholly acceptable.
Do not be conformed to this world! May it be so. Amen.