August 21, 2005
14th Sunday after Pentecost
"Dare To DV8"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
In 17th century Italy, in the town of Cremona, there lived a young boy named Antonio. Cremona was was famous for its music. And of all the things in the world that Antonio wanted he wanted to be able to make music. Unfortunately, he couldn't sing or play an instrument.
His voice was high and squeaky, so he wasn't welcome in the Boys' Choir. When he took violin lessons, the neighbors complained so much they persuaded his parents to make him stop. Still, Antonio wanted to make music.
Because he couldn't sing or play an instrument, he often found himself alone and so he whittled. He could whittle almost anything. His friends kidded him because it seemed that his only talent was whittling. But he didn't give up on his desire to make music.
One day Antonio learned that a world-famous violinmaker named Niccolo Amati, son of Andrea Amati lived in Cremona. The next morning Antonio went to visit Amati and begged to serve as his apprentice. For many years he studied and worked. Antonio's knack for whittling grew into a skill of carving. And his hobby became his craft. Patiently he fashioned many violins, striving to make each one better and more beautiful than the one before.
When Antonio died, he left over 1500 violins, each one bearing a label that said "Antonio Stradivarius." Today they are the most sought after violins in all the world. The clarity of tone and careful craftsmanship remain untouched by the centuries. Antonio Stradivarius could neither sing nor play, but he did what he could, and now, over 300 years later, his violins are still making beautiful music. (1)
The world around him told him he couldn't make music because he couldn't sing or couldn't play an instrument. Yet, Antonio Stradivarius refused to conform to the worlds standards and give up on his dream, his goal, his calling. Instead, he let that dream and God given gift transform him and use him. And Antonio, in turn, transformed wood into what has been called the epitome of all violins, a Stradivarius.
All because he dared to deviate, and chose not to conform to the world but to be transformed.
Like Antonio Stradivarius, God dares us to deviate from the norm of the world.
Romans 12:1-8 (NRSV)
 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
 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.
 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,
 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;
 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;
 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Of all the passages of Scripture that I love and call one of my favorites, this passage is the one that heads the top of the list. Not only is it my favorite, but if I had to choose one that summed up the basics or essentials of everything I believe about living the Christian life, this would be it. I've personally tried to base my faith walk on this passage. Sometimes I've been more successful at it than at other times. But the point is, I think this passage gets at the heart of who we are and who we are called to be.
A. Let's look at verse 2 first. Because I believe if we understand verse 2, it allows us to appropriate and live verse 1. Paul writes: "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." That comes from Paul, who by his own definition, was a Pharisee of Pharisees. They were the conformers of conformers. And now Paul is talking about being a Non-conformist.
Having grown up as a teenager in sixties, you can probably see why this passage had some of its appeal. This passage calls us to be Non-Conformists. Not just for the sake of being different but as part of our walk of faith.
We're called be abnormal. We're not the normal people. Normal is what you see on TV, in the movies, in magazines and in the Reality TV shows. Normal is the big house, fancy car, greedy, bling bling filled, self important, in your face, self centered life of the celebrity that everybody seems to want. Normal is the American Dream on steroids and out of control.
We're called to be abnormal. We're called to live by a different standard.
B. Writer Philip Yancey once made a fascinating observation about finding fulfillment. In his career as a writer and journalist he has interviewed a wide range of people. He divides these people into two groups: stars and servants. For the stars, super star athletes, famous authors, TV personalities, he has only sympathy. These "idols," he says, "are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met."
According to the standards of this age these people have it made. They're famous, they have their pictures in magazines, they live in big, expensive homes. But what we don't see are the troubled marriages, the tormented psyches, the incurable self-doubts.
Yancey contrasts the life-styles of these stars with a group he calls servants. Servants include such people as relief workers in Bangladesh and language experts scattered through the jungles of South America translating the Bible into obscure languages. "I was prepared to honor and admire these servants," Yancey writes, "to uphold them as inspiring examples. I wasn't prepared to envy them."
But envy them he did. As he reflected on the two groups, stars and servants, he declares that "the servants clearly emerge as the favored ones, the graced ones. They work for low pay, long hours, and no applause, "wasting" their talents among the poor and uneducated. Yet somehow in the process of losing their lives, they have found them." (2)
That's a message we all need to hear. It's a non-conformist message that runs counter to the prevailing message of our culture. The words of Paul challenge us to live our lives not conforming to the standards of this age, but to allow ourselves to be transformed and live by the standards of Christ.
And that brings us to verse 1. Paul writes: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
Having read that, let me ask you: "How's your sacrifice?" That may be an odd question, but I'm not sure we even really understand what sacrifice means. I don't think many of us make many sacrifices now days, or maybe I'm just out of touch.
If we don't know what it means to sacrifice, how then can we know how to live as a Living Sacrifice? I remember one Building Campaign we were involved in. One family in particular was already doing everything they thought they could do. Dad and I had talked. They had 2 high school kids and money was tight. They did the same sort of thing we did on Friday or Saturday nights, rent a movie and order pizza. This family decided they would give up renting a movie and calling out for pizza and use that money for the Building Campaign. They did. That was their sacrifice. I shared that story one Sunday and there were several families who decided to do the same thing.
The thing is, many of them still did the movie and pizza night. The pizza was homemade and they watched movies they already owned. One family told me that about six or eight weeks into it, one of their younger boys came to Mom and Dad, and asked, "Do you think we could afford to rent a new movie and buy pizza tonight if I gave up my allowance?"
Those families learned what sacrifice is. That young man understood the idea of sacrifice and was willing to make one because whole family was making one for the church. Guess what, Mom and Dad found the money for pizzas and a movie that night. That boy didn't have to give up his allowance and they were still able to give what they had committed to give for the building program.
They were being Living Sacrifices.
A. Finally, Paul says we're called to be Living Sacrifices so we can be One Body. [4-5] "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another."
Leadership Magazine had a great story about a pastor visiting a church service. He wrote: "It was one of those mornings when the tenor didn't get out of bed on the right side. As I listened to his faltering voice, I looked around. People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist.
"By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn. And by the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range. And by the fourth verse, it was beautiful. And on the fifth verse the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life. That is life in the body of Christ, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us." (3)
That's what Paul means when he says be Transformed. That's what Paul means when he says be a living sacrifice and to be One Body.
B. Herman Ostry's barn floor was under 29 inches of water because of a rising creek. The Bruno, Nebraska, farmer invited a few friends to a barn raising. He needed to move his entire 17,000-pound barn to a new foundation more than 143 feet away. His son Mike devised a lattice work of steel tubing, and nailed, bolted, and welded it on the inside and the outside of the barn. Hundreds of handles were attached. After one practice lift, 344 volunteers slowly walked the barn up a slight incline, each supporting less than fifty pounds. In just three minutes, the barn was on its new foundation. (4)
The body of Christ can accomplish great things when we work together to fulfill the mission and vision God has put before us.
Thomas Merton in The Spring of Contemplation wrote. "People don't want to hear any more words. In our mechanical age, all words have become alike. ... To say "God is Love" is like saying, "Eat Wheaties." If that's true, then it behooves us, as Christians, to take more seriously this call to be Transformed and become Living Sacrifices.
Dare to Deviate, so others can see the Christ is you. Dare to Deviate, so you can be a Transformer. Dare to Deviate. Remember you are the only Bible some people may ever read.
That's it in a nutshell. Dare to Deviate so Christ can make a difference through you.
1. Therefore . . . A sermon by, Pastor Vince Gerhardy, St Luke's Lutheran Church, Nambour - 29th September, 2002
2. "Low Pay, Long Hours, No Applause," Philip Yancey, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, (November 18, 1988), p. 80.
3. John H. Unger, Brandon, Manitoba. Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 4.
4. Joseph F. Mlaker in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
5. Thomas Merton in The Spring of Contemplation. Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 10.
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