When Paul wrote his letter preserved in the Bible as the book of Romans, the pattern of the world was in an early stage of the pattern typical of all addictive lifestyles. The Roman Empire dominated his social environment with its militarily imposed solutions. Merchants thrived only if they catered to the politicians of their day who controlled the military. The common folk survived only if they submitted to the authority of the those higher up in the hierarchy of a class-conscious society. That pattern of so-called civilization reflected the addictive qualities of lust for power and pleasure, greed, gluttony, sloth, envy, vanity and anger. The seven “deadly symptoms of addiction” were at work in their early stages of destruction of humanity’s destiny.
Paul wrote then “Be not conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by a renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) And he urged this wisdom upon his audience because that was the way to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” In short, the pattern of his cultural context failed to reflect the will of God as Jesus manifested it. Paul saw the contrast between the Rome-dominated culture in which he lived and the way Jesus urges us to live. Today the contrast has become many times starker because our current culture has advanced beyond an early stage of addictive living into a very advanced stage. (All addictions are progressive diseases. That is their primary pattern. That is the kind of “progress” we’ve made over the centuries since Paul wrote his letter.)
Failing to heed Paul’s wisdom, we now stumble all over ourselves in relentless pursuit of universal irresponsibility as we head for the bottom like alcoholics, after spiraling downward over the centuries into a culture awash with addictions so blatant that we market many of them heedlessly as socially desirable qualities of life — while we bitterly complain about others as spouses of alcoholics complain about their spouses’ habits and try to control their addictions. Even the institution that people set up to supposedly reveal the truth about God that Jesus’ life made known has succumbed to the temptations of the addictive lifestyle called “co-dependency” or “enabling” to become primarily a version of society’s social networking for fun, comfort, convenience and profit. Maximizing social approval and amassing wealth and power through popularity has consumed our dignity as well as our integrity. We’ve become more the bride of an addiction-addled Frankenstein than the Bride of Christ.
We who populate the Church that is based on the one foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord fail miserably to honor Jesus when social pressures to conform to the pattern of this world press hard upon us. Like those in Paul’s day, we prefer to conform to get along rather than be transformed at the risk that we might no longer be welcomed to belong. To belong within the profit-driven, convenience-supporting culture of our day tempts us too much. We prefer to give lip-service to Jesus’ teachings rather than risk standing out as an expression of God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace wherever such love, mercy and grace is needed. We avoid the social lepers of our day rather than walk among them to welcome them into the Kingdom of God’s grace. And when we do invite them in, we mistakenly equate God’s righteousness with the prevailing norms of our society and help the outcast to conform as we have to the pattern of this world. We have not allowed it to sink it that that conforming to the social norms is not a high ideal, clearly not an ideal worthy of calling it Jesus’ best to which he calls us.
Instead of following Jesus into the trenches to comfort, heal and bless those to whom he ministers, we out-source our responsibilities to others. We set up and fund governmental and nonprofit agencies to care for the sick, the lame, the outcast and the socially undesirable rather than care for them ourselves directly within our lifestyles. We insulate our lifestyles from such misery and prevent the flow of God’s healing power from reaching them as adequately as it reached the woman with an issue of blood who reached out to dare to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak. We fail to walk among the disabled members of our society as Peter and John did so that we might meet them in the city gates and offer them Christ’s amazing power that Jesus generously makes available through us when we gather two or more in the name and nature of the Christ.
By out-sourcing our responsibilities as Jesus’ followers, we attempt to out-source our privileges and power too. The power to heal does not flow when government officials and employees of nonprofits gather together as paid servants and pursuers of personal income, power and glory. That is not the opportunity for which Jesus waits patiently to empower his followers. He waits for his faithful followers to actively engage in ministry to the least of these for no purpose other than to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” God wants us to demonstrate His/Her divine nature as Jesus once did while walking on the Earth in the flesh. All who place their faith in Jesus are welcome to model God’s divine power on Earth as it is in heaven. Few bother to take up God’s offer to do so. For that reason alone, many are those who fail to encounter God’s love and healing power today. So long as we refuse to hold ourselves accountable to God for the use of our life, energy, time and resources, we are conforming to the pattern of this addiction-driven world. And we are failing to live according to our privileges and power as we shirk our duties.
When Jesus lived on Earth, he walked in his power and privileges as an expression of the responsibilities God wants to take for His/Her creation. Jesus honored all of humanity and all of Nature throughout his life because he knew his oneness with God, us and Nature. We can do the same because he shows us how and expresses himself as the Christ through each of us who surrender our lives to that same purpose. We cannot conform to this world’s patterns of hard-heartedness and still demonstrate the will of God to share Himself/Herself with all of us. We must serve a risen savior who is in the world today. As this hymn reminds us, we know he lives because he lives within our tender hearts: I Serve a Risen Savior.
To this mission of mercy and power we are all called. Let’s band together to heed this call so radically that others will notice as we dare to be that nonconformist — even controversial among the members of the congregations who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord. It is time to claim him as Lord, the one who rules our lives because we allow him to rule within our hearts and minds without holding anything of our lives back from his dominion. Either a worldly realm or a heavenly realm holds sway in our lives. As it has been said before, we cannot serve two masters. Remaining divided in our allegiance will perpetuate our decline as addicts and co-dependents of addicts. It matters not the details of the “type” of addictions to which we succumb. The pattern of all is the same. We must no longer conform to it if we are to serve according to our responsibilities, privileges and power.
© Art Nicol 2017