Meditation on Romans 12:1-8
Aug. 27, 2017
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
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. 2Do 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. 3 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. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
I missed you all last weekend! I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to join you for the preschool workday on Saturday. More than 30 volunteers, including some Scouts, gathered to weed, trim and tidy the grounds, paint, clean, and prepare for the new school year.
Thank you so much!!
I was studying for and taking exams for two courses–“Rules and Regulations for Childcare Centers” and “Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse.”
Millions of children suffer abuse and/or neglect each year that impact their cognitive, physical, and emotional development. The United States has the highest rate of child abuse of any industrialized country. An average of 4 to 7 children die each day from child abuse in America. As a member of the clergy, I am a mandated reporter for child abuse. But did you know that in Florida, every adult is required by law to report any suspected abuse or neglect? Failure to report suspected child abuse is a third degree felony.
Our country didn’t always have laws to protect children. The general attitude in America up through much of the 19th century was what went on in a family should be kept in the home. Children were possessions of their fathers. Child abuse and neglect were tolerated, ignored. But there were some people, such as a Christian woman named Etta Angell Wheeler, who was deeply concerned about unloved children.
While Etta’s husband, Charles, worked long hours reporting for the New York Daily News, Etta served her community and the Lord as a missionary for St. Luke’s Mission in NYC. She visited the sick, lonely, poor and shut in, bringing meals, supplies and donations. She was assigned two routes: between West 38th Street and West 42nd Street and between 47th Street and 53rd Street. These areas of Manhattan later became known as Hell’s Kitchen. Etta extended her care to people who were not part of the church.
The story of a little girl, cruelly treated, came to her from a quiet, reserved Scots woman, who sought her out while she was making her rounds. Etta says this in her testimony, at the American Humane Association’s website, facesofchildabuse.org. The woman had heard the cries of a girl, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, locked in an inner room of a rear tenement with windows darkened, alone, sometimes, for entire days. Etta knocked at the door of an apartment adjoining the rooms where the child and her family lived, not knowing what reason she would give for coming; she met a young German immigrant woman who was very ill. Etta sat on the side of her bed and listened as the woman poured out her story, then asked about her neighbors. The woman had heard crying and worried the child may be ill. Etta promised to visit the German woman, again, then knocked at the door of the apartment next door. “A woman’s sharp voice asked my errand,” Etta says, and she began talking about the sick and lonely woman that lived next door, until the door opened, and she was in the apartment and could see the child briefly. She was “pale, thin, barefoot” and wore a thin, scanty, tattered dress. And it was December, 1873. The weather was bitterly cold.
Small for her 9 years, Mary Ellen McCormack stood on a low stool washing dishes “struggling with a frying pan about as heavy as herself. Across the table lay a brutal whip of twisted leather strands and the child’s meager arms and legs bore many marks of its use. But the saddest part of her story was written on her face… the face of a child unloved, of a child that had seen only the fearsome side of life… I went away determined, with the help of a kind Providence, to rescue her from her miserable life.”
But how was this to be done? Etta spoke to her pastor and was told they could not interfere. Weeks and months passed. Easter Sunday came. Etta went to church, with thoughts of the dying German woman and the child weighing heavily upon her. She brought altar flowers to the woman, and they spoke of “Christ and the Resurrection,” “of the glorious meaning of Easter Day, and … the child alone in the darkness.” They prayed for her release. At the suggestion of Etta’s niece, Etta then approached Henry Bergh, founder of the SPCA–Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals–for help. “She is a little animal, surely,” the niece said.
Bergh agreed to pursue the case. After the well-publicized trial, the Supreme Court ruled to remove Mary Ellen from her abusive home, and sentenced her guardian to a year in jail. Then Henry Bergh and Elbridge Gerry, the prosecutor of Mary Ellen’s case and grandson to former Vice President Elbridge T. Gerry, worked to establish The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The first 2 verses of Romans 12 are some of the best known in the NT. This is the Christian response to the gracious gift we have in Jesus Christ. The first 11 chapters of Paul’s letter to the Roman Church lead to this point, when Paul builds on his teaching of how to live as the faithful people of God, to walk a different path, as he says in chapter 6, in “newness of life.” In Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins, “Therefore, I exhort you, brothers and sisters, through the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” He is intentionally using Old Testament language to contrast this new covenant in Jesus, who is, as John’s gospel proclaims in 1:29, “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Done are the animal sacrifices for atonement. No more! This sacrifice is giving up old ways and attitudes and living in such a way that that is holy and pleasing to God, guided by the spirit, led by faith, powered by love. This new life we are called to is our “spiritual worship or service,” as this word is also translated.
Then we reach the main point of the passage. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.” What is going to cause this transformation that God expects? The “renewing of our minds!” We can’t think like the rest of the world, just as Etta Wheeler refused to look the other way when she learned of a child being cruelly abused during a time when it wasn’t against the law–and frankly, not many people cared what happened to other people’s children. Most didn’t want to interfere, as Etta’s pastor advised, in someone else’s family business.
If what Paul says in verse 2 is true, then it is also true that if our thinking conforms to the thinking of the world, and we are not transformed by the renewing of our minds, then we are not in the will of God. We are not doing what is “good and acceptable and perfect.”
So, here it is–how we can know that we are in the will of God: we are using the spiritual gifts the Lord gives every member of the body of Christ to love and serve others. The spiritual gifts are not given to us so that we may claim a certain status or importance in our community! The gifts should HUMBLE us and make us so grateful to the GIVER that we want to serve God even more.
This is what Paul means when he says, “don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” Everyone is important and necessary. You know this. You’ve heard it many times, not just in Romans but also 1 Corinthians 12. But do you believe it? “Not all the members have the same function,” Paul says, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ and individually members of each other.”
Our differences should not lead us to draw lines in the sand, but we do it anyway. Christians do it! We embrace some people who think like us and exclude others we decide not to like, let alone love. Our spiritual gifts and the renewing power of God’s love will lead us to overcome whatever threatens to divide us! Don’t give in to the world’s thinking!
Listen to the promise in Paul’s words: “We who are many, are one!”
Mary Ellen McCormack, a little girl so cruelly abused, lived a very different life after the trial of 1874.
The New York State Supreme Court verdict didn’t completely change the way people thought about children; it didn’t end child abuse. But it stirred awareness and compassion in some for the plight of abused and neglected children. Dozens of private child protection groups sprang up in the decades to come. When hearts and minds were changed, lives were saved! Eventually, child protection legislation was passed and government agencies charged with seeing to the welfare of children.
Mary Ellen spent the rest of her childhood with Etta Wheeler’s family, living first with her mother in the country, learning to play and not be afraid. Then she moved in with Etta’s sister, Mary, when her mother died. She went to school, church and Sunday school. At 24, she married a man with 3 children; the couple had two more daughters and adopted an orphan, another girl. Their children’s joyful childhood, by all accounts, was in sharp contrast to Mary Ellen’s first 9 years. She died in 1956 at age 92.
Like Etta Wheeler, MIPC also has a heart for children. We want to help them play, learn and grow to know Christ and His love.
We want them to feel safe and never afraid. This Tuesday night, we will have another opportunity to love children, help families, and serve the Lord with our gifts when the preschool hosts an open house and potluck. The congregation is invited! As we share food and fellowship, hearts will be transformed. Minds renewed. We will be reminded, once again, that we, who are many, are ONE!
Let us pray. Holy one, thank you for the renewing, transforming power of your love. We are offer ourselves–our bodies and minds–as a living sacrifice to you. Thank you for the gifts you have poured into this congregation–the many human resources that we have, gathered in this place of worship, poised to love and serve God and neighbor. Stir us to acts of kindness and compassion and to advocate for the rights and protection of all children. And remove all anxiety and temptation, when it comes, to draw lines in the sand, liking and embracing only some people, excluding others. Remind us, each day, of your grace, revealed in Jesus Christ. Move us to humility and gratitude. Remind us that we who are many, belong to YOU! Make us ONE. In Christ we pray. Amen.