Sermon series: Christ the Center
In C.E. Montague's novel, Rough Justice, a memorable scene describes a little boy named Bron going to church for the first time with his governess. He watches with interest every part of the service. The preacher climbs into the high pulpit and Bron hears him tell some terrible news. It is about a brave and kind man who was nailed to a cross, terribly hurt, a long time ago, and who still feels a dreadful pain even now, because there was something not done that he wants them all to do.
Little Bron thinks that the preacher is telling the story because a lot of people are there and they will do something about it. Bron is sitting impatiently on the edge of the pew. He can hardly wait to see what the first move will be in righting this injustice. But he sits quietly and decides that after the service someone will do something about it. Little Bron begins to weep, but nobody else seems at all upset. The service is over. The people walk away as if they had not heard such terrible news, as if nothing remarkable had happened.
As Bron leaves the church, he is trembling. His governess looks at him and says, "Bron, don't take it to heart. Someone will think you are different."
Different - to be alive and sensitive in one's spirit.
Different - to show emotion.
Different - to listen to what is going on in God's house, really to hear, to respond.
Different - to take Jesus Christ seriously.
Ought not Christians be different? Ought not we be distinct, separate, not the same, out of the ordinary, unusual? Christ was distinct, separate, out of the ordinary, and he called his followers to be like him.
The Biblical word "holy" describes the contemporary word "different". A holy person is not an odd person, but a different person. A holy person has a quality about their life that is unique. Their present lifestyle is not only changed from past lifestyles, but is set apart from the lifestyles of the unbelievers around them. A holy person takes Jesus Christ seriously.
Believers in Christ have been called to live this unique life and different lifestyle. Peter wrote, "But, as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, 'Be holy, because I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-16). Actually, "called" may be too passive a word. We have been commanded to live a holy life - "energetic and blazing with holiness" - as Eugene Petersen described this life in The Message. Someone once said, "We may choose a married life or a single life, but it is not left to us to choose whether or not we live a holy life." Holiness is not an option. It is mandatory.
I. The problem with being different
"Hold the phone, wait just a minute," I can hear someone saying. This holiness thing is just a little bit too much for me. The problem is that we don't want to be different. Why is that?
A. We value conformity
We don't want to stand out from the crowd. We wear the same style of clothes, talk the latest slang, we conform to the "in" things. Like Bron's governess, what we fear most in life is being different. We don't want to be perceived as being odd. We have become an assembly-line society. We are terrified of being set apart.
B. We visualize a caricature of holiness
Furthermore, we don't like the idea of holiness because, we think, it communicates an attitude and displays actions that have become known as "holier-than-thou." We disdain a spirituality and behavior that puts one on a pedestal as being better than the rest. Jesus despised this type of mentality and morality in the Pharisees, and we agree with him.
C. We misunderstand what it means to be holy
And to add additional weight to our reasons for not living a life of holiness is because it conjures up images of being a monk or priest. We think that holy people live in far-away monasteries, separate themselves from any kind of fun and frivolity, and trade in their luxury cars, comfortable homes, and well-paying jobs for a Peace Corps stint in a developing county. Consequently, we say, "Not for me."
Real holiness, the genuine and authentic character of being different, is none of those things. Yet it is more than that. What does it mean to be different? The apostle Peter answers that question.
II. The meaning of being different
A. It means that we think differently (v. 13)
To be different begins with the proper preparation of our minds. Peter uses a Middle Eastern analogy to describe how one is to prepare their minds. During his time men wore long, flowing robes. When they were preparing to run or to do physical labor, they usually lifted their robes and secured them with a belt or girdle around their waist. This allowed them the freedom of movement they needed to perform their work.
Today, we would used the expression to "roll up our sleeves." In other words, we are to take the initiative in preparing our minds for the life of holiness. It will required effort and hard work.
Behavioral scientists have discovered that human behavior is determined to a great extent by the subconscious mind. The computer vocabulary graphically describes the potential of human behavior, "Garbage in, garbage out." In the same way, to be different begins with our minds. Our minds must be holy if our behavior is to be holy.
"For as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Prov. 23:7) says the writer of Proverbs. The apostle Paul warns us not to let the world squeeze us into its mold, "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2).
B. It means that we live differently (v. 17)
A natural outgrowth of our right thinking is right living. When we begin to think new thoughts, we begin to live a distinct life.
Henry Thoreau, a rugged New England individualist of the nineteenth century, once went to jail rather than pay his poll tax to a state that supported slavery. During this period he wrote his essay "Civil Disobedience".
Thoreau's good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, hurried to visit him in jail. Peering through the bars exclaimed: "Why, Henry, what are you doing in there?"
The sharp witted Thoreau replied, "Nay, Ralph, the question is, what are you doing out there?"
Who is the different one - Little Bron or his governess? Thoreau in jail or the rest of us outside?
Thoreau was not a churchman because he thought the churches of his day were too convention-bound - and perhaps he was right. Yet in his book Walden he speaks often of God. He explains that he went to Walden Pond to live the simple life because he wanted to find those answers that you and I seek: "I went to the woods because I wished . . . to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discovered that I had not lived."
At another time this amazing man commented: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Any man or woman who accomplishes anything worthwhile must have the courage to live differently because they are marching to a different drummer and are not afraid to be out of step.
C. It means that we love differently (v. 22)
Love sets us apart. Love is the display of holiness. Love is the litmus test for Christians.
It is not just any kind of love. It is a:
Sincere love. It is genuine, authentic. Like God's love for us. Our motive is not to get, but to give.
Deep love. It is intense, fervent. It means to love with all of our strength. Christian love is not a feeling. It is a matter of the will.
Pure love. It is spotless, clean. Men speak romantically about loving from the heart, but God speaks realistically about loving from a pure heart.
This is the same kind of love Jesus talked about when he said, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Love one another - sincerely, deeply, and purely - and people will know that you are different. They will know that you are followers of Christ.
In the first century a pagan went to report on the early church movement. He visited a compound where Christians were living together. He intended to write something bad. Instead he wrote, "Behold, how they love one another."
D. It means that we talk differently (v. 2:1)
Different thinking leads to different living, which in turn leads to loving differently, which leads to different talking. The words we use reveal most obviously if we are truly different or not. We live in a world that uses words to put people down and tear people up. Those who are different use their words to build people up.
Words are powerful. Words have the power to edify, to give life, but they also have the power to discourage and to kill dreams. Have you ever had your joy stolen because of someone's reckless words, or had your self-esteem destroyed by someone's hurtful words?
One day a man went to the YMCA to pick up his son from swimming. While he waited on his son to change clothes, he wandered toward the deep end of the pool to watch a young boy practicing dives off the diving board. The kid was twelve or thirteen. Oblivious to the other swimmers around him, he shot off the board with his body folded into a flat 'V,' his feet lifting up to meet his outstretched hands. He opened again at the top of the dive, his head coming backwards, his arms opening out and away to break the surface of the water, his body knifing straight in with a small splash.
The observer figured he had taken lessons. The boy executed three more dives as fine as the first. Each performed with confidence, without hesitation or doubt.
Then, as the boy climbed out after the fourth dive, his father came out of the locker room. The boy grabbed the man's hand and towed him the board, talking excitedly. The boy said, "I can do it Dad, that dive we saw on the Olympics replay."
"No you can't," he dad said as he let go of the kid's hand. "You can't do that, can you?"
Then the man observing saw it: the slight drop of the kid's shoulders, the shortened step that made him lose his balance, the sudden change around his eyes as his intensity and confidence faltered for the first time.
He climbed the board, walked to the middle, looked at his dad as if waiting or hoping for something, but the man did nothing. Right from the start the dive was different. The strides were shorter, and less sure of themselves; they missed the previous spot by at least a foot, so the kid did not get the save leverage as before. Without the springboard's power he could not gain the needed height. He was forced to bend his knees in the 'V,' but even then he had no time to open again and he crashed clumsily into the water.
As the boy climbed out at his father's feet, the dad said, "I knew you couldn't do that dive yet, but if you work at it you might get it someday." He patted the boy's shoulder. "You want to try again?" The boy shook his head, then walked away to the locker room while his dad stayed outside.
Today the world has a desperate need for people who are different. We need people who will carry their faith into the office, into Congress, into society, into the school, into the home. We need people who will be different even if it will cost them their social popularity, their economic fortunes, or their very lives.
One does not obtain that kind of distinctiveness except through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the one that issues the drumbeat of the Different Drummer. He is the one that calls us to stand out of the crowd, to be distinct, separate, unusual. He calls us to be different.