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Paul says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” That’s a lot harder than it sounds.
David Brooks is a columnist for the NY Times and the author of several books. Brooks makes a pretty convincing case that the present age, the time in which we live, is marked and stamped by, what he calls, the Big Me. Brooks saw this quite clearly one evening when he was watching a football game on TV. The quarterback threw a short pass to a receiver who was immediately tackled for a two-yard gain. And then the defender did what all professional football players do. He did an obnoxious victory dance while standing over top of the receiver. And what Brooks noticed, what stood out to him was the bold and outrageous celebration of self—Look at me; Look at how great I am!
Brooks calls this “the Big Me.” We think that we’re the most important person in the world, and that we’re the center of the universe. And this is the shape of the present age; it’s the air we breathe.
Take the way we communicate with each other. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat all encourage us to share every moment of our day and every thought that passes through our heads as if we’re extraordinary and marvelous and everybody should look at what we’re doing and listen to what we have to say.
Or take the way we shop. Amazon, for example, is amazingly good at giving us exactly what we want. If we’re shopping for a bbq grill, well, suddenly a dozen different grills appear at our fingertips. It’s like a genie there to serve us and our special wants and desires. We don’t have to navigate our way through a confusing store or deal with other people. It’s all about what I want.
Even colleges and universities are getting in on the act. It seems like the pitch line for every college out there anymore is “You can be who you want to be.” Not that it provides an excellent and rigorous education, but that you can fulfill your dreams. It’s all about me.
The Big Me. It’s the air we breathe. It’s the shape of the world we live in—to think that we’re the most important person in the universe. And it’s not just out there. It’s also in here.
It’s why we only participate in activities as long as there’s something in it for me, as if the only thing important in life is the Big Me. Or, we get wildly offended when someone doesn’t agree with us, as if the only opinion that ever really counts is my own and everyone else should just listen to me. Or, instead of thinking, “How can I be helpful in this situation,” we often think “Do I like it?” “Am I having fun?” Or, we’re really quick to notice the faults of others, but we rarely admit to our own. Instead, we always want people to affirm us, tell us how good we’re doing, and applaud our accomplishments. Or, we’re quick to complain when other people get in our way, or slow us down, or don’t do what we want them to do. As if whatever is going on in their life doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that they’re keeping me from doing what I want to do.
It’s not only out there; it’s in here too. We have become the center of the universe.
That’s why when we use a different liturgy from the new hymnal people complain that they just don’t like it. There’s no discussion of whether its faithful, or how it incorporates the scriptures and teaches us to hear and use them, or how well or poorly it presents the gospel. It’s just “I don’t like it!” as if the point of the liturgy is to serve what I want, instead of to give us Christ through the gospel. The Big Me.
This why when the pastor, or the church council, or the elders, or the trustees take some action you don’t like, you make snide, snarky comments, as if the only legitimate course of action is the one you think should be taken. Never mind that God himself has put these people into these positions. If their ideas don’t line up with yours, you just make rude comments, instead of trying to be understanding, supportive, and encouraging, instead of trusting that God has put them here for the good of the body. The Big Me.
That’s why we like to say we’re all about the Word of God, until, that is, God’s Word contradicts what we want. It serves us to say that—Hey! Look at us; we’re all about the Word! And then Jesus says something like, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” And since that doesn’t particularly serve our desires, we set it to the side, and say that the Word is just all about me and my forgiveness, all about me getting to go to heaven, and then we carry on with the rest of our lives as if God didn’t matter at all. The Big Me.
Paul begins Romans chapter 12 by encouraging us not to be squeezed into the shape of the present evil age—not to be squeezed into the shape of the Big Me. Instead of letting the present age squeeze us into its mold and dictate our lives, Paul encourages us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
And the basis of this renewal is the gospel, the good news that a whole new age has begun, right in the middle of this present one, in Jesus Christ and by the power of the Spirit. God in his mercy and love has given new life—a new way of life—to the world. And he’s done it by gathering up all the self-centered, self-seeking, self-promoting sin of this age and condemning it to death in the flesh of Jesus. God has brought it all to end—over, done—so that the only thing to be found down the road of the Big Me is death. But three days later in the resurrection of Jesus, God launched a whole new creation, a new age ruled, shaped, and determined by the mercy and love of God.
And God has put his mercy and love to work for you, rescuing you from this present evil age and making you a part of his new creation. And He’s done it by taking you out of the picture altogether.
You see, the only one whose opinion finally counts is God—the one who made you and the one you will have to reckon with when all is said and done. And God has chosen you as his own beloved child. And it had nothing to do with your opinions. It had nothing to do with how smart you are or how great your ideas are. It has nothing to do with you at all. God has chosen you as his own child, made you his son or daughter in Christ Jesus, freely, as a matter of his love, without any consideration of who you are and what you’ve done. You have been baptized into Christ not because you deserve it or because you’re somehow more in the know or more accomplished or of better stock than anyone else. You have been baptized into Christ and made a part of his new creation purely out of God’s mercy, out of his love and compassion.
What sits at the center of the whole universe is not the Big Me—not my wants and desires and not yours. What sits at the center of the whole universe is the mercy and love of God in Jesus Christ. And we are debtors to that mercy and love. To live for ourselves, to serve our wants and desires, is finally to be out of step with the new life, the new creation God has launched in Jesus. So, Paul says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” That is your calling in life. Not to worry about yourself, but to reflect to others the same mercy and love that God has shown you in Jesus. And God has given us each other to work out that calling.
It always amazes me to look around at the church, to look around at the people gathered here. Here’s a group of people who probably wouldn’t have a whole lot to do with one another apart from Christ Jesus. Many of us don’t share the same interests or hobbies. Chances are that not many of us would have anything to do with one another. Shoot, we may never have even met, if not for our baptisms into Christ. But each of us has been baptized into Christ, brought into God’s new creation, and so brought together with one another. As Paul says, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Or again, in Ephesians, Paul writes, “There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of [us] all…” And that means that this—this gathering of people here—this is a family. A family united by baptism into Christ Jesus as beloved children of God. There’s a saying that goes: blood is thicker than water. And that’s true…unless you’re talking about the water of Holy Baptism.
In baptism, God has made us a part of something greater than ourselves. He has made us part of his new creation, his new family. He has made us members of the body of Christ and so members of one another. We’re not just a random group of people who happen to show up at the same time here in this building. We are connected, joined, and bonded together in and by the love of God in Christ.
And God has given us each other, God has made us part of something greater than ourselves, so that we can love and serve one another. God gives each of us unique skills and talents and gifts. But God doesn’t give them to us so that we can show off. God doesn’t give them to us for personal gain. God gives them to us so that we can reflect his mercy and love to the rest of the body of Christ. That is your calling, that is what your whole life is about, as a child of God and a member of the body of Christ: not to think too highly of yourself, but to build up this body. To live in the reign of God’s love by asking: How can I be helpful and supportive? What needs to be done? How can I give of what I have? Who can I serve?
As Paul says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing 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 himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.