A Sermon for
the First Sunday After
"Be not Conformed"
By Dr. Robert Crouse
"Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12.2)We celebrate now the Epiphany of our Lord: his manifestation, his showing forth, or shining forth; the appearing of the new Sun of Righteousness, the light which shines in the darkness, the light which all this world's darkness can never overcome. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4.6) That is the theme of the Epiphany: the shining forth of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, who is "the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1.24).
Many events in the Gospels are particularly associated with the Epiphany. First, of course, there is the coming of the star-led Magi, the wise men from the East, who bring their gifts of gold, and incense, and myrrh "sacred gifts of mystic meaning" acknowledging the infant as King, as God, and as sacrifice. Then there is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, with the visible descent of the Spirit, and the declaration of his divine sonship. And on the Sundays after Epiphany the Gospel lessons are chiefly concerned with the miracles of Jesus, in which his divine power is manifest.
But on this first Sunday after Epiphany, we have the story of Jesus' visit to the Temple at Jerusalem, at the age of twelve, and his conversation with the doctors, "both hearing them, and asking them questions." It's the only story the Gospels give us of the childhood of Jesus, and it is an interesting and remarkable story in many ways. But the chief point of it as the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, is the showing forth of divine wisdom. "He is the power of God and the wisdom of God", and his divine power will be shown in his miracles. But first, he is the wisdom of God, and that is what we are invited to consider today: Christ as the Epiphany of the wisdom of God.
In the Scriptures, and especially in the Epistles of St. Paul, the wisdom of God is often contrasted with the wisdom of this world, or the wisdom of this present age: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written,'l will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.'Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, the weakness of God is stronger than men." So says St. Paul to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 1.19-25)
His point is that the enfleshment of God in Christ, his suffering and dying for our salvation, is a fact which stands in contradiction to all worldly wisdom, to all worldly calculation and expectation, in contradiction to all the schemes our cleverness might devise. The wisdom of God, in Christ, breaks in upon us as a contradiction, and gives us a new knowledge; a new starting-point or perspective. And our life as Christians is radically dependent upon that knowledge, that revelation of divine wisdom."Be not conformed to this world (to the wisdom of this present age), but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."
The temptations to conformity are ever with us. The spirit of the age presses in upon us; the claims of expediency, of common-sense, of majority opinion (or majority sentiment) seem often very strong indeed; and we as individuals, and we as a Christian community, often find ourselves puzzled and confused as to just what is "that good and acceptable, and perfect will of God." All too often, we are quite mindlessly carried along by the spirit of the age, blown hither and yon by winds of alien teaching.
But the wisdom of God, the mystery hidden from the foundation of the world, is now manifest in Christ, "For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1.9-10) And that wisdom is ours, to believe, and to understand, and to make our own, by the renewing of our mind, that we may prove what is God's will.
In the series of Gospel lessons for the Epiphany Sundays, first comes the Epiphany of divine wisdom, then the Epiphany of divine power in the miracles. And that order is vitally important, for, as today's collect puts it, first we must perceive and know what things we ought to do, and then we must have grace and power to do them. The development of perception and knowledge necessarily comes first, for power without wisdom, activity without perception and knowledge, is vain. The tendency of our age, the wisdom of this world, and the temptation of the Church, is towards such mindless and vain activity, towards expediency, towards faddish and fashionable innovation. "Be not conformed."
The Incarnate Lord the enfleshed word of God shines forth as a light in the darkness; and despite all our perplexities and confusions and perversities, the darkness can never overcome that light. Let us then look to that light which is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4.6) May our minds be renewed in that vision. "Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord." Amen. +
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