Epiphany 1 – Be transformed by the renewal of your mind

Do not be conformed to this world;
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind

We are now in the season of Epiphany – the revealing of love of God in the life and witness of Jesus Christ.  Our season is short this year – only this Sunday and next!  It began last Wednesday with Jesus being revealed as the true King of Jew and Gentile alike.  Next Sunday Jesus will be revealed as the Power of God in his first miracle, but first, this morning he is revealed as the Wisdom of God.

How will we become wise? And how will we see Jesus’ deep Wisdom?

Students know about the importance of study and they are engaged in many ways with learning at our universities, colleges and schools.  What about we who have graduated – are we continuing that education, that renewal inwardly that happens if we are engaged purposefully in thinking?  Or will we allow our inner life to be shaped automatically, by simply filling our minds with the entertainment this world provides.  Will we counter that flood from without with the difficult task of setting our minds on the higher things?

The renewal of our lives begins with faith in God and then attending to the thoughts of our hearts (Romans 12:1-5).  We are called today to consider our Lord, who shows us by his example in the Temple (Luke 2:41-end).  He learned, like we can, by his engagement in important questions of life and God’s Word with the teachers of the Law.  He calls us to deep reflection on God’s Word and its meaning for us in the renewal of our minds and our understanding of what it is to love.

E1 - Christ in the Temple - Duccio Buoninse
Christ in the Temple – Duccio Buoninse

A remarkable thing is revealed in the Gospel today: it is that our Lord chose to experience what human ignorance is and to show us in the flesh how we might become wise.  God took flesh and became a man in every way, except sin, and in such a way that his divine knowing of all things, was put aside, in order for him to become fully a man.  He still had to learn all things as a human being like we learn, even though he was God in the flesh.  The Gospel says, he increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man.

One of our tasks as a Church is to provide people opportunities for the renewal of our minds.  At Holy Trinity we are encouraging daily reading of the Bible – if you have your own pattern, that’s great.  If you find the pattern recommended in the Bulletins and Newsletter or website is too much, try choosing just one of the readings a day.  The total time of the four readings is only about 15 or 20 minutes a day.  Or chose another pattern – the CW pattern is found also through a link on our website to the Daily Prayer.

Maybe it’s helpful to do a quick addition in your mind about how many hours a week you spend watching television or movies.  I’m not saying this is a wrong activity – there are wonderful shows to watch and the quality of shows today can be astonishing – but if we watch what the world provides, without a critical mind and without spending time with God’s Word – we can find ourselves having our minds so easily being conformed to the ideas of this age.  Take time to reflect on what was good in a movie or show and also what is missing or what is in fact a very corrosive idea being put forward – the biggest thing is often simply the complete absence of any reference to the life of faith.  Our minds are shaped by what we feed them – let’s take care of our minds.

There are other ways offered by our Church for the renewing of our minds beyond privately reading the Bible.  We offer Bible studies together and, more recently, the Christian Classics Study Group – which meets this Friday to reflect on the contribution to Christian thought of 19th century Russian novelists.  There is a group of students preparing a Student Alpha course for Lent – and we will have a Lenten program for non-students.  Our (mysterious) Men’s Group, is meeting at the end of the month, great fellowship but also focusing on the questions of Suffering, and the obstacle it can be in proclaiming the Gospel to others outside the Church.

I’m sure I can speak for Grant Crowe in saying that he and I, your chaplains, are always most ready to engage in questions – and some of you take us up on this!

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Beyond the fact that Jesus clearly studied God’s Word and talked with others about it, asking questions, there is another reason that Jesus grew so quickly in wisdom and stature.

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Jesus with the Scribes, Rembrandt van Rijn

He lived a life in perfect obedience to that Word.  His life was holy, and so unhindered from the vision that God would open up to all of us.

St Paul calls on us “to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  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.”

St Paul is connecting how we live with our ability to see what is good.  Remember Jesus says in the beatitudes, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5) How we live, what thoughts preoccupy our hearts, will affect our ability to see what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Not only the Bible, but all of Creation spoke to Jesus about the marvels of God’s glory, think of how often Jesus used examples from nature in his parables (e.g. when he speaks about the properties of vines as an image of our lives of suffering and bearing more fruit) – all of life becomes for us a classroom as we grow in holiness.

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Nowhere in the life of Jesus does his example become more profoundly counter to worldly wisdom than in is offering up of himself on the Cross for the world, and his call to us to follow him in this.

From St Paul to the Corinthians…

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, ‘I 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.” (1 Corinthians 1.19-25)

Crucifixion-elgrecochrist
The Crucifixion, el Greco

As one preacher puts it, (from a sermon by Fr Crouse)…”St Paul’s 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…  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… And that wisdom is ours, to believe, and to understand, and to make our own…

“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 you, O Lord.”

Amen. +