Sunday, February 05, 2006

Harold's sermon at the Cathedral Sunday February 5, 2006

God in Your Grace Transform the World
For the opening of The Annual Convention
The Diocese of East Kerala
The Church of South India
Sunday February5, 2006

Bishop Samuel, Brother pastors, fellow church leaders, brothers and sisters in Christ. I am humbled to accept this honor to bring God’s Word to you on this beautiful and important day. I bring loving greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Reformed Church in America and most especially from those who belong to the parish I serve in New York. They send their warmest greeting and want you to know how much they admire your work and ministry in South India.

A long, long time ago God created, he formed…. The day and the night, the dry earth and the swelling seas. God – full of love – then formed a man - a human creature like himself in many ways – but most especially this man was created with the capacity to be relational – to have deep and loving relationships with others. This was the heart of God’s work of forming.

Our creator God is a relational God – we have come to know our God as a God who makes and keeps covenants – promises like the one he first uttered to Father Abraham when God promised “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” ( Genesis 12:2). This has been the intention of God from the very beginning – to have a people who would offer love and commitment back to the One who created them and the one who keeps them – the one who provides for them.

I begin at this first encounter between humanity and God because any conversation we have about transformation or renewal must go back to what we were originally “formed” for. In other words we cannot just talk about transformation by itself – like so many of my silly American brothers and sisters are prone to do these days. In the current culture I come from the pursuit of transformation has gone crazy and has no basis – except perhaps self interest. Millions of people each day go to health clubs or gymnasiums so that they might “exercise” ( I confess I do this myself). They spend hours lifting weights and riding bicycles that don’t go anywhere at all – they stay stationary – its all done just to expend human energy and to develop strong and thin bodies. Now some do have a more noble purpose in doing this sort of thing – they are attempting to become physically more healthy – but many just want to make themselves just look better – they want to look like the advertisements on our television and after my first two weeks here with you and having seen your television shows as well – I can see where the television is trying to convince your culture as well that we must all look glamorous and stylish as your television personalities do as well.

In other words there is a strong pursuit in both our cultures to be transformed – the question is really what do we desire to be transformed into? Do we desire to be transformed into looking like movie stars? Professional soccer players? Or some other shallow idea that the advertisers and marketers put before us?

Of course I know your answer – NO! This is not the transformation intended by your theme of your annual convention; God in Your Grace Transform the World. And that is why I chose to begin with what God was wanting to create in the first place - at the beginning of time. The transformation which we seek is to return to the way our God originally created us – to be a people who live in a pure and true relationship of abiding love and steadfast commitment to our Creator. When the Lord heard the cry of his people in the time of Moses the Lord said to the people through Moses: `I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment, 7and I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6-7).

This is the first point – if we are to be transformed we must return to the original intention of God who created us/ formed us to be a covenant people.

Secondly, we must reflect upon the purpose of transformation. As I just illustrated transformation can be pursued for some very selfish reasons. We may become entirely devoted to a process of personal transformation that has nothing to do with the intentions of God. We may work to re- form ourselves into better looking – perhaps more successful people in our community – or even work to gain great personal power. But this is not the purpose of God’s work in transforming our lives. Let me return to the stories of Abraham and Moses. When God called Abraham to go off to a new land he made a covenant with him and promised Abraham that he would make Abraham into a great nation. We must not miss the purpose which is so clearly stated in Genesis chapter 12 at the end of verse 2 “I will make your name that you will be a blessing. Then follow to the end of verse 3 in chapter 12 where the Lord again says: “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Do you see what God is doing here? God has formed a particular people (Israel in this story, the Church of Jesus Christ in our day) and God did not form them so that they might just be powerful or great. God does not bless them just for themselves alone. The Lord formed his people from the very beginning so that they may bless the world!

Years ago I taught a Bible study program which had this theme as its motto; “Blessed to be a Blessing”. This is what God desires from his people. So again I applaud your theme: God in Your Grace Transform the World. Its is not just for ourselves that we seek transformation – it is for the sake of the world which the Lord loves so much that he offered his own son on the cross as the greatest statement of such love.

The next point is to recognize that God does the forming and the reforming. It is the Lord who brings renewal to his people. We do not transform ourselves – contrary to the illusions of modern day culture which rushes off to gymnasiums and health clubs – a culture which consumes self help books and get rich quick schemes. Again, your theme reminds us: God in Your Grace Transform the World. It is by God’s grace that transformation takes place – we don’t do it ourselves. To be honest we don’t have the ability nor do we have the inclination. How many of us have made a promise to ourselves to do something and then by the second week of trying to do that thing we have given up on it? Transformation –to be re-formed into the special people of God who will bless the world and bring forth the kingdom of God is something which will only happen as we seek God’s mercy and grace. The power in this comes from the Holy Spirit which desires to dwell in each of us if we open our hearts.

If we agree that transformation is the process in which we return to the original desire of God for our lives and acknowledge that such change only comes to us and our world by God’s free grace and not by our own ability, we must now ask how transformation occurs. The Apostle Paul is also very interested in transformation and in the 12th chapter of his letter to the Romans he tells us about this transformation:
1I 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 renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Look at how Paul also begins by reminding us that this only happens by God’s mercy, God’s grace. He says: by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. In other words – he also reminds us that we can not do anything with out God’s grace.

Paul then says that such a transformation will include our whole selves; present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. It is not just our hands and not just our hearts and not just our feet – the Lord wants to transform our entire selves – head to toe – mind to heart. But Paul does pay special attention to the transformation of our minds and that is because as we know the head is what rules the whole body. I cannot do anything unless my mind agrees. I cannot set my feet to walk down this beautiful church aisle unless my mind agrees and I can only speak these words to you if the mind is also willing. So the Apostle suggests that we must focus our minds on the things and the ways of God if we are to receive God’s grace and have our lives transformed. 2Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind he writes to us.

We must train our minds, allow our minds to be instructed and affected by God’s word if we are to be transformed. This he says is our spiritual worship. I encourage your pastor’s and evangelists and missionaries to take heed of this heavy responsibility. In the work of ministry, especially in the preaching of the Word, we offer God’s grace to God’s people and this Word is what begins the transformation. But if the Word is shared on deaf ears then it will not bear fruit and transformation will not occur. Transformation requires obedience to the Word.

This leaves us with the final question; what is the purpose of transformation? The Apostle tells us: that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. In other words; we seek God’s grace for the transformation of our minds so that we might witness to the world the perfect desire of our Lord to be not only our Lord but Lord of the universe. The purpose of transformation is to glorify God and in this to share with the world the promises and the riches of the Kingdom of God.

The good news about transformation is not simply that we are changed but the entire world will be changed as well. Your Diocese has been faithfully engaged in transforming the world for many years now. Every time you feed a hungry person, every child you shelter, ever village you help to find ways to gain employment, every person you reach out to with the ministry of the Word is a part of this transforming of the world. Each is like a setting another block in building the Kingdom of God. I am humbled by the great works I have seen done by your church and the leadership of your kind Bishop and your faithful pastors and leaders. I pray God’s blessings on your convention which now begins. I pray that the Holy Spirit will blow through this cathedral and through the gatherings you will have for these eight days and I look forward to watching the continued transformation of this church and the flourishing of the Kingdom of God among us.

The Rev. Dr. Harold M. Delhagen


  • At 8:19 PM, Blogger SteveL said…

    Great message, Harold, thanks for posting that. That was especially meangingful to me as Dan has been sharing with us the Belhar confession over the last few weeks. Transformation around the world through the Holy Spirit, what a feeling of interconnection..


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