As we come out of lock down I hear more and more people saying that they have found many blessings in our time of enforced stillness. However the pressure will soon be on to ‘kickstart the economy’, to ‘get the nation moving’, and for things to ‘return to normal’.
Many of you don’t want normal, not even a new normal, you want something new….. something better for yourselves and for others; in the economy, for the environment, in education and in the fabric of our communal lives…… A society built on new values, where we are more than the sum of our production and consumption.
Can we look at our lives and say for ourselves what it is that we value and love, and live for that?
Can we step out from the crowd?
Today’s sermon is not from me…. it is from a master preacher and a prophet. Read it for today, as fresh as ever…….. and may we be inspired.
Martin Luther King……. Exerts from the sermon,
The Transformed Non conformist (from the 1960’s)
‘Do not conform’, is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously committed our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drum beat of the status quo. Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance, and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in a pathetic minority of two or three.
In spite of this pervading tendency to conform we as Christians have a mandate to be nonconformist. This command to not conform, comes not only from Paul but also from our Lord and master Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the consciences of mankind. When an affluent society would coax us to believe that happiness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our houses, and the expensiveness of our clothes; Jesus reminds us a man’s life consisted not in the abundance of things he possesses…… When we allow the spark of revenge in our souls to flame up in hate of towards our enemies; Jesus teaches ‘love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them at hate you, and pray for them that spitefully use you and persecute you’. Everywhere and at all times the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light for feeling the ugliness of our stale conformity.
In spite of this imperative demand to live differently, we have cultivated a mass mind and have moved from the extreme of rugged individualism to the even greater extreme stream of rugged collectivism. We are not makers of history, we are made by history…….. Many people found nothing more terrible than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most of us to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Along with this has grown up an inordinate worship of bigness we live in the age of ‘jumboism’ where men find security in that which is large and extensive big cities big buildings big corporations………. This worship of size has caused many to fear being identified with a minority idea. How few people have the audacity to express publicly their convictions and how many have allowed themselves to be astronomically intimidated.
Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, an institution which is often served to crystallise, conserve, and even blessed the patterns of majority opinion. The erstwhile sanction of the Church of slavery, racial segregation, war, and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world and the authority of God. Called be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained glass windows. Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has practiced racial exclusiveness.
We preachers have also been tempted by the enticing cult of conformity. Seduced by the success symbols of the world, we have measured our achievements by the size of our parsonages. We have become showman to please the whims and caprices of the people. We preach comforting sermons and avoid saying anything from our pulpit which might disturb the respectable views of the comfortable members of our congregations. Have we ministers of Jesus Christ sacrificed truth on the altar of self interest and like Pilot yielded our convictions to the demands of the crowd?
We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word, and refused to shape that witness according to the mundane patterns of the world. Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune, and life itself on behalf of the cause they knew to be right. Quantitatively they were small, they were qualitatively Giants.
In itself however, non-conformism may not necessarily be good, and may at times possess neither transforming nor redemptive power. Nonconformity per say contains no saving value, and may represent in some circumstances little more than a form of exhibitionism…….. By opening our lives to God in Christ we become new creatures . Which Jesus spoke of as new birth, and this is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists and freed from the coldheartedness and self righteousness so often characteristic of nonconformity. Someone has said, ‘I love reforms but I hate performers’. A reformer maybe an untransformed nonconformist, whose rebellion against the evils of society has left him annoyingly rigid and unreasonably impatient. Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world, with a humble and loving spirit of the transformed nonconformist……. Moreover transformed nonconformism never yields to the passive sort of patience which is an excuse to do nothing. And this very transformation saves him from speaking irresponsible words without reconciling, and from making hasty judgments which are blind to the necessary city of social progress. He recognizes that social change will not come overnight yet he works as though it is an imminent possibility.
This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation: dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate at the rugged hills of nameless Calvaries, and men do reverence to the false gods of nationalism and materialism. Saving our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.
Honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering; losing a job or having a 6 year old daughter ask, ‘daddy why do you have to go to jail so much?’ But we are gravely mistaken if we think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of a moral existence. Christianity has always insisted that the Cross we bear precedes the Crown we wear. To be a Christian, one must take up their cross with all its difficulties ,and agonizing, and tragedy -packed content, and carry it until the very cross leaves its mark upon us, and redeems us to that more excellent way that comes only through suffering.
In these days of worldwide confusion there is a dire need for men and women who will courageously do battle for truth.
We must make a choice. Will we continue to march to the drum beat of conformity and respectability? Or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds? Will we march only to the music of time? Or will we, risk criticism and abuse, and march to the soul saving music of eternity? More than ever before we are today challenged by the words of yesterday, ‘Be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind’.