“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 is what I will remember most from Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding service last Friday. Not the majesty and pomp, not the elegant clothing, not the hats, not the crowds. It was the verse, particularly the word “transformation.”
Transformation is exactly what has happened to Kate Middleton over the past 8 years that she has known William. William has been shepherding Kate through a process of transforming herself from a “commoner” into a royal and public person, now the Duchess of Cambridge. Kate has just been confirmed in the Church of England, has embraced her new role with grace and style, and has endeared herself to the world.
Kate is not the only one in transformation, however. British royalty itself is being transformed through William and Kate’s efforts to connect with ordinary people. They eschewed the opulence of past royal weddings, published their own wedding web site, use social networking, have encouraged anyone wanting to celebrate with them to contribute to the Royal Charitable Gift Fund, and even wrote their own wedding prayer.
United Methodists will be quick to note that “transformation” is a key word in the mission statement of The United Methodist Church. “The mission of The United Methodist Churchis to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (¶120 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008). United Methodists are finally recognizing, however, that none of us, from spouses, to local congregations, to a denomination, to royalty, can transform others or the world until we first allow ourselves to be transformed.
While “transformation” can be defined as “change,” “a marked difference,” “alteration,” or even “reinvention,” I have always viewed transformation as the process of becoming who God created us to be. That’s why I was utterly delighted when Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, quoted St. Catherine of Siena in his sermon at the royal wedding, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
The apostle Paul challenges us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern God’s will for us. Certainly, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is a conscious decision which transforms our mind. No one is born a Christian: we become a disciple through a deliberate choice. At the same time, true transformation is also an act of the heart and soul. The process of becoming Christ-like implies acting as well as thinking differently.
Transformation into the image of Christ does not change the essence of who we are. Rather, transformation is a continuous journey of uncovering and recovering who we were created to be. In Romans 12, Paul says that when we discover our unique gifts as part of the body of Christ, we unleash them on a world that is yearning for the kingdom of God. In the process our behaviors are also transformed because we now conform to the law of love rather than the ways of the world.
We show genuine love. We rejoice in hope. We are patient in suffering.
We persevere in prayer. We contribute to the needs of all.
We extend hospitality to strangers.
We bless others rather than persecute them. We do not seek revenge.
We are not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.
An estimated 2 billion people worldwide heard these words read last Friday during the wedding of William and Kate. Surely, God is using the reading of this Holy Scripture as well as the entire royal wedding service as one more tool to set our world on fire for the selfless and transformative love that was shown to us through Jesus Christ.
This kind of transformed life is not for the faint-hearted, however. Becoming who we were meant to be is a daily decision to die to self and live for Christ. As heirs of John Wesley, we of all people, should know that being made perfect in love is a life-long journey. Along the way we are continually purified in the refiner’s fire, shaped by the potter’s wheel, and pruned like branches on the vine.
Transformation includes patience as well as urgency
There is no time to waste in becoming who God created us to be. We need rebirth in our individual hearts and minds now. We need renewal in our congregations now. We need new life in The United Methodist Church now. We need to bring positive change to our world now. We need to spread the good news of Jesus Christ everywhere we can as often as we can.
As the same time, we must be patient because we are only called to plant the seeds. God is the one who gives the growth in God’s time. It takes time for new disciples to study the scriptures, gain spiritual maturity, become trusted leaders, and demonstrate generous stewardship. It takes time for local churches to reinvent themselves in order to become healthy and vital. It takes time for nations to give up old ways and learn how to live peaceably with their neighbors. Urgency and patience are intertwined.
Transformation includes failure as well as success
Becoming who God created us to be invites risk, and risk inevitably leads to failure as well as success. In fact, our character as well as our personal and spiritual growth is largely determined by how we deal with failure. Will we pick ourselves up, analyze what went wrong, make necessary changes, and try again, or will we give up? When we set our eyes on a goal, will we see ourselves as God sees us and persevere in our dream, or will we capitulate to what others say about and think about us?
James Kouzes and Barry Posner write in their book, The Leadership Challenge, “Name any great leader, performer, scientist, athlete, activist, citizen. Chances are that the crucible of that person’s crowning achievement was some distressing crisis, wrenching change, tragic misfortune, or risky venture. Only challenge produces the opportunity for greatness.” I would add to their statement, “Only challenge produces the opportunity for transformation and faithfulness.”
Transformation includes institutional as well as personal transformation
We often forget that structures and organizations are in need of transformation as well as individual hearts and minds. That’s why United Methodists are so involved in the educational, political, and social systems of our world. The most effective way to transform our world on a broad scale is to identify structures that deny individual freedom, reinforce racism, sexism, and ageism, or oppress religious minorities and the poor and then work collaboratively toward positive change.
If The United Methodist Church is going live out its mission to transform the world, then we, too, need to be transformed as an institution. That means an openness to deep change, paradigm shifts, and adaptive leadership that will shake us up from our very core.
Transformation includes love that is selfless, sacrificial, and suffering
The love of two people who are committed to each other for life is one of the best examples of the power of the transformed life. Giving ourselves away to another, we find our true selves. Even more, when we come to the realization that we cannot change another, we become more deeply transformed ourselves.
The truth is that transformation never comes easily. Becoming who God meant us to be and setting the world on fire does not guarantee that everyone will see that fire as cleansing or beneficial. Throughout the gospels and the letters of Paul, we hear plainly, “Take the high road. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. If you only love those who love you, what good is that? Do not repay evil for evil, for transformative love is not characterized by force or manipulation but by sacrifice and suffering.”
The announcement last night of the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of American special forces has aroused a myriad of memories, feelings, and opinions in millions of people around the world. My pondering has led me to ask, “How will transformation best take place in our world so that all of God’s children can become who they were created to be? Will it occur simply through the violent elimination of evil, or will it happen when we decide to set the world on fire through education, the development of moral and ethical leaders, and a commitment to one world indivisible, with liberty and justice for all? What word of God doesRoman 12:1-21 speak to us?
- Will you dare to be non-conformed – now?
- Will you dare to be transformed yourself – now?
- Will you dare to be a catalyst for the transformation of the church and the world – now?
- Will you dare to be who God meant you to be and set the world on fire – now?