As usual our most recent Sunday 10 AM service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community — as well as guests.
I 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. 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.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? I recently heard about an eight-year-old boy who had a very clear response to that question. “I want to be a VC. So I’ll need to go to Town School, then University high school, then Stanford, then work at Goldman Sachs for a couple of years before going to business school.” He was then asked, “What is a VC?” “I don’t know, but it’s where the real money is,” he replied. For those of you who avoid acronyms, a VC is a venture capitalist.
A couple of weeks ago, renowned psychologist and author Madeline Levine was here at Calvary and shared this story. She was talking to us about raising centered kids in a high- pressure culture. Dr. Levine helped found the Challenge Success initiative at Stanford, in response to alarming rates of depression and suicide amongst a group of young people seemingly on top of the world. Her work has now transcended children, and she consults with Fortune 500 companies on issues including employee satisfaction and interaction with the younger generations.(1) It turns out there are a lot of people in the world who don’t love their jobs.
So, what do you want to be when you grow up? When you were a young child, how did you answer that question? Are you still trying to figure it out? And where is God in the equation?
In today’s passage from Romans, the Apostle Paul provides some very helpful guidance for our consideration. In Romans 12, Paul is moving from the more theoretical approach of the previous 11 chapters to a more practical application. He is writing with very new Christ-followers in mind. And these new believers were in a very difficult position. They had disagreements within the new Christian community about things like how life had to be lived and what kind of sacrifices had to be made – animals, spices, money. Tension was high with those outside of the community about whether this Jesus resurrection business was non-sense.
For a person to offer their whole self to God was risky. But this is how Paul defines worship. The Greek word latreia, translated worship, is talking about more than one hour per week.
William Barclay, a legendary theologian at University of Glasgow who passed away about 40 years ago, points out that the meaning of worship evolved over time.(2) It originally meant to work for hire or pay. It transitioned to mean serve, then “that to which one gives one’s whole life.” Barclay wants us to know that in the Bible, it never means human service; it is always used referring to service to and worship of God. He says that, “Real worship is the offering of everyday life to God.”
But how do we do that? So much of everyday life seems to have nothing to with God. Most of the jobs we do and classes we take and songs we listen to have nothing to do with God.
Paul makes a major move. In telling us not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, Paul is making it clear that power beyond the human realm is required. It is through relationship with Jesus Christ that true transformation comes. Through his eyes we can begin to see the daily tasks of our work and life as worship. We can look around at what others do and see it as service to God. Whether running a household or caring for a neighbor or managing a company, approach everything an opportunity to serve God gives life a whole different meaning. And it’s beautiful to see.
I know a couple who are living lives of worship in a way they never imagined. Anand and Rosie came to the U.S. from India with the dream of working hard and living comfortably. Anand earned his MBA and Rosie her systems engineering degree. Anand was earning a comfortable six-figure salary, so he and Rosie started sponsoring children in India who were growing up in very, very difficult circumstances. They supported a few children as a way to honor God and eventually went to visit some of the children. One of the children was a little five-year-old girl named Kupa, which means Grace. Kupa was terribly malnourished. Worse than that, her mother had fallen into prostitution. They had a very small home and little Kupa was typically tied in the room when men were with her mother.
After sponsoring Kupa and the other children for a while, Anand and Rosie visited. They were understandably moved. They were certain that they could be of most assistance by working in the U.S., earning high salaries, and supporting little children like Kupa. But before they left, little Kupa reached up to Anand . . . she held his hand, and said, “Please don’t go.” After extensive prayer, they decided that they might be called to serve at a children’s home in India that cared for Kupa and many other children. They came back to the U.S. and made plans to move. But as they were preparing to leave and become full time mission workers, something happened. Anand received an offer for double his salary. Rosie also received a lucrative job offer. They were torn. Should they leave nearly $300,000 on the table here in the U.S. – money they could use to help children – or should they follow what they understood to be God’s will to them? They admit that the decision to go to serve in India was incredibly difficult and that they sometimes miss the lifestyle that money would have bought.
While Anand and Rosie’s story is powerful, it can be easy to write off. Most of you here today have obligations and goals and dreams that you are certain would not allow you to make a move like that. But there are more people involved in the story.
A senior executive from a San Francisco company met Anand and became a supporter of the ministry. He introduced the CEO of his company. That CEO has found ways for the mission of the company he leads to support Kupa and the children in India with food and other resources. And he has done it in virtually every country where the company does business. And they are still doing very well financially.
From business to mission service, Anand and Rosie and these business executives have found ways of living into worship, of offering everyday life to God.
But what about us?
We aren’t all called to serve in another country or in full time ministry here in the U.S. But I bet that at least one of you is, and I would be honored to meet with you. While some may be called to certain tasks, we all have a mission as followers of Christ.
There are people here today who are called to be VCs, investment bankers, and more. You have the gift of financial acumen and can contribute to the world.
One of the investment bankers in the congregation anonymously contributed to Chef Erica Land’s endeavor that is helping her build a sustainable business after some very difficult seasons of life. Today after worship, you can enjoy the wonderful food of Chef Erica and enjoy the fruits of her calling.
We are a community filled with people of all walks of life and many different gifts. You are surrounded by students and teachers and full time parents, administrative assistants, retirees who volunteer more than full time job worth of hours, doctors and nurses, lawyers, marketers. We have people who are seeking jobs and housing.
We are all children of God, “. . . One body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”
The primary business of the church is transformation.
From this place, instead of asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the question changes to, “What do you think God wants you to be when you grow up?”
When we put God in Christ first in our everyday life, we will not be conformed by this world. We will be transformed.
(1) I recommend two of Levine’s books to anyone who crosses paths with children or works in an environment with twenty-somethings: The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well.
(2) William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, 3rd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).