“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.”
Earlier this month, I was in Boston for a conference, and while there, I had the opportunity to preach. My sermon that Sunday was on the Transfiguration, a story that is about how unsettling God’s glory can be, and about St. Peter’s sometimes humorous tendency to put his foot in his mouth. What I like so much about that story, is the fact that Peter’s life can be a powerful exemplar for us all. Peter’s mind is renewed, and this gives us hope that our mind’s can undergo the same transformation.
As we read today, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, or the Christ in some translations. And then, in the next chapter, on the side of that mountain, Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is tested, affirmed, and strengthened. That renewal is necessary to be able to see Jesus for who he really is, the Christ, the Son in whom the Father is well pleased, the Son that we are supposed to listen to.
Seeing Jesus as he really is, for who he really is. That sounds like a tall order. Hundreds of thousands of pages were expended on this task in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Children and adults alike have inquired about this Christ whom they have never met in person. Will the real Jesus please stand up?
But as St. Paul tells us, there is more at stake in the question of who Jesus is than just knowing that strange and wonderful miracle worker from Palestinian who lived two millennia ago. Knowing Jesus, Paul says, renews our mind.
In a remarkably compact passage, Paul tells the Romans that their bodies and lives should be presented to God as living sacrifices, that they should offer themselves up for transformation. Not just any transformation, but one that will make it possible for them to discern God’s will. I don’t know which is a taller order, knowing the real Jesus or knowing God’s will!
But Paul doesn’t just tell the Romans that they should be so transformed, he in fact tells them how this transformation will happen, and it’s both awe inspiring and humbling, and perhaps humiliating to some. The thought that we all have spiritual gifts is wonderful, and should give us confidence in the Church, the confidence that through the Church God can work in the world.
But there’s more: neither you, nor I, nor anyone else has all the gifts. Unlike Pokemon, I can’t catch ‘em all. Instead, the Spirit has given me some gifts, and has given different gifts to others. What this means is that I have to rely on others for their gifts, and that they have to rely on me. Together, we make a body, and as bodies go, one member is only one part of a whole body, and yet that “just one part” is also crucial to the health and vitality of the whole body.
What is your part in this body? How do you know what your gift is? You might even be wondering whether you have a spiritual gift.
Looking back at Peter’s exchange with Jesus, we see that it’s only after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ that he begins to see who he himself is, who he is becoming. And Peter has already traveled with Jesus for many miles. Jesus exclaims that what Simon peter, the son of Jonah, has just said, what he knows, doesn’t come from “flesh and blood.” Rather, it comes directly from the Father in Heaven. And it’s because of Peter’s confession that Peter is now moving toward a different vocation, a different set of habits, a different mind. Of course, he doesn’t get it right immediately. But Peter is on the way to offering himself up as a living sacrifice, his act of spiritual worship. In other words, Peter’s change, Peter’s gift doesn’t come from Peter. It comes from God.
Jesus being the Christ makes Peter the Rock. It isn’t Peter’s confidence in himself that makes him the Rock. Rather, it is faith in Christ that will be the foundation of Christ’s new community. It is faith in Christ—and not ourselves, our ideologies, our actions—that is the foundation of the Church today.
Confessing that Jesus is the Christ isn’t just about knowing Jesus, although that’s an incredibly important part of it. Rather, As Jesus tells Peter in today’s reading, knowing who Jesus is changes how we see ourselves. Jesus being the Christ, the only son of God, offers us the chance to change, to become renewed in our minds together, and to offer ourselves up as holy and living sacrifices.