Holy Habits: Change the World
October 30, 2022
St. Stephen’s UMC, Burke, VA
Romans 8:12–25 (NRSV)
Today, we are concluding our stewardship campaign with the holy habit of changing the world.
As you are aware, the mission of the United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The various holy habits we mentioned previously — worshiping, sharing the good news, making disciples, and giving — shape us into becoming Jesus’ disciples. And what our denomination wants to clarify in our mission statement is that making disciples is not an end in itself, but that our personal holiness has a direct impact on social holiness, on the transformation of the world. In other words, our discipleship is not just a means of us getting to the kingdom of God in heaven, but it is also a means of bringing the kingdom of God here on earth.
In Revelation 21, we see a description of what the kingdom of God looks like: a new heaven and a new earth, where Christ fully reigns, where “death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more,” and where all things are made new (vv. 1–6).
This kingdom is like the peaceable kingdom envisioned by the prophet Isaiah, where there is no violence between prey and predator. In his kingdom, there is neither brokenness nor injustice. In this kingdom, those described in the Beatitudes live a way of life that is subversive to the way of our world (Matthew 5:3–10).
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And this kingdom is not just what we anticipate in our afterlife, but also what is to be revealed in our daily midst. The Apostle Paul said that those who live by the Spirit have their citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20). When we — the disciples of Christ — gather together, our community becomes “a colony of heaven,” and our communion becomes a foretaste of heaven. When those who confess Jesus as their King gather together, that gathering itself becomes the kingdom of God. When those who are made new in Christ come together, the place of that gathering is also made new in Christ. When those who are transformed through Christ come together, the surrounding of that gathering is also transformed through Christ.
It is just like what Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20–21).
This is why the kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet.” This is why the kingdom of God is what we both foretaste and anticipate. This is why we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.”
So, the holy habit of changing the world is a byproduct of our discipleship. In fact, it is not we who change the world, we simply partake in God’s determination to save the world. And, I would like to go over how we can partake in the transformation of the world in three small steps, using today’s scripture from Romans 8.
First, we remember that we are children of God, which makes us also joint heirs with Christ. This means we not only believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we also participate in the resurrection of Christ. Our bodies too are to be redeemed, transformed, and made new through the Spirit, and this is the glory about to be revealed to us (v. 18).
According to Jesus, being born anew is how we enter God’s kingdom (John 3:3). And just like God’s kingdom, this being born anew is not just what happens once during our baptism and not just what happens in our afterlife. We die daily (1 Cor 15:31); so that we may live every day as people being born anew.
What is the implication of us daily being born anew as God’s children? We belong to a body, a new household where we gain brothers and sisters in Christ. In today’s writing, Paul is speaking to “a community of house churches that met separately from one another, whose members were both Jew and Gentile, and who came from different social positions.” These individuals had no obligations to be tied to one another as “brothers and sisters,” yet it was a spirit of adoption that made them children to one God, whom they could cry out to in their own languages, whether in Aramaic or Greek, “Abba! Father!” They were no longer divided by the flesh but united in the Spirit.
When a group of diverse people come together as one family, our world becomes a lot bigger, our prayer topics multiply, and loving our neighbors gets even more complicated. Enemies are now our brothers and strangers are now our sisters. “Our world” is no longer just me and my people, but different tribes, different peoples, and different languages (cf. Rev 7:9). Before we partake in changing the world, our world is first changed. And through the Spirit, we learn how to love God and love neighbors in our ever-changing world. As Paul explains four chapters later, those born anew live a different way of life (12:14–18):
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
This is just an example of how we live our new life in Christ as God’s children.
Second, as God’s children, we recognize that the world we are entrusted with is also groaning in labor pain. As our world expands, we realize that we are not the center of the universe. We are no longer narcissistic enough to think that we are the sole recipient of God’s redemption and salvation. God’s desire is the restoration of all things, the whole creation. A new heaven and a new earth, making all things in-between new (Rev 21:5).
When we gain this new perspective, we see all things — people, animals, plants, water, land, sky, ecosystems, climate, the earth, the cosmos, and everything else in-between — as those who suffer in their bondage to decay and long for restoration. One of the biggest harms made through biblical mistranslation is Genesis 1:26, where it is translated that God gave humankind dominion over creation. The English word dominion has a connotation of superiority, hierarchy, and tyranny. Humans can subdue the creation for the sake of our own good however we desire. But its original Hebrew word points us to the way God takes care of us. And what is the most popular image of God’s care for us? A shepherd to sheep. We are given this special privilege to care responsibly for God’s creation, as how a shepherd would take care of his sheep. We are to be good stewards of all God’s creation.
And today’s scripture gives us a good beginning place for how we can be good stewards of all God’s creation. Do we hear creation groaning in labor pain just as we hear our own? When we realize that we share the painful anticipation for God’s redemption, we also see the intimate interconnectedness we have with all God’s creation in our world. And it is our solidarity with the suffering creation that changes the world, manifesting God’s kingdom here in our midst.
Lastly, we participate in God’s redemptive work with hope and patience. Being stuck in the tension between the “already” and “not here” kingdom is frustrating to say the least. In the face of injustice and brokenness, we cannot help but ask ourselves ‘How long, O Lord?’ Why does God not intervene in the suffering of the whole creation? Also, it can be demoralizing when all the work we put into changing and transforming the world does not seem to produce much fruit. Despite the time and resources we put into our community, the instances of injustice and brokenness seem to rise continuously. Despite how much effort we put into changing the world, evil continues to rampage, and the creation continues to groan. And as we get burnt out, we ask ourselves questions like: what is the point and where is hope?
But Paul says the children of God have the first fruits of the Spirit. In other words, we have already foretasted the glory of our salvation. We know we have been forgiven, redeemed, and restored by the gracious love of God. And this “witness,” this “testimony,” is the reason we hope, and this is the reason why we can wait in patience.
And waiting in patience does not mean passivity, but rather it means activity in endurance, steadfastness, and perseverance. It’s like staying alert throughout the night, doing our due diligence so that the kingdom of God may be revealed through our alternative way of being in the world depicted in the teaching and ministry of Jesus Christ.
This is how we get into the holy habit of changing the world — by remembering that we are children of God, recognizing the groans of all God’s creation, and participating in God’s redemptive work with hope and patience.
And today we celebrate the way St. Stephen’s UMC participates in bringing God’s kingdom here on earth. Your stewardship and generosity make possible our congregation’s habit of changing the world.
Our congregational care team works at the frontline of those going through crises within our body — the ministries involved are the Shepherd Ministry, Stephens Ministry, Prayer Chain Ministry, and more. Our outreach ministry focuses on the needs of our greater community — Grace Ministries, Green Groceries, Hypothermia, Food 4 Thought, and our partnerships with places like FACETS, the Lamb Center, FISH, and more. We also create safe spaces for our neighbors to experience love: Love is All You Need for adults with disabilities and our fellowships and programs for Children and Youth. Our committees like United Women in Faith and Church & Society study and advocate for various current issues in our society. And I apologize if I did not mention your ministry, this is to name just a few. The point is that St. Stephen’s has been and is deeply involved in God’s redemptive work. And it is your continued stewardship and generosity that strengthens our participation in changing the world.
There are so many reasons for us to be disheartened and discouraged by the loud groanings of the creation we see and hear in our midst. Despite this, let us celebrate. Celebrate because we have received the first fruits of the Spirit that make hope possible. And it is this hope that allows us to seek God’s kingdom here on earth as in heaven. It is this hope that spurs our participation in God’s redemptive and salvific work for the whole creation. Glory be to God. Amen.
Rev. Minoo Kim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Virginia Annual Conference. He will very much appreciate it if you like and follow his Medium profile. Peace!
 Sarah Heaner Lancaster, Romans: Beliefs, A Theological Commentary on the Bible, 141.