LIVING IN ODDVILLE

 

ROMANS 12:1-2; 19-21

 

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            Is there a place in the world you would like to see before you can no longer travel?  Maybe it’s a trip to Tahiti or the Hawaiian Islands.  Maybe it’s visiting Paris in April.  Maybe it’s Alaska.  Maybe it’s walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land.  Maybe it’s a safari in Africa.  Or maybe it’s getting to see the spectacular UCLA campus.  Is there a place in the world you would like to see before you can no longer travel?

            That place for Paul was the city of Rome.  He wanted to get to the capital of the Roman Empire.  Little did he know he would eventually realize his travel dream.  Of course, he did so in chains rather than on one of his missionary journeys.  And prior to visiting, and prior to his becoming a prisoner, he wrote the saints in Rome a letter.  He wrote it at the end of his third missionary journey, sometime between 57 A.D. and 59 A.D. He wrote it while in the Greek city of Corinth.  We know that because many of the names mentioned at the end of his greetings in his letter to the Romans were names of people who had once lived in Corinth.   And listen to a little of what he writes to them.

 

            I appeal to you 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.

 

            And skipping down to verse 19.  Paul expands upon what he had in mind here.

 

            Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

            In light of Paul’s instructions here, and in light of our hypothesis for today, I want to say three things.

            First, Paul calls us to live in Oddville, Nebraska.  By the way there is actually a town Oddville, but not in Nebraska.  It’s in Kentucky.  Oddville, Kentucky was first settled in 1799 and apparently chose the name in an attempt to satisfy the postal authorities with a unique name when the post office opened in 1851.

            Paul invites us as Christians to take up residence in another Oddville, in our case, Oddville, Nebraska.  If we lived in Florida, he would invite us to live in Oddville, Florida, but since we live in Nebraska, he invites us to live in Oddville, Nebraska.  He calls us to be a little odd, a little abnormal, when it comes to the world in which we live.  Normal, in our culture, is what we see on TV, in the movies, in magazines and on reality shows.  Normal is the big house, the fancy car, being greedy, bling bling filled, self important, self centered, in your face.  Normal is the American Dream on steroids and out of control.

            Paul invites us, however, to be abnormal.  He invites us to live in Oddville.  Of course, from the very beginning God’s people have taken up residence in Oddville.  While the rest of the world was practicing polytheistic religions God told Abraham that there was just one God.  While other religions were requiring the sacrifice of the first born child, God lead Abraham and Isaac to the hill of sacrifice and then emphatically said: "No more child sacrifices."  While other religions were making grand sacrifices to win back the attention of their so called gods, over and over again we are told by God, "I will not leave you or forsake you."

            Paul simply invites us to live where God’s people have always lived: in Oddville. 

            Second, Paul says, “Live a peculiar life in Oddville, Nebraska.”

            And yes, like Oddville, there really is a town called “Peculiar,” and it’s in Missouri.  Peculiar, Missouri, got its name in a similar fashion as Oddville, Kentucky.  In about 1858 the area had gotten big enough to need a post office.  The man seeking the town's first postmaster position requested to the United States Post Office Department the name of Excelsior.  The postmaster wannabe was told that name was already taken in Missouri.  So, he chose another name.  That name was also taken.  This happened four more times.  Finally, exasperated, he wrote to Washington and said, “Listen. We'll take any name. Just send us a name that's a little bit peculiar, and we'll be happy.'"

            The folks in Peculiar learned a very important lesson.  Never let the government choose a name.  But they seem to be proud of the name, and it stuck.

            Well, Paul calls us to live peculiar lives in Oddville, Nebraska. We are not to seek revenge.  By the way, there’s a new television drama this season titled Revenge.  It centers on a young woman who is welcomed into a community filled with people who don't know she's only there to exact revenge on those who had destroyed her family.  That show won’t - or shouldn’t - have much to say to us.  We are to reach out to our enemies, doing thoughtful things for them like feeding them when they are hungry and giving them something to drink when they are thirsty.  We are not to return evil for evil. 

            You see, because of Jesus Christ, we have chosen to live by a different set of rules and by a different master than that of the world around us.  We believe that loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the highest rules for living.  John Wesley called it striving for personal & social holiness.  Jesus called it being a disciple.  Paul said: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed,” or stated another way, “When it comes to the world around you, become a peculiar person who lives in Oddville, Nebraska.  Don’t allow the world dictate who you are.”   

            Then, the third and last thing I want to say.  Becoming peculiar people who live in Oddville, Nebraska is really tough to do.

            I say that because the messages we receive from our culture often contradict what we hear from Christ, and we are bombarded by those messages.   For example, the New York Times has estimated that the average American is exposed to 3,500 ads per day.  Not week.  Not month.  Per day.  And a company like Google knows how much time we spend on the Internet, and has made a fortune selling advertisers the opportunity to present themselves to us as we search.        

            Broadcasters know the same about the time we spend in front of a television, and the amount of television ads have increased over the years.  I love to watch old black and white episodes of Perry Mason, the iconic defense attorney that aired from 1957 to 1966.  The show began running when I was nine years old.  It stopped production when I was eighteen years old.  Those hour-long broadcasts actually included about 52 minutes of Perry Mason.  Fifteen years ago a similar hour-long drama still reliably contained 47 to 48 minutes of storyline. Watching videos of more recent series – like NCIS, The Mentalist, Glee – I noticed that today the most I can expect is about 43 minutes of storyline – a 9 minute increase in commercial content each hour, from 1966 to 2011.  

            “So what?” you might ask.  What difference does any of that make?  All of those influences are forming us – shaping us; coloring us. If we give a conservative five second value to each of those 3500 ads we supposedly encounter every day amounting to over 4 hours of marketing every day – 28 hours every week – the one or two hours we might spend each week at church allowing those faith stories about Jesus to shape us suddenly don't sound very influential, do they?  Which influences do you think gain the most traction in our lives?

            Have you ever taken a white carnation and placed it in vase with water that has been dyed with food coloring?  The internal plumbing of the flower and stem drink in the colored water, and before long the white carnation has become whatever color the water has told it to be.

            In the 2007bdocumentary King Corn, two recent college graduates have their hair analyzed in a university research lab to see what it's made of.  What they learn is that the carbon in their bodies comes almost entirely from corn.  They are literally made of corn!  Why?  Because, as the students first learn from their professor and then by walking down the aisles of several grocery stores and reading the labels, in one form or another, corn is a major ingredient of virtually everything we consume – from soft drinks to beer to candy to breakfast cereal to beef.

            Based, then, on all that we are drinking in, what color are we becoming?  Based on what we are consuming, what is our spiritual carbon type?  One writer describes us as being “schooled by our culture in insatiability.  We are never satisfied – at least for long.  We are tutored that people basically consist of unmet needs that can be appeased by goods and experiences.”

            But there is a different story that argues for a different color or composition.  The Christian faith warns disciples to be wary of insatiability, asserting that our “stuff” will never save nor satisfy us.  We cannot accumulate our way into happiness or contentment.  In fact, it teaches, “our deepest longings are only met in God.”

            So, what are we to believe?  And what are we to do?  In the reading from Romans we heard a moment ago, Paul minces no words:

 

            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.

 

            Leadership Magazine had a great story about a pastor visiting a church service. He wrote:  "It was one of those mornings when the tenor didn't get out of bed on the right side of the sheet music.  As I listened to his faltering voice, I looked around. People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist.

            "By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn. And by the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range. And by the fourth verse, it was beautiful. And on the fifth verse the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life.[1]

            The normal thing would have been to try and not be embarrassed or turn to our neighbor and make a snide comment about coming back when he got a tune up.

            But luckily that church was composed of peculiar people living in Oddville and they exhibited what life in the body of Christ is supposed to be, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us to the best of our abilities.

            When we live like Christ, the world says we're ODD.  The world says we're PECULIAR.  That's OK, because whether they know it or not, they are just echoing what the Apostle Peter says. "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people."  We are actually fulfilling what Paul encouraged us to do: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed."



[1] John H. Unger, Brandon, Manitoba. Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 4.