Years ago I was asked to be a mission festival speaker at a Lutheran Church up north. They wanted me to speak about the Prison Ministry we had done for over a decade at the St. Cloud Reformatory. I entitled my talk F.A.C.E., named after the first names of regular inmates whose lives had been changed over the years. I concluded my sharing in front of a large group of church members by saying that the word F.A.C.E not only referred to prisoners but also to the face of Christ that shined through them and changed me.
I asked for any questions or comments and one member stood up and said, “My brother works as a guard in a prison and says that inmates never really change.” My response to him, after just spending 45 minutes sharing many of the miraculous changes I had witnessed, was, “Well, your comment tells me a lot more about your belief in change than anything else.” I wished I could have told him of an inmate a few years later who after being in our study group for a number of months declared to all of us that after he served his time in St. Cloud, he was going back to Kansas and confess to another offence for which he was never caught and do the time for that crime. And he did, as the chaplain shared with me!
So, IS REAL CHANGE POSSIBLE???? The simple answer is, “If your life has been changed, then yes.” If not, perhaps no. If you do not move among walking miracles on a regular basis, you may miss the mystery of ‘metamorphosis’.
Metamorphosis ~ (met·a·mor·pho·sis) A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.
There’s a lot of truth to the phrase “People would rather SEE a sermon than HEAR one any day.” I experienced both this past Sunday. The first was me giving the sermon on ‘transformation’ while the second was dramatically witnessing that process lived out in front of me on stage at the award winning Musical Phenomena “Les Miserables” at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. As many know and love, there is an amazing juxtaposition of the two main characters, Jean Valjean and Javert ~ the pursued and the pursuer. The prisoner on the run and the General tracking him down. The one whose life is changed by the grace of another and the other who ends his life unable to receive that same life-changing grace.
The life-changing moment for the prisoner Jean Val jean is a beyond- understanding-act-of-mercy from a bishop at the monastery where this prisoner on the run is given sanctuary when no one else would accept him. Even with this kindness, Val jean seems powerless over not stealing the expensive silver candlesticks on the altar before running away in the middle of the night, only to be summarily captured moments later by the law, beaten and bloodied on the pavement in front of the monastery. The bishop comes out and observing the tragic scene before him, tells his assistant to go get the best silver still remaining on the altar. The police know they have caught this criminal both with the goods and with the lie that he was actually given the silver that he stole as a gift. Where upon the loving bishop approaches him saying, “You left so suddenly, forgetting to take the most expensive pieces of silver that we gave you.”
One of the most important parts of our years of ministering to those in prison, and their ministering to us, was learning and practicing that the only reason why many of us were not sitting in their cells with them is because we didn’t get caught. And a few of those attending with us had spent time in those very same cells. But perhaps most important was that we did not expect them to be where we wanted them to be, but accepted them right where they were ~ not unlike how we are divinely accepted ~ “The one forgiven much, can love much.” And that causes real transformation.
Perhaps my favorite word in scripture and in life is “transformation,” and the original Greek word for the same in the New Testament is “metamorphosis”. Outside of the Gospels where this word is used for the Transfiguration of Christ on the mountain top, it is only used two other places in the entire Bible:
Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed (metamorphoumetha) into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Sooooooooo, whats the use of these many words???
Because the walking wounded CAN become the wounded healers. Because ALL OF US ARE WALKING MIRACLES!!! Because our worst days can become our BEST days! Truly! We can believe by grace as a gift given us, or we can run away from those ‘God-Moments” and even allow them to drive us to despair. Running towards, or running away. I am so thankful that God (however you understand “God”) is loving and deeply compassionate; a “Hound of Heaven” and “Shepherd of the Sheep” who always seeks us out and lovingly pulls us back to that life-changing embrace, engulfed in the LIGHT!