The Kingdom of Barking Pigs

The Kingdom of Barking Pigs
Romans 12:1-2

One of my favorite books is a little volume by Michael Yaconelli entitled, “Messy Spirituality.” In his book, Yaconelli tells the story of Norman, a little boy who chose to be different.

The story begins when Norman’s teacher announces that the class is going to present the play, Cinderella, at the spring teacher’s conference.

Immediately, almost every girl yelled, “I want to be Cinderella,” and most of the boys shouted, “I want to be the Handsome Prince.” Of course, everyone could not be Cinderella or The Handsome Prince, but by the end of the day, the teacher was able to assign a part to everyone.

Well, almost everyone. Everyone except Norman. Norman was a quiet child. He wasn’t really shy or bashful; he just didn’t say anything unless he really had something to say.

When the teacher realized Norman was the only child without a part she said, “Norman, what character would like to be?”

Without hesitation Norman said, “I want to be the pig.”

As you can imagine, Norman’s classmates started laughing, but that didn’t seem to bother Norman. Somewhat embarrassed for Norman, the teacher replied, “Norman, I’m sorry, but there is no pig in Cinderella.”

Norman just smiled and said, “There is now.”

At the first rehearsal, Norman came out in his pig costume – a paper cup for a nose and pink, long, underwear with a pipe-cleaner tail. Norman’s pig followed Cinderella around wherever she went and became a mirror of the action on stage. If Cinderella was happy, the pig was happy; if Cinderella was sad, the pig was sad.

At the end of the play, when the handsome prince placed the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot, Norman went wild with joy, danced around on his hind legs, and broke his silence by barking.

In rehearsal, the teacher tried to explain to Norman that even if there was a pig in Cinderella, pigs don’t bark. But again Norman explained, “This pig barks.” And the barking, she had to admit, was well done.

The presentation at the teachers’ conference was a smash hit. And at the curtain call, guess who received a standing ovation? You guessed it. It was Norman, the barking pig.

I like Norman. I like Norman because Norman reminds me of Jesus. Granted, Jesus never played the part of a barking pig, but Jesus wasn’t afraid to be different.

When the scribes and Pharisees screamed, “Messiah’s don’t eat with sinners,” Jesus said, “This one does.” When the religious leaders chided, “Messiah’s don’t heal on the Sabbath,” Jesus replied, “They do now.” And when an entire world stood at the foot of the cross watching God’s Son die, they cried out, “Messiah’s don’t die on a cross,” but Jesus simply turned and said, “This one does, and it is finished.”

Yes, Jesus and Norman had something in common. Both insisted on living their lives by their own standard instead of living life like everyone else.

In today’s text, the Apostle Paul calls for you and me to become part of The Kingdom of Barking Pigs. Of course, he doesn’t use those exact words, but the message is still the same. In these two short verses, Paul calls upon the followers of Jesus Christ to live in a way that differs from the way others live.

Listen to these words found in Romans 12:1-2. I’m reading today from The New Century Version of the Bible. As Paul writes to the Romans he says,

So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship. 2 Do not change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.

Did you hear what Paul said in verse two? He said, “Do not change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but be changed within by a new way of thinking.” Or as the King James Version puts it, Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.

In this passage, Paul tells us that God wants us to be special, to be different, to live our lives in a transformed way, and to stop looking around to see if we are like everyone else.

But that’s so hard to do, isn’t it? It’s really hard to be different. Those of you who’ve worked in the school system realize the stress of peer pressure. The last thing a student wants is to be different from other students.
But adolescents are not the only ones who struggle with being different. It’s hard for us adults to be different, to look and act differently than those who surround us. Yes, it’s so hard to be different because everything in us tempts us to be just like the people around us, even when we know they are doing things that would not be pleasing to God.

Yes, whether we’re teenagers or senior adults, we want to be just like everybody else. And though the attitudes and actions of our neighbors may be contrary to our own ideals, we find ourselves remaining quiet for fear we’ll be rejected if people think we’re different.

Believe it or not, I can remember being in the sixth grade. The most popular person in the sixth grade was this guy named Roger Fink. If Roger Fink wore a special pair of tennis shoes, we all had to get those tennis shoes. If Roger liked a song, we all liked that song. And if Roger got his hair cut in a special way, before long, all of us got our hair cut that way.

One day, when we were in the cafeteria, Roger got a Popsicle and put salt on it. He said the salt made the Popsicle taste really good. So what do you think the rest of us did? We all put salt on our Popsicle, not for just one day but for over a week.

You know what? Those salted Popsicles tasted terrible. We all thought they tasted terrible, but none of us said anything and all of us kept putting salt on them as long as Roger did.

Now wasn’t that crazy – putting salt on a Popsicle, just so we would be like everybody else? But that’s what we did, because none of us wanted to be different. All of us wanted to be just like everybody else.

But God calls us to be different. Instead of being like Roger Fink or anybody else, God wants me to be like Jesus. God wants me to use the language Jesus would use. God wants me to treat other people like Jesus treated people. God wants me to let other people know that I’m a Christian and even invite them to church with me. Yes, God doesn’t want me to be just like my friends. God wants me to be different. God wants me to be just like Jesus.

As most of you know, our church has entered a time of spiritual discernment, a time when we are trying to figure out what God wants us, as a church, to do in the next few years. I hope you’ve been making this spiritual discernment process a matter of prayer, because it’s important that we stay open to hear the voice of God.

As we plan, one of the things we think about is church growth. All of us here want to see our church grow. In fact, we realize that if our church doesn’t grow we may eventually close our doors.

Yes, all of us want our church to grow, and you know what, we could grow more easily if we’d allow Rutledge Baptist Church to conform to the thoughts and ideals of the society that surrounds us.

We could easily grow if we quit allowing women to have leadership in our church.

We’d probably grow more quickly if we announced that the only real Bible is the King James Bible.

And there are plenty folks around who would be more willing to fill our pews if we’d go ahead and admit that Jesus drank grape juice instead of turning water into wine.

Then, there are other Grainger County folks would be more accepting of our church if we publicly condemned those who are gay and aligned ourselves with the political platform of the religious right. That’s pretty popular in Baptist circles these days.

And if we want to attract bigger crowds we probably need to stop hanging around with those Catholic folks and those liberal Methodists. You know, those folks treat immigrants like they’re real people instead of treating them like they’re supposed to be treated, like folks who don’t belong.

Yes, instead of proclaiming a gospel of acceptance, peace, grace and love, some folks would be more attracted to us if we regularly offered a diet of hell-fire and damnation. It works in other churches. Why not ours?

And it wouldn’t be long before the crowds started to swell if we conducted seminars offering secret insights to the Book of Revelation, insights that pinpointed the time of Christ’s return. Yep, that would bring the crowds.

But you know what, if we have to conform to the society around us in order for our church to grow, we’d be better off closing our doors. Because God did not call us to be just like everybody else around us. He called us to be a unique people, a people willing to be ignored, excluded and even condemned before giving up a gospel of integrity, acceptance, and love. That’s why Paul wrote, Do not change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.

Thankfully, I don’t believe church growth demands that we conform to the society around us. In fact, the opposite may be true. I think there are people in this community who are hungry to hear grace instead of hell, hungry to be included instead of excluded, hungry to be a part of a church that is known for its integrity. Our job is not to be a church that is conformed to this community. Our job is to be a church that transforms this community with the loving gospel of Jesus Christ, and if we’ll find a way to do that, I believe church growth will take care of itself.

If you’ve read about American History, you remember those ugly days of slavery. Sadly, most southern churches conformed to the norms of a slaveholding society instead of trying to transform society with the inclusive love of Christ.

Out of the slave fields came a story about one wicked slave master who bought several slaves to work on his cotton plantation. He treated them terribly. He would yell at them and beat them for no reason at all. Whenever the slaves saw the slave master coming, they would cower back and bow their heads, showing how much they feared him.
But one slave was different. One slave refused to let the slave master make him lower his head. Whenever the master came, he would stand tall and brave.

When the master saw his courage, he beat him even harder, but the man would always stand tall and brave, no matter what the master did to him.

One day, the evil master pulled him aside and said. “When I beat the other slaves they bow their heads and cower down before me, but you show no fear. When I beat you, you continue to stand tall and brave. Why are you so different?

The slave looked the master straight in the eye and said, “I’m not different. I’m special. You see, when I lived in Africa, I was the son of the king. When you captured me and brought me to the United States, you took away my freedom but you could not take away my birthright. In Africa, I was the son of a king, and in America, I am still the son of a king. Nothing you can do will ever take that from me.

Today, I’ve been talking to about being different, about being different from the people around us. But maybe I’ve been using the wrong word. Jesus doesn’t want us just to be different. He wants us to be special. Not conformed but transformed. Not just another face in the crowd, or another church in the community, but Jesus wants us to stand tall as people of love, people of faith, people of inclusion, and people of integrity. Yes, we may be ignored, condemned or excluded, but there’s one thing society can never take from us. It cannot take away our birthright of love, because today, tomorrow and forever more, you and I are children of the King.