Sunday, November 8, 2015

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Growing up is never easy

What if the church grew like a family?
Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 12:1-2, 11-15; Hebrews 5:14-6;2, 10-12

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    Growing up is never easy.  In fact it can even be painful, literally.  25-40% of children in early childhood experience something we call “growing pains”, concentrated around muscles, often in the lower leg.  Medical research hasn’t determined the real cause, but it happens.
    When numerical growth happens in our families, we sometimes experience ‘growing pains’ there, as well.  Babies are born. Young adults get married, in-laws are added. Grandparents move in with adult children and the household expands. Children are adopted. Foster kids are taken in.  Our families increase as we host exchange students, nieces or nephews, or even help to raise grandchildren.  Our families decrease as grandparents die, marriages break up, adult children move out.  Families adjust, or try to. There is movement, change, an ebb and flow, “growing pains”.  We hope some rhythm is established, providing security and stability, but relationships and family dynamics are constantly in flux!
    Church growth is also a big topic in some circles. Are there ‘growing pains’ there? Years ago we heard lots about the ‘church growth movement’.  Not so much in recent years, but church growth is still researched, discussed and new models emerge.  We have mega-churches, satelite churches, house churches, store-front churches, cell churches, church plants, churches split off or spawned off of others, intentional communities, formational communities.

    But today we are not focusing on our physical growth, nor our numerical growth in families or churches, but rather looking at what the apostle Paul is referring to in Ephesians 4, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Maturity.  His pastoral concern is accenting the need for growing up out of infancy, out of our childish,  immature ways, into maturity, a growing up that is seen as ‘growing into Christ’.  It suggests movement, and being ‘rooted in the truth.’.
    As Paul is in prison, he is instructing the people how to live.  He reminds them they were all called to travel on the same road in the same direction, so stay together, he instructs, both outwardly and inwardly.  But that doesn’t mean they will all look and act and speak the same.  Different gifts were given to different people and the intent is that they all work together, working within Christ’s body, the church, “until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (The Message).
    For healthy growth every part of the body must play its role under the supervision of the head, which is Christ.  God wants us to grow up in every way, to be more like Christ.

      The Hebrews texts also exhort us to maturity. The Preacher/writer is directing his comments to this congregation that is exhausted, tired of service, worship, committee meetings, and attempts at meaningful prayer life.  They are worn down, worn out, and close to walking out of community and away from faith.  What does the Preacher/writer do?  He keeps preaching and preaching and telling them over and over about the nature and meaning of Jesus Christ!  And he gets so fired up, that by end of chapter 5 he says, “Much more could be said about this subject.  But it is hard to explain, and all of you are slow to understand.”
They weren’t real good at listening and therefore they hadn’t moved much beyond Christian Formation 101.  By now they should be in upper level courses, even graduate school, Instead they were still receiving meager nourishment from watered down formula, baby’s milk.  They should be consuming solid food.

“We must try to become mature and start thinking about MORE than just the basic things we were taught about Christ.” 6:1

They can’t continue to re-lay the foundation, over and over again and disregard the superstructure.  So, LET US MOVE BEYOND THE  ELEMENTARY TEACHINGS ABOUT CHRIST AND BE TAKEN FORWARD TO MATURITY.
LET’S GROW UP!

    So what does it mean to be fully mature Christian adults, fully developed and  alive in Christ?  to Grow up?

The texts give us some hints.

1.)  Our lives can not be stagnant, going nowhere.  The Hebrew Preacher is convinced that one cannot stay still in the Christian life.  We must always be moving.  We can either move deeper, being formed and transformed in the process, or be adrift.  We either keep growing, maturing, exploring, studying, learning, wrestling with deep questions about life, OR we float lazily along the surface, not knowing that we might be pulled off course or not caring that it is happening.  KEEP MOVING/GROWING
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2.)  We must get rid of things that will slow us down and impede our life of faith.  We need to ask difficult questions of ourselves.  What is it that is weighing me down, what struggles am I tired of fighting in my life, what do I need to let go of in order to move on and grow deeper and fuller in my walk with Jesus?  What sin in my life is holding me back?  Are there things in the church that we need to let go of?  Letting go is hard, letting go of that which no longer works, is hard, that which no longer brings joy and meaning, which is no longer full of life.  Hard choices, hard decisions.  Necessary ones!

3.)  We need to commit to run this race that is before us, to have perseverance for the journey, for the long haul.  The Christian journey is more like a marathon than a sprint.  And it is sometimes more like the back of the marathon, rather than the front runners. Christian commitment, this discipleship thing, carries a price tag.  Being part of a community is hard work.  It, too, has a price tag.  We are not always willing to pay the cost.

4.)  We need to “fix our eyes on Jesus”.  He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  He is the one who leads us and makes our faith complete.  What other things are our eyes on?  other than Jesus.  What is taking our time and attention that is hindering us?   How much of what we do in the church is building up our faith and edifying the body and focused on Jesus, or are we doing things to entertain, to impress, to make a name for ourselves in the community, in the conference, in the larger church?

5.)  We need to pursue peace with everyone, and be holy...try to live a clean life.  If you don’t (the text states), you will never see the Lord. (Hebrews12:14 CEV)

6.)  Hebrews 12:15 “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s wonderful kindness. Don’t let anyone become bitter and cause trouble for the rest of you.”   Give thanks and encouragement to those in the body, sharing about God’s goodness, faithfulness. We need to trust each other and hold each other accountable for our actions.  Do we know each other well enough for that to happen?  Are we honest  and able to speak the truth in love, if we see someone’s actions or behaviors are causing divisions and hard feelings and distress?  How would we accept another’s challenge or confrontation or admonition, if we were on the receiving end?

Growing up, becoming fully mature, spiritually alive adults is not easy.  Are we willing to pay the price?  Are we willing to take risks and step beyond our elementary understandings of what it means to follow Jesus?  Are we being nourished with solid food, or still sipping warm milk from our favorite ‘sippy cup’?


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    I think some of us are standing on a threshold.   In some areas of my life, I think that is where I am, as I near a possible change in my workload and role here at PV. I think in some ways the threshold is a good metaphor for where the church is at.
    The word threshold originally referred to the door way leading to the place where the threshing of grain occurred.  Beyond the entrance lay the place of separating the wheat from the chaff, of sorting and sifting, of beginning to filter out that which would be used for the bread.

    As we stand on a physical threshold (maybe a doorway), we know who we are now and where we have come from, but we don’t know who we will become or what new possibility is ahead of us.  It takes courage to take the step, to move ahead, beyond the doorway and into a new and different space.  It requires acceptance of mystery and a heart full of trust.  Sometimes we just want to avoid the threshold, maybe even turn back

    Growing up, maturing in our faith in Christ, is like standing on the threshold.  At different stages in our life we have to choose whether we want to cross over into the next room, take the graduate level course, and move into a deeper and fuller life with spiritual depth.  Or maybe we are immobilized by our fears of the unknown and what God might actually be calling us to.  When that happens, it feels like our feet are nailed to the doorway, even though some of our heart and mind are being pulled forward.  The challenge is to give ourselves fully to the process of change while being unsure of what may result, to trust that we are not alone in this process of being transformed, of ‘growing up’, of maturing in our faith.

    As I left the Constituency Leaders Council meetings in Archbold, OH several weeks ago, I truly felt like our church is on a threshold.  The work done, the stories shared over 3 days indicated clearly that our personal journeys, the stories of our conferences and congregations, differ in many ways.  The common factor of  transformation is that we can no longer remain just as we are.  Growing up and becoming mature in Christ implies some movement, some change.  We can remain on the threshold for awhile, in this “holding pattern” as we give ourselves time to slow down and take stock of what’s happening, to discover what we might need to discard in our lives, and what we need to change, but we can’t remain on the threshold forever.  We can remain until we have learned the lessons we need to learn and find the stamina, the courage, the clarity of purpose to move on.
   
    Jan Richardson wrote, “a threshold can become a holy place of new beginnings as we tend it, wait within it, and discern the path beyond.”

Prayer: God of Transformation, as we recognize that change, ‘growing up’, maturing is never easy, always challenging, we call upon you in the silence and in the chaos and busyness of our lives.  Slow us down when we want to hurry on, so that we can marinate in your love and hear your voice.  Draw us close to you when we want to run away out of fear and anxiety, and the unknown.  Teach us how to be patient and wise when we wait on the threshold of growth.  Open the door of our hearts. May we search for and be nourished by solid food that helps us grow up to be mature adults and followers of Jesus.
Amen


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