The Need To Feel That One Is Growing In Faith
Reader’s Theater "Same Old, Same Old." by Arley K. Fadness.
Synopsis: A husband and wife argue about how to celebrate their
23rd wedding anniversary. Alma, the wife, likes to go to the same
romantic place where they went on their honeymoon, year after
year. George, the husband, is tired of the "same old thing" and
would rather go or do new things. The debate is seemingly
unresolved until Alma is seen looking at a brochure titled "Tahiti" and is heard making a call to a travel agency. This abrupt change indicates a sudden growth spurt in their relationship.
Call to Worship Psalm 119
Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statues forever, to the end.
*Hymn of Praise # 561 Day by Day
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) O loving God, author and shaper of community, you promised that where two or three are gathered, the living Christ would be among them. Here we are — two, three and many more — families, friends, pilgrims, seekers. Come among us, Spirit of God. Knit us together in all our variety. Speak a bold word to us this day, that we might be moved to respond as your beloved community. Amen.
Our Offering to God 2On every Lord’s Day, each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering. 1 Corinthians 16:2
Prayer of Dedication Accept these gifts, O God, as testimonies of our love for you and our desire to serve you. Let these offerings be an affirmation that we are bound to one another as your people. In your generous name we pray. Amen.
*Hymn of Prayer # 344 Be Thou My Vision
Pastoral Prayer O holy God, great Physician, Lover of all people, we are astonished by your amazing grace. We are captivated by your power and awed by your mercy. In the heart of our hearts, we long to know you more deeply, to touch even the fringes of your cloak, and to know peace and healing. We strain our ears to hear you call us daughters and sons, like so many before us. We pray for the faith that can make us whole.
And we pray for those in need of your healing this day: For the sick, for the injured and hospitalized, and for those whose illness has isolated them from their community. Give them a spirit of healing and hope ....For the outcast, and for those whom we have cast out through our action, or inaction. Shine a light on our prejudices, soften our hardened hearts, and transform us for loving service toward every Christ we meet ....For those who mourn and weep. Let them stand firm in your promises, buoyed by your strength and care. Give them the comfort and assurance that nothing can separate them from your love. Loving God, we pray for healing and hope to reign in this world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be peace. Where there is hunger and poverty, let there be abundance. Where there is distress and despair, let there be light, warm and unquenchable. We pray to hear your words: “Follow me,”…”you are free indeed” for they are words not only of discipleship, but of assurance — that as your disciples, we will never be forsaken. You will lead us, all of us, into unexpected places. Give us the courage to follow you each day of our lives. Amen.
*Hymn of Praise # 318 Trust and Obey
Scripture Reading John 8:31-36
Message The Need To Feel That One Is Growing In Faith
"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
After worship, a little boy told the pastor: "When I grow up, I'm going to give you some money." "Well, thank you," the pastor replied, "but why?" "Because my daddy says you're one of the poorest preachers we've ever had."1
With the risk of this story in mind, I am pleased,
nevertheless, to bring you the fifth sermon in a series of six, dealing with the spiritual needs of Americans as discovered by George Gallup, Jr.
This morning, we focus on the need to feel that one is growing in faith. I begin with a song by Peter Pan.
I won't grow up. Not a penny will I pinch.
I will never grow a mustache or a fraction of an inch.
'Cause growing up is awfuller than all the awful things that ever were.
I will never grow up, never grow up,never grow up, not me!2
So sang Peter Pan ... and for some of us it is our song. We don't want to grow up. We do not want to face the next stage in life. We are comfortable where we are. In fact, we don't know why anyone would want us to change. Like Peter Pan, we express our desire to stay just as we are.
There was a group of Peter Pans in the New Testament. Listen to how the author of the Letter to the Hebrews feels about growing up in Christ, or more accurately, the lack of growing up in faith.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. -- Hebrews 5:12-14
The Peter Pans in the Letter to the Hebrews did not want to
grow up. Here is an example of frozen spiritual development. Here are people who have been professing Christ for years. By this time they ought to be teachers. They've had plenty of time, says the writer to the Hebrews, since believing in Christ, to be able to instruct others about the basics of the Gospel message - but they never left their babyhood.
I have seen 20, 30, 40, 50-year-old people who are still
lying in their baby cribs. I have been there myself - stuck - sitting in kindergarten - a grownup, sucking on a baby bottle.
We keep taking classes in Christianity 101.
And yet according to George Gallup, Jr., there are thousands of us who actually do want to grow up. We have the urgent need to feel that we are growing in our faith. I know I want to grow in my faith and life. I want to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I do want to mature and learn and expand my faith. Ignorance is not bliss. Immaturity is not attractive. Peter Pan may think it's wonderful, but Wendy and her brothers, after spending time in Never-Never Land, discover differently.3
On this Lord's Day, we celebrate knowing three things: We celebrate knowing we are free. We celebrate knowing we are free to grow. And thirdly, we worship God knowing we are free to grow up. / We rejoice knowing we are free.
We read in John's gospel, "If you continue in my word, you
are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free ... so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
The Reformation proclaimed three major principles:
justification by grace through faith, the authority of the
Scriptures, and the universal priesthood of the baptized. This morning we are overwhelmed by the truth of the first - that by God's grace in Jesus Christ we are forgiven, cleansed, healed, made perfect and sinless. We are justified - made right with God - through the cross of Christ and him crucified. God's Son has made me free.
There is that story told about Abraham Lincoln. "Lincoln went down to the slave block. He saw a young girl being sold. He took money out of his own pocket and bought her. When she was brought to him, he said, 'Young lady, you are free.' She said, 'Please, sir, what does that mean?' He said, 'It means you are free.' 'Does that mean,' she asked, 'that I can say whatever I want to say?' Lincoln said, 'Yes, my dear, you can say whatever you want to say.' 'Does that mean,' she asked, 'that I can be whatever I want to be?' Lincoln said, 'Yes, you can be whatever you want to
be.' She asked, 'Does that mean I can go wherever I want to go?' He said, 'Yes, you can go whenever you want to go.' And the girl, with tears streaming down her face, said, 'Then I will go with you.' "4
When the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.
We can rejoice in the second place, knowing and feeling we
are free to grow. We are either trees or posts. You can take a tree and put it in the ground, and it begins to grow. When you put a post in the ground, it begins to rot and decay. We are trees or we are posts. As a pastor these years, it has been my delight to see people in my congregations grow like trees.
Unfortunately, I have also had to witness the sad business of watching posts decay and fade away. Are you a tree or a post?
John Westerhoff, Christian Education Specialist, writes in
his thesis cassette series titled The Development of Faith that faith has content and can change its characteristics through life. Some faith developmental theorists see the Christian believer going through various stages and levels of maturity in life. Westerhoff pictures the analogy of a tree. "A one-ring tree is a whole tree; has all its treehood, no less than a three-ring tree and the same is true of faith. A tree grows one ring at a time - gradually - so it is with faith." The growth depends on environment, on nourishment.
I want to be a tree. I want to celebrate that God's Son has
made me free to grow. I expect to grow ring by ring.
Thirdly, we can rejoice this morning knowing we are free to
God calls us to maturity in our newfound freedom. Wouldn't it be a joke, if this morning we announced a potluck for the parish but the only food we could bring, share, and eat, would be baby food? The time for milk is over. We are free to grow up!
James Taylor says we are like naked crabs. On the beach, shells of crabs lie washed up by the waves. Some are from crabs that died. Others are simply discarded, a dwelling too small for its growing occupant. That's how crabs grow bigger - when their shells get too tight, they split the shell open and grow a new one.5
I've never talked to a crab. But I imagine the process of
splitting open a shell must be painful. I'm sure that until they grow a new shell, they feel terribly defenseless and vulnerable. They're literally naked. That's how we feel when we crack open our shells.
Our shells aren't visible, like the crab's. But they are
there, just the same, shells formed by years of habit, shells that protect us from other people, shells that are the roles we play as parents or children or bosses or employees. Every now and then, we crack our shells open and emerge into a new world, quivering and defenseless. Teenagers do it as they become adults. No wonder, James Taylor says, they get crabby. Adults do it as they learn to quit running their children's lives. Or when they lose their jobs, or divorce strikes, or a spouse dies, or one's home burns up, or when an investment fails.
But we are free to grow up and bear fruit by the grace of God.
A group consisting of Lutheran and Roman Catholic mixed couples, met together in homes, discussed the faith - both similarities and differences - and prayed together. One night Norman said, "I always prayed for the conversion of my Lutheran wife (to Roman Catholicism) and now I pray a different prayer - a prayer for growth and deeper understanding in the common faith."
God never leaves us as God finds us.
I am changing, by the grace of God and by the movement of the Holy Spirit. God is maturing me. I am not today what I was yesterday, nor what I'll be tomorrow.
So I will celebrate. I am free. God's Son has made me free,
free to grow, free to grow up in Christ. Amen.
1. "The Joyful Noiseletter," Volume 8, No. 9, November, 1993. 2. Faith at Work, Volume 104, No. 1, Jan/Feb 1991, p. 3.3. FAW, Volume 104, No. 1, Jan/Feb 1991, p. 3.4. Source unknown.5. Parable by James Taylor titled "Naked Crabs."
*Hymn of Response # 408 I Will Sing of My Redeemer
*Sending forth The commandments of God are encapsulated in this: that we love our neighbor as ourselves. We are not alone in this task — Christ gives us strength and courage for the task. In a world consumed too often by darkness, let us prepare for ministry by clothing ourselves in the light of Christ, that all might be free. In the name of the triune God. Amen.