Word of the Week

It's Time to Grow Up

Grow Up!

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

In the lectionary cycle, we are reaching the end of the time of year that is named "ordinary time." Next week, we will celebrate a service of remembrance of Thanksgiving and then the following Sunday, November 27th will begin Advent. (Hard to believe we are at Advent again, isn't it?)

Though "Ordinary time" isn't the most exciting descriptor of course of all the good work we've been exploring together in worship since we celebrated Pentecost Sunday in June, it's the liturgical season we stay in the longest in any given year.

Ever wonder why the color of the pulpit cloth and my stole is green and has been green for seemingly forever (unless you are Ernie and just noticed the color change last week?). Green is a color that symbolizes growth, and summer and early fall-- the time of year that ordinary season occurs every year-- it's a time in the life of the church to put all our attention on "spiritual growth" without the highs and lows of the religious holidays such as Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter or Christmas to distract us. During ordinary time, we are to devote ourselves to the business of deepening our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

All of this to say, when reflecting about the fact that our "ordinary" (aka growth season) in the church is nearly over, I could help but take the opportunity and go off the lectionary for this week and do a check-up of sorts about how it is that we are doing in the "growing up" portion of our own spiritual lives. Drawing upon some wisdom from the writer of the book of Hebrews-- a book we don't hear too many sermons from in a given year given its complexity and unknown authorship, but has much to teach us about the richness and the beauty of what following Christ is all about.

Let me interrupt your regularly schedule sermon narration to ask for a true confession time: are any of you willing to admit that you still are holding onto an object of sentimental value from your childhood? It could be an old lunch box, your favorite stuffed animal or that leather jacket that you just had to have your senior year of high school but is now five sizes too small with no possible way that you could find your way into anytime soon? If so, feel free to raise your hands now.

If I were to make my own true confession it would be that I still have a baby blanket that my great-grandmother made me for me. It's a carefully crocheted in pastel colors that has stood the test of time, these 31 years of my life. Mu, as she was affectionately known on my father's side of the family, died when I was a year old, so though I have no memories of her, the blanket is still special to me-- even though as you can obviously see, I am no longer a baby in need of a blanket.

Why is it that we hold on to such things-- long past their time of practical usefulness to us? The obvious answer is the emotional comfort the continuity of such objects in our lives provide.

But in the case of my blanket and your  fill in the blank items as well, we keep them close for comfort's sake, but in doing so, might we also have our "growing up" stumped a little in the process? Do we really NEED such things from our childhood?

In the same way, the preacher of our text for this morning, is too trying to find a way to say to his congregation a word or two about the "growing up" that he feels they need to do as well, letting go of what had worked for them in the past.

I don't know if along the way in your educational life, you ever encountered a teacher that was known to challenge their students: challenge in the sense of motivating students beyond originally felt was one's capacity for study. Well, if you have had such an experienced or journeyed with your child in such a hard experience, then you have an idea already what the Hebrews preacher is up too.

If we were to read on past where our lection ends today at verse two of chapter six, soon we'd be in some of the most complex passages in all of the New Testament. Passages which speak to the nature of some of Christianity's most important concepts: faith, the place of Jesus in relation to God and even about who angels are.

Like any good teacher, the Preacher of Hebrews knew, that if we went over his congregation's head and just jumped into all of this deep stuff, without some good hook, they'd soon stop listening and maybe even fall asleep during the end of the sermon. So, this is where the words of our text come in. Look with me at verse 12: "By this time you ought to be teachers, but instead you need someone to teach you the ABC of God's oracles over again."

Though at first glance this verse seems to sound like a lecture given from a lofty pulpit with a harsh tone, it isn't actually. It is a rhetorical strategy used by the preacher/ teacher to say: "Listen up friends. I am about to tell you about some of the most amazing teaching you've ever heard, but you aren't ready. So I won't."

The hope of the words that follow, then is persuasion for the congregation to listen up, to prove their teacher wrong. That, yes, really yes, they could handle it. They were ready for more. To say with the nods on their heads that yes, wanted to journey with the preacher into conversation about the deep waters of faith.

Because if we understand the type of teaching in Christian community commonplace among converts at this time, we realize that much like our regime of offering Sunday School for children and adults, the intended audience of this sermon had also been through instructional teaching for a year or sometimes three at least. These listeners were not those who had never been around Christianity before and need a 101 lesson. Rather, they at least had heard the basics.

But, even with this true, the preacher says, in 6:1: "Let us stop discussing the rudiments of Christianity." What does this mean? Doesn't everyone need a refresher course every now and then?

But the preacher is saying: the time of hashing and rehashing over the same "Jesus was important teacher. Jesus died for my sins. Jesus rose again which is why we celebrate Easter..." just can't last forever. As good as it was to know and hear the basics, life in the ways of God was so much more adventurous than this. They were asked to no longer stand still. In fact, the Hebrews preacher suggests that staying in the same place spirituality that they had always been was in fact NOT standing still, as it might seem. Rather, it was indeed going backwards.

The analogy employed here in Hebrews, is in fact one that has stood the test of time from ancient to modern.  Look with me at verse 13 when the preacher says, "Anyone who lives on milk is still an infant, with no experience of what is right. Solid food is for  adults, whose perceptions have been trained by long use to discriminate between good and evil."

And such a statement we understand from this preacher: "Are you still an infant in the faith? No. Well, then why in the world are you still drinking milk only? Don't you know that as adults, your calling is to eat and teach others to also eat solid spiritual food-- food that cannot be merely gulped as a whole, but food that needs to be carefully cut into smaller pieces to be digested slowly."

A friend of mine was taking her young son to the dentist for his annual check-up. When the dentist examined my friend's son's teeth, immediately he had that look of alarm that every parent knows. Something was up. The dentist began to ask more about the child's diet and when and if he still took a bottle at night.

When the answer to the milk in a bottle question was yes, the dentist was quick to respond: "You know that this is not good for your son. He has to stop drinking milk this way and taking bottles altogether at his age. He's growing up you know, and if he keeps at this 'infant-like' behavior the growth of his mouth as an adult will actually be stunned."

So, the question before us this morning is, are we still drinking milk spiritually or have we moved on to steak or a plate full of the most beautiful sautéed vegetables (for the vegetarians in the room)?

Not that there is anything wrong with milk if we are new to the faith-- of course. When we are newborn in terms of accepting Christianity as our spiritual home, milk is perfect. Actually, it is indeed THE most nourishing substance we can provide and surround ourselves with, often taking it in as newborns take milk from their parents-- being feed by those who are more experienced at spiritual food than we are and taking it all in.

Drinking spiritual milk would look like coming to Bible study and asking as many questions as we need. Sitting in worship, not saying much but listening well.
Not tithing part of our income to the church yet, but giving what spare change we can find in the bottom of our purse. And, reading scripture or other devotional texts  as we feel moved to do so. All of these baby steps in faith become beautiful testaments to the work of God that is beginning to take root in our souls. And if this is where you are today, I say, keep drinking up the milk. Go for it. Drink up.

But, what about the rest of us? Why are we still drinking milk (like the picture on the front cover of our bulletin for this morning)?

What about those of us for whom we raised in the church?

What about us who have been re-associating ourselves with church and now realize we've been a member regularly attending WPBC for five years or more?

What then, is the" grow up" message of our text for this morning? How might the spiritual practices of our past be holding us back, stunning our growth, much like the mother who couldn't refuse her child his bottle at night but then got the bad news from the dentist? What might a life of solid spiritual foods look like?

But, the truth be told, I can't describe what spiritual solid food will look like in your life and what it will look in mine. If we take a minute and consider just a moment how it is that we digest a meal such as the one we have on the altar table, we might find some clues to get us moving in the right direction.

Consider thinking about spiritual food like we do solid food.

Spiritual food like solid food takes time to come together. Just as we can't come home from work quickly and put together a five course meal in the matter over 30 minutes or less if we haven't prepared ahead of time, we can't expect to receive spiritual nourishment if we just call upon  God when a crisis hits or our guilt gets the best of us.

Spiritual food like solid food takes time to digest. Unlike drinking a cold glass of milk in under a minute if we want, eating solid foods takes time. To eat solid foods, we must slow ourselves down to chew so that we simply don't choke. Growing spiritually does not come from reading a couple of sentences devotional every now
and then-- it comes in setting the intentions of our days that growing in relationship with our Creator is actually something we want to put into our schedule. Not lunch on the run, or lunch multitasking while on our email, but lunch with time and space to enjoy every bite of God's love given for us in the Word called the Bible.

Spiritual food like solid food comes in various forms. At some points in our lives, we could eat chicken fingers and mac and cheese for every meal. But as we grow
older, we often learn to eat foods we would have turned our noses up to as kids-- broccoli, spinach, and carrots, just to name a few. In the same way, the intake of spiritual foods in our lives will probably look different with each passing year. Sometimes it will look like lots of Bible Study classes. Sometimes it will look like weekends devoted to social justice projects. Sometimes it will look the quiet devotion of abiding in deep friendship with other believers. But regardless-- it is nourishment that we need at the time and we must eat up, not being to picky complaining that our spiritual food doesn't look as good as our brother or sisters'.

So this morning, I ask you, again, do you want to grow up? Do you want to have something other than milk for dinner? Do you want to taste and see that the Lord is indeed good? Then, come join me, come join your fellow believers on this journey in the feast of spiritual foods that our heavenly Parent has laid before us.  Let's do this important work and grow up in the faith together.

I promise you that as you learn to eat your spiritual food, it will taste better than you could have ever imagined as you keep chewing it, preparing it, feasting on it and sharing your meal with others.