September 22, 2019 / Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost & Confirmation Day /Richard E. Holmer First Lesson: Amos 8:4-7/ Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6, 14-16/Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
Growing Up Into Christ
What do you want to be when you grow up? Children are often asked this question by adults. Some adults are still wondering about the answer when they reach middle age. My earliest recollection is that I wanted to be a cowboy. In my childhood, Westerns dominated television programming – and I was enchanted by the cowboy life. My favorite cowboy was Hopalong Cassidy – and the Lone Ranger was pretty cool, as well. A bit later I became a baseball fan. We were living in St. Louis, and the great Stan Musial was my hero. What could be better than the life of a baseball player?
In fifth grade our assignment was to write an autobiography. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of content when you are only 10 years old. I came across that autobiography a few years ago: it was cleverly titled: “I’m Rich.” As I read it I was reminded that my aspiration at that time was to be a Navy Chaplain. You know: A pastor like my dad – only cooler: not in a church but on an aircraft carrier!
What did you want to be when you were a kid? What do you want to be now? How does present reality match up with your dreams?
Another question worth pondering is this: What does God want you to be when you grow up? In one sense the answer is the same for all of us. What God wants each of us to be is a Christian. We can end up doing all kinds of different things – yet whatever it is, it can be done as a Christian. Being a Christian isn’t your career or your profession – it’s your calling. As a Christian you can be a:DoctorBusinessmanEngineerAccountantTeacherArtistSalespersonLawyerFarmerCarpenterScientistPilot
Our talents and skills and interests can lead us in all kinds of directions. However, each one of us was called by God at the time of our baptism. God chose us to be daughters and sons. None of us chose to be children of God. Jesus said quite plainly: “You did not choose me, I chose you.” So, ready or not, like it or not, God has chosen to welcome us, to love us, to be faithful to us. Then, as we grow up, what God wants more than anything is for you and me to choose to live as Christians. Having been chosen as beloved children of God, it is for us to choose to live out our days as devoted members of God’s family.
This is the reality which moves Paul to make the plea we heard in our Second Reading today: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Can you hear the passion in Paul’s words? It’s a call to lead a life that matters, a life that makes a difference – a life that is worthy of the children of God.
You and I are Christians by the grace of God. By means of that same grace you and I can choose to think, to behave, to serve as Christians. Most of us had no say about being baptized. (I was only three weeks old.) But we have a lot to say about how we live, day by day. No one is forced to be a Christian. God operates by invitation and attraction. You and I are called to be Christians. We hear the same invitation each week at the close of our worship service: “Go in peace to follow Christ, make disciples and live the gospel.” Go, lead a life worthy of your calling, worthy of the name Christian.
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Now, it’s great to be a kid – yet the time comes to grow up, to mature, to become responsible. First we crawl, then we walk, then we can run. Paul looks for that same maturity in our spiritual lives: “We must no longer be children,” he says. To be childlike can be good: curious, spontaneous, trusting, energetic. But to be childish gets us nowhere: there’s no value in being naïve, gullible, petulant and immature. In essence, Paul is saying, “Oh, grow up!”
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What, then, does maturity look like for Christians? It looks a lot like Jesus. What Paul says is this: “We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Christ is our model, our goal, our destiny. This side of heaven, nobody becomes identical with Jesus. Most not even close. What we try to do, as best as we can, is imitate Jesus. We aim to grow in his likeness. To be a Christian is to somehow reflect the light of Christ in the way we live. How can this actually happen?
The essential first step in growing up into Christ is wanting this to happen. (Major task: figuring out what to want) Until you appreciate the greatness, the wisdom, the beauty, the grace of Jesus Christ – why would you be interested in becoming like him? You need to get to know Jesus. Of course this means spending time with the Jesus we meet in the bible. It involves reading yourself into his story – placing yourself in the parables of Jesus. It also means hanging out where Jesus shows up: worship is good for that. So are places like PADS and COOL and Habitat for Humanity. Serving others we meet Christ in them.
You’ll meet Jesus in bible studies, on retreats, on mission trips. You discover Jesus in persons who love Jesus, who find joy in serving the way Jesus served. And then you decide: do I want to follow this Jesus? Do I want to grow to be more like him? If it is not your heart’s desire to grow up into Christ, it won’t happen. Leo Vitale was the football coach at my high school. He also taught P.E. and driver’s ed. His motto was: Ya Gotta Wanna. Desire is the engine for becoming more than what you are. It’s a big question: Do you want to be more like Jesus? Why would you?
I believe that the first followers of Jesus were drawn to him because he spoke the truth. Deep down, people want to know what’s actually true, what’s real. He spoke the truth boldly, clearly and without compromise. Jesus told them the truth about themselves: they were like sheep without a shepherd, they were of infinite worth, they could change and move in a new direction.
He told them the truth about God. God is a loving Father, whose door is always open. God’s Kingdom is open to all who believe, regardless of their personal history. God wants all to live abundantly. Jesus spoke the plain truth, always in a spirit of love. He didn’t coddle persons, or pretend that sin was not a serious business. But Jesus never shamed persons or beat them over the head with the truth.
People followed Jesus because he lived the truth. One way to be more like Jesus is to try his approach. Paul encourages us to speak the truth in love. It’s a habit that takes practice. It’s not difficult to be brutally frank – to say: “This is how it is. Deal with it.” Nor is it difficult to imagine we’re being loving by ignoring the truth – by avoiding hard truths, saying nothing. The real art is to be honest and loving at the same time. Jesus is the master of this. People can bear being called sinners by Jesus, because they trust the love that Jesus has for broken, sinful persons.
Paul points to some of the virtues we see in Jesus: Humility, Gentleness, Patience, and of course LOVE. Again you need to ask yourself: Do I want to be humble? Would I like to become more gentle? Do I have a desire to be patient? Am I willing to love the way Jesus loves? Once you decide this is what you want, the Holy Spirit will help you to grow in that direction. That’s a promise Jesus made. We can pray for the grace to grow. The Lord says, “Those who seek me find me.”
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Growing up into Christ is an ambitious goal. It may seem impossible – yet remember that all things are possible with God. One way to move forward is to pay attention to other faithful Christians. When I meet with our confirmands for a final conversation I ask them: Who do you know to be a faithful Christian? Often the answer is a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle. And then I ask: What is it about them that identifies them as a Christian? And they can point to specific qualities and habits.
Ask yourself that same question. In your life, who are the persons who are leading faithful lives: following Christ, living the gospel? Imitating their example, internalizing their values will certainly help you to lead a life worthy of our calling as Christians. May God who chose you to be his daughters and sons give you the grace to keep growing up – growing up into Christ.