9th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 2.8.15
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Something I’m beginning to discover, and I know what many of you with grown-up children know too well, is that childhood does not last forever. Our children grow up.
There are so many landmarks along the way.
Their first step.
Their first word.
Their first day at nursery, at school, at secondary school.
Their first time away from home.
Their first time living away from home.
Their first job.
We celebrate these landmarks, sometimes with unalloyed joy.
Our eldest child learnt to walk on a sandy beach in North Devon, toddling from one sandy pool to the next, falling in and then getting back up again. Watching him was one of the happiest moments of my life.
Sometimes those landmarks leave a somewhat bitter-sweet taste. Dropping the children off to stay by themselves with grandparents for the first time. You know its a good thing, but its not always easy to accept it.
But however we feel, we know that our children growing up is how things should be. To try and keep them forever as children would not just be impossible, it would be harmful to try. I may love to want to keep my youngest as a five-year old, but one day I know she will turn six. Indeed it is right and good she should.
We grow. We mature. It is how things are meant to be.
Well, in the latest passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus in Turkey, Paul makes a similar point about our Christian lives.
We are made to grow, to mature. We are not made to stay as spiritual infants, eternally stuck with a childish and immature faith. We are made to grow into maturity in the fulness of Christ. Growth is a natural part of the Christian life.
Which leads to an obvious question. I wonder, when was the last time you felt you grew in your Christian life? When was the last time you felt that you had matured in your understanding of God, or experienced in a new or deeper way the love that Christ has for you, or felt the touch of God’s Spirit doing something new in your life?
Paul was concerned that the Christians in Ephesus did not just stand still, resting on a faith that had become sterile or stunted. He wanted them to grow, to, in his words, “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ”, to “grow and build themselves up in love”.
So, how does that happen? How do we grow? There are many ways, but Paul mentions a couple here.
Firstly, we are all to use our gifts.
Paul writes that God has given gifts to his church to prepare us for works of service, to help us to grow in our faith in God. In other words, we all have been given gifts that we can use to help one another grow in faith.
It may be the gift of welcoming people, of making new people to our church feel included. It may be the gift of compassion, coming alongside people in need, supporting them and listening to them. It may be the gift of flower-arranging or cleaning, creating a beautiful environment in which we can come together to worship God. It may be the gift of sharing, telling others about God just through our conversation. It may be the gift of music, leading us in our musical worship of God.
God gives gifts to each one of us to help us nurture and encourage faith in one another, to help each of us grow.
I wonder what your gifts are? Have you used them recently to help others grow in their Christian lives? And I wonder what your neighbour’s gifts are? Have you ever encouraged them or thanked them for what they do, for how they have helped you grow?
We can grow by using our gifts. We can also grow by what Paul calls “living a life worthy of our calling”. What does he mean by that?
Imagine you have just been called up to represent a group or body that is immensely important to you. Maybe you are receiving an award on behalf of the school you work for; or for the sports club or community group that you have been part of for many years; or you have been chosen to represent the people of Coventry. You want to behave in a manner worthy of that calling, that honour. You may well dress up smarter than you would normally do, be particularly aware of being there on time.
Well, Paul tells us that we all have a calling that trumps any other calling. We are all called to be children of God, to be part of his family, to represent Christ in the world. How remarkable is that?
And in the light of such a calling, such a privilege, we are to live a life worthy of it. That does not mean wearing smart clothes and turning up to church early every Sunday.
It means living a life that is different.
A life that is gentle and humble, not forcing ourselves upon others, but treating people with kindness, respect, valuing them for who they are. There are times when we all may strongly disagree with someone else, but with God’s help, we can respond to that disagreement not with anger or stubbornness but with gentleness and humility, just as Christ himself did.
It is a life that is patient, bearing with one another in love. I know that there are many here for whom their patience is sorely tested. Caring for loved ones who may not be quite as reasonable or as independent as they once were, or caring for young children whose needs and demands are continuous. Patience, loving perseverance, is a quality that helps us live a life worthy of God, a quality that helps us to grow in faith.
And a life that is worthy of our calling is one that keeps the bonds of peace, that makes every effort to work for unity. As David Porter, the former head of reconciliation for Coventry Cathedral put it, the key to reconciliation is to be able to tell the other’s story in such a way that they recognise if for their own. When we are able to so fully understand the point of view of the other person that we can repeat back to them what they think without them needing to correct it, then we are making real progress. Peace and unity is not about eliminating difference, but is about holding difference and disagreement within a relationship of respect and love.
Gentleness, humility, patience, reconciliation – these are the characteristics which help us to live a life worthy of our incredible calling as children of God. These are the characteristics, along with the generous use of our gifts, that help us and others grow in our spiral faith.
We are made to grow. Let us help one another grow in our love for God.