Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
One of the big questions that adults love to ask children is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Usually this question means, what do you want to do for work when you grow up. We expect answers like astronaut, lego designer, construction worker, doctor, teacher, professional athlete, a new one is many kids want to grow up to be a YouTube star. Then sometimes adults will joke and talk about what they want to do when they grow up.
Growing up seems to be this goal, but growing up also seems to be rather elusive. For some time now, researchers have been talking about this thing called extended adolescence. It’s the reality that today adolescence is twice as long as it was in 1950 and three times longer than it was in the 19th century. Basically what they are saying is that 25 is the new 18. This cuts pretty much across all demographics.
When you hear things like extended adolescence you might imagine that this a bad thing. And certainly there are things difficulties with the extension of adolescence; however, there are upsides. While researchers have found that the age of adolescence is lengthening, they have also found that teenagers are generally engaging is less risky behavior than they might have, perhaps 20 years ago. Teenagers are drinking less, their relationships are different, many are waiting longer to drive, so in some ways there are positives to this delaying of adulthood.
I don’t know if this extended adolescence thing is to blame, but apparently adult is now a verb. Often talked about in the form of adulting. Such as, “I’m adulting today, I did all my own grocery shopping.” I apparently was late to the game on this one. I think I first hear this word “adulting” a year or so ago, and when I first heard it I was confused about what the speaker was saying. Then I learned that she was just describing life and calling normal life things, “adulting.”
Even if you take in the factor of longer adolescence, in many ways adults often seem to never really grow up. This is not just adults of one particular generation, either. Adults tend to gossip just as much or more than teenagers. Adults can be just a cruel as a high school bully. Adults will often make just as poor decisions as teenagers can. And when it comes to spiritual things, there is not correlation between physical maturity and spiritual maturity. Many adults many be very successful in their lives, have children, a decent job, but yet they lack any form of spiritual maturity. Many adults seem to never really grow up spiritually speaking.
Over the past few weeks we have been talking about how God’s main goal in Jesus Christ is bring unity in the world and in the cosmos. God has an ultimate vision of breaking barriers and tearing down walls to bring people together with one another and with God. God has a plan to bring together former enemies; to bring together all heaven and all earth. As we have been looking at this we have been exploring the letter that Paul wrote to the Ephesians. In this letter we find that not only does have a plan for reunifying all of reality; God has made the church the down payment on this unity. Through the church, God has brought different people together to practice unity so that the world will see what is possible through Christ.
The thing about unity, though, is that a bunch of spiritual adolescents cannot live out this unity. If people don’t grow up spiritually, if people have extended spiritual adolescence—you and we will never live into what God plans in the church.
What we are talking about today is for people who already consider themselves Christ followers. If someone is not a Christ followers, these words really aren’t for you. But I do think it is likely that some of this could also apply to you and your life.
Paul, the guy who wrote Ephesians, knew about the problem of spiritual adolescence. In writing about how Christ followers are supposed to live God’s unity in their daily lives he addresses this issue of spiritual immaturity among believers. In Ephesians 4:1-16 Paul writes (The Message):
1-3 In light of all this,
All this stuff about unity, and how God is using the church to reunify the world, Paul says:
here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master [he is actually in jail for his faith as he is writing], I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
While Paul is stuck in jail he is telling the rest of the Christians to get to work on God’s work. Don’t just be sitting around wondering about yourself and your own issues, but run down the road that God called you to. In other words, do what God has called you to do—God has called you to live a life of faith, a life of unity. And the way you do this, Paul says is do kind things for people in your church act like you love the people in your church. This love is not gushy emotion type of love, instead, Paul wants you to do acts of love towards those around you. He also say notice the differences amongst Christ followers, and when these differences lead to conflict, mend the fences. Paul is telling you, when there is conflict amongst the people in the church don’t let it turn into a grudge or a feud—work to resolve the conflict, work to reunify yourself with others, work quickly to mend the fences.
Why is Paul so concerned that people in the church don’t feud and hold grudges against their fellow Christians? After all, people have been doing this since time began. Why is it such a big deal to Paul that you and I get over our conflict and seek peace, reconciliation, and unity? He tells us in what comes next:
4-6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.
Work to mend the fences of your broken relationships in the church because you are called to travel on the same road and in the same direction with the people you might have disagreement with. For Paul and for the church this isn’t some minor point. Mending broken relationships in the church and tending to our relationships with fellow Christ followers isn’t incidental, it is essential, because, as Paul says:
You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.
7-13 But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,
He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.
Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, 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 oneness that is given to the church is made possible, Paul tells us, through Jesus. Jesus came from heaven to fill redeem the earth. And in the church, Jesus gave each Christ follower different gift. Some are supposed to be preachers, some are supposed to be care givers, some teachers, some fundraisers, some justice advocates. All of these gifts are not to build up the egos of each person, instead these gifts are to train all Christ followers in how to be servants of Christ. These gifts are there to train Christ followers how to grow up into spiritual adults who are fully alive in Christ.
We can’t all be good at everything. Just a couple of weeks ago I got a taste of that medicine. Hope and I had a meeting at school about our son’s education for the upcoming year. It was a good meeting, but then I was told there would be a game. I don’t like games. Well, the facilitator of the meeting had written numbers on various cards. Hope and I were competing in a game to guess the number. So she placed one number above my head that only Hope could see and a number above her head that only I could see. Then the facilitator would give us the sum of the two numbers. The goal of the game was to be the first to who would guess the number behind our own head. Basic simple algebra. I lost every single round. I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy, be when it comes to simple addition and subtraction I have two tools: my fingers and my phone calculator.
In our faith lives, we all aren’t good at the same things, but we are able to put each of our talents together to make a different in the church.
This type of stuff, this work of mending the fences of broken relationships; this work of activing in love toward fellow Christ followers; and this work of giving up our egos and our own pride for the sake of Jesus is not easy—it is not something that spiritual adolescents can accomplish. This is something that is only possible when Christ followers grow up. And that’s exactly what Paul says next:
14-16 No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
If you were wondering how ordinary Christ followers are supposed to live this unity in our lives, this is it. To pursue this unity that God wants from us, we must give up our egos, our wounded pride, our family grudges, and grow up. The world is hurting and needs a church full of spiritually mature adults who are living lives walking down the path of unity with their sisters and brothers in Christ. I encourage you, if you are holding onto something that is keeping your from unity with a sister or a brother in Christ, I encourage you to let it go. I encourage you to come talk with me or talk with the person. I encourage you to do this, so that we can walk beyond it and walk into the unity that God wants for us. Remember, You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. (v.4)
Decatur United Methodist Church
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