Monday, February 21, 2011

Do not be infants in the faith... Grow up.

Sermon preached for Epiphany 6A, on Sunday, February 13, 2011.

    One of my favorite series of commercials is the baby who talks for eTrade. It is always funny when a baby talks about things no child is supposed to know like the stock market. The other side is not so funny - when adults act like children. Today we are reminded that there is nothing cute in remaining infants in the faith and we are called to grow up and mature in faith. As a child grows, we tailor the food to the ability to digest it. So a baby moves from breast milk to formula to cereal and baby food and then to bits of food from the parent's place and finally to his or her own plate and a regular meal.
    Now the child is not so keen on all of this and in fact nearly all children would rather stick with the bottle than to progress to solid food. It is a struggle sometimes to wean a child off the bottle but parents do it because they knew it is in the child's best interest. Unfortunately, there are too many Christians content with baby food when it comes to Scripture and the faith. Too many are content being spoon fed instead of digesting the solid food of God's Word and living out this faith in lives of spiritual maturity and devotion.
    Today St. Paul tells us what, undoubtedly, we heard from our parents when we were children: Grow up.  But this call is about growing up into the solid food of God's Word.  You see exactly what he is talked about in Jesus' words in the Gospel reading for today.  So today we are admonished by St. Paul to chew upon the solid food of God's Word and to begin to digest that food with solid Biblical understanding.
    Too often the faith is often dished out as baby food - which is well and good for infants in the faith but we cannot stay there. “Jesus loves me this I know” is certainly the kernel of the Gospel a child may understand but this is not its fullness. If that was all we needed, that would have been all God gave us.  He gave us much more and so we are to progress from baby food to  spiritual maturity of understanding and of commitment. Nothing else will do.
    In the Gospel Jesus confronts this very thing.  The teachers of the Law had taught the Law in a childish way where avoiding wrong was the same as doing right. The Pharisees thought faith was merely a matter of avoiding the bad. So they crafted an understanding of the Law which made it possible to keep the commandments. They were comfortable in their error and shocked when Jesus insists it is not that simple.
    Murder is not simply causing the physical death of someone but any killing words designed to harm and wound. Peace with God is not some escape from the calI to live in peace with those around you. Adultery is not simply the act of unfaithfulness but lust born of impure desire. Divorce is not simply about following the rules of Moses but about living faithfully when love is difficult and hearts grow distant. Swearing is any use of God's name outside or prayer, praise, worship, and witness.
    Jesus taught a deeper understanding of what the Law requires, of what sin has done to us, and what it means to walk on the path of the Gospel. Baby food turns faith into a shadow of reality and ignores why the cross was needed and what the fruits of the cross are meant to bear in our daily lives.  Our Lord calIs us to the solid food where we dig into His Word for our selves and learn to distinguish Law and Gospel, recognizing what demands from us and what is God's accomplishment, declaration, and gift to us. Our Lord seeks Christians who will not be shifted on the changing sands of teaching that blows different with every breath of change but Christians who hear the difference between truth and falsehood and who follow the truth.
    Our Lord insists that faith is not window dressing designed to fix up the outside of our lives. Jesus is not interested in external makeovers but in cleansing the desires of our hearts so that the Spirit may bear His good fruit in our lives.  Jesus is not interested in manufacturing a righteousness we can all attain but in giving us His own perfect righteousness to live on the inside and shine on the outside of us.
    So then repentance is not some simplistic call to be better people or live better lives but the fruit of God's redeeming work within us by the Spirit. It flows from the death we die with Christ in baptism and blossoms in the life we have in Christ because of baptism. We often act as if God were shallow enough to be pleased when we do what is right but our hearts are not in it. The call of the Lord is not to an external make over but to the death and resurrection of baptism that makes us new in Christ, that transforms our minds and understanding in Christ, and that leads us to walk with Christ in our daily lives.
    Here forgiveness is not a selfish possession to be hoarded but the very currency of love which we spend freely and lavishly upon one another - just as God has spent it on us. In this way our lives together flow not from some external rule but from hearts reborn in love to manifest this love to others.
    Our life together is shaped not by what we have to do or even what we should do but what God has done for us, in us, and now works through us. This is mercy's call to live as understanding people, mature by the Holy Spirit, living out in faith what baptism has declared us to be.
    So I call upon you today. Do not be content to live as infants in the faith, children in your relationships to one another. Do not be content with a childish understanding of God's Word, living on the fringes of the faith instead of here, at the center, where Christ gives us the gift of Himself. Do not be naive in your thinking, believing that God is only concerned with how you relate to Him and not how you relate to each other in Christ or that His only concern is with how you appear and not what flows from your heart.
    It may seem fun and easy to live as children but when adults act like infants in the faith, it is not cute but downright ugly.  You and I are called to grow up into Christ who is our head, to reach for a mature knowledge and understanding of His Word, to relate to one another in the very same way He relates to us – through love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  This is a hard word and yet a hard word we need to hear.  Too many of us are not deeply rooted in Christ, in the Scriptures or His Church.  We live as infants in the faith instead of heeding His call to grow up into Christ who is our head.  We cannot afford to live in this lie any longer.  Pray with me, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the Spirit work to grant us maturity of understanding and commitment, that we may life faithful and fruitful lives in Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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