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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"Oh, Grow Up"

Ephesians 4:1-16
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Sunday, August 6, 2006

“We must no longer be children…”

When it comes to growing up, the Bible gives us a challenging diversity. On one hand, you have the Apostle Paul, who said, “We must no longer be children…. We must grow up in every way.”

And on the other hand, you have passages like Matthew 18.

…the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Should we grow up, or should we grow down? Is Paul right? Or is Jesus? Should we listen more to the Children’s Sermon, or the grown-up sermon? Since both Paul and Jesus are in the Bible, the easy answer would be to say they’re both right, and if you think too hard about it you’ll just give yourself a headache.

“Oh, grow up.” But what, in the biblical sense, does that mean? Does it mean growing jowls and looking like a bulldog with a bad attitude? Or does it mean learning to skip and frolic, no matter what your circumstances? It’s a lot easier to command other people to grow up than to do it yourself. Especially when the Bible gives us these two, conflicting pictures of spiritual maturity. “Oh, grow up,” is a lot easier said than done.

“Oh, get a life.” Where Paul and Jesus would, and do agree is that both of them are talking about life. Both Paul and Jesus are talking about life, not lifestyle. We know a lot more about lifestyle than about life. Our culture is obsessed with lifestyle, as opposed to life. Lifestyle is what we choose. Lifestyle is what we buy. Lifestyle is how we dress, what we eat, and how we behave in relationships. We’re free to cultivate an adult lifestyle, or we can live the lifestyle of children, or the lifestyle of teenagers, or for fans of the movie, “Animal House,” the lifestyle of perpetual college freshmen. Do you remember John Belushi’s classic response to finding out he’d been expelled? “Seven years of college, down the drain.” Back when the movie was made, the line was funnier, because students were expected to graduate, or at least move on to a second degree, in somewhat less than seven years.

If you only read what Jesus said about becoming like a child, to the exclusion of what Paul said about becoming an adult, you might sound as if you were singing the song from “Peter Pan” – “I Won’t Grow Up.” You may remember Mary Martin singing it, or maybe Cathy Rigby. It’s usually sung by a woman, pretending to be a boy, trying not to be a man. Yet another illustration of lifestyle confusion.

I won't grow up.
I don't wanna wear a tie,
Or a serious expression
In the middle of July.
'Cause growing up is awfuler
Than all the awful things that ever were.
I won't grow up, never grow up.
Not me.

Oh, if only our days could be filled with leaping and running through Neverland, riding on giraffes and playing with our pet monkeys. Wait, that’s Michael Jackson. Bad example. Actually, it’s a very good example of the tragedy of an adult trying too hard to be like a child. It’s a lifestyle based on the fantasy that we won’t grow up. It can’t be what Jesus had in mind.

It’s crucially important to the Spirit of God that we not confuse our lifestyle with our life. Just because you can afford a lifestyle doesn’t mean you have a life. You might be able to imitate the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But it’s still just an imitation. Jesus doesn’t call us to imitation lives; he calls us to live – richly and authentically. But people who live their lives richly and authentically don’t often make the cover of People magazine. Authentic lives don’t get too much press. It’s kind of hard to even know what one looks like. “Oh, get a life,” is a lot easier said than done.

“Oh, grow up.” Paul pleads with the Ephesians to live a life worthy of their calling. Paul doesn’t hesitate for even a second to tell them how a grown-up life looks. It’s a life marked by humility, by gentleness, by patience. The grown-up life is one in which people bear with one another in love. In a grown-up life people make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. A grown-up life does all it can to keep a bond of peace.

Humility, gentleness, patience. Love, unity, peace. These are the hallmarks of Christian adulthood. But humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity and peace are also concepts children can grasp. Maybe children can grasp them more purely than a lot of adults. Adults tend to complicate these qualities, and put conditions on them. “I will love you and be gentle to you IF…” “I will show humility and patience IF…” Paul puts no conditions on these qualities and neither should we. Not if we want to be truly grown up in Christ.

We’re always asking kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As if they can’t “be” something until they get a job. No. It’s hard to have a lifestyle if you don’t have a job. Unless you’re going for “slacker.” In which case having a job just messes up your lifestyle. From Paul’s point of view, “What do you want to be,” is the wrong question. “Whom do you want to be when you grow up? Or “Whose do you want to be when you grow up?” – These are the questions we ought to be asking our children, and ourselves. At any age. What is the point of your growing up? Is it to gratify your every desire? That’s the point for most two year-olds. And it’s not worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Your occupation isn’t the same as your vocation. Job or jobless, rich or poor, able to work or disabled, you are given a vocation by God. And you only begin to learn what that calling is when you have humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity and peace. This is the roadmap to adulthood. They may not get you on the cover of People, but they will make you a person. A human being, rich and authentic in Jesus Christ.

So, maybe – as Paul wrote – you’re an apostle. Maybe you’re a prophet or an evangelist. Maybe you’re a teacher. Maybe you’re a domestic engineer. Or maybe you’re a civil engineer. Or a doctor. Or a fireman. Or maybe your biggest challenge each day is moving your arms and legs enough to roll out of bed. Whatever your occupation, its purpose is to train you for your vocation, your true calling. Whatever we do from 9 to 5 or from 5 to 9, the point is that we grow up, as Paul says, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, and to the full stature of Christ.” “Speaking the truth in love,” he says, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Not “what,” but “whom” do you want to be when you grow up? Regardless of size or age, do you want to have the stature of Christ? If so, then you’re well on your way to growing up. And you can start growing up as soon as you can live with humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity and peace. And if you mess those up, or if you forget what they look like, you can always take two giant steps back, like a little child, and start growing up again. If you see someone near you forgetting what those qualities look like, you can help them find their way again.

Unlike the gurus of self-development, Paul’s not really interested in whether you’re self-actualized, whether you’re living up to your personal potential. Paul doesn’t care if you’ve maximized your earning power. Those are lifestyle issues. And neither Paul nor Jesus give two hoots about lifestyle. The Bible is focused on life, regardless of your particular style or lack thereof. Paul isn’t writing to an individual. Paul is writing to people. Paul isn’t writing to church members. Paul is writing to a church. In the end, the goal isn’t even your personal growing up in the body of Christ, although that’s a step along the way. In the end, the goal of all Paul is writing about is the growing up – not of you, or you, or you – Paul is writing about the growing up of the church.

He writes for people of all ages, and he writes for all the ages saying, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you (you ALL) were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. When the church grows up, when the church practices – when the church shares – humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity and peace – when it’s not just you being kind or someone else being patient, but when all of us, working together build a place of these qualities, a place OF quality, then – and only then – are we really, truly growing up into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament… [with] each part…working properly, promot[ing] the body's growth in building itself up in love. Only then are we approaching what Paul, and Jesus, and God have in mind for us.

“Oh, grow up,” isn’t just something you say to someone who’s acting immature. It’s also a prayer. It’s Paul’s prayer, it’s God’s prayer for us. “Oh, get a life,” isn’t just something you say to someone wasting their time. It’s also a prayer. It’s Paul’s prayer, it’s God’s prayer that we will grow up into the life of Jesus Christ, that we will grow to his stature, that we will live – richly and authentically – with each other, and with God.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Give Us Peace

John 6:1-21
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Sunday, July 30, 2006

All last week, so much news coverage showed the total breakdown of peace in the Middle East. Not that there was much to start with. Peace in the Middle East. There’s a concept. That the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, would hail from that region seems a sad irony. If Jesus couldn’t bring them peace, who could? We shake our heads and say, “Those people have been fighting with each other for three thousand years. They’re never going to find peace.”

Gospel writer John puts three stories about where to find peace – and where not to find peace – John puts three stories about finding peace back to back to back. The feeding of the 5000, crowning an earthly king, and walking on water. I know it doesn’t look like they’re about peace, and individually they might not be. But the cord that binds them together is peace. And together they tell us how to find peace through Jesus Christ. No matter what part of the world we live in.

In the string of stories in today’s lesson, Gospel writer John gives us some prime examples of where not to find peace.

First, you can’t find peace through self-reliance.

In the first part of today’s lesson, Jesus asks his disciple, Philip, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip falls for the question, hook, line and sinker. He’s been counting heads and doing the math. Philip’s got a surgically attached Blackberry with a built-in spreadsheet. He’s been on his little Bluetooth headset that makes him look like a robot, talking to the manager at Panera, trying to work a deal. He turns to Jesus with that look of practical disbelief. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough for each of them to get a little.”

And then Andrew chimes in. Andrew’s not wired, like Philip. Andrew’s more low-tech. He’s been going around, shaking down the customers to see what they’ve got on them. He’s pulling on the arm of this kid who’s trying to get away. “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Now, the Bible tells us, Jesus knows what he’s going to do. Jesus is at peace. But Philip and Andrew? Not at peace. Philip and Andrew are stressing out because they know the disciples don’t have nearly enough money to hire the project out, and because they couldn’t scrape together enough donations to make it a do-it-yourself. Philip and Andrew are freaking over how self-reliant the disciples aren’t. They can’t buy peace. And they can’t generate peace.

Philip and Andrew would have been good Americans. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher, wrote, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” He wrote that in his famous essay on “Self-reliance.” “It is only as a man puts off from himself all external support and stands alone that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town? Ask nothing of men….”

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” Emerson gives us this American ideal of splendid isolation. And I’m not going to argue with Ralph Waldo Emerson. IN-dependence is part of our American DNA. With the same practical disbelief of the disciples, we look with bewilderment at nations that can’t solve their own problems, can’t pull up their own bootstraps and generate a few solutions to their fussing and fighting.

We look the same way at people who can’t solve their own problems. Get a haircut. Get a job. Get off your duff and improvise. Like Andrew. He didn’t have a basket of loaves and fishes, but he found a little boy who did. Andrew may not have solved the whole problem, but at least he did something.

But, did he find peace?

And then there’s Philip. Philip’s got connections. Philip knows that you can’t depend on the kindness of strangers. So instead of waiting for a handout, Philip tries to buy a solution. Anyone who’s ever tried to fix their own plumbing knows this is true: sometimes you just have to give up and pay a professional. Self-reliance begins in your wallet.

There’s a great commercial on TV. At the playground, a nice mom is about to help her little boy up the slide, when another mom and her kid jump line. “I’m sorry,” says the nice mom, “but Johnny and I were here first.” The evil mom says, “Well, we’re here now.” In the next scene, the nice mom is at the dealership with her little boy, signing the papers on a brand-new Hummer H3. In the next scene this newly-empowered mother-of-all-carpools is wheeling down the road with a look on her face like Moses parting the Red Sea. The ad says, “Get your girl on.” Attitude, self-reliance, any parking space you want – all can be yours if you drive a military vehicle with leather interiors.

Can you buy yourself peace? An H3 might get you parking spaces, probably two abreast. But sooner or later that monster’s going to run out of gasoline. (There’s the Middle East, again.) And no matter how much gas you buy, your instrument of personal security is going to need more.

And so it goes. We try to find peace through personal accomplishment. We try to find peace through what we can buy. You could add any number of other avenues to a personal roadmap to peace. Peace through what we can eat. Peace through what we can drink. Peace through transcendental meditation. Peace through pharmaceutical medication. But no matter what we achieve, buy, eat, drink, swallow or snort, it seems the valley of peace is always over the next mountain. Peace through self-reliance doesn’t last long.

In the second part of today’s lesson, the people rush Jesus in order to make him king. They figure if he can feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, he can put “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Hey, look how well it worked for Herbert Hoover. Right before the Great Depression. This is the second knot in the string of stories. You can’t find peace in your earthly leaders.

President Herbert Hoover’s a great example. Historians say he was the smartest man in the room. But even this potentially great leader couldn’t stop a tragic chain of events that led to the Depression. Human leaders get knocked off their pedestals very quickly. A great athlete wins a race – and then gets busted for steroids. A businessperson makes billions – and then is indicted for shady deals. A president is hailed as a hero – and then watches his approval ratings flush down the sewer.

Jesus feeds five thousand and the people chase after him to make him king. No wonder he ran up the mountainside to get away. The people think that if they can only latch onto the right king, they’ll have peace. But Jesus will have no part of that. He disappears up the mountain by himself. Peace from human leaders, peace through human idols, doesn’t last long.

Meanwhile, in the third part of today’s lesson, the disciples get in a boat and head out to sea… without Jesus. You can see this one coming around the block. Pretty much any time the disciples get in a boat without Jesus, it’s just a bad idea. Time for yet another perfect storm. The disciples, good men that they are, figure that if they just row harder, they’ll reach the other side. The peaceful side. So they row, and they row – about three or four miles against a raging headwind. They’re making a little progress by their own self-reliance, but they just can’t seem to reach their goal. These are tired, windblown, wave-tossed men. The disciples aren’t at peace.

And that’s the third, and climactic part of today’s lesson. You can’t find peace without Jesus. We have people struggling against nature to find peace. Struggling against human tendencies to find peace. Struggling against hunger to find peace. Struggling against fears of a hungry mob with medical issues to find peace. But more than anything else, the disciples are struggling against themselves to find peace. They want peace, but they don’t know how to get it. They can’t make it, buy it, stretch it or tame it. Because they’re looking for peace without Jesus.

Hand the basket to Jesus. What happens? Something amazing. Five thousand people are fed with twelve baskets left over. Jesus walks on the water. What happens? Something terrifying. Something more terrifying than the wind and the rain. Notice John never says the disciples were scared of the storm. Maybe that goes without saying. What he says they were scared of, was Jesus. Jesus is amazing. Jesus is terrifying. The peace of Jesus Christ is amazing and terrifying at the same time. Amazing because it’s so incredibly huge. The peace that Jesus brings to five thousand people simply overflows, outstrips anyone’s expectations. And the peace of Christ is terrifying. Terrifying because it’s so strong. Stronger than a raging sea. Stronger than wind and rain. Stronger than human strength that rows and rows and rows. Stronger than our wallets. Stronger than our kings. Strength like Jesus’ ought to scare us, and amaze us, at the same time. Maybe precisely because Jesus’ peace is both so terrifying and so amazing – maybe that’s why Jesus is the last place we look, for peace.

Not by our purchasing power. Not by our kings. Not by our own determination. Not by any of the places we normally look will we find permanent, lasting peace – the peace of Jesus Christ. Our world, our nation, our churches, our homes – will only find peace when the peace of Jesus Christ gets in the boat with us. Our world, our nation, our churches, our homes – will only find peace, when the peace of Christ rules our hearts. Our world, our nation, our churches, our homes – will only find peace, when the peace of Christ is our daily bread, the daily loaves and fishes that give us strength.

Lord, we know where not to find peace. Lord Almighty, come into our hearts, and give us peace.