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

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ephesians 4:1-16

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Our message theme for the month of June is, “Lord, Teach Us.” It might seem like the timing is strange because school just let out and all. (We attended preschool graduation last month, and, believe me, it was a very emotional transition – for the parents.) Summertime is when school is supposed to be out, so I feel a little behind the times (but, I'm getting used to feeling that way).

But look at what the church does during the so-called summer vacation from school. Tomorrow starts Vacation Bible School. (Vacation – school? Do these words go together? Talk about an oxymoron. Who came up with this name?) After that, a group of us are going to New York for a mission trip – where the education's going to be 24/7. You've got to check out the itinerary on the web site. In 3 days we feed the homeless, care for the outcasts, dialogue with Mennonites, Jews, Muslims, and each other. (If there's not world peace in a couple of weeks, it's not our fault.) And that's just the beginning for the church's summertime schedule. Summer is when the church – our church and most others – beef up our teaching activities. The difference is we throw in a lot of arts and crafts and games and music and try to make education look really fun. We take education out of the classroom and put it in the kitchens and fields and playgrounds.

Which is exactly what Jesus did. Now, I don't think Jesus was trying to make learning “fun.” Or painless. “Come to Vacation Bible School, where you can take up your cross and suffer...” - is just not going to bring in the kids. Jesus was not a summer camp kind of guy in that respect. But while Jesus did teach in classroom, in the synagogue every Saturday, those aren't the lessons the gospel writers chose to remember. What the Bible talks about most are the teaching events that happened when Jesus was walking among the lilies, or fishing on the lake, or sitting at the town square, or having supper at someone's house. Jesus' teaching technique was to take his lessons to the people, and teach them while they were doing what they liked to do, or had to do. Summertime is when the church gets closest to Jesus' technique, in that we get off our padded ends and let the world become our classroom.

All this is to say, if you look at the schedule of activities you see that instead of taking a vacation from learning, summertime is when the teaching of the church really kicks into gear in forms that I think Jesus would appreciate. Maybe he wouldn't have water balloon battles or ice cream socials – or maybe in 2007, he would. Maybe he does. “Lord, teach us.” And the Lord does teach us – in whatever way works best.


So, as we begin a summertime of learning, what does Jesus teach us? Where do we start? If we're going to break the boundaries of the classroom, I think we have to let the Bible break the boundaries of our expectations. Let's get down to basics.

What's the purpose of our learning at church? Really, what is it? Why do we have Christian Education? Why do we listen to sermons? Why do we want to learn?

It's not to get an “A”, because at church we don't give grades. That doesn't mean people don't keep an eye on you. But that's not why we try to learn at church.

It's not to improve your resume, although people do tend to attend church with the folks they wouldn't mind to work with, or run in social circles with.

You might have your own reasons for wanting to learn about Jesus, but whatever your reasons for wanting to learn, the reason the church teaches - is to help us all grow up. The church does what it does in order to help us all grow up to be more like Christ in every way. We're here because we want to grow up. We teach because we want to grow up. We want Jesus to teach us how to grow up and be like him.

In the Bible, in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4 – in verse 13 and 14 he writes about why we teach and learn and grow. He writes that someday, “we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him. We must stop acting like children.” What does that mean – to stop acting like children?

I know a lot of people's favorite part of worship is the Children's Sermon. Partly because kids do say the darndest things, and it's really fun to see what's going to pop out of someone's mouth, into the microphone and over the PA system. But people also like the Children's Sermon because the messages are short, easy to remember, and fun – exactly the opposite of the grown-up sermon. Well, sorry, grown-ups. If you're going to grow up like Jesus, you have to suffer. Does to be mature and to stop acting like children mean you have to be...? Oh, please don't say the word. You know what it is. You know the cardinal sin that drives away kids from anything stinking of maturity. You know the kiss of death to your parental history lessons. What's the one thing you can't be if you're working with anyone ages 1 to 18? You can't be... say it... boring. In today's world, maturity equals boring.

Jesus may have been many things, but I doubt that anyone ever called him boring. Kids liked being around him; he liked being with young people and people who were young at heart. He told us all in Matthew 18, “Truly I tell you unless you change and become like one of these [little children] you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So if maturity in Jesus doesn't equal boring, what does growing up in him mean?

Again, look back at Ephesians 4. Paul gives us a picture of someone who's grown up.

...I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace....”

There you go. Guidance that's short, memorable, maybe even enjoyable. I could make it more complicated. I am a professional. But there it is. If you want to be grown up in Christ, be humble, gentle, patient, loving, united and peaceful.

Paul's concept of not being like children, and what the Bible means by being grown up, continues in verse 14. Paul says, “We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. [Or, as other translations say, “we must speak the truth in love.”] Then [Then!] we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love.

How old do you have to be to do those things? Do you have to be over 21, as if this is some adult-content message with a parental warning at the start of the show? If there IS an adult-content warning on the Bible it says this: that our definitions of adult content are wrong. Being mature doesn't mean being boring. Nor does being grown-up mean being not-like-kids. Nor does it mean we have to replace the joy of life with seriousness and suffering. Jesus never taught any of those things. He taught us, Paul teaches us, the Bible teaches us – to love.


So what's the payoff? What does being humble, gentle, patient, loving, united and peaceful get you? The teaching of the church exists to educate people to be these things, to grow up to be like Christ. But what about you? Why would you want to be humble, gentle, patient, loving, united and peaceful?

The great myth is that these qualities are the currency of salvation. That if you're humble, gentle, patient, loving, united and peaceful enough, you'll earn your way into heaven. No doubt the world would be a better place, and heaven would be just heavenly if everyone here (and there) were humble, gentle, patient, loving, united and peaceful. If you're adopting these behaviors with one eye looking over your shoulder to see if God's watching (“See how humble I'm being, Lord? Watch this!”) - if you're practicing these while looking back to see if God notices, something's wrong. You're doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason. These qualities, blessed as they are, aren't the currency of salvation. They are not the golden ticket to heaven. If you make it to heaven it won't because you were more humble, patient, loving, united and peaceful than your next-door neighbor.

The truth is that there's no guarantee these qualities will get you anything at all. Jesus was humble, patient, loving, uniting and peaceful – and look how the world treated him. We practice these qualities for one grown-up, mature reason, and one reason only. We make ourselves act these ways, even when it doesn't serve our interests, even when there's no good reason to for one simple, childlike reason: Jesus told us to. The Bible tells us to. If in any way we behave like Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, it's because Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior – and teacher – and this is what he teaches us. Is being humble, patient, loving, united and peaceful boring? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it beneficial? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it socially advantageous, will it win you friends, will it keep you from being crucified? Maybe not. But practicing these traits will make you mature in faith. Period. Practicing these traits will make you grow up into Jesus Christ. Exclamation point. Are you learning enough from the church about how to do these things – question mark? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you – and the church around you – need to go back to school, for an extended summer session – for a 24/7 kind of retreat where you learn with the kind of intensity that fired up the Apostles.

If you're not involved in a Sunday School class... if you're not going out to dinner with one of our social groups... if you're not checking the web site often to see the prayer concerns, you need to be. If you're not reading your Bible on a regular basis, you need to. If you're not a walking, talking model of humility, patience, love, unity and peace, you've got to ask yourself, why not? Is it because you haven't been taught well enough? Maybe. Is it because you're not applying yourself enough to the lessons of Jesus Christ? Maybe some of that, too. Is it because you've gotten lazy and complacent in your faith and have let humility, patience, love, unity and peace become boring?

Whether we're three or one-hundred and three – we need the Lord Jesus Christ to teach us. Whether we're fourteen or forty, we need to do the homework that comes with accepting him as our Lord and Savior. Whether we're lifelong followers or walking into a church for the first time today, the lessons of Jesus Christ apply and not one of us has graduated from his class. No matter who we are or how grown-up we've become, “Lord, Teach us,” is our prayer. Lord, teach us to grow up, up into you.