Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 2: 41 – 52. Focus on how Jesus and we grow in wisdom. Check out the First Presbyterian Church Choir following the sermon.
We know very little about Jesus’ childhood. With this sole exception in Luke’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t utter a single word until after his baptism. We are left to imagine what he was talking about with the rabbi’s in the temple. It probably had to do with the Torah and the history of Israel, because in all likelihood this was the equivalent of what we today call a bar mitzvah – A right of passage into the Jewish faith for twelve-year-old Jewish boys.
But the point of the story that interests me is this phrase: “As Jesus grew up, he advanced in wisdom and in favor with God and man.” In other words, Jesus did not simply grow older he grew wiser. It’s this quality of mature human development that I’m interested in, that quality of growth that Christians both experience and need, that psychological, emotional, intellectual, spiritual growth that makes it possible for us to cope in the world. This, in short, is a sermon about the growth of the human soul.
What do we need to grow as Christians? Is it wealth, prestige, a powerful experience, a new kind of poverty? No! The only things we need are those opportunities that time itself presents to us.
I remember Willard Scott asking these two ladies who were celebrating their 100th birthdays predictable question, “To what do you attribute your longevity?’ And with out missing a beat they replied, “Time.”
So to for us, for time presents the opportunity for growth and too many people waste too much time waiting for those “mountaintop” experiences as a means to grow when there is so much work to be done in the valleys, which is where we spend most of our time anyway.
But Christian growth isn’t just simply a matter of time; it’s the quality of that time that leads to maturity. The text says that Jesus didn’t simply grow up in terms of years, but that he grew in wisdom and stature, that he matured as he grew up. That’s what Christians need to do as well.
I can remember so many conversations with so many born again Christians and hearing under what set of circumstances they met the Lord, and after some time I became aware that the same people always told the same story, and it was like listening to a broken record going on about the same old experience.
And I would think to myself why haven’t they met Jesus since then? People also talk the same way about when they joined the church, or when they were saved. Why don’t they have any new stories? Is our religious experience something that always hast to be spoken of in the past tense? What about the present? Isn’t their anything new happening in our lives’ that’s worth sharing?
Aren’t we always in one way or another being lost and being found, connecting or disconnecting from church, for if we’re alive then we must be growing in the experience of God as our perceptions develop and grow?
To store up the past like a bunch of dried flowers that we can sniff on in emergencies seems to me to be a sorry parody of what we claim is a living faith. Christian growth and maturity it seems to me depends on our willingness to expose ourselves to new ideas, to widening opportunities, to new awareness of what’s happening in the world around us and a new view toward time itself, a view to it being sacred and not simply chronological.
Christian growth and maturity also involves knowledge, and an ever-increasing supply of it. When you consider that most religious people operate on an 8th grade Sunday school education, it’s no wonder that people are ignorant of the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives. One of the greatest curses of mainline religious people is the shallowness of their knowledge concerning the very foundation of faith.
The great and necessary Christian renewal movement is not going to come simply by altering the way we worship God, nor will it come when we finally organize our bureaucracies into efficient corporate like structures. It will come only when children and adults begin to learn about Jesus Christ and the world he served and saved, with blinders off. Only then is there even the possibility for any kind of growth, which takes Jesus and us beyond the happy obscurity of the manger. Growth requires knowledge.
Paul says, “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This is growth that pulls and stretches us; it’s the growing pains we experience whenever we are being lifted out of our comfort zones into new areas never before experienced by us. But it’s out of these experiences that begin to learn to “speak the truth in love” to one another as Paul says.
Perhaps one day we will be able to drop our carefully constructed and maintained facades and learn to speak our needs to each other in whatever way we best can. The bulk of most interpersonal problems among people, especially church people, is one of communication.
Why can’t we say, “I love you,” “I need you,” “I fear you,” and even I can’t stand you?” These are the hardest words and because we know so many words, we use all the right ones and nobody understands anybody. If we are to grow and mature we must learn to grow together, to lean not only on Jesus, but also on each other.
Here is where our love is put together, here is where we bring our fears and grow our faith, here is where we the body of Christ grow and are knit together as one body with many members.
When it’s all said and done I’m speaking about an interior process, an inner growth that tampers and tinkers with the most delicate parts of our machinery: the heart, the soul, the mind. I’m talking about attitudes and opportunities, a power that is not generated by our will, but by God’s will, and it’s this last kind of growing, the growing in God’s grace, which makes all of the other growth possible.
It’s that unexplainable gift of God himself, the gift of love and grace, that gives us the capacity to cope, to understand, to hope, to help, and to love; so let’s resolve to grow together in that light that makes our growing in wisdom and stature possible. Amen