In the name of the God of stillness, and the God of growth. Amen.
One of the greatest strengths that the church has is its inertia. We are grounded in traditions that have proven through the centuries to help us understand and more deeply experience the Christian faith. We are grounded in an established collection of scriptures that keep us focused on the mission of Christ and the peace and justice to which Christ is constantly calling us. Even in a very practical way, we are often physically and literally grounded here in our buildings – in these places for gathering where we can focus ourselves on the tasks of learning about Christ and practicing our faith.
But, of course, one of the greatest challenges the church faces is our inertia. We too easily get stuck. We see things in the ways that we’re used to seeing them, to the exclusion of new perspectives or developing realities.
Earlier this week, I was on the phone with my father and he was telling me that he’ll be teaching a class in his church in the coming weeks on the subject of “call” – looking at the ways people are called in scripture and history and the ways that we are called by God in our own lives. I told him, that in my years of ordained ministry, and in all the years of training and formation that led up to it, I have become convinced that one of the primary responsibilities and functions of a Christian life is discernment – faithfully and prayerfully figuring out the ways that God is calling us. Because God is always calling us.
As valuable as our tradition is – as valuable as our inertia is – the driving force of this faith is the calling. It’s the moving and the changing and the growing. That’s what keeps faith relevant. That’s what keeps us sharing the good news of God in Christ with all those who haven’t heard, or who’ve forgotten, or have been led away from it. Calling is growth.
In today’s readings, we hear story after story about how our forbearers in faith have grown – how they have discerned and answered God’s call.
In the reading from Jeremiah we hear of the calling of the prophet. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God says, you were made for this. I am calling you, because you were made for exactly what I need.
But, like many of us, Jeremiah doubts. He doubts his calling, but even more so, he doubts his abilities. God’s answer to Jeremiah is not, “Of course you can do it.” God’s answer is: I’m not calling on you to have faith in yourself. I’m calling on you to have faith in me. I will give you what you need. And, with me by your side, you will do more than you can imagine.
The testimony of Paul in the reading from First Corinthians also tells us about growth. The words are probably familiar – the words that we so often hear at weddings, because they speak so eloquently about love. But, in truth, Paul isn’t calling romantic couples to deepen their affections. He is calling on the church to grow in its faith.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult I put an end to childish ways.” The “childish way” of the Christian – be it the Christian individual or the Christian community – is to do all the right things, but in the absence of love. To grow as Christians, we are called to invest love in everything we do.
Perfect speech, and prophetic powers, and knowledge, and deep faith – those are all good. They’re all important. But they mean next to nothing if not brought to life in the context of love.
The same is true for us. Our traditions – the things that ground us and that mean to bring us into a closer awareness of God – they mean next to nothing if they’re not brought to life in the context of love.
At last, we come to the person of Jesus. Last week we heard the first part of this story – the part of the story where Jesus teaches in the synagogue; the part of the story where Jesus visits the place that grounds him – his home – and finds that his outside reputation preceded him. But that outside reputation sits in conflict with the inertia of the community. They knew Jesus. He had gone off, but they had remained grounded. They knew where he came from and they knew who raised him. They had watched him as a boy. Now, he’d put an end to childish ways.
Childish ways are important. They’re how we become who we are. They’re how we learn about our truest selves – the rough materials from which our mature selves are constructed. But there always comes a time to put them away, and to lean into maturity.
When Jesus did that with his own home, they couldn’t handle it. “Just who does he think he is?” You can almost hear the murmuring through the crowd.
You can bet that when we lean into the maturity of our faith – when we move more deeply into living evolving lives of faith that are grounded in love – you can bet that there will be some murmuring from the crowds. We may even lose the support of people we thought we could count on.
But even so, follow Christ. Pass through the crowds. Go about the ministry to which you are being called. Grow. And most of all, love. If you’re grounded in love – the kind of true, deep love that Paul describes – there’s no promise that everything will be easy, but you can be assured that you are, at least, on the right track.
Inertia can be a gift. It can ground us. But we should never allow it to stifle us. If we are to follow Christ we will continue to be called, we will continue to grow, we will continue to change. But God assures us – we were made for this. Even if we don’t have faith in ourselves, we can rest in the sure faith that God will be with us, and God will give us everything we need. Every time. Amen.