So rather than relying on my own experience for words of wisdom
about maturity, or even going to excellent biblical commentaries;
I went to the place where I knew I could find some pearls of wisdom.
Here are some of the things I found on the internet about maturity:
As I have grown older, I’ve learned that pleasing everyone
is impossible. However, making everyone mad is a piece of cake.
Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty
things. Consider that for a bit
Adulthood is like the vet, and we’re the dogs who are all
excited for the car ride until we realize where we’re going.
Age is a high price to pay for maturity.
So what does it mean to be mature in Christ? How is that beyond
where we are now, as individuals or as the church? The author of
Ephesians has some ideas about this which Jan read for us from Chapter
4. There’s a lot in these 16 verses, and I want to break it
down into the broad categories of Unity, Gifts, and Maturity. These
things are of course, related, but let’s take them one at
a time. Here’s how the author characterizes a life worthy
of our calling: “humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with
one another in love maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond
of peace.” We are called to “one body, one Spirit, one
hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.” This repetition
of “one” is why I’m using the word “Unity”
to represent this section of the letter.
This is a passage which is often pointed to by folks who are concerned
about division in the church: theological issues which have threatened
to divide us, and in recent years have led to actual divisions.
In the church of the Brethren, the issues which are flash points
have been around human sexuality, especially homosexuality, and
biblical authority. Wringing our hands and asking “why can’t
we all just get along?” Doesn’t address those real and
passionately defended differences. Remember the wisdom I shared
earlier: pleasing everyone is impossible; making everyone mad is
a piece of cake. There have been plenty of ‘solutions’
which no one has really been happy about. It takes a lot of humility,
gentleness, patience, and love to maintain unity and peace. It is
certainly beyond the place where we are now. Being in unity with
those you already agree with is not that difficult -- of course,
until you eventually disagree about something.
Unity is not something to accuse other people of falling short
of “We don’t have the bond of peace, and it’s
all your fault!” Unity is something we each need to seek in
the spirit of Christ. We do this, because we are all in need of
Christ’s grace. There is not a single person, apart from Christ,
who fully embodies the values which the church is being called to.
The rest of us have a ways to go: we are one in our need for the
grace to find one Spirit, One Lord, and one God.
There is plenty of commentary on this text which notes that unity
is not the same as uniformity. It’s a good point, and one
which was clearly in the mind of the author of Ephesians, because
in the very next section he talks about the variety of gifts which
have been given to God’s people: gifts to equip the saints
(that’s us!) for ministry and to build up the body of Christ.
The author lists some of those gifts -- apostles, prophets, evangelists,
pastors, teachers -- but I bet you could think of other gifts which
you have, and especially those that you see around you in this congregation:
hospitality, tending gardens, making food, climbing ladders, running
cameras, keeping bees -- I could go on and on. The list in Ephesians
is just a starting place to talk about how God has given us all
gifts, and that when we are willing to use those gifts for building
up the body of Christ, God will find a way to put them to use. Creekside
has its own distinctive identity and character precisely because
of the gifts which God has given to you all. Maybe you didn’t
know that your childhood experience tending plants in a greenhouse
would be a skill which would be really useful for a Creekside ministry
someday, but God uses all of the gifts we are willing to share,
and they become part of the ministry and character of this congregation.
And finally, this passage suggests that using our gifts for the
unity of the faith and the knowledge of Christ is exactly the way
in which we grow into maturity. I don’t know about you, but
the path to maturity can be a bumpy one. There may be some markers
along the way, but there is not a clear end point where we can say,
I’m done. I have finally reached maturity and I’m not
going back to immaturity. This afternoon I will be returning to
the home where I spent my entire childhood, and interacting with
my mother all of the coming week; I’d like to tell you that
I will be rational, reasonable, and even pastoral throughout that
time. But I know here’s about a 100% chance that sometime
while I am there I will end up pouting like a 13 year old. I pray
that I don’t make it all the way back to a two-year old temper
tantrum, but that’s going to take some humility, gentleness,
and patience on my part. Maturity, like other worthwhile character
traits, takes practice. And if we don’t practice being mature
for the little stuff, when a crisis comes, we will revert to what
is familiar, and not necessarily to the maturity we strive for.
This is the story of the Christian life.
In a better world, chronological age and emotional age would correlate
closely, but I think we all know that isn’t true -- or it
isn’t true all of the time. Speaking the truth in love is
a difficult task -- and hearing the truth in love may be even harder.
I believe the author of Ephesians not only knows this challenge,
but knows how we can move beyond it. We find those directions in
verses 15-18: We must grow up in every way into him who is the head,
into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together
by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working
properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up
in love. That is quite a sentence.
What Ephesians has taught us so far, and the message we continue
to hear as we read further, is about God’s abundance, and
specifically the abundance of God’s grace. By grace we have
each been given unique gifts -- gifts which we can offer to be used
for Christ. But those gifts aren’t only our personal offerings
or out individual contributions. God is calling us beyond what we
can accomplish on our own. By the power at work within us, we are
equipped to be the body of Christ -- not just a group of people
in the same place at the same time, but people from diverse backgrounds
with various gifts who are knit together -- like tendons and ligaments
which hold our own bodies together -- we become the muscles and
bones of the body of Christ. A body which is growing and being built
up in love. Unity in Christ, gifts from Christ, the maturity of
Christ: these are how we are equipped for ministry. The wonder of
how a child grows and matures is a process which we can document,
but not explain entirely. When people are knit together and work
for a common purpose in Christ, there is a power at work within
us which is beyond what we can explain.
I believe that unity as the body of Christ is the cure for what
ails the church; it is the only power which will allow us to grow
and function and mature together. Growing up is not for sissies;
it is the grace of God which can saves us personally, and reconciles
those who are near and those who are far off. May God’s abundant
grace be with us. Amen.