On Sunday, July 21, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached on the topic “Growing Up in Faith” from the sermon series “Ages and Stages.” Her sermon is based on the scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 13: 8-12.
When has your life been disrupted or thrown off course? When have you fallen or failed, or hit a wall, in a way that you couldn’t keep on living your life the same way that you had been doing before? Maybe it was a time when you knew that you needed to run away quickly from the trouble in which you found yourself. When have you hit rock bottom? Maybe it was a time like Moses, when you were in fear and rage came welling up. Maybe your experience was something like David’s when your whole world came crashing down around you when you felt you had overstepped the bounds. Maybe there was even adultery and getting people in your way out of the way.
Maybe it was more like Job when you suffered a severe loss of everything you held dear. Perhaps it was like that of Peter. Walking on water with Jesus, only to find yourself plunging into the bottom of the sea. Maybe you were thrown to the ground like Paul, who was on a crusade to make the world a better place. Or was it like that of the prodigal son who found himself in a pigpen? Or the older brother doing it right all along yet finding himself staying outside the party? Some have even suffered divorce, bankruptcy, and addiction.
This idea came from a survey I sent out in May asking for your response. Over half of the respondents expressed concerns for children and grandchildren and longing for intergenerational connection, not just within one age group or another. However, failure is crucial in our life of faith and being a mature Christian. Just like child growth and development, our faith has direction and movement – a trajectory. Life is going to present us with failures all around, no matter how hard we try. I grew up thinking that we were supposed to be perfect, and we could avoid failure and squash imperfections. It turns out we are likely to stay on the path we are already on, even if we are going nowhere. Unless, of course, we have help and encouragement.
Many philosophers from Carl Jung, to Erik Erickson, to James Fowler, to John Wesley have written about the stages that we go through as human beings seeking a more mature life. But the person I’m going to be most indebted to today is Richard Rohr who stated that the spiritual life explains how we can very quickly get lazy and stuck in our path if we don’t have other people or other experiences that are helping us to move along this path. And Rohr uses an image that is called the ‘Two Halves of Life.’ Both ‘Halves’ are essential, and we cannot skip over the second ‘Half.’ Wherever you are in your faith journey or maturity is excellent. You should celebrate and allow room for growth.
But what happens is that immature leaders rise and immature groups keep our systems moving in these ways. What we need is a group of people, family, church communities, other communities that help us to see ourselves for who we are and help us to see something of who we can become and for this we need people who are further along on their journey than we are. Still, we require experiences of falling and failing as well as that community of people that can help us, when that happens, to see that there is something beyond that. Someone especially who can help us move from that deep dark place?
Paul presents this picture of love that is extraordinary and way beyond any one’s grasp, the kind of love that only God embodies. He is holding up a mirror to us showing us what we look like and opening a window into what God is doing in us and for us, saying “You are a beloved child of God and more.” Can you draw an image of what is your trajectory of faith and life and love? Can you feel God’s love interwoven into all of it even at the very worst time of your life? Then I invite you to name wise men around you, the elders in your life who have to help you see where your life is going to go – where you are being invited by God to go.