Sermon Title “All Grown Up” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! As is typical this time of year, I have been thinking about my mother and her aging, and the fact that I have been a grandmother for a couple years and what getting older will mean for me. I received a card this week which sums it up pretty well. There’s a picture of a used car salesman on the front, and he says, “The body has some wear, but it still runs pretty good. Some problems with gas, though.” The inside says “Something about this card reminded me of you.” That’s pretty much what I’m expecting from the coming decade.
American society doesn’t have a standard ritual to recognize when a child becomes an adult — the Jewish faith has a bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah, and some cultures have rites of passage where you begin as a child and literally pass through some kind of experience or test and emerge as an adult. Of course, there are ages which, when you reach them, you can legally do things which you couldn’t when you were younger. When you’re 16 years old, you can get a driver’s license; when you’re 18 you can vote, and purchase an assault weapon, and get a tattoo; when you’re 21, you can purchase alcohol or tobacco, and rent a hotel room; and when you’re 35 you can run for president of the United States. These ages are arbitrary, of course — not everyone who is over 35 is qualified to be president of the United States — but those ages are markers for legal activity.
This is not necessarily the same thing as maturity. Some children, especially those in family systems which make them take a lot of responsibility at a young age, mature early; some children never stop expecting someone else to take care of them; and sometimes a change in a family forces a child to grow up in a hurry. Emotional maturity is related to physical maturity, but it is more specific to dynamics and context. Our text from John 14 is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. This text comes at the beginning of lengthy speech from Jesus which spans John chapter 14, 15, and 16. The disciples are sitting with Jesus around a meal — a Passover Seder — where Jesus has washed their feet, and told them he knows one of them will betray him, that he can stay with them only a little longer, and that one of them will deny even knowing him before the night is over. Jesus had loved, guided, and maybe even felt like a parent to these followers — in 13:33 he calls them “Little children,” a term of endearment. Jesus knows that he will be leaving his disciples soon and he’s preparing them to continue his work and his ministry. Jesus’ disciples are going to have to grow up and do this work without his physical presence with them.
In chapter 14 verse 18 Jesus tells them, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Being orphaned means that one, or usually both, of your parents have died, and no one else is providing care for you. The death of a parent, even an elderly parent, is a sad occasion, but it is the progression of life. We don’t usually speak of adults as orphans, because the assumption is that adults can take care of themselves. Jesus is telling his disciples that even though they will not see him, he will still be with them — and because he will be alive, they will also live. Jesus is reminding them of what he has given them as a sign of his presence with them and for them to share with other in Jesus’ name.
I ended last week’s sermon with two questions for you to consider before today. If you were not here last week, I’ll give you a pass on the questions. One person responded to me directly, and I hope that some of the rest of you have given it some thought. Here were the questions:
Why would someone come to Creekside Church?
Why would they stay?
I suppose if you wanted to make this easier, you could answer the questions
Why do I come to Creekside Church
And Why do I stay
I’d hope there would be some overlap in those answers, but they could be pretty different. For instance, if you come because your parents were part of this congregation, but your children do not attend, then those answers are not the same. These questions are intended to get us thinking about how we, as Jesus followers, are continuing the work of ministry that he passed into the care of his disciples before his death.
There may not be a simple, concrete answer to either of those questions — people are rarely simple and single-dimensional, but I think that Jesus was on to something. Here’s what he told the disciples in verse 21: They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and will love them and reveal myself to them. Love Jesus, love other people. Loving Jesus and loving people is what the church should excel at. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, this gets complicated. What if loving one group of people leaves out another group of people? What then? How do we decide? Last week, I mentioned Bob Smietana’s book Reorganized Religion. Smietana is a journalist who reports on religion in America. He has written about recent trends in religion, his book was published in 2020, and he had this to say about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Church leaders have faced a no-win situation.
If they remained closed and only met online, some congregation members would simply pack up and move to another church which was meeting in person. If they opened up the church for in-person worship, then there would be feuds over masks and social distancing — driven as much by politics as public health. No matter what precautions were put in place, some people, whose health made them more at risk, would be left out.
Loving other people doesn’t necessarily guarantee simple answers; growing up and becoming mature doesn’t mean that challenges go away, we just hope that with God’s help, we make choices which are informed by our love for Jesus and his commandments. I will say as a side note that I felt like Creekside’s leaders, especially our Church Board, did an admirable job of guiding us through the no-win choices of the pandemic, and that you all extended a lot of patience and grace through those months when we were unable to worship together in person.
Here are some things which I believe are hallmarks of maturity, characteristics which the church must embody as we continue the work of Jesus and share that love with each other, and people who come to Creekside and may wish to stay at Creekside:
- We have to be willing to meet people where they are. No one is going to stay at a church where they feel like they are not welcomed accepted. Our goal is not to make other folks become like us, it is for all of us to become more like Jesus. This probably means that other people need to change — it is certain that we do. It’s good to acknowledge that we don’t have it all figured out. There is nothing we can do to change Jesus’ love for us, but there is plenty we can do to live into our calling as Jesus’ followers.
- We have to be willing to trust that if we are faithful to Christ, God will use those efforts — even if we aren’t around to see how that happens. This is what Jesus was trying to tell his disciples — I am leaving, but you will be OK. As long as you love me and keep my commandments and love others. There is a Chinese proverb which says, “Those who plant trees love others than themselves.” Trees take time to grow — we may never harvest the fruit from the trees we are planting, but we have to plant and tend those trees for the people who will come after us. Being mature means having patience, and trusting that God will accomplish things through us, but also beyond us.
And finally, I believe that being mature means internalizing these words of Jesus from John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Being mature means being at peace with things we cannot change — it means trusting that Jesus will be able to hold the things which we cannot carry on our own.
I may not be thrilled about getting older, but I’m OK with growing into maturity: I hope I have many more years to work at it. As we remember the people who nurtured us and brought us to faith, we honor their work and their memory by our love for Jesus Christ and our commitment to our own spiritual growth and maturity. I hope we not only look backward, but look forward to the seedlings we are trying to grow. Leaving a legacy is not merely a matter of money: it is about the relationships we nurture and the work we do for the kingdom today which may come to fruition in the future. It is about being at peace when we know we have done what we are able, and put the growth into God’s hands.
 Bob Smietana, Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why it Matters, Worth Publishing:New York. P 71.