Loving God, thank you for your steadfast faithfulness in our lives. May we trust that your Holy Spirit is with us, bringing guidance, comfort, challenge, joy, inspiration, and courage for our daily living as we seek to follow your leading and grow in faith. Amen.
Today we continue our Soul Hunger sermon series as we explore some of the various needs we have as human beings. We’ve explored the need to feel significant, the need for structure, and the need for variety. And today, we’ll take a look at the need for growth.
I don’t think very many people think they have learned all there is to learn, know everything, and have done everything they ever wanted to do. And most of us don’t like to feel stuck either. Most of us don’t want to feel like we’re not going anywhere or gaining any new knowledge or wisdom as we go through life. Most of us want to feel like we are making some progress over the years.
When we think about it, all of life involves growth. From day one, we begin grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally as we explore the world around us. Our world begins fairly small and intimate, but gradually grows larger as we learn to speak, and walk, and play, and engage other people and the greater world around us.
As we get older, we go to school to gain a breadth of knowledge at first and then often focus in to prepare for a career. We jump into a new job and get a lot of real world on the job training. We travel, read, and continue our education in various ways.
We grow in our relational knowledge and wisdom too as we grow in our friendships, family relationships, partnership, marriage, parenthood, and as a part of various communities.
We face challenges, and overcome them, and celebrate our successes. We learn from our failures. Perhaps we set goals along the way.
And, perhaps, we stretch ourselves. We try new things and expand our experience of the world. Did anyone change things up and try something new or different this week as Pastor Dave invited us to? I happened to find myself at the Attic restaurant on Thursday and decided I better try the Mac and Hot Cheetos. It was pretty good! One person’s rut is another person’s new thing.
Hopefully often, we take delight in our new experiences and relish the moment.
Just last week the radio program This American Life devoted a whole episode to delight. And one of the best moments was when one of the producers recorded her 5-year-old son as he got ready to ride the school bus for the very first time. He was hilariously excited. He had really been looking forward to this, even more than starting kindergarten. He wanted to have the same kind of freedom as his big sister, for one. When the day comes, he waits impatiently. He has a couple of moments of nervousness and doubt. But when the bus rolls up, he literally squeals, “that’s my bus!” and bounds up the stairs to board. It’s fantastic!
If you need a pick-me-up this week, give it a listen:
I absolutely love this kid’s enthusiasm! He reminds us to take joy in simple things. He also reminds us to appreciate and celebrate all the places life has taken us and all the growth we’ve experienced thus far.
Think about how much you’ve grown in this life. It’s easy to take for granted sometimes because we may have forgotten about the time when we first rode the school bus, or learned to tie our shoes, or read our first chapter book, or played our first scale on a musical instrument, or dribbled a basketball… But we’ve come a long way, kids!
And even when our new experiences are not delightful – even when they are hard or painful, or just not our thing, we learn something from the experience. And that brings growth too, of course.
And growth in our faith, in our spirituality, is a life-long endeavor too. As we grow in every stage of life, we can also nurture our spiritual growth along the way.
We grow intellectually in knowledge as we read scripture and study the biblical world, as we ask good questions, as we converse, share, and listen to each other. We allow our theology to be broadened, expanded, and informed by the insights of others. And we revisit many of the same stories, themes, and traditions over and over again, year after year, because they have something to say to us in every age, stage, and circumstance of our life.
We grow experientially and relationally in wisdom and depth as we seek and find God (or God finds us) in times of joy and awe, and in times of need. We grow in our relationship with God as we practice prayer, as we listen, as we seek connection with the Divine.
And, of course, not all of this growth is personal. Our growth as church is communal too. We grow in our relationships with one another, we build trust, we offer support and care to each other, we figure out who we are together, we welcome new people and new life into this ever-growing community. We grow in our ability to apologize and forgive. We grow in compassion as we seek to serve and love our neighbors together. And perhaps that compassion ignites in us a passion to seek change in our world.
And, in all of these areas of growth, we stay open, and curious, and humble to what we don’t know. We maintain a willingness to be inspired, challenged, changed. After all, growth is change. Growth is transformation. And growth is part of why we are here. We are alive, I think, in part, to grow and learn. And, in doing so, we adapt, stretch, and strengthen as we learn how to enact and embody God’s love as it is uniquely expressed through each of us. Only you can be you. Only you can grow into the best you that you can be. And this is a life-long process.
Even the Apostle Paul didn’t claim to know everything. Even in spite of his church-planting agenda and his prolific writing, he reminds the Corinthian church not to rely solely on human knowledge or wisdom (their own or his). But to trust in God’s wisdom, to trust in the Holy Spirit to bring them wisdom, and meaning, and challenge, and inspiration, and encouragement. He essentially claimed that anything he got right was by the power and grace of God. He was always pointing them to the Great Mystery that is God’s grace, power, and love.
Openness to and appreciation of the Great Mystery is part of our spiritual growth. We cannot and will not ever know it all.
The Holy Spirit, Paul says, is the one who empowers us to apprehend, understand, apply, and live out the Good News of God’s gifts of grace and blessing, particularly the gift and revelation of God’s self in Jesus Christ.
And through all of our living, and growing, both personally and in community and relationship with others, the Holy Spirit is revealed and experienced.
There are moments when that is so beautifully and wondrously clear.
But, what do we do if we feel stuck, in any aspect of life, but particularly in our spiritual life? Sometimes we do feel stuck. So, how do we get growing again?
We can always go back to scripture and read the stories that started it all – stories and reflections of those just like us, really, who were trying to make sense of and follow the leading of a God who called them into being and was calling them into deeper relationship.
We can read a book or hear a speaker and let the scholarship, work, passion, and reflections of others move us to growth.
We can reflect on these and other aspects of life together and hear the insights, experiences, questions, and thoughts of our friends.
We can pray. We can pray in a new way or in a new place, perhaps.
We can experience art. See a play or a film. Go to a concert or a museum. Travel (near or far, it doesn’t matter). Spend some time in God’s great artwork of creation.
Like the kid on the bus, we can take delight in the simple things and give thanks for the growth each day brings.
We can serve others. We can let our hearts be broken. We can learn to love and offer care – even when it’s hard, or overwhelming, even if we’re not sure what we are doing is helping very much. We can still try.
We can stick to a commitment we’ve made or a routine we’ve intentionally gotten into and take a moment to take stock and appreciate how we’ve grown since we began. Maybe it’s an exercise routine or a creative expression. Maybe it’s nurturing a relationship. Anything that has meaning for you will do. All of these things can also become spiritual practices that bring growth if we let them.
We can try something challenging. Start small or slow if you have to.
I remember when I was learning to play the flute. As I got older and better, my flute teacher would pick new and harder pieces for me to play and I would get frustrated at difficult passages. She had to remind me to do two things: one, slow it way down at first and two, run the same measure or passage over and over again until I got it. Before too long muscle memory took hold and carried me though.
Especially when life gets hard, faith can feel frustrating and challenging too. But you are up to the challenge. Start slow. Build your spiritual muscle memory in the good times. Lean on others when you need to. Keep at it through those difficult moments until you start to hear something that sounds like music and you recognize God singing alongside you with a voice of comfort, compassion, and hope.
And, of course, we can embrace and nurture new growth as a church too.
For one, we can support and encourage one another. We can deepen our connections. We can be the church for each other and for the world beyond our doors.
Two, we can try some new things together.
It’s a little scary for most institutions to try new things. Institutions tend toward self-preservation. It’s how they survive. Sometimes we fear what we might lose. And our fear may, at times, be rational. And that’s where thoughtful and prayerful discernment comes in.
But there also comes a time when we can and should step out in faith and take the risks that are worth taking in order to be faithful to our calling, in order to live into and be of service to God’s hopes and dreams for the world.
The truth is that risk is often what leads to growth. Toddlers would never learn to walk if they didn’t take the risk, fall down and get up again, over and over.
As people of faith and as a community of faith, we are called to risk love. We are called to risk building relationships and community.
We are called to risk upsetting the status quo and challenging the powers and principalities of this world and instead, placing our faith in God’s Reign. And that can sometimes take us to some new and unfamiliar places. But the new and unfamiliar is also fertile ground for new growth.
And through all of this, as we seek to live out our calling, we risk trusting in God’s faithfulness.
But there is good reason to trust. For we are an Easter people who put our trust in a resurrecting God. And we proclaim the not even the cross, not even death, could stop God’s love from living on.
And God’s love does live on. And God’s love is taking root in new ways.
And in all of our living God can and does bring new growth.
Look how far you’ve come. Keep growing.