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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 08/02/2015

Do you remember the “I Won’t Grow Up” song from Peter Pan? “I won’t grow up, I won’t grow up, I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to go to school”…that’s about all I remember except the refrain, “I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, not me!” Peter Pan of course is a mischievous boy who can fly and who doesn’t age as he lives a life of fun and adventure in Neverland, a boy who doesn’t grow up.

It’s a good story, one that has had many incarnations and adaptations on stage and screen, the Mary Martin stage version from which the song comes is the one I remember, probably many of you as well, as it was done on TV a few times, back when we were much younger, before we grew up. It’s a good story that can just be enjoyed as entertainment, but it does raise the question of what it means to grow up, because of course growing up is about more than getting bigger and older. When we admonish kids, or adults for that matter, to grow up, we’re probably not telling them to get bigger and older; it tends to be about other things.

For the past few weeks we’ve had reading from Ephesians, but today we move into a different part of the letter, one which gets more into a discussion of the Christian lifestyle. Part of that discussion includes the statement that we are to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” and this call to grow up doesn’t have anything to do with getting bigger and older.

We’re ten weeks into the “after Pentecost” season, there are fifteen weeks to go, but one of the ways to approach this season is as a time of growth, growing up if you will. The color green in the paraments and banners is a reminder of growth; even with it being pretty dry the past few weeks, it’s still pretty green out there, things are still growing. It is a season of growth and this week’s lessons, including Ephesians but the others as well, invite a discussion of growing up relative to our faith, a discussion of getting beyond what we might call Peter Pan faith, beyond faith that ignores the call to grow up and continues to say “I won’t grow up, I’ll never grow up, not me!”

Starting with the psalm: today’s psalm was six verses of the 72 verses that make up Psalm 78. In its entirety it’s one of the longest psalms, a poetic narration of ancient Israel’s history and tradition intended as instruction. It starts with the words “Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” The 6 verses appointed for today connect the psalm to the manna in the wilderness story, an important piece of the history, part of which is told in today’s first reading from Exodus. For the people of Israel though, teaching and handing on the tradition was important so in addition to the stories themselves, there are several psalms, including this one, which revisit some of the high points, and some of the low points of their history. Knowing the stories and tradition from which you come is part of growing up in faith. Because of that, we too revisit the stories, even the ones that are very familiar because perspectives on those familiar stories can change.

This idea of growing up also made me think about how we as a church as part of the wider ELCA fit into this. One of the good things about the ELCA version of Lutheranism, Christianity and the church is that new perspectives are invited. We honor the tradition, we continue to teach the tradition of the early church, we honor the insights of Martin Luther and the new perspectives he brought to light 500 years ago, but we don’t stand still. We continue to probe and question, in search of new interpretations because that too is part of that call to grow up in every way. Even as we do that though, like the people of Israel did with Psalm 78, we go back and remind ourselves of who we are and where we came from, we read the old stories, we recite the words of the creed. Our roots remain planted in the tradition and from there we grow.

With the lessons today, it’s in Ephesians that the issue of growing up is addressed most directly. Today’s reading does move into a discussion of proper Christian behavior and I confess that it’s sections like this that have caused me to shy away from preaching on the New Testament letters. The overarching theology has to do with God’s grace, but then with the various lists of vices and virtues it can seem like certain behaviors nullify God’s grace which creates dissonance in my mind but…if I listen to myself, maybe living with that dissonance is part of growing up in faith.

Despite the dissonance, there is much that is helpful in these sections concerning what it means to grow up in the faith. For example, today’s reading begins with the call to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Those are good words to ponder for awhile. The call to grow up starts with humility, gentleness and patience; no wonder we want to say, “I won’t grow up.” Being humble, gentle and patient isn’t easy.

In Ephesians those virtues lead into a discussion of a grown up Christian community which highlights the fact that growing up in faith isn’t just a private affair, but instead, we’re all in this together. It is about the community and central to a grown up community is finding unity in diversity.

The image of the church that we’re given here isn’t about lock step uniformity, but…a 2000 year history of divisions within the church is evidence that we haven’t done this very well. As church communities, we haven’t always done very well in allowing for diversity with humility, gentleness and patience. Instead of speaking the truth in love there are arrogant claims that we have the truth cornered and what you think is the truth is wrong. There are those who are critical of the ELCA for making theological and/or social statements but then allowing for, even encouraging dissent regarding those statements. For those on every side of the issue it can be frustrating, but what it really represents is a grown up approach faith as it allows for diversity.

Our unity comes from recognizing that truth is found in Jesus as the revelation of God which can mean different things to different people but it is truth that is well stated in the creeds of the church. That’s why we go back to them as reminders, just like the people of Israel went back to psalms like Psalm 78. Still, it’s not a lock step, believe it or else truth that we recite; it’s a truth that we can explore with humility, gentleness and patience in an effort to understand just what it means that Jesus is the revelation of God.

That’s really the question that John addresses throughout his gospel. As we work our way through the Bread of Life discourse in chapter six it occurs to me that John is always extending an invitation to grow up in faith. By that I mean that John invites you to struggle, to experience growth pains

John creates images, like Jesus as the bread of life, images that make you think, images that raise questions. He seems to always be probing, searching with dialogue that almost never follows the logical path we might like it to. As a gospel John does the same kind of thing Jesus did when he was asked a question; you don’t get straight answers but instead you have to think about it because Jesus and John knew, that’s how you grow and part of that growth might be learning to live with the questions as opposed to demanding answers.

Having said all that, I’m going to kind of give Peter Pan and “I won’t grow up” the last word. Growing up doesn’t mean losing a sense of wonder and curiosity and imagination; that’s part of what Peter Pan was afraid he was going to lose if he grew up and it does happen. Growing up in faith though doesn’t mean losing all that; reading the Bible involves engaging your imagination and John’s gospel does represent a good example. Trying to read John literally can become frustrating because that’s not how it’s written, but engaging it with imagination creates all kinds of possibilities as it explores a deeper truth; it opens a window to the divine.

So Peter Pan wasn’t all wrong in saying “I won’t grow up;” there is something good about Peter Pan faith. After all, Jesus also told his disciples that unless you become like little children, you’ll never enter the Kingdom of Heaven and I don’t think he was talking about getting younger and smaller; so there you are; another paradox to struggle with. There is a call to grow up in faith, but do it with the same sense of wonder you had as a child.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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