Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 30 December 2018.
I suppose that the age-old cry of children – and teenagers, come to that is ‘You don’t understand.’ We have all heard and uttered it ourselves.
There is that sense in which we have felt misunderstood, not listened to and generally not given the place which we thought we deserved. It also applies to adults as they – or is it we? – try to navigate the shoals and hazards of looking after children and teenagers ourselves.
I have to admit to some ignorance here as children have not been bestowed on us.
But the strange thing is that Jesus Himself came very close to the same thing. At His Bar-Mitzphah, the ceremonial admission to adulthood, being expected to obey the law and potentially being eligible for all areas of adult service, Jesus was now thinking about the ministry that lay ahead of Him and the need for deeper study of the law of Israel, the worship of the temple and of the life of an observant Jew.
Um, well yes, but people still had to complete their education and learn to earn a living, so Jesus’ education was by no means complete.
As a carpenter He would also learn how to obtain commissions, source His timber, complete and deliver the order – and by no means least, get paid for His labours some customers being readier to settle up than others. He would have to learn how to do business without violating the law of God or the basic principles of human dignity.
He would have to learn how to be practical and even assertive without being abusive or rigid. In short, there was a lot more to learn and not all of it would be in the classroom or even the synagogue.
But then both the OT and the gospel lessons have something very similar. ‘Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people’, while ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.’
For both growing up meant not just physical maturity but social, spiritual and intellectual maturity as well. Both would have to apply their faith and devotion in their relationships with other people, and understand how others were reacting to them.
They would have to understand how facts and ideas related to one another and how they affected social and personal relations.
It is one thing to be able to pray or read the bible – but we all have to be able to know what to pray for, and especially to pray for those things that are within the will of God, without having to be prophets or predictors.
It is one thing to read and to love the scriptures – but then we have to be able to apply them in our lives and wrestle with any difficulties without throwing the whole thing over.
Sometimes God takes His time about leading us into an understanding of His ways and His purposes for us, especially when they turn out not to be quite what we had in mind for ourselves.
So yes, we also are engaged in a permanent process of growing up and growing into a deeper understanding of God’s will in general and for ourselves in particular.
This is where Paul’s letter to the Colossian church is so helpful for his instruction is so practical.
His first point is that they should put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. This is something for each member of the church – and these qualities may not come naturally to some of them so they would have to work at it.
It has been pointed out that when we ask God for patience – often adding ‘and hurry’ – He often replies by giving us the opportunities to exercise it.
And that applies to the other fruits of the spirit which Paul describes in his letter to the church in Galatia.
Paul then goes on to say ‘Put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ This is not about liking people – it is about loving them. It is about receiving them and accepting them as they are rather than as we would wish them to be.
It means giving them the benefit of the doubt and allowing their needs and interests to take priority over our own – not always an easy thing to do.
Yet it is love that holds all the other fruits of the spirit in place, perhaps like a basket to hold them together and display them to best advantage.
The next point is to ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, and be thankful.’ It is by allowing Jesus to rule within us that we are also able to set aside anxiety and to respond to Him in all things with thanksgiving.
The final point is to ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.’ Knowing about the Word of God is not enough. I can know about cars but that does not make me a mechanic. No, the point is that the word must abide within us, finding a home within us, yielding a fruit in our lives.
It is powerful, dynamic, glorious, but is also capable of being ignored, insulted or set aside. But to grow into maturity, just as we receive the sacrament into our bodies so we must also receive the word into our minds and hearts. We need both in order to grow into maturity.