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Hebrews 5,13-14 Faith Maturity - The Goal of our Faith

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Spiritual Maturity – The Goal of our Faith

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 (The Message)

11-14 I have a lot more to say about this,

[the writer had been explaining Christ’s Role

as Highpriest]

but it is hard to get it across to you

since you've picked up this bad habit of not listening.

By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves,

yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you

and go over the basics on God again,

starting from square one—baby's milk,

when you should have been on solid food long ago!

Milk is for beginners,

inexperienced in God's ways;

solid food is for the mature,

who have some practice in telling right from wrong.

1-3 So come on,

let's leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ

and get on with the grand work of art.

Grow up in Christ.

The basic foundational truths are in place:

turning your back on "salvation by self-help"

and turning in trust toward God;

baptismal instructions;

laying on of hands;

resurrection of the dead;

eternal judgment.

God helping us,

we'll stay true to all that.

But there's so much more.

Let's get on with it!

In the past months

our preaching has focused on God’s desire

to reconcile us to Himself

and to invite the Church

into partnership with God

to bring healing and hope into the world.

It is our conviction that God wants to raise us up

into mature and responsible followers of Jesus Christ.

And yet, we so often bring forth the marks

of a very immature Christian life.

Who do you think of

when you think about spiritually mature people?

What constitutes a spiritually mature person?

ILL.: [WASHED UP PERFECTION] 

A man once came up to C. H. Spurgeon,

the great English Preacher,  

at a Christian retreat,

and said that he had reached a state of spiritual perfection. 

Without a word

Spurgeon picked up a pitcher of ice-cold water

and poured it on the man's head. 

When the man became angry

and reacted like any normal person would

if cold water were poured on his head,

Spurgeon said,

"Well, now I know exactly

what spiritual perfection you've come to!"

In Philippians 3:12ff

Paul makes the confession

that he has not yet reached the goal of perfection in Christ.

But, he is determined to forget what is behind him

and set his heart on the goal that is before him.

That is also the theme

that we want to focus on today.

In the spiritual life,

       As in other aspects of life,

       If we don’t grow

       We go backwards.

Today as we engage the topic of Spiritual Growth and Maturity

we encounter a text from the book of Hebrews

that holds up a mirror for us.

This is not an easy passage to preach on,

       And still we want to see what we can get out of it.

When we look at much of what is happening in our world

we must say that the writer of Hebrews

makes an important point in this challenging passage.

He says, “Come on folks! Grow up already!”

A week ago I attended a Seminar at CMU entitled,

       “Talking about the tough stuff in congregational life”.

This was a hands on,

       Practical course that looked at Dialogue in the congregation

       About issues that can (and usually do) divide the church.

One thing that struck me

       Is that our church is not unique.

Every congregation from a variety of different denominations

That was represented has to deal with “tough issues”.

One congregation was trying to figure out

       How to deal with a stubborn staff member

       Who would hijack the worship style of the church.

Another congregation was struggling to find a way through

       On the issue of homosexuality.

And yet another, was looking for a way to relate

       To their multi-faith neighbours.

Another church yet,

was dealing with conflict among members.

As I was interacting with these colleagues

       It became clear to me that we are all in this together.

God has called His church

       To be an agent of change and transformation

       In the world…

And yet, there is so much…

       … well…

       Spiritual immaturity

       In all of Christianity…

We don’t even need to look at any other religion and say,

       “Look at them. They don’t know what it’s about.”

No, all we need to do is look at our own churches…

We only need to look at ourselves…

The writer to the Hebrews say’s,

       “It’s really hard to get this simple truth across to you,

       Because you are dense!

       You have picked up this bad habit of not listening.”

The actual word that he uses to describe them is “nothros”,

       Which means something like,

       “slow-moving in mind” – or retarded…

       Or “pretty dull people”…

The writer had already taught them the Christian truths

       For a long time.

But, they were taking no responsibility

for changing their own habits

and for growing in their faith

while also teaching others.

His complaint is that his hearers

have been Christians for many years,

but in their understanding and behaviour

they are still at the early stages of infancy.

They haven’t learnt and grown a bit!

The contrast between the immature Christian and the child,

       Between receiving milk as a newborn

       And solid spiritual nourishment

       Can be found often in the New Testament.

Speaking to new believers,

       The apostle Peter says (1 Peter 2:2),

1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit,

hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,

so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

It all begins in our spiritual infancy

with getting the pure spiritual milk.

But, then there comes a time when the spiritual infant

       Becomes a toddler

       And begins to consume and digest solids

       Which then enable his bones and muscles to grow.

In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul laments,

1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly —

       mere infants in Christ.

2 I gave you milk, not solid food,

for you were not yet ready for it.

Indeed, you are still not ready.

3You are still worldly.

For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you,

are you not worldly?

Are you not acting like mere men?

What the writer to the Hebrews says is that by now,

       Having been fed soooo much spiritual milk…

       They should be able to articulate their faith quite well,

       And get with the program of inviting others

       To become part of God’s plan of reconciliation.

And yet, they are just as immature as ever.

Much of the complaining in our society

Is a clear description of the spiritual immaturity

That we still suffer from today:

People quit going to church,

       Or they go to the mega-church

       That has the flashy programs and dynamic preacher

Because…

       “My needs aren’t being met at my old church...”

       “I’m not being fed...”

       “That little ‘Happy-Meal-Shaped-Vacuum-in-my-Soul’

       Is not getting filled.”

Hebrews says,

       “O Please,

       Grow up!”

       Take responsibility for your own spiritual maturity!

       And, get involved in helping those who are in real need.”

By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves,

yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you

and go over the basics on God again,

You ought to be teachers yourselves.

Yes, indeed!

Most of us,

       If not all of us,

       Have gone to Sunday School…

Almost everyone has attended Bible study or Small groups

       For support, recovery, encouragement

       And being equipped in our Christian faith.

And yet,

       We suffer from a bad case of spiritual inadequacy.

So often we hear people say,

       “I can’t do that.”

       “I can’t share my faith with others…”

       “I can’t be a role model to our young boys and girls…”
       “I can’t serve our church as a deacon or Council member…”

       “I just don’t know enough about that sort of thing.”

The writer to the Hebrews didn’t buy that excuse…

“By now you should be able to teach and lead others…”

And yet, you are stuck

       In spiritual infancy.

Ill.: This reminds me of the dad

who was criticising his teenage son for being lazy:

       “Son, at your age Abraham Lincoln

       Was working two jobs after School!”

And the son replied,

       “Dad, at your age Abraham Lincoln

       Was the President of the United States.”

As Christians we sometimes refuse to grow up

       In the knowledge of Christ and his Truth.

We claim ignorance as bliss.

“I didn’t know that ‘salvation’ and ‘discipleship’ go hand in hand.”

“I thought all I had to do was say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’.”

“I didn’t know that you have to treat your neighbour with respect

And not fight with your fellow church member...”

I mean…

       How much more basic can it get?!

Interestingly,

       This passage is not only about knowing all the right stuff

       About the Christian faith.

Its also about right behaviours.

For example,

       It may be acceptable for a child to be sulking…

       to throw a temper tantrum…

       to refuse to play along if things don’t go his way…

       or to pick up his marbles and go home.

But, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable

       For people who are supposedly grown up in the faith.

But, before we point the finger at others

       We do well to look at ourselves

       And see where we need to continue to grow.

In chapter 6 the writer of Hebrews pleads with the church,

       “So, then, let us leave elementary teachings

       About Christ behind us,

       And let us move on to full maturity…”

What does he mean by this maturity?

As a person grows in understanding and spiritual maturity

       one should be able to articulate one’s faith convictions

       more clearly.

One should be able to move past the pet peaves

       That we so much like to argue about

       And look at the things that really matter.

That doesn’t mean that we abandon

       All the convictions we once had

       About baptism, church membership,

       Heaven and hell, and so on.

But it means that we integrate

our spiritual insight and understanding

into an ever expanding awareness

of God’s activity in the world and in the church.

There can be no standing still in the Christian life.

If we stop getting better in our faith

       We stop being good.

If the quality of our faith is not improving

       It deteriorates

       And we begin to backslide.

Eugene Roehlkepartain has identified a number of

       Influences on Faith Maturity:

The greatest influences on a person’s growth in faith are:

·      Lifetime involvement in church,

·      A families dedication and involvement in church (Youth),

·      Lifetime involvement in Christian education,

·      Sunday School, Youth events, Adult educational events, the faith of important family members and friends, experiencing a caring church community, involvement in religious activities outside of church, serving others.

Unfortunately there are a number of Myths that muddle

       Our conviction that learning and growing

       Are lifetime activities:

1.   Christian Education is for children –

How many of you went out to celebrate

   When the book came out “All I ever need to know

   I learnt in Kindergarten”?

Well, that attitude is prevalent today.

   I know all I’m going to need to know.

The Bible does indeed exhort us to

   “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”,

   And we can only do that,

   When we are willing to wrestle with the hard questions

   That do not have easy answers.

This is best done in a supportive community of faith

   Where questions are encouraged.

So, what does a mature faith look like?

Allow me to offer a few indicators of a mature faith:

 

Trusting and Believing:

People of mature faith

       Trust in God’s saving grace

       And believe in Jesus’ humanity and divinity.

A person of mature faith trusts in God’s daily leading

       And follows God’s will in obedience.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated,

       “Only he who believes is obedient,

and he who is obedient believes.”

Experiencing the Fruits of Faith:

People of mature faith experience a sense of personal well-being,

       security, and peace that grows out of their faith.

It is the “life in all its fulness that Jesus offers.”

This inner peace gives us the energy and hope

       To work actively for change in the church and in the world.

Integrating Faith and Life:

The faith of mature Christians is the filter

       Through which they evaluate everything.

Their faith is integrated into their vocation, family life,

       Financial, political, moral and ethical decision-making.

Seeking Spiritual Growth:

People of mature faith know that faith is a journey.

       It grows through study, reflection, prayer

       And discussion with others on the journey.

Nurturing Faith in Community

Our ability to pray, to do justice and love mercy

       Has to be tested in community.

In community we witness to our faith

       And we nurture one another in our faith.

Holding life-affirming values

Life is good and should be affirmed

       Because God is in control.

Off course, there are times when this assumption

       Is challenged to the core.

We were reminded this week

of one good example of this principle:

After 23 years of waiting for answers

       Cliff and Wilma Derksen were finally able to put a face

       To the mystery of who killed their daughter Candace.

In spite of the most trying circumstances,

       The Derksens never gave up hope,

       And the papers reproted

that “their Faith is stronger than ever”.

A few years ago

Wilma Derksen wrote a book on “forgiveness”.

The Derksens know that this is not going to be an easy process,

       And they are humble and realistic enough to admit

       That they don’t know whether in the end

       They will be able to forgive the killer…

But that is the value that they hold.

They know that if they cannot or will not forgive

       They will become bitter people.

Advocating Social Change:

The Christian faith is not a passive faith.

People of mature faith advocate for social and global change

       To bring about greater social justice,

       Including the reduction of poverty

       And improving the quality of life for less fortunate people.

The Church belongs in the public arena

       To stand with those who cannot stand alone

       And speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

One such example to take note of comes from MC Cananda.

Earlier this month all MCCanada Churches

received the following email,

encouraging us to observe May 20-21

as Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia.

“Churches in Colombia are calling for their North American sisters and brothers to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in their country.

Colombia is home to the world’s second largest internally displaced population, after Sudan. The region has been devastated by a 50+ year internal war which claims an average of 3,000 lives a year. Colombia is also a world leader in the recruitment of child soldiers for its various paramilitary and illegal armed groups.

The Letter also exhorts Canadian Mennonites to challenge the Canadian government on its policy of unconditional support of the Colombian government in its negotiations with paramilitary groups, and to advocate for federal legislation to better govern Canadian multi-national firms involved in the resource extraction industry in Colombia – which in turn increases the number of displaced persons.

Mennonite Church Canada Leadership has also sent a letter

       To Prime Minister Stephen Harper

       To request government to allow for the

Conscientious Objection to the payment of those taxes

Designated for military support.

Advocating for social change is an indicator of a growing faith.

Acting and Serving:

People of mature faith not only advocate for change,

       They also become personally involved

       Becoming the change that they want to see.

A Mature Faith grows in two dimensions.

It gives evidence to a growing

and life-transforming relationship with God…

And it also shows a consistent devotion to serve others…

       Helping people in need,

       Becoming involved in social action,

       And showing responsibility for God’s creation.

I don’t know about you,

       But, looking at that list we have to admit that

Much of our spiritual diet consists

of the most basic compononents.

May we be inspired to look at the bigger picture

       Of what God is doing in the world.

May our first concern be

       To consider God’s kingdom,

       And to be the people of Faith that God wants us to be.

And everything else will be added to us.

So, let us leave the more elementary teachings behind,

       And let us go on to maturity in Christ!

      

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