Maturity of Faith

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August 5, 2018. Katie Ciorba preaches (and sings!) on Paul’s ideas about a maturity of faith. How do we grow in the body of Christ, with a childlike faith versus a childish faith? How do we grieve the loss of our pastors and of valued families, and still look forward together to the work of the Transition and Call Committees? It may seem overwhelming, but we don’t have to do this work alone.


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In 1982, Amy Grant (a singer some of you may be familiar with, maybe for some of her later work which became crossover pop music like the song “Baby Baby”) came out with the album Age to Age, which really was her first breakout music. She was a Christian singer. I was seven years old at that time, and I thought that Amy Grant sang and looked like an angel. She still is beautiful. She has some really amazing songs on that album. One is called “El Shaddai.” There’s another song called “Sing Your Praise to the Lord.” I knew every single word on that entire album, and not only that but I forced all of the children in my neighborhood to know every word of that album, and we performed concerts for which we charged money to come watch us perform. At that time I still believed that one of the spiritual gifts God had given me was to be a singer. It’s not true. But it was also the last time I sang in church. I sang “El Shaddai.” Again, I was probably 10 years old and I believed that I could sing that song. So as I was reading the scripture for this week and thinking about where it brings me, one song from this album came to my mind and it’s called “Fat Baby.” Obviously it’s not politically correct, and probably Amy wouldn’t be singing it today. And it was buried in the middle of the album. To be honest, it’s not a great song. It’s a jazzy song and… okay, I will sing a little bit for you. So, pardon me. Remember, it’s not my gift. So she says:


He’s just a fat little baby!
Wa, wa, waaaaa…
He wants his bottle, and he don’t mean maybe
He sampled solid foods once or twice
But he says doctrine leaves him cold as ice
He’s been baptized, sanctified, redeemed by the blood
His daily devotions are stuck in the mud
He knows the books of the Bible and John 3:16
He’s got the biggest King James you’ve ever seen!


That’s it for my singing. So, as I was thinking about this song a lot, thinking about what Paul had said in our epistle for today, he’s saying that folks who really show off their Biblical knowledge without having a mature faith is exactly what Amy Grant was singing about. In our scripture, Paul asks us not to be children, but to be mature in Christ, which really led me to think a lot this week: what does it mean to not be a fat baby in Christ?


I don’t think that Paul was referring to things like mowing the lawn or paying the bills. You see often now on facebook or Instagram people doing such mundane tasks, and then saying “Hashtag: Adulting.” I don’t think that’s what Paul was talking about in terms of maturity.


I also actually think it’s interesting some of the readings use the word, our face should not be like “infants.” In our reading today we read “children,” but I think actually probably “infants” is a better word for what we’re talking about. I don’t think Paul is actually being ageist against children. In other parts of the Bible, in Mark for example, Jesus says that the knowledge of God belongs to children. And we often hear that having a childlike faith is something we should aspire to. To me, what a childlike faith means is fully embracing the mystery that is God, and believing with all of our heart, soul, and mind. But perhaps what Paul is referring to is something that Rusty Osborne posits, that Paul is making the distinction between having a childlike faith and having a childish faith.


Here, Paul seems to be saying that maturity is a firm, steadfast belief in Christ that endures times of questioning. He seems to be saying that being mature in our faith is actually a commitment to faith in and of itself. When Matt and I were getting married, many years ago now, I had grown up with a pastor named Pastor Weinman. In marriage counseling, I’ll never forget how he talked to us. He said that the truth about human love is that human love waivers, it goes up and down, and there are times that you’ll feel amazing love and compassion and passion toward one another, and other times you won’t want to look at each other in the morning. But that what marriage is is a commitment to that relationship, that love goes up and down but commitment can be the steady thing. And I think that’s what Paul is saying here, that sometimes our faith itself will go up and down, but to be mature in our faith is to be committed to that faith itself. To turn back when we are in times of questioning. That the commitment to faith itself is what makes us mature.


In our gospel today, Jesus also seems to be thinking of the same committed, mature faith in him. This passage comes shortly after the loaves and fishes where Jesus feeds 5000, and people who had no food all of a sudden have food and the crowd is looking for Jesus. They saw this amazing thing, and now they want more. This amazing food was given to them where there was none. And they’re looking for him. But Jesus is concerned that they’re looking for him because of the food that he gave them, because of the immature way that they are looking for him. They’re seeking him out, they’re sated. They’ve had their food and now they want more. And they keep asking him, “What can we do? What can we do to get more of you? What can we do? How can you give us the signs? What’s the easiest way for us to get what you have? We want more of it.” And Jesus’ answer to them is that their work is to believe in God, to be steady in their belief, to be focused not on feeding themselves daily, but to feast on the bread of God, that God provides, of Jesus himself.


This is moving when I think about my own faith. It’s often when I’m best fed that I’m grateful and remember to praise God. I’m sure you have your own memories of these times, but mine often include times when I’m in nature or moments when I’m sitting in this pew with my kids and just feeling so good to be together. Or, honestly, on the first day of school when everyone’s out the door and I’m in a quiet home. These are the times that I remember to praise God, to look to him, to thank him. To be immersed in my faith.


But I wonder about the times when I’m spiritually hangry. When I’m doing taxes, which definitely makes me hungry and angry, “hangry.” And when I’m letting somebody down. When I’m embarrassed. When I have health concerns, or people that I love have health concerns that are questions that aren’t getting answers. When I have parenting fails, which is not infrequent. When I’m doing things like wasting my time looking at facebook, or making my brain turn off when I should be engaging with humans that are around me. At those times I yell for signs. But Jesus, the living bread, is not what I’m looking for. I want the easy answers. I want it to be easier. I’m being immature in my faith, in my relationship with Jesus. But the miracle of Jesus is that he says the work for us to do is to believe in God. He understands it, this idea of faith is not simple. It’s work. We have to continue to be looking back to what Jesus is doing, and no matter where we are, no matter how hangry we are, Jesus is there turned toward us, ready for us to look back toward him.


The other thing that Paul says is that we cannot do this work, we cannot be in faith, without community. And that we together build our faith and grow in community, growing into the body of Christ. That we don’t have to do this work of being mature in our faith alone. And members of the body of Christ, which is all of us and all of the people outside of these doors as well, are members that have different gifts to bring, and shine lights on our faith in different ways. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, to be honest. We are all important to the body of Christ, and we all have gifts, and none of us have to do this alone.


I think as a body we’ve grieved the loss of our pastors. And I know for many of us, we are also now grieving the loss of the McCarty family. And that anytime a family member, a church member leaves our body, it can feel like an amputation. It’s a loss. It’s painful, and it’s good and right to grieve that loss. I know I personally felt a lot of despair about this loss. And if I’m honest with myself, I have sometimes felt overwhelmed with the work of the church right now. Even as Brett was talking today, thinking about the work of the Transition Team and the Call Team. How are we going to educate our kids? Right now we have a vacuum to be honest, and what’s going to happen with our high schoolers? Who’s gonna pay for the renovations? All of these questions that weigh me down, that I feel like are mine to carry alone. And then I remember what Paul reminds us over and over again, that in Christ, with the body of God, with the body of Jesus, we have everything we need to complete these tasks.


Knowing that we all have important roles in the church, but we don’t have to do everything. We have our specialized roles. One of my favorite podcasts is “On Being” with Krista Tippett. I know Pastor Penny referred to it as well, so it must have the thumbs up. But one of the conversations that Krista had was with a nun named Sister Simone Campbell. She’s from Nuns on the Bus. You may have heard of them. They go from town to town with activism and try to tell people about different causes. She has a lot of work through activism and contemplation and she was using the same message of Paul, saying that we need to do our part, even if that’s just one thing. So she says in this conversation, “You know how in the scripture Paul says we’re all one body. Not everybody is an eye. So one day I was meditating and trying to figure out what part of the body of Christ I am. So I came up with this insight. I think I’m the stomach acid.”


She goes on to say that the stomach acid sounds like just such a terrible part, but it’s so important for metabolizing food and she says if the stomach acid runs amok it’s an illness. So we need to keep it in one part of the body, that it generates energy and heat and all kinds of good stuff, but it is a very specific, small piece that depends on the whole system to be healthy and effective to work right.


I think it’s important for us to take a moment to just contemplate our own gifts, how our own gifts move the body of Christ forward. Most of us won’t be the stomach acid, and I know O’Brien would say that I would probably be the voice, with my loud announcements. But what do we have to bring to this body together? What do we have to bring to this body, but also to the world?


It can feel so overwhelming to do it alone at our church, yes. But also in this time when we see so much agony; kids separated from parents; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender folks who face death and discrimination simply for loving who they love; health and water crises; not enough healthcare; environmental harm; poverty. But we’re reminded that we don’t have to do it all alone. In fact, we can’t.


Another person that’s very popular at this pulpit (actually he never stands here) Pastor Tom Schoenherr has a book that’s called The Deeper Journey. In this book, he puts the idea of community and Jesus together eloquently. He says, “Jesus, the bread of life, draws us in the community with him and with one another, giving us joy and the promise of new life, sharing God’s love.”


Sister Simone Campbell, whom I spoke about earlier, wrote a poem that I think is very poignant about this. She says, “I always joked that the miracle of the loaves and fishes was sharing. The women always knew this. But in this moment of need and notoriety, I ache, tremble, almost weep at folks so hungry, malnourished, faced with spiritual famine of epic proportions. My heart aches with their need. Apostle-like I whine, ‘What are we among so many?!’ The consistent 2,000 year-old ever new response is this: blessed and broken, you are enough. I savor the blessed, cower at the broken, and pray to be enough.”


Dear Jesus, help us to see each other and ourselves as enough as we continue to be spiritually fed, feasting on you, the bread of life, and holding each other steady, mature, yet growing in our faith as the body of Christ.




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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Katie Ciorba, LGBTQ, Transition Committee, Call Committee