I remember as a child crying that my legs hurt. There was not much to do - I could have Tylenol Jr. and wait for it to get better. As a mother I've watched all of my children go through it - growing pains hurt. And if our bodies actually hurt how much more does our mind, heart, soul & strength. Today marks my 10th Ordination Anniversary. I am thankful that I am not the same pastor I was back then - not because I was bad but because I had more growing to do and still do. Our scriptures are full of stories (in both testaments) talking about growth. And yet I do not see growth always as the goal. Let me explain.
Growth takes time. I needed, not just practice and patience, but for me to grow into the pastor I am today, I had to live. I had to try things (some which worked and some which did not). I had to spend time with the people of God, doing the the things that God asks of us all. What does the Lord require of me, to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. I'll skip the first two - what does it mean to walk humbly with God - a low value on one's importance. It's NOT ABOUT ME. To walk humbly with God means putting God first. It is not about MY walk with Jesus. It's not about the music that I like. It's not about what I get or not get out of worship. For years when people leave the church I hear excuses. I'm not being fed here is the most common and generally when people say that I just smile. They usually are not being fed because they are not doing anything to participate in the exercise. When infants are hungry, they cry and are fed, either by bottle or breast. They communicate the need and their need is met. As infants grow and can sit up, they receive supplements, meaning they sit in a chair and begin learning to eat. First a spoon with food is put in their mouth and before long they can put food in their own mouth. During that 1st year however, their nutrition is almost entirely from milk. Once they learn to eat however, their milk is reduced and their bodies uses the food they eat to allow them to grow. So for those of us who have been in the church for a long time - have we learned to feed ourselves or are we still relying on someone to put the spoon in our mouths?
John Wesley in 1741 at St. Mary's before the University at Oxford preached a sermon entitled The Almost Christian (https://johnwesleysermons.com/sermons/the-almost-christian/). "'Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.1 Acts 26.28."
It's easier to be the almost Christian - go to church on Sunday, put crosses up in our homes, maybe say a prayer before meals. But to be the Altogether Christian - that takes effort. It's hard. We have to grow and change. One of the things that I appreciate about John is that he didn't just preach to people about the need to be Altogether Christian instead of Almost Christian - he set out a path for us to work on our discipleship. He called them the Means of Grace with individual & communal practices in areas of piety and mercy. Here they are if you are not familiar or need a refresher:
Works of Piety: Individual Practices - reading, meditating and studying the scriptures; prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living and sharing our faith with others. Communal Practices - regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study.
Works of Mercy: Individual Practices - doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others. Communal Practices - seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor. (You can read more here - https://www.umc.org/en/content/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace).
No matter where we find ourselves - physically distancing or not we do can do things wherever we are. But when we do these we have to be willing to let go of things in our lives that are not compatible with God's plan in our lives. What is God's plan - grace and peace for each of us. That means we have to change. For instance - healthy living means I cannot live off of chips & queso, no matter how good it tastes. I need to eat vegetables, fruit and not just sit all day, every day. I need to do that for my own healthy but also in the example I set for my family.
Growing in our faith is not just reading scripture (as a medicine for our lives) and waiting for it to kick in. We have to participate in it - making different choices that have been informed by our reading. When Jesus calls us in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry and give drink to those are thirsty we have to actually do it. We can contribute financially to food banks, we can pick up extra items to donate. But we do have to DO something. God knows it will take time for us to grow into who we are being called to be. Our growth is over a lifetime. It takes time but we must continue to partner with God.
Let us pray the prayer from Common Prayer this morning: "Grow us slowly, persistently, and deeply, Lord, to be -people who watch without distraction, listen without interruption, and stay put without inclination to flee. Amen.