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“They grow up so quickly…” (Jesus grew up, and so must we, and so must our faith!”

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I often read those lines from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians at weddings. You might think it’s because of the famous words in this poetic passage about love. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” That’s good stuff, but the actual reason is the part about the movement from childhood to adulthood.  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

I appreciate the reminder that there is a maturing process going on in life- or at least, there is meant to be. None of us speaks or reasons the way we did when we were children. As we live, we gather new information, and we gain experience. Our families, our friends, the community and country we live in, and our culture all contribute to our thinking, and influence our way of seeing things.

The reason I like to read this at weddings is I want both parties to the marriage to bear in mind that their partner is not a finished product. Each person will grow, and change, and learn along the way. We are all works in progress.  That reminds me of the t-shirt that was popular a few years ago, that bore the words, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.”

 The Gospels offer us only two stories about Jesus before he grew up. The one we did not hear is about Mary and Joseph bringing him to the temple when he was just a few days old, to offer the ritual sacrifice  of two doves, which is what jewish religious law required when a couple had a baby boy.

The other story about Jesus as a child is the one we heard today. Mary and Joseph lose track of Jesus for three days, and then find him in the Jerusalem temple, in deep discussion with the teachers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

Jesus said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

As the father of an adolescent, I can appreciate how Mary and Joseph might have been feeling at that moment. Relief the child was safe. A certain pride to see how clever he is, that he can hold his own in discussion with the religious teachers. Maybe also exasperation at his response.

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

To me, with my twenty-first century parent’s ears, that sounds a bit like, “Well duh, as if you couldn’t figure out where I would be!”

As a parent, I would hope and pray that the child will continue to learn and grow, and that eventually, qualities like consideration, and respect for the feelings of others would catch up with the other, more advanced personality traits. But God was not finished with him yet. Jesus, like all of us who live on this earth, was a work in progress.

This would not be the last time that Jesus was in energized discussion with teachers at the temple- although, as a grown up, what often seemed to be happening was that religious teachers would ask him questions to try to trip him up, to discredit him. On one of those occasions, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, an expert in the law tested Jesus with this question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus was quoting the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, that contains laws passed down from the time of Moses, about how to be a faithful follower of God. Jesus might have easily suggested that these kind of religious conversations he had in the temple, were actually a way to love God, by exercising the mind, and heart, and soul.

Let’s go back for a moment to the couple that is getting married, and hearing these words:

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I also want them to hear the phrase, “for we know in part”- in other words, we cannot claim to know everything. Part of what it means to learn and grow, and progress through life, is that we keep learning. So there must be more to learn!

In our human relationships, like marriages, there has to be room to learn and grow. In our relationship with God, there has to be room to learn and grow.

I spend quite a bit of time with people who might describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”. Often what they mean by that is that they have a sense of God in their lives, and they pray, and believe there is more to life than meets the eye, but they don’t go to church. If you ask them what bugs them about church, here are some likely answers:

Christians are close-minded and judgemental.

Christians take the bible literally, word for word.

Christians believe the world was created just a few thousand years ago, and that dinosaurs are an evil hoax.

To be a Christian you have to choose faith over science, and turn your mind off. Questions and doubt are bad, you just have to nod your head and go along with what you are told.

Christians hate anybody who is different from them.

Christians believe that there is only one way to know God, and that if you are not a Christian, even if you lived before Jesus was even born, or in a place where he has never been heard of, it is God’s plan that unless you accept Jesus, you are going to hell.

I don’t believe any of that stuff. I often meet people who have these ideas about Christians, and the church, when someone in their family dies, and they want to have a minister help with the funeral, but they don’t want a lunatic to come in and smack all their friends over the head with a Bible. I have some friends who are funeral directors, and they call me in these situations, when the family is clearly seeking hope, and comfort and meaning, and are fearful that they may not find it from the church.

I am convinced that many of us who go to church have bigger hearts, and a much more inclusive, and compassionate, and intelligent faith than we are given credit for, by people outside the church. Part of the problem is that we have to develop new ways to talk about what matters to us.

We need to exercise our hearts and minds and souls in religious conversation, like Jesus did at the temple. We need to continue to grow and learn, and to embrace the reality that God is not finished with us yet. We don’t know everything we need to know!

With the blessing of the worship committee, we at Trinity are going to do something a little different for the next little while. There is a book called “The Heart of Christianity”, written by Marcus Borg, which is a good discussion starter for conversations about faith. Starting next week, I will be using the teaching or sermon time to talk about a chapter of the book. The point is not to convince you to agree with the author- but to get you thinking, wondering, exercising your own heart, mind and soul.

You don’t have to read the book to follow the discussions, but if you want to, I have some copies available for purchase. I bought them at a bulk rate, so they are a little cheaper than if you went to buy one at Chapters.

After the worship service starting next week we will have a “talk-back” time. We can go to the fellowship hall, grab a coffee, and then sit together and dig a little deeper into what we have heard. I will take notes during those conversations, and if there are things I need to say more about, they will appear in my online blog, or in the next sermon.

My hope is that it can be a kind of new year’s resolution to spend some time this year learning and growing in our relationship with God. Amen

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