Sixth Sunday after The Epiphany
February 16, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This past Monday evening, in one of our series of snow storms, I was on my way to DIA with my brother-in-law, Bob Seible. We were heading there to pick up his wife, Sharon, who had been in North Carolina since early December. Sharon had been there to celebrate Christmas with family and then the first birthday of her granddaughter, Ruby Carolina.
Sharon was in a dilemma these past two months. Do I go to the warm weather of North Carolina or do I stay in the cold of a couple of feet of snow in Denver? Do I go to the giggles of my granddaughter or stick around here with my grumpy husband? I am amazed that she ever came back!!
Sharon, on our way back was talking about Ruby. According to Sharon she helped her say her first words and take her first steps. Ruby, who, if I have this right, is the smartest and cutest kid in the world, and she loved played hide and seek. She was either running away from grandma or chasing her.
There is nothing like a baby. There is nothing that makes us smile like the actions of a baby. Usually we would like to have babies stay babies – we don’t want them to grow up.
That is, except if you are St. Paul and the growing up has to do with a congregation that you helped father. His words to them, the Corinthian congregation, said staying as an infant in the faith is not good. They needed to grow up. I Corinthians 3, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly, mere infants in Christ, I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (Verses 1-2)
How do you know that you are growing up in the faith? How do you know that you are not just an infant in Christ, a baby who has never passed beyond infancy in matters of your faith? In everything we are supposed to grow. When we go to school those teaching us expect that we will know more each year we’re in school. We aren’t to stay infants in our knowledge. When you get a job you gain more skill in your challenges and responsibilities. You are expected to grow. Even your experiences in life should not be stagnant and static – you are to grow.
But sometimes we stay childish in our faith. We never grow up. Are you more mature in your faith than you were a year ago, or five years ago, or more? You should be. Staying childish in the faith, never maturing, is not God’s will for you, or for me. In the Book of Hebrews these words are quite direct about this, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truth of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)
The Corinthians were infants, childish, due to all the strife and division they enjoyed. He called them fleshly. All of us have flesh but having flesh and living by the flesh are different. He says, “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you are you not worldly?” (I Corinthians 3:3) Worldly = fleshly. Not just made of flesh but dominated by the flesh. They became argumentative, quarrelsome, trouble-making. They were not guided by the Spirit of God but by their own spirit. Their growing up stopped at the “terrible two’s.”
Have you grown up or have you stayed a child, an infant? James says, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:14-16)
Their infantile faith came when they built their faith on people and not on Christ. They spouted, “I follow Paul.” Well, “I follow Apollos.” Two leaders. Two Christians. Probably good guys. But they were only men. They didn’t die for anyone. No one was saved by their death and resurrection. You are fleshly or worldly, mere babies in faith, if you have lost sight of Jesus Christ. In this reading from Corinthians, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (I Corinthians 3:5-7)
Do you know if you have grown up? Stop being childish and you become childlike. No more being self-absorbed, or self-indulgent or independent from God. Rather – Trusting. Receiving. Believing. Following. Jesus said this about this wonderful maturity, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
We change to be the person who grows up simply childlike. We trust God’s word. We know the love of God in Jesus. We rely solely on what Christ has done. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing about a child? They need to be taken care of and fed and changed and cuddled. They are so needy and the loving parent does their best to give what is needed. So, we, as we become childlike, no matter if we are just beginning life, or we are teenagers, or middle aged, or an old foggy, grow in letting God be God and we are His children. In John’s epistle he hits it on the head when he says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” (I John 3:1)
When He tells us that we are His special creation, purposely created by His genius mind, we believe it. When we are troubled by sin and desire a new beginning to life, we seek His face in repentance and believe His word that tells us the truth that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17) We have grown up in a childlike faith. And with utter dependence and a true confidence we believe that God will lead us in life and that He has good plans for our life – much better plans than anything we could ever imagine.
Growing up means nor being childish and selfish and difficult but being childlike. In John 3 Jesus would say, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)
It is easy to spot someone who is childish. God has not developed them, they are stuck in infancy. But the one who is grown up is childlike – born again by God’s Spirit, living in a humble way, attributing every goodness in life to a generous Father. As Peter writes, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (I Peter 2:2-3)
May God allow us to grow up to be His thankful children. Amen!!