Saturday, March 21, 2015

Growing Spiritually

Growing Spiritually                        3/22/15
5th sermon in the Path of Discipleship Series
Joshua 22:1-6, Acts 9:19-31, Matthew 9:35-38

We continue down the road of Lent and our journey of discipleship as we move toward Easter.  The teaching for this year’s Lent and Easter are devoted to the Path of Discipleship.  The three churches in the shared staff model are learning about the classic expressions of Christian devotion.  Pastor Merle and I are inviting you to take 7 steps of your choice within any of the 10 columns in the Path.  These steps can take place throughout 2015.  But we’d like you to identify them, communicate them and start to walk. 

Today’s column is on spiritual growth.  The word spiritual is certainly an interesting word.  We unpacked this word in last year’s sermon series “You Who are Spiritual”.  The summary of that series is that two words:  religious and spiritual, were traditionally interchangeable words to describe people of faith.  Recent demographics highlight the change that has occurred, with the advent of the SBNR category:  spiritual but not religious.  In this redefining of words, spiritual is the private, inward expression of faith and religious is the public expression of faith.   The caution in this modern interpretation is that any individual can create a truly unique definition of spiritual, that has no sense of accountability and, at its worst, degrades into a menu of idolatry.

Lillian Daniel writes:   Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Lillian offers helpful advice here.  People might not understand that they grow the most in community, where sometimes our assumptions are challenged, or we have to work together, or take the time to define words and phrases used in our thinking. Biblical tradition also offers something similar: The God of the Bible is not the way we might naturally draw him up to be:  there are stories and works recorded that are different and unexpected and even difficult.  But in aligning ourselves with the biblical story, rather than the story of our own imagination, we can indeed grow, just like we were created to.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, offers these profound words:
The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.  The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.

The classic understanding of Christian spirituality is that the private and public (or individual and community) are woven together to make a more complete and authentic relationship with the Lord.  

The definition of spiritual is that which relates to the Spirit.  Christian spirituality is that which relates to the Holy Spirit.  Scripture provides that balance for spiritual growth of the inward, the outward and the community.  And one of the most helpful interpretations of the Bible’s understanding of spiritual growth is Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline:  The Path to Spiritual Growth.  In his book, Foster identifies inward disciplines as meditation, prayer, fasting and study.  Outward disciplines include simplicity, solitude, submission and service.  Corporate Disciplines include confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

The path map we are using calls us to incorporate spiritual growth by practicing more and more spiritual disciplines.  Foster’s Book will be helpful for you if you are ready to take that step.  The map also has intentional steps of discipling individuals, referencing the model of Barnabas, Paul and Timothy.  

The three passages read today include the three most memorable examples of discipleship:  Moses and Joshua, Jesus and the twelve, and Barnabas-Paul-Timothy. 

Many Christians might know about Paul’s mentoring of Timothy, after all, we have two letters from Paul to Timothy in Scripture.  But the reason Paul was able to become a mentor himself was because of Barnabas, who took Paul under his wing in a time of great uncertainty in the church’s story.

Paul, several years earlier, had converted to Jesus Christ in a literal blinded by the light moment.  Paul was on the road to Damascus, going there to hunt down Christians and put them to death for their proclamation that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, when Jesus meets him on the road.  Years of training and spiritual growth occur before Paul is reintroduced as a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet Paul finds his reputation and previous theological persuasion difficult to evade.  Years after his conversion, the people still wonder if Paul is trying to trick them by preaching about Jesus.  Even the 12 disciples are fearful of him, and the possible trickery that might be happening.  But in this crossroads stands Barnabas.

Barnabas gives his word and assurance to the disciples.  We see in him spiritual action that strengthens the community.  What does Barnabas do?
  • He takes Paul and brings him to the disciples
  • He tells the disciples about Paul’s conversion
  • He tells the disciples about the Lord’s work in Paul.
  • He speaks to Paul’s work in response to the Lord’s call

Barnabas’ work is both simple and crucial and speaks to us in our digital age.  He takes the time to do the physical and literal.  He shows up, and accompanies him “hey Paul, come with me, I’m taking you to the people who are scared.  Let’s go together.  Let’s work this out.”  He then speaks on Paul’s behalf to the 12.  There is something powerful about being present, and speaking your own words and spending the social capital of your reputation for the Lord’s work.  Barnabas is a mentor to Paul, as well as a colleague and partner in missionary work. 

Jesus and the 12.        
It must have been magnificent to be one of the original followers of Jesus Christ.  To be in the midst of the Roman empire, to hear that events of change were in the air, and to watch this carpenter from Nazareth teaching and living, and modeling God’s love and power in new and fantastic ways.
They saw what God wanted to do.

This passage is a story of Jesus doing the will of God, having compassion, and, if we are willing to listen, telling us what to pray.  “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field”. 

This verse is challenging enough, but if we believe that being spiritual is simply looking more and more inside ourselves, we are missing the simplest way forward.  There is work to do.  It involves inward growth, building an outward life that pleases God, and also living together alongside fellow believers.  But it also involves doing God’s work and reaching people in the name of the Lord.  Jesus, in the midst of his healing, preaching, teaching and miracle working says:  There is a lot of work to do:  ask God to send out more workers so that people might come to the Lord.   The column on spiritual life encourages us to grow spiritually, and become involved in the lives of people.  This includes being involved in very intentional, purposeful ways.

It is when we grow and go, serve and serve some more, that we grow spiritually.  This is validated by our reading from Joshua.

Moses, had an amazing place in God’s plan.  But in an event where Moses disobeyed God, the consequence was that Moses would not lead the people into the promised land.  That job was for his disciple Joshua.  Moses takes them within sight of the finish line before his earthly life ends.  He publicly passes the leadership torch to Joshua.  Joshua will lead the Israelite’s in a multi-year campaign to gain the promised land.  The Book of Joshua is a chronicle of the military campaigns as well as miraculous works of God to give Israel the land.

Through its scouting department, the twelve tribes know the basic landscape of what each tribe will receive.  The tribes of Rueben, Gad and part of Manasseh will live on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and will be separated by the river from the other tribes.  As Joshua and the Israelites enter the land from the east, the people who cannot fight from these 2 ½ tribes are invited to enter their rest and live in the land.  The fighters will continue with Joshua and the other tribes.

Joshua 22 is about those people who could have turned back to the easy life, who could have returned home and left the job to everyone else.  But instead, they kept their promise to God, their commitment to Joshua’s leadership and their brothers and sisters from the other tribes.  These were people of character, who had grown, because they lived for something beyond themselves.

At the end of their service, the people are reminded to remember the Lord, to keep God’s commandments, to walk in God’s ways, and to hold fast to God, and to serve God with all your heart and soul.   As the people go, Joshua blesses them. 

Joshua’s blessing acknowledges the blessing and peace of doing one’s job.  No, our job today is not like Joshua’s job.  It isn’t one of conquest.  Our job is to glorify God by living a holy life, following Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

True spiritual growth is one that seeks the glory of God, that follows Jesus into the world as a harvest worker, and who experiences the Holy Spirit.  How will you prepare yourself for that work?  How will you help nurture that work in another person?  If you answer these questions, you'll have spiritual growth.

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