What Kind of Church? Part 4

Posted on Sun 17 July 2016 in misc

Psalm 80:7-19; Eph. 3:14-19; Mark 12:29-34

What kind of church is this? Children, Family, and Youth; Worship; Serving Others; Outreach and Hospitality…

Faith formation that leads to spiritual growth as followers of Christ.

Spiritual growth is one of those things — like financial planning — that sound really good and obvious at first, but become elusive and scary the more you think about it.

I mean, of course I want to grow spiritually, but: will it hurt? Will there be homework? What’s it gonna cost? Will I have to stop swearing?

(As if the number one marker of spiritual growth was the amount of swearing we do!)

And the Bible does have a high standard:

“…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12.30 NRSV)

That really sounds like a commitment.

If you’ve hung around Lutheran churches a lot, you might sense that we sometimes shy away from the idea of spiritual growth since that might sound too much like works-righteousness. And why even bother with spiritual growth since we’re always going to be a full mix of sinner and saint anyways?

If you do some serious spiritual growing, does that make you a better Christian than I am? Ooh, I don’t like where this is going…

But the truth is, spiritual growth is not becoming a super christian…

Spiritual growth is not unlimited singular progress…

Spiritual growth is much more … natural.

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3.16–17 NRSV)

For the writer of Ephesians, growth was about being rooted and grounded in love.

If you’ve ever tended to a garden, you probably have experienced that most things in nature don’t just grow endlessly on their own. Of course everything has a different lifespan, but in general, things in the garden grow for a time, then die back, and make way for the next stage of growth.

There is a pattern of dying and rising that repeats through the seasons.

Spiritual growth is not about climbing higher and higher on the spiritual ladder, but instead being rooted throughout all the ups and downs of life. That rooting is about connection…and we are connected to God, and to one another.

We are created to be interdependent. Not dependent… Not independent… but interdependent. We need each other, but we each need everyone being themselves, uniquely created by God. We only truly grow together.

This congregation has deeply valued helping people grow together. Reading through the history of this place, and listening to the stories that are told, I know this is true.

One of the best ways to grow together is in small groups of people that trust each other… Holy ground.

And because this is a strong value of ours, and because of the life-changing potential of small group formation, there is a new team already working at Good Shepherd to support and encourage spiritual growth in small group settings. [Details coming…]

You probably have the experience in your life of having a small group (official or not) of trusted friends that walked with you through a difficult time in your life… I encourage you to be intentional about fostering those kinds of relationships, and the small groups that Good Shepherd will be sponsoring will be a good way to do that.

Real growth happens in small groups because they happen as life happens. After all, our spiritual growth is not just for the ‘church’ part of our lives — it’s for all of our lives. All our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Our goal for spiritual growth is not to become the best super-Christian we can be. That would be a recipe for arrogance and anxiety. Our goal is to become the least that we can be — relying on God’s love for every part of our selves and our lives.

At the very end of Martin Luther’s life — an accomplished life! — he left a final message written on his deathbed: “we are beggars; this is true.”

Your call to be rooted in God’s love means that as you grow more deeply and firmly connected with God and with others, you will have a greater and greater sense that we are all beggars — and that everything you have: your heart, soul, mind, and strength all come from God. And as you are rooted in God through all the ups and downs of life, may you comprehend, as the writer of Ephesians says, “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”