Adulting When Faith Is Difficult
Have you ever heard the turn or phrase, “you have arrived”? We associate that phrase with success. We hear it from our phones when we arrive at our destinations that we plugged into Siri or Google Maps. The phrase denotes that we are at the pinnacle of our lives. We’ve reached the top. We are successful. We are leaders. We like to be seen as successful people. We may even like to be seen as leaders. Success in the eyes of the world means being rich, having that nest egg saved up for retirement, having the fancy car, the fancy house, the fancy boat. The ones who have those things are seen as leaders in our culture because we tend to equate money with success—and equate having things—with money and success.
There is a quote by Cooley that goes, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” Think about that for a minute. It’s kind of a brain twister. It insinuates that we place value on ourselves depending upon what we think others think of us. Isn’t that the current disease of today? As individuals, we worry about all of this, don’t we? Why else would we focus so much on the appearance of being successful? If we’re not careful, we, as the church can fall into the same trap we fall into as individuals.
John Wesley once said, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.”
What would the church look like if we did fall into that trap? What would we look like if we wanted to appear successful instead of existing to love God and one another? I’ve seen churches fall into this, and the ones who have either do not exist anymore, or are on their way out. These poor churches are the ones that become museums for holy artifacts. Sometimes I drive by these places and wonder what ministries used to take place inside these churches when they were active and thriving. And then I wonder when their sense of calling and wonder ceased. The doors didn’t just close on these churches. It was a process. It was a series of decisions made over a long time that closed the doors of these churches. I just wonder at what point they finally lost that holy spark.
If the church is not careful, we tend to mirror the world around us instead of reflecting the Image of God onto the world. And these poor churches become museums of history for themselves instead of MASH units for those in the world who are hurting. You’ve probably heard the turn of phrase that churches should be hospitals for the hurting—but I’m taking it further. We cannot afford to be simply hospitals. We have to be MASH units.
Have you ever watched that TV show? MASH? Most of you have probably seen it. It is about a MASH Unit—a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and life there at that unit—the 4077th. The point is that with MASH units, the wounded do not go to them—they go to the wounded. With a MASH unit, they are out in the field going and picking up the wounded in helicopters and jeeps and bringing them back to the operating room.
Last week, Steve pointed out that we are one of the largest churches in our district. We are doing something different here. In this church, callings and dreams come to life because we believe that we were made for more than the every day drudgery that life can bring. We believe that you were made for more than just paying bills and appearing successful to the rest of the world. We were made to love and glorify God by loving others instead of paying attention to what others may think of us.
Because we believe that we were Made for More than where we are right now, it is a good practice for us to ask ourselves where we actually are—are we going out into a hurting world and giving them Jesus? It is easy for us to stay comfortable within our four walls and expect people to come to us. We are creatures of comfort. Everyone loves to be comfortable. There is not one person in here who would celebrate if one of the springs came through their mattress—“Oh yay! Back pain until Mattress Warehouse delivers my new Serta!” No, we like comfort and we tend to quickly remedy the situation if we are uncomfortable. There are times in life where we can’t do that though.
Last week, we talked about different phases in our faith—the childhood phase, adolescent phase, and finally the adult phase in our faith. In the childhood phase, it is all about number one. It’s all about me and am I loved and am getting enough attention, etc…?—it is a person who is dependent upon others in faith and whose faith would most likely die on their own. In the adolescent phase, we think we do not need anyone. We pray to God to simply get what we want. We think of God more as Santa Clause instead of a loving Father who wants the best for His children. When the adolescent doesn’t get what they want, they either say, well there is no God, or, they say that God does not love them or is not powerful because they did not get what they wanted.
We also talked about the adult phase in Christianity. This is the phase in the Christian life where we are loving God for who God is and loving others in the faith. We are caring for others who may not be able to care for themselves. It is moving from being the lost sheep to being more of a shepherd. I like to use the term, sheepdog. We follow the shepherd ourselves, and help guide the sheep as well. So, our goal is to reach that adult phase in our faith. We want to grow and mature in our faith. Part of that growth is perseverance when life gets difficult.
Our Scripture this morning comes from Matthew 20, verses 20—28.
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.
21 ‘What is it you want?’ he asked.
She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’
22 ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’
‘We can,’ they answered.
23 Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
25 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave –
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
In this Scripture, we see a few things.
We see the mother of Zebedee’s sons come to Jesus asking a giant favor. “Grant that one of these two sons may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Notice that Jesus does not answer her. In fact, he doesn’t answer in the affirmative or the negative—he doesn’t answer her at all. He addresses these two brothers. Can you then drink the cup I’m about to drink? They do answer in the affirmative. “Yes, we can.” It is my belief that they had no idea what they were saying “yes” to. Have you ever done that? Have you said “yes” to something that you didn’t really know what it meant?
When I was a teenager, I was in a karate class. We were practicing throws. We were shown how to do it and then we were paired up with other students in the class to practice. I was paired with this guy who was smaller than I was. It was his turn to try to throw me. I was thinking to myself, “I can take this guy. He’s not going to be able to throw me.” You know, that teenage arrogance was definitely in place. Next thing I know, I was flying through the air with the greatest of ease. I had no idea what I had said “yes” to. I did not know that at that point in time, I could not take that guy. I couldn’t sit for a week after that. Sometimes we say “yes” to things, but we have no idea to what we just agreed. I believe that is part of our growth experience.
So, they said “yes, we can do this.” Jesus replies with, “You will indeed drink from my cup.” But he says that granting them places to His right and left aren’t really for Him to say. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by the Father.
We also see that after this whole thing goes down, we see that the other disciples were quite upset with the request here. After all, what made these two extra special? So it says they were indignant. Jesus gathers them all together and says guess what? You want to be great? Greatness in the Kingdom looks different than greatness in the eyes of the world. The greatest among you must be a servant. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but rather, to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
So here are three things to take away today:
1. Jesus says that they will drink that cup regardless of whether they get those prime seats for eternity or not. That’s not what life is about.
2. No one can drink the cup for them.
3. Whoever wants to be first must be your servant.
Here is where we get to the piece about being an adult in faith. The cup that Jesus was talking about was a cup of sacrifice. James and John had no uncertain clue to what they were saying yes. In their minds, it could have meant anything. Jesus knew what was coming for him. He knew that the cross was ahead. Last week, Steve referenced John 15:13—“No greater love has a person than they who give their lives up for their friends.” We are so used to action movies where someone is being pushed out from in front of a bus or something jumps in front of a bullet for another person. We like to take this scripture and run to clean martyrdom. But what if it means more than simply giving up one moment in time for another person? What if it means to keep giving? What if it means to keep sacrificing? Self-sacrifice is so much more. It’s about making time for the other. Today, time is a commodity. It’s about taking the time out of our busy days to go visit people in hospitals, prisons, etc.
No one can self-sacrifice for you. No one can grow up for you. No one can be the
Christian you are meant to be. This is a path that you must walk—not alone—with God and with others. However, no one can walk it for you. Part of growing into an adult Christian is taking responsibility for your own growth. You’ll hear some people say after a worship service, “I didn’t get much out of that,” or, “I wasn’t really fed today.” When I hear that, there are several replies that come to my mind. One of them is, “What did you put into it?” Where have you worked on your own growth lately? Have you worked on your own growth lately?
Being an adult and being mature in faith means that you have upped your game in humility. Humility does not mean you do not think much of yourself. In fact, it means the opposite. Humility means that you know where you stand in relation to God and to others. In that knowledge, you are equipped as a servant of God and a servant to others. The greatest of all is the servant of all. Think of a parent. While the parent has a life of their own, they are dedicated to raising that child and want the best for their child. Because of this, they serve the child by raising them. They care for them and teach them. They love the child. Maturity leads to helping raise up others.
We are all on different parts of the path to Christian maturity and adulthood. It’s a difficult road. Some may struggle more than others. We never know where someone is in their journey. Be kind to them. Be kind to you too.