What do you want to be when you grow up?
It’s a simple question, one we start asking very young children and continue to ask until they are sick of it! This week I’m sure many school aged children were asked that exact question. I know mine were.
Sometimes we ask because we want to be reminded of our own childhood dreams and innocence. Sometimes we ask to get a good laugh. Sometimes we ask because we can’t think of what else to ask a young child.
In my previous call as an associate pastor I was in charge of our Wednesday night children’s programing. At the beginning of the new school year we filled out posters that were “All About Me!” These posters had questions for the kids about their favorite food, book, bible story etc. and one space said “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The kids gave all sorts of answers, from astronaut to artist, from zoo keeper to ballerina. When I filled mine out to hang on the wall with the kids I answered that question as honestly as I could.
I put the name of a woman I admired in that congregation very much. I said “When I grow up I want to be just like Ms. Debbie.” Ms. Debbie is an amazingly loving and caring woman. She works diligently, she is faithful at personal and group bible study, she loves kids and Jesus and adults, even when they all are annoying! Ms. Debbie is who I want to be when I grow up.
Because, as the Young Adults and I talked about Wednesday night, adulting is hard y’all! Waking up each morning and realizing that if you don’t get the things done, they won’t get done is rough. Realizing that the buck stops at your wallet is painful. Being a grown up is not all it’s cracked up to be. And while we were discussing we decided that there are real grownups in our congregation that we’d like to be like when we finally really grow up. I’m not naming names, just pointing out that a lot of you seem to be doing things right!
In our passage from Ephesians today the author is telling the people what it will be like when they grow up spiritually. This is not to non-Christians, but to people who have publically proclaimed their faith and claimed their identity as children of God.
This is a letter to a group of new believers who now find themselves in the position of putting the rubber to the road in their new faith. No more lounging around in their sin, not really being aware of it. No more waiting for someone else to bring them nourishment, but getting up and participating themselves, feeding others while they are at it. It’s time for them to stop acting like Christians and start BEING Christians!
The first step in this process is to put away falsehood. This is much more than an admonishment to remember the “do not bare false witness” commandment. It is a statement of a way of living. Be authentic, be who you are. Be open and honest with one another. Speak the truth to your neighbor because we, as Christians, belong to one another and our truth will affect others truths.
But why would we risk that? Speaking the truth is risky at best! It’s often not considered polite and it’s a huge commitment. Speaking the truth is easy when what we have to say is kind or the same as everyone else, but when it’s different, when it’s not as acceptable, that’s when it gets tricky at best.
I’m not talking about telling a friend that the color of her new lipstick is not the best shade for her, or saying you like someone’s new car when you really think it is an ecological nightmare. I’m talking about real truth telling, the kind that can make or break relationships.
I’m talking about things like the day I sat down in my apartment that I shared with my little brother in college, surrounded by beer cans and strange people and told him “I can’t live like this, and neither can you. I’m calling Mom and Dad, because you need help.”
I’m talking about truth telling like when my 17 year old cousin came to me three months before my wedding in which she was to be a bridesmaid and said “I’m pregnant, I’d understand if you don’t want me to be in your wedding.” We together told her parents and my parents, and I said I needed her as a part of the wedding party, because she was loved by me and by God.
I’m talking about the hard truths, the ones we sometimes don’t even want to share with ourselves. These are the truths that we are to share with the body of Christ in hopes of building them up, not tearing them down. Stop acting like Christians and star BEING Christians.
Be angry, but don’t sin, are the next instructions from the author. Anger is something we are all too familiar with in our society. The anger and hatred that are spewed from televisions, Facebook, twitter, and people’s daily conversation is unbelievable. Anger is a normal human emotion, and it is one we cannot expect to never feel.
However, as maturing Christians how we handle that anger is important. Do not sin in your anger, do not hurt others, separate yourself from the community of believers, do not harm in anger. You are going to get mad, but don’t let it consume you, don’t let it take over, don’t let the sun go down on it, scripture says. Don’t give Satan that foothold in your life. Deal with the anger immediately. Don’t let it fester and get rooted in the community of faith. The reconciled community of faith must practice reconciliation with one another, especially when this emotion is raised and that reconciliation often begins with naming anger as anger and going forward from that naming.
Too often we let the anger simmer just under the surface rather than dealing with the actual offence. We’d rather let someone cool off then deal with their frustration, but being a part of the community of faith involves helping one another even in the midst of the emotional harm that can be experienced in anger or from anger.
The writer goes on to say that people should stop stealing. Okay, this one is pretty obvious isn’t it? Again it’s one of the top 10 no no’s of the faith. But the reasoning behind it is different. This isn’t just because stealing is wrong, or taking things that belong to someone else is not kind. The reasoning given is that if you are stealing, then you can’t help take care of other people! There is something inherent about being the people of God that includes caring for one another. If you are not supporting yourself, then you cannot support others in need. The work ethic itself is transformed into participation in Christ’s ministry.
No matter how little you have, don’t resort to taking from others, but instead focus on how you can help others. This is part of the heart of Christianity. T.D. Niles famously said “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” It’s not taking others bread and keeping it. It’s not buying all of the bread so that we never run out. It’s about offering to share even what little we have with one another.
At the women’s conference in Bowling Green I was introduced to a young homeless woman named Britany. Britany had lunch with a group of us at Jimmy Johns. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to eat and finally she came to the table with a long piece of day old bread and several packets of mayonnaise. She looked up at us and said “I’m you are ever homeless, Jimmy Johns sells day old bread for 50 cents and they don’t charge for mayo. It’s not a lot, and it will fill you up for a while.”
She didn’t judge us for our excess, she didn’t lecture us on how many of her friends could be eating based on what we had spent for sandwiches and cokes. Instead, she offered wisdom and love to us, in case we were ever to find ourselves in her circumstances.
Her words built up the community of Christ. They were not malicious or hateful, but kind and generous. There was a truth in them that needed to be heard, an honesty that I’m sure was not easy to give.
Can you imagine if every Christian lived this way? Honest, open, vulnerable, without malice, speaking words of encouragement, lifting one another up? Making decisions not on what is best for me, but on whether A or B would allow us to do more good for those around us?
When we don’t do these things we grieve the Holy Spirit. Christianity is an ongoing encounter with the living, loving God in Christ Jesus. We Christians sometimes seem to forget that or at least to live into that. We seem to have forgotten the very incarnational nature of Christ!
If we are the body of Christ, if the Word was made flesh and dwells among us, then we are not called to merely worship God, but to put on the nature of Christ, to be imitators of Christ for the sake of the church and for the sake of the world which God loves!
Too often when we admire other people, look at people to imulate we don’t see the real them. We see a persona, a mask put on to show the world. Everyone has someone that they look up to, that person who seems to have it all together. But remember, you may be that someone to someone else.
When I grow up I want to be like Ms. Debbie. But really not like Ms. Debbie, but rather like the Christ that lives in Ms. Debbie. I want to love as Christ loves, to speak truth as Christ does, to build up as Jesus does, to offer forgiveness as Jesus does. In short, I want to stop acting like a Christian, and start Being a Christian.