Paul wrote in Philippians 3: Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I saw Russell Wilson, the Seahawks young quarter back, interviewed the other evening. He is an impressive young man. He repeated in the interview how, growing up, when an opportunity arose, his father would ask him, “Why not you?” And then how, as this last season began, he asked the whole football team, “Why not us?” being the national football champions.
For any of that to have happened in his life, first it required that Russell was given the sense that he mattered, that he was valued for who he was. His identity was instilled. You can’t make anything of yourself if your self doesn’t exist?
Most of us have raised children, matter of fact all of us at some point in our lives were children. We can each recall specific moments in our growing up. I remember, in Cub Scouts, learning to tie a tie. I remember getting my drivers license. I also remember getting my first traffic ticket and my father’s admonition that if I couldn’t pay it myself I could work it out on what was then called the “P” farm, that is the prison farm. I remember buying my first car, a rusted out 1947 Chevy, and then having to replace the axle after popping the clutch. For some reason High school graduation isn’t as keen a memory as turning seventeen. We all recall such moments of new found maturity, each such moment challenging us to be more grown up.
Immaturity in individuals, unfortunately, is easier to identify than maturity. Don Smith, evidently a student of Bowen Family Systems Theory, says that being an authentic adult is hard work and a never completed task. The pathway to maturity is paved with difficulty and challenge. To become an adult, he says, every person faces the task of the differentiation of self. This might be helpful: to not differentiate is to fail to become a separate person. As a non-person we simply blend in with the masses, place responsibility on others for the situations or predicaments in which we find ourselves and even the hurdles we face – literally for the way in which our lives develop or not. Don Smith listed 18 ways to describe self differentiation – I’ve listed just a few.
I think the first maybe: Being willing to say clearly who I am and who I want to be while others are trying to tell me who I am and who I should be. Next is :Intentionally developing autonomy and intimacy. As I develop autonomy I set myself towards achieving my dreams and ambitions. As I develop intimacy, I allow those close to me to see and know me as I really am. Another is: Learning to live from the sane, thinking and creative person I am, who can perceive possibilities and chase dreams and ambitions without hurting others in the process.
Then there is the need to become aware of where controlling emotions and highly reactive behavior have directed my life, then, opting for better and more purposeful growth born of creative thinking. It requires giving up the search for the arrival of a the proverbial Knight in Shinging Armour who will save me from the struggles and possibilities presented in everyday living.
Leaving the need for “instant” gratification and choosing to engage in a process when it comes to love, miracles, the future, healing and all the important and beautiful things in life.
There is also deciding to enjoy the water rather than praying for it to be wine; learning to swim in it rather than trying to walk on it. Of course that’s all about growing up, the putting away childish things like going with the latest fad, swallowing whole the most recent book on how to be more religious. One of the surest signs of immaturity is a closed minded, confident, arrogant certainty.
Maturity is about accepting yourself as God accepts you: a person with certain God given characteristics which are advantages, no matter how much they may seem like disadvantages in the moment. These characteristics include your physical appearance, your temperament, your family and ancestry, and your mental endowments. Having all these characteristics you learn that you are a dearly beloved child of a loving God who through the presence of the Holy Spirit patiently leads, guides, comforts and teaches you
God’s design for the church is that we should relate to one another honestly yet lovingly. As we carry out our mutual truth in love ministry the result will be that choices and decisions will be made with harmony throughout the church. If the world wasn’t such a broken place the end result of such church harmony would be that because of the church’s clear witness to the world people would be attracted, numbers would increase and the body would be strengthen spiritually. That may be the world’s definition of success. The more important element is that there be a clear witness made because it is to that we are called.
It takes a Spirit-led blend of courage and compassion to speak the truth in love. Others in the body of Christ are God’s chosen instruments as well. It’s not wise to reject God’s instruments! God knows what we need better than you do. You are where you are because that is where God wants you. God put you with those around you because they are the people you need and you are the kind they need. They may be rather prickly and thorny and hard to live with–and they may think of you in cactus-like terms as well! But they are what you need at the present time, and you are what they need. It takes a willingness to accept others, forgive others, forbear with others, and compromising on secondary issues so that our primary issues of our unity, our love, and our witness–may never be compromised.
The apostle Paul gives us the ultimate goal of the life of faith. It is the measuring stick by which we can judge our progress as individuals and as a community. In verse 13 he says it is “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” And in verse 15 he urges us to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” He puts it also in a most descriptive phrase, “mature manhood”! That means God wants you and me to fulfill our humanity, the design for us that God intended when He created the first man and the first woman.
But today we are going to talk about how that relates to being a faithful community. Does a community have an identity. Is a community of faith an entity beyond being a gathering of individual persons?
Maybe some of those standards of self differentiation identified earlier should be held against our Meeting.
The first is our willingness to say clearly who we are and who we want to be while others are trying to tell us who we are and who we should be.
We spoke of the need to pair autonomy with intimacy. What does that look like in the context of a community among other faith communities. The Meeting develops a sense of autonomy as we set ourselves towards contemplating and then achieving dreams and ambitions for ministries. The intimacy piece of that is allow others to see and know us as we really are.
It’s interesting to imagine an organization learning – but I want to point out to you that we’ve seen it. I don’t think Mary and Judy would mind me using them as an illustration or the Eastern Washington students who introduced to the concern for the transgendered. Our Meeting has demonstrated the capacity to learn. And when learn to trust the community’s capacity to be lead by Christ’s spirit to perceive possibilities, entertain dreams and articulate ambitions the ministry that can be achieved is far beyond what any one of us could manage.
Yes, the community needs to be aware of where controlling emotions and highly reactive behavior have directed our corporate life in the past. That opens us up to opting for better and more purposeful growth in the future.
To live with the hope that there might come a Knight in Shining Armour who will save us from our struggles and challenges we face as community is simply trusting in that which is other than God. As Paul told the Corinthians, they already had everything necessary to be the church God intended them to be, to do the ministries God intended for them to undertake. Our recent experience is responding to challenges God puts, quite unceremoniously, on our front porch. That’s God’s challenge to us.
Nothing happens worth while that doesn’t cost something. As individuals must be mature enough to give up the allure of instant gratification our community must understand the need for the sometimes painful and lengthy process of discernment that leaves no one behind when it comes to the working out of love, miracles, the future, healing and all the important and beautiful things that God puts on our plate.
Don Smith, in his list of marks of the self differentiated life speaks of the need to decide to enjoy the water. It is water, don’t expect it to be wine. Don’t try and walk on the water, maturity involves recognizing our limitations. Rather he suggests that we should enjoy swimming in it, knowing full well that we aren’t responsible for success, only for making a valiant effort to respond to God’s call on our Meeting.
God’s overarching goal is to produce a community of faith, consisting of women and men who personally and corporately demonstrate the character of Jesus Christ. God does not necessarily want a church filled with white-robed saints. I don’t think God is interested in a church filled with theological authorities or cultured clergy persons. God wants a church which lives out the extraordinary integrity, temperament, wholeness, compassion, individuality, boldness, righteousness, earnestness, love, forgiveness, selflessness, and self giving faithfulness of Jesus Christ!