Sermon by: Robert Austell; October 29, 2017 - 1 Peter 2:1-2; Ephesians 4:11-16; Mark 10:13-16
:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Oh How Good it Is (Getty, Holmes, Townend)
A Mighty Fortress (EIN' FESTE BURG)
CHOIR: The Truth Will Make You Free (Krentz-Organ)
All I Have is Christ (Jordan Kauflin/Sovereign Grace)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
Today we pick back up on the Body series, looking at a number of places where scripture helps us understand the church and the Christian life by means of a metaphor or comparison with the human body. Today we’ll look at an interesting feature of the body: growth and growing pains.
In the children’s sermon I talked about literal “growing pains” – sharing my experience in high school with Osgood-Schlatter’s, a painful condition just below the knee that comes from lots of exercise at the same time as a rapid growth spurt. It’s not harmful, just hard; and it was just part of growing up. On the screen is a comic I found that talks about the same thing in a different way – showing a character’s body growing rapidly, but not all at the same time: first the legs, then arms, then feet. Growing never seems to be simple or easy, but it is necessary for health and life!
We looked at the Ephesians 4 text a few weeks ago, but we are returning to it again today. At the very end of it (v. 16) Paul describes the church as being “fitted and held together by what every joint supplies.” And as each part works properly, it “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
500 years ago, the Church experienced a painful growth spurt. It needed to be challenged and changed and a monk named Martin Luther was right there at the joint between tendon and bone. Much like my painful growing pains as an adolescent, many in the church just wanted him to go away. But he was being used by God for health and growth and for both the Protestant Reformation that resulted as well as Catholic reform that happened later, what Martin Luther supplied to the body was blessed by God.
So today will be part history lesson, part digging into our scripture texts, and part application as we consider where God would stretch us to grow and mature in faith and faithfulness.
History: Martin Luther and Sola Scriptura
You may know that Martin Luther challenged the Church in a number of ways. We could focus on the practices he spoke out against, like paying money for indulgences or the inaccessibility of scriptures to laypeople. But those challenges may also be framed as five theological principles he spoke out FOR. They have come to be known as the “five solas.” Sola is Latin for ‘alone’ or ‘only’ and his growth challenge to the Church may be listed in this way:
• Scripture alone
• Grace alone
• Faith alone
• Christ alone
• God’s glory alone
It is the first of those that I want to focus on today, but each has a common thread: that God provides what we need and what we can’t provide in terms of revelation, salvation, and purpose. Martin Luther struggled so with the teaching of his day and realized that he could not attain his own salvation, nor could church tradition take precedence over God’s revelation in scripture and through Christ. So Martin Luther struggled, painfully, with the ‘milk’ of his spiritual childhood and challenged the whole Body of Christ to look afresh at God’s Word.
Sola Scriptura, or “scripture alone” does not mean that the interpretation or theology of the Church or a tradition or a preacher or a teacher is worthless. Rather, it means that all such interpretation and teaching needs to continually be measured against Scripture. Does that teaching or tradition hold up? Is it true? Is it consistent? One of the lasting principles that came out of Martin Luther’s work and the Protestant Reformation is the challenge for believers and for the Church to be “reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God.” In fairness, Luther would hold himself to his own theology, as do I: don’t simply swallow his teaching or my teaching or the Church’s teaching like a baby would take milk. For sure, I hope you take it seriously, but weigh it, measure it, hold it up to the light of Scripture. That’s the measure of things; that’s what sola scriptura means.
One of the practical ways Luther applied that teaching was to work to translate the Bible from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew into German, the language of his country and his people. Until that point, only priests or educated folks who could read those ancient languages could even read the Bible for themselves. They HAD to take the word of priests and interpreters, who themselves often just repeated liturgies and patterned prayers. Luther and the Reformation opened up a resurgence of Biblical study and focus on Scripture that has shaped and grown not only the Protestant world, but the Catholic one as well. Subsequent generations worked and continue to work to translate Scripture into the language of every people group in the world so that all will have access to the Word of God.
The fact that you can have an English Bible and read and study it for yourself can be traced back to Luther (and others) and the growth and growing pains they introduced to the Body of Christ in their day. Having said all this, it is worth noting that “scripture alone” isn’t the same thing as “read scripture alone (by yourself).” There is great value in reading, hearing, and studying scripture in community, under trained teachers and preachers, and within a Church tradition. Reading alone and without the wisdom or training of others can lead you in some wrong directions. That was not where Luther was taking us. Rather, he wanted to ensure that the teachers, preachers, and traditions did not take precedence over God’s Word and were themselves regularly submitting themselves to it.
Finally, if you ever notice the headings in our bulletin, you will also see Luther’s influence in the way that our entire worship is organized around the Word of God: gathering, hearing, responding, and sending.
Text: milk, maturity, and a child-like faith
So with all that talk of the supreme importance of Scripture, let’s look at ours! We have three texts today and I’ll comment briefly on each one.
1 Peter 2:1-2
This text challenges us to long for God’s Word like babies long for milk. For a baby, that’s everything; that’s nourishment, that’s life, that’s connection with their mother. I confess to taking God’s Word for granted, for not treating it like the spiritual life, health, and connection to God that it is. And that’s not even to mention the access that we have to it thanks to Martin Luther’s work to bring God’s Word back to the people. And yet, even as I read of that vital understanding of Scripture as spiritual milk, I think of Hebrews 5:13-14, which challenges us to grow up spiritually and move on to the “meat” of scripture: “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews goes on to challenge us to “press on to maturity.” (6:1) So we are challenge to first come to Scripture as vital and life-giving “milk” but not to rest there in spiritual infancy, but to keep growing until we can digest the meat and solid food of that same Scripture.
Likewise, this text challenges us to grow up spiritually, lest we get tossed “here and there by waves and and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (v. 14) The milk of God’s Word introduces us to God and to Christ, but the meat of God’s word trains us and develops us to discern true from false, right from wrong, and to not be led astray. The same passage that begins with a description of those God has gifted and called to lead us (vv. 11-12) also directs us to grow and mature ourselves so that we may not be led astray, but be a functioning and contributing part of the Body.
I included this final text because of the balance it brings. Maturing in faith means leaving behind what is child-ISH, but not what is child-LIKE. Jesus rebuked the indignant disciples who thought Jesus had more important things to do than to welcome and bless children. He told the disciples that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” So spiritual growth does not leave behind wonder and awe and simplicity; but it does seek to learn and grow and develop in knowledge and love of the Lord.
Application: Growth and Growing Pains
How may we take this history and this Scripture and apply it to our lives? Both Martin Luther and these texts challenge me, even as a pastor, to give more time and priority and attention to God’s Word in my life. For any of us, it is easy to coast on what we’ve learned, what we think we know, and the cultural behaviors we associate with being a “good Christian.” We are reminded today that God’s Word is life itself, like milk to a baby. We are reminded today that we cannot become content with the easy parts, the easily digestible parts, but need to grapple with the “meat” of what God would teach and show us. Interestingly, I think digging in to God’s Word like that actually increases wonder and awe and childlike faith.
So how can we do that? It is no great mystery. Like the secret to exercise is “you just have to get out and do it” the secret to digging into God’s Word and maturing in faith is… you just have to do it. That’s what sermons and Sunday school and Bible studies and small groups and personal devotions and all those disciplines are for. If you aren’t learning and growing, find another. But I will tell you it is rare that I find someone coming to a class or study or group who tells me “I’m not learning; I’m not growing.” Rather, I find folks who don’t come who say “I’ve been doing that all my life; I don’t think I’ll learn anything.” I would counter with this: I have been going to Sunday school, worship, small groups, and reading Scripture all my life. I have several degrees devoted to study of God’s Word. And I still learn and am challenged in almost every setting, from Sunday school here to sitting down with children to reading a familiar passage again for the 50th time. God’s Word is such a rich well of life, I believe you will always find more. The question is instead, “Will you drink? Will you eat?”
If you need to breathe new life into your habits and disciplines, let us help! Come to a class, a group, a Wednesday night. Talk to the teacher or leader if you have trouble connecting. Talk to Kathy or to me if you need help reading or studying the Bible on your own. Start with today’s scriptures; try reading them once a day and asking God to show you what it means for His Word to be life-giving. I believe God will honor that prayer. It may stretch you; it may even be uncomfortable, like growing up can be. But rather than back away, press on. It’s not harmful; it’s just hard, but infinitely rewarding. And the result is mature, solid faith, anchored in God’s Will and Word, heart and soul focused on Christ, ready for where God will lead. Amen.