Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Seeking: to grow in Christ
March 30, 2012, 5:37 pm
Filed under: Sermons

I have been a little behindhand in putting up recent preaching: scroll down for more.

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday 25th March 2012

“Seek and ye shall find.” This Lent we have been following this theme in our Sunday sermons, seeking in the wilderness, to bear one’s cross, through worship and as family. Our final topic is “Seeking to grow in Christ.” Not inappropriately, because you may recall that in my Ash Wednesday sermon I noted that the word “Lent” comes from “lengthen”, and refers to the season when the days are getting longer- to Springtime. Spring is not just the season of spring-cleaning, as I focussed on then, it is the time of growth in nature. The trees are coming into leaf, the flowers are beginning to blossom. As the old English carol puts it, “Pleasure it is, to hear, iwis, the birdes sing: the deer in the dale, the sheep in the vale, the corn springing.” Or, in the words of a lightly later poet, “Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king; then blooms each thing… cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing.”

Growth is all around us: what about our spiritual growth? Are we fully mature as human beings, but as Christians still woefully underdeveloped?  St Paul writes, to the Ephesians, of us growing up in Christ, to full maturity. St Peter writes of us growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, growing up to salvation. This continues the analogy of new birth, of which our Lord spoke to Nicodemus. When we begin our life of faith, at whatever point in our natural life, it is a “new birth”. St Peter writes of feeding his new converts with milk, like new-born infants: but it is at this very point that he reminds them that they must not remain babies, they have to grow up!

There are several dimensions to our spiritual growth. One is intellectual: are we growing in the understanding of our faith? I am not talking about abstruse points of theology or Biblical scholarship, but simply a sound general grasp of the Creed, with the ability to give an account of what we believe if challenged. Have we a decent familiarity with the Scriptures? In times past, quite ordinary Christians would expect to recognise Biblical allusions, and be able to quote Scripture or the Prayer Book when appropriate. I bet a lot of us would have some difficulty with this today!

Then there is moral growth. This is an area where Biblical Hebrew ways of thinking can be supplemented by the insights of Greek philosophy. At a superficial reading of the Old Testament, morality can seem principally a matter of “keeping laws”: not murdering, stealing, telling lies and so on. Of course we should keep these laws! But the idea of being law-abiding does not give much scope for growth. The Greeks thought of morality in terms of virtue, of positive moral qualities. The very word “virtue” means “strength”.  Obviously, we can all grow stronger in virtue. The question is, do we? Are we kinder than we used to be? Are we fairer, more thoughtful, more patient, more generous than we used to be?

The third dimension is in our life of prayer, “spiritual growth” in the strictest sense. Is worship just a routine, is it just a duty that we fulfil “dutifully”, or is it more? Is it a real relationship with Jesus Christ, acknowledged in our hearts as our Friend and Helper, as well as our Teacher and our Lord? Classic books on spirituality sometimes divide up the inner life in terms of “the way of purification” (what I have called moral growth), “the way of enlightenment” (what I have called intellectual growth), and “the unitive way” (growth in love for God). Other writers simply talk of the journey in terms of “beginners”, “those making progress on the way”, and the “perfect”, those who have arrived at the destination.

We should be more than beginners now; but we certainly have not arrived at our destination. The question is, are we still making progress, still growing? Or have we decided that enough is enough, and sat down to rest and maybe even sleep? If so, it is time to wake up, walk on, start to grow again. It is springtime: time to put forth our own spiritual shoots, fresh leaves, and flowers.


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