Perhaps why, for as long as we human beings have recorded our thoughts on life, we have sought to condense reality, to make things “simple”, is not because we are ignorant of the observable diversity and complexity in creation, but because our senses are overwhelmed by it. Our propensity to simplify it seems is an indication that we are unable to comprehend in any instance the complexity and diversity of the constant waves of all that is life—creation, sin, salvation and the like—as it crashes upon us. However, the problem with condensing is that it often comes via subtraction, amputation of the gargantuan excess that doesn’t fit in our simplified boxes. While such appears to be the consequence for knowing good and evil, we nonetheless desire to live and live well in this world. So what then are we to do if we cannot condense life?
As we shared last week, the means by which we enter into greater depth of living without being overwhelmed by the fullness of what we recognize is abundant life, is to practice thoughtful brevity.
“Brevity is an expression which has more meaning than just what is heard.” It is a concentration rather than a condensing. Brevity requires us to focus, to sharpen our attention and affections even as they are expanded. Where simplicity cuts off, brevity is a way of saying something concisely that contains life altering depth. A phrase that is a concentration of truth, of reality, not a reducing of it. Words that compel us to meditate in practice. Words that can be lived into.
The apostle Paul writes to those whom he knew were attempting to live out their faith and tempted to reduce that same faith through simplifying by condensing rather than concentrating. And so, he repeats multiple times thoughtfully brief phrases that contain within them depth and weight equal to real life, life as God creates and sustains it. Setting for the first generations after Christ’s life, death and resurrection their; origin, aim, and resoluteness.
Such phrases will require you and I not merely hear them, but to meditate on them, to contemplate the depth of what is contained in the brevity as we wake up tomorrow and make breakfast for our kids, clock into our office, confront a subordinate, run into our neighbor at the mail box, and pray with our Gospel Community. Only when our contemplation takes place in the middle of life can the power of these words transform our life. Quiet time is good and necessary, yet it is the words resounding off the front of our brain as we experience the complexity and diversity of every-day-living that allows the word of the Lord to not return void. That’s part of their beauty and power. These phrases are concise enough not to take up too much space in our mind, yet once soaked in they expand to fill their container like those compacted capsules immersed in warm water reveal a massive sponge creature.
It is three of these phrases that we will let set our origin, aim and resoluteness as we begin 2018 together in Christ as his brothers and sisters, as a faith family called Christ City Church. Phrases that we too are invited to live into.
The first phrase we looked at last week was: Christ crucified. The very origin of our faith. All that we demand of God to know he is working and seek from God to preserver in a good life, confronted and answered in Jesus upon the cross. Whatever we think God has done and God is doing starts here. Still, our life of faith does not end there. It begins in death, but death so that there might be life, new life. And what does new life do more profusely than most other stages? It grows!
Ironically, or simply so that we might not boast in anything but the presence of the Lord in the cross, we are born again because we died with Christ. Thus we live because he lives. And as ones born again we enter into a process that is nearly unstoppable: growing up. Oh sure, growth can be thwarted when left uncared for (uncultivated: starved, left exposed to the elements, no pruning, or affection) or terminated when intentionally destroyed (killed slowly through cruelty or quickly with indifference) or tragically ceased (through disease or accident). Yet the primary activity of all living creatures, especially newly born ones, is to grow.
Think about it. When Cohen and Lily entered into the visible world for the first time, crying out ever so faintly as ones whose lungs were underdeveloped, yet here, alive. From that very moment (technically from the moment of conception, but you get the point) they were and continue to be, growing. Again, the only way to impede their growth is to fail to care them, willfully destroy them, or by tragic chance have them taken from us. Even so, every moment is a moment of growth. And in a normal environment, it is a process that I cannot stop. Cohen and Lily will grow up, much to their mother’s dismay.
Yet, what will they grow to be? The options are somewhat limited. They have been predetermined to be a male and female, a human male and human female at that. They have certain physical and mental limitations based upon Deedra and I’s contribution of chromosomes. They were born in a specific time in history and a specific place in the world. And they were born into a particular family with all its idiosyncrasies, ambitions, resources and deficiencies.
And still, there is much to-be-determined about Cohen and Lily. The mystery and potential of what kind of human they will become because of and perhaps even in opposition to the boundaries determined for them. Will they be kind, just, competent, productive, helpful? Self-aware? God-aware? All that a human—any human—could be and uniquely who they can be?
That is essentially the question the early church was asking when they considered their “born again”, “new creation” state. Who are we to be? Who are we to become? What is our aim?
To that question Paul writes one of my favorite letters, the letter “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.” It is the only letter that I can discern—and verified by many more studied than myself—written with no particular divisive issue to address. In other words, he is not writing to correct a misconception, but rather writes to freely and rather straightforwardly, encourage the saints in Ephesus in their growing up in an almost ideal, yet not naïve, manner. It is here that we find our second phrase of thoughtful brevity meant to stick in the front of our mind as it expands to fill our life: into Christ.
Read Ephesians 4:11-16, as we get a sense for the depth and weight of this little phrase.
“And he [Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…to mature humanness [adulthood] to the measure of the stature of fullness of Christ [a full grown Christ], so that we may no longer be children [It is not a negative thing to be children—remember Mark 10, where Jesus says, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’—but no one stays a child (and if they do we consider something amiss), we will grow up, the question is into what? Someone who is imbalanced for example…] tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Growth is assumed, but not what growth produces. We will grow, but who are we to become? Paul’s answer: fully human [adults] in relation Christ and one another—what has come to be known as Christian.
One author notes,
“The most significant growing up any person does is to grow as a Christian. All other growing up is preparation for or ancillary to this growing up. Biological, social, mental, and emotional growing are all ultimately absorbed into growing up into Christ. Or not. The human task is to become mature, not only in our bodies and emotions and minds within ourselves, but also in our relationships with God and other persons.”
That’s what Paul is saying, what we believe at the core of our faith. That to be fully human—a grown up, an adult, a mature human—is to be one who grows into unified and healthy relationship with God and others. What you might ask is a unified and healthy relationship with God and others? Well, briefly, Jesus. Quite concisely, that is the purpose of being the church. Every other action flows out of a life lived together with Jesus and the Father, like Jesus.
What is our purpose as faith family? To grow up into Christ. That means in every way, for every person, our aim is to live like Jesus, speak like Jesus, work like Jesus, rest like Jesus, worship like Jesus, get angry like Jesus, forgive like Jesus, dismiss like Jesus; imitate Jesus.
What is your aim as a Christian? Mature personhood…the fullness of Christ. In every way, with every person, in every action, grow up into Christ. Is that what you envision as the picture of your life, Christ-likeness? A real person, walking and talking and serving other real people. Really communicating with the Father of the universe. Really giving of yourself for the sake of others. Really celebrating. Really grieving. Really enjoying good meals. Really being betrayed. Really spending more years in the ordinary than in the extraordinary. Really showing others who God is and what God is doing. Really in your work, being fully and contently exactly who you were created to be in God’s image and purposes. Really. Or, is there another picture you have, another image that comes to mind when you think of maturity. One pastor notes,
“Christ is what a mature adulthood looks like…If we don’t keep that in our minds, we are going to end up with something like a star athlete or popular movie star—not all bad, but not exactly what we are hoping for.”
If maturity into Christ is our aim, then it is a totally immersive endeavor. In “every way” Paul says. All of you and all of us. Everything we think about what church “does” for me and what I “do” for the church is re-imagined in growing up into Christ. There is either growing into Christ or growing into something else. Can’t stop growth. Which means that we immersion ourselves in the stories of Jesus for the sake of each other.
How do we go about this growing up into Christ together, by speaking the truth in love to one another (and our neighbors (vs. 24). Several commentators and scholars translate “speaking the truth in love” as “truthing in love”. A truth spoken, certainly, and more, a truth lived in the way we share life with one another, the aim of our life together. Everything we think about what church “does” for me and what I “do” for the church is re-imagined in growing up into Christ as we go about “truthing in love”; something we’ll actually get to practice this afternoon.