“The Childish and the Childlike”
Sunday, May 11, 2008
I Corinthians 13: 8-13
Bexar and Grace and Kate and Michael and Zane: Today you have taken a big step on your journeys to adulthood. Today you have said to your families and to this congregation that you are ready to take responsibility for your own relationship with God. More importantly, your families and this congregation have agreed with you. We have agreed that you are ready to take responsibility for your relationship with God. It may make us a little nervous, but we have agreed.
Up to this point, we have mostly told you and taught you what we believe you ought to know about God and about the faith in God that we hold here. We’ve told you, as best we could express it, what we think God is like. We’ve told you what we believe the Bible teaches us about God and about how God feels toward us and the world we live in. We have tried to teach you what we believe the best way to live is.
Up to this point, we have more or less treated you like children whom we had to teach the basics of our faith and ethics. Now you have said, and we have agreed, that you are no longer children who need to be taught the ABC’s of faith but that you are now partners in learning and living our faith with the rest of us.
Be careful here. You still live at home and this is only one step toward adulthood, a big one, but you’ve got other steps to go yet. So there will still be things your parents encourage or require you to do. They may still require you to go to church or youth group some Sundays when you don’t feel like it. They may still require you to participate in family spiritual rituals and religious practices. They may still expect you to behave in certain ways and they may have consequences for you if you don’t.
But today something has shifted in your life, and in your relationship with your parents and their relationship with you. Something has shifted in your relationship with this church and our relationship with you. Something has shifted in your relationship with God and God’s relationship with you.
From today on, we will assume that, rather than being children we need to get information into, that you are partners with us in the conversation about who God is, how God feels about us, and what God expects from us. We will try to expect you to study the Bible with us rather than us telling you what’s in it. We will try to figure out the meaning of life with you rather than tell you what it is. We will increasingly try to dialogue with you about what it means to live healthy and whole lives rather than tell you what to do…although there will be curfews.
If from time to time we forget and treat you like children, be patient with us. This is not an easy shift for us to make. It will probably take another 6 or 8 years or so for us to really get it down. We’ll probably start out slow and ease into it over the next 6 or 8 years.
The journey toward adulthood is very exciting. The next 6 or 8 or 10 years will be very, very exciting years for you. But they may also be a little scary.
Over the next years as you become adults, these are the kinds of things that may well happen for you: You may fall in love. You may discover within yourself talents and abilities you don’t know are there today. You may discover areas of learning and knowledge that fascinate you and make you want to learn more and more. You may find out that you have the power to change the world in some way. These kinds of things are very exciting.
But they are also scary because there is a high likelihood that you will also experience some painful things. Your heart may be broken.
I’d like Bexar, Grace, Kate, Michael, Zane to stand with me up front here while I ask the congregation some questions. In fact I’d like to ask all the youth here to stand up front with us. Let’s say if you are 18 or under come stand up front with us.
How many of you who are over 18 have experienced your heart being broken? Keep your hands raised so our confirmands can see how many hands are raised. Now put them down. (If I were in the congregation, I would raise my hand.)
Here’s the next question. Think about it for a minute. How many took on some kind of challenge and experienced a painful failure in something you attempted to do? Raise your hand. (If I were in the congregation, I would raise my hand.)
Next question. Think about it. How many discovered something about your potential to hurt others or do wrong that devastated you? (If I were in the congregation, I would raise my hand.)
Another question. How many whose heart was broken decided to risk falling in love again?
How many who experienced painful failure tried another scary challenge and more or less succeeded?
How many have discovered within yourself a capacity for caring and doing good?
How many have learned you can help change the world in some way?
See, all of this is part of the journey to adulthood. It is very exciting and very scary and wonderful. I guess what I am trying to say is that there will be glorious and beautiful sunny days in your journey of life but there will also be storms and ship wrecks.
(Any other questions you young people want to ask while you’re up front?)
I am beginning a new sermon series today on the theme of jetsam and flotsam. I intentionally decided to begin this new series on Confirmation Sunday because I think the theme fits for today. Jetsam and flotsam is an image or metaphor James Tinnemeyer talks about. [i]
Jetsam is the stuff on a ship you throw overboard when a storm is coming at sea so that the ship will ride higher and be more likely to survive the storm. It is the stuff you thought you wanted on board to make your journey at sea more comfortable and pleasant but that you don’t really need and can survive without, and that, now that a big storm is on the horizon, you realize is just weighing you down and making it less likely that you will survive the hard times ahead. This is what jetsam is.
Flotsam, Tinnemeyer says, is the stuff that, after a ship wreck, you find floating in the water that you can hold on to keep you afloat until you can make your way to shore. Flotsam is what is left over after the storm and the wreck that you can hold onto.
Jetsam and flotsam.
Bexar, Grace, Kate, Michael, Zane: Confirmation begins a process for you. It is a process of you asking what in this faith as we have tried to pass it on to you is jetsam and what is flotsam. What will weigh you down and make you sink in the storms of life and what will you be able to hang onto to stay afloat?
We don’t know. If we knew we would not have passed on the jetsam to you but only the flotsam.
But it is more than us not knowing.
my entire life I have been perplexed by a conflict within the New Testament. Jesus
says that we cannot enter the
I used to think that the only way to resolve this conflict was to make a distinction between what is childlike and what is childish. You know, being trusting is childlike. Being selfish is childish. Being eager is childlike. Being impatient is childish.
But I actually think it is more complicated and better than this. Jane and I have recently had the pleasure of spending a few days watching a baby in the days just following his birth. There were two things that were very obvious to me. The baby was totally dependent upon others. He was dependent upon others for his very life. He was dependent upon others for food and nourishment. He was dependent upon others for the words that he will eventually use to think. The question I kept asking myself was: I wonder what is going on inside his little head? None of us can know because he is dependent upon us giving him language and ideas. This baby came into the world totally dependent upon others. That is one thing that was very clear.
But there was another thing that was just as clear. From the moment we saw him hours after his birth, it was very clear that he was already a self. Already he had a will. The theologian John Claypool tells about a young woman who came to talk with him about theology a few months after she had become a mother.[ii] She said that when her religion professor in college had taught about the “fall of humanity” she had thought the idea was morbid…this mythological story in the Book of Genesis about how the first humans disobeyed God and rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She thought this was a morbid concept. But now that she was a mother, she said she had begun to understand it.
She said: "I [now] know exactly what my teacher was getting at. I have been amazed in the last four months to sense how at odds with reality my little one sometimes seems to be. It has been that way from the very first. For example, he needs very much to sleep, yet again and again I have seen something in him fight against going to sleep like the plague. His constitution demands that he eat periodically, but on more than one occasion, I have had to struggle to get anything down him. C. S. Lewis says somewhere that we come into this world with 'bent spirits' – at odds with the very structure of reality as it is given to us.”
Jane and I saw this last week…a baby who came into the world a few weeks early even came into the world already with a mind of his own.
We come into the world with two conflicting truths: We need others desperately. We need to be our own self. All of life is trying to figure this out: when to surrender and when to assert – how to surrender and assert at the same time.
There are parts of the faith we have received to which we all need to surrender in order to save our lives. There are parts we need to assert ourselves over against in order to save our lives. Sometimes we need to do both at the same time. We need to remain like children. We need to set aside childish things and become adults. Both at the same time. We live in this tension.
The temptation is always to try to escape the tension. To either be like children and swallow everything we are taught…to swallow the whole thing…to swallow it whole. Or we are tempted to become adult-ish and to assert ourselves over against everything we are taught. In either of those choices, we are likely to not survive the storms of life.
Some process theologians teach that the doctrine of the fall of humanity is really about a fall upward…a fall into a higher level of responsibility, a higher level of consciousness, a higher and more difficult relationship with the divine. We can never stop being children. We are called to adulthood. It is the tension in which we live. It is at the heart of our relationship with God.
So Bexar, Grace, Kate, Michael, Zane, we want to give you some symbolic gifts. (We have real gifts for you upstairs in Fellowship Hall following worship.) But these are symbolic gifts.
This is our faith. This is our understanding of how to live well. Some of what we give you is jetsam and some is flotsam. You were once children whom we tried to teach. Now we invite you to help us learn what in this faith we all inherited from others and seek to pass onto to others is jetsam and what is flotsam. What in the lives we live together will sink us and what will keep us afloat. Help us figure it out.