At the end of last school year all three of my sons brought home live plants. They weren't fully matured bushes or flower, they were, of course, small bean plants in small dixie cups. This was the case when I was a young boy in early elementary. It's a common way to teach children about life and growth and nurture and nature. The bean plants will, eventually, sprout buds and produce fruit, but it often takes to long for young children and they complain about how long it's taking for the plant to grow. My youngest son Rowan, who was 4 at the time, was convinced that the plant was broken and needed to be thrown out simply because it was taking to long to bear fruit. Often we, as adult have the same kind of impatience when it come to waiting for things to finish, mature or grow. One of my greatest regrets is ever saying, "I wish they were older" about my sons. It seemed like when they were babies I couldn't wait for them to get bigger so they were a bit more independent, now I wish they were babies again ;).
It's hard to wait, especially now. We live in a society were instant gratification is expected and is perceived as a right...."your way, right away." It's nice to have it that way, but it makes for a society of impatience folks who lack character and discipline. My friend David tells a story about the time he and his family bought a parrot. They bought it young, that way it was cheeper. Fully grown Parrots can cost hundreds of dollars!!! David tells about how long it seemed to take for the bird to grow up and be mature enough to mimic, but eventually after 5 year or so it was able to. Of course he was never able to get it to say hi, or repeat it's name, all it was ever able to mimic was the beeping of the microwave when it had finished cooking. ;) He says either the bird was slow, the owners where inept at training the bird, or they ate to many meals to quickly and did not take time to grow as a family and a couple. My Seminary roommate Paul (We was an ELCA Lutheran) made his own beer with a do-it-yourself brew kit that he had gotten one year for Xmas. Finding and mixing the ingredients for the beer was easy he said, it was the brewing part that proved to complicated. He said it took so long for the beer to brew that he would often get impatient and open it up and drink it and he said it was horrible!!! Had he only had the courage to be patient and to wait for the beer to age and mature it would have tasted fine. This problem with tolerating the growing and maturing process in our society seems to be a prevailing one, but in the words of the Heinz Ketchup people, "Good things come to those who wait."
Our passage this week deals with some of the primitive churches issues with waiting, growing and transforming. Peter is writing to some Xian's who are getting antsy about the "Parousia" or the return of Christ. Many early Xian's believed that christ was going to return with in the generation of the Apostles and as they begin to die, so did many of the hopes that Jesus would ever return. So some "false teachers", as Peter calls them, begin teaching that Jesus is never coming back and that all this goody two shoes stuff that they had been doing was of no avail and that they should all just do what makes them happy. Peters response to these liars is to remind the church that Jesus is indeed returning, it's just that we don't know when. Peter goes on to say that Jesus's lack of return is not God's lack of interest in the church, but instead God's willingness to be patient and let it grow. To allow us to be perfected completely, what us Methodists, holiness or Main-line, call entire sanctification. It takes time for good things to grow and just because we don't see it right away, like Rowan wanting to through away the plant cause it didn't grow fast enough, or like Paul always ending the brewing process a bit to early for the beer to ferment, we shouldn't give up or stop!
The next step in our discipleship process is growing, and growing can take time. If we want to make disciples we need to provide opportunities for people to grow in their faith. Gallup recently released a poll on religion and spirituality in America. 70% of Americans believe that most churches are ineffective at helping people find meaning in life. The administrators of the poll complied the top six things that people said they needed from the church to make it effective. They are:
1. To believe life is meaningful and has a purpose.
2. To have sense of community and deeper relationships.
3. To be appreciated and respected.
4. To be listened to and heard.
5. To feel that one is growing in the faith.
6. To have practical help in developing a mature faith.
Two out of the six directly have to do with growing in faith. People are hungry for real meaningful faith and deep spirituality and the churches that provide it are the churches making disciples and growing.
At my Churches in Onaway and Millersburg we have plenty of seemingly great ways to grow. We have UMW's (United Methodist Women), we have a prayer service in the Summer, Fall and Spring, we have a coffee hour after church every Sunday, but we don't have very many new DISCIPLES. Why? Because those things, as awesome as they are, are the wrong kind of growing. Truth is we grow most and best when we are studying the bible together. What better why to understand our faith than by reading God's word? Our attempt to grow spiritually together is our new Mid-Week bible study. It is through this kind of happening that we will grow as a church. It might not be overnight, or even over the course of months, but through the years we will see fruit. This process of growing is essentially inviting people into deeper intimacy with us by moving them from the foyer of worship in our house, to the family room where we learn about each other, we share our stories and our history and learn to trust and love as a family. Making life long Disciples our goal and the way to do this is to make GROWING disciples.