Tag Archives: maturity

To unity, knowledge, and maturity

Ss_Simon_and_Jude

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Unity

We often hear in the Church the old saw that “unity does not mean uniformity.” What we are trying to express, I think, is that we don’t have to march in lockstep, we don’t all have to be believers in the same exact way.

The Church is gifted — not only with those who guard the faith (apostles) but also with those who upbraid the faithful (prophets); not only with traveling preachers (evangelists) but also with local leaders (pastors and teachers). We all have the same purpose, though: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.

You may serve in the food kitchen, you may lead youth group, you may knit prayer shawls, you may provide pastoral care, you may give generously, you may go on mission trips, you may host a fellowship group in your home, you may advocate for political change, you may lead a Bible study. As David Allen says, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

Whatever you do, then, do it in order to equip the saints and to build up the body.

Knowledge

My own particular interests are in teaching the Bible and the practice of the Daily Office.

Isaiah has harsh words in today’s Old Testament lesson for religious leaders who teach nothing more than “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:10).

That is to say, teaching only Bible facts without teaching saving wisdom is no help in equipping the saints. It puffs up the teacher (as Miracle Max would say, “hoo hoo hoo, look who knows so much!”), but it does not build up the learner.

How do the words of Scripture become “living and active” in our lives? How do they soak into us until they are there when we need them?

One reason I teach about the Daily Office is that it is a method for reading Scripture in the context of worship that has helped Christians throughout the centuries to “inwardly digest” the Scriptures even as they “read, mark, and learn” (BCP 236) them in Bible studies and other forums. Again, no one method is complete or self-sufficient; each has a particular purpose.

Maturity

The gifts given to the Church are “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

“Equipping the saints” ultimately means enabling them to stand on their own two feet — to help learners become believers, and to help believers become ministers themselves.

Another program I’m involved in is Education for Ministry, a program of theological education for lay people created by the School of Theology of the University of the South. This year there are 11 students in my group at St. Thomas Church.

Along with the study we pursue in the four-year curriculum — Old Testament, New Testament, Church history, and theology — we also engage in a process of theological reflection, learning to identify where our beliefs and positions come from and how to turn our insights into action.

As we share our “spiritual autobiographies” with one another, we start to trace how God has acted in our lives. As we study the Scriptures, we learn about how God has acted in the life of Israel and of the Church. Reading church history is a humbling exercise in seeing how we keep getting it wrong, over and over again. And our study of theology is no academic exercise, but an attempt to go from “milk” to “solid food” (1 Cor 3:2) as we serve in our various ministries.

Being “lifelong learners” is wonderful, but as St. Benedict puts it, “the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings” (RB Prologue).

Collect of the Day

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 245)

 

Begun, continued, and ended

The road to the Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tamalpais

The road to the Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tamalpais

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (BCP 832)

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I had the great honor yesterday to officiate at the wedding of our “emotional daughter” Anna Kurtz to David O’Connor.

They were married in the beautiful Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tam, an amphitheatre ringed with trees and with stunning views down through the blanket of fog to San Francisco Bay.

The Prayer for Guidance above formed the frame for my brief homily.

Begun

Anna and David have already begun their life together as a couple. Our grandson Alex is one of the fruits of their relationship, and David’s daughters Molly and Maeve fill out their lovely family.

Yesterday they made a new beginning, “[giving] themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings” (BCP 428).

They have already begun well, and they will find every day offers an opportunity to begin again, to recommit themselves to their life together.

Continued

David invited local musician Will Sprott of The Mumlers to sing a few songs for the guests who gathered for yesterday’s ceremony.

When Will sang, “Your friends say I’m a dog,” David’s brothers chuckled, but when the verse continued, “… and I just want to stay here with you,” I could see how Anna and David moved even closer to one another.

Staying put is the countercultural and the spiritual heart of marriage.

Staying with one person, “forsaking all others,” continuing to be faithful, is something that runs counter to the personal freedom that our society really values.

Promising to stay put, and choosing daily to stay with just one person in the face of 5 billion other options, is a strange thing to do.

I have always found it intriguing that the prayers for the couple in the marriage service were written by a monk of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

Monks and nuns make the same basic promise to stay put — it’s often called a vow of stability — and living each day under that promise is a key part of their growth into spiritual maturity.

For most of the rest of us, marriage is the place where that spiritual growth will happen, where dealing with one person every day rubs our rough places smooth and offers us the opportunity to become more mature.

Ended

That maturity is one of the key ends, or goals, of marriage.

In the final blessing over the couple, the priest prays “that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace” (BCP 431).

Beginning with the promise of faithfulness, continuing in the daily discipline of staying put, marriage also builds in the couple (we pray) “such fulfillment of … mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others” (BCP 429).

Along with the building of a home, a haven of blessing and peace where each person can grow and mature, another end of marriage is outward-looking care for others.

Anna and David’s family and friends testify to the love and care they already give so freely, and we pray that what they have begun anew will continue to bear fruit to the end.