When my daughter was young she had a habit of taking her time getting ready to leave the house. This was not much of a problem when she was really small and I could just pick her up when it was time to go. But as she grew older the challenge of leaving the house in time to get anywhere when we needed too became almost impossible. One day when she was a teenager Dan and I were at an art fair and we saw a handprinted plaque that read, “I am mostly good at sleeping and wish there was a future in it.” We bought it for her. Eventually we started telling her that we had to be someplace earlier than we actually had to be. So for example we’d tell her we had to be some place at 9am when we really had to be there at 9:30. We called this Jessi time. That pattern worked fairly well for a number of years. So imagine my surprise when my grown daughter started being ready on time and arriving places on time. I couldn’t believe it, I thought for sure she’d never outgrow her tendency to be late.
One of the gifts of having older children is the pleasure of seeing one’s child mature into his or her own person, to become who they are, no longer the child who needs parental guidance.
As Christians we often speak of God as a parental figure, God the father. We often use language that describes us as children of God. I, personally, am not fond of this kind of language. To me it runs the risk of infantilizing human beings and teaching us that we do not need to grow into a mature faith.
However, if we think of ourselves as children of God who are learning how to become our own person, conscious of being shaped and formed by God’s love as we grow into a mature adult faith, then I can manage this image of “Child of God.” The Christian life is a growth process of maturing in faith.
What does a mature faith look like? Karen Armstrong, in her book, The Spiral Staircase, writes about the difference between faith as a belief and faith as a practice. Armstrong writes that religion is not about having to believe or accept certain propositions, instead religion is about doing things that change a person. In her book on Islam she describes how Muslims are not expected to accept a creed, rather they are required to perform rituals, prayers, pilgrimages, and fasts which are designed to bring forth a personal transformation. The religious life is supposed to transform how one lives and who one is through what one does. God’s action in the resurrection of Jesus is an act of transformation, of new life. Our readings in the Easter season help us understand how we as Christians are called to live in order that our lives can be transformed.
Acts tells the story of the emerging early church, of the disciples learning to do the work of Christ in the world – of caring for others and sharing the Good News of God’s love for all people. It also shows the struggle of the disciples, the tension of spreading out into the world, of encountering new and different people. Acts tells the story of a maturing people of faith, learning to navigate the complexities of life.
The grace of the book of Revelation is its ability to offer comfort to suffering people. Although it is written in coded poetic language, which makes it pretty confusing to most of us, the people around the world who experience persecution tend to understand it. The words assure the suffering of God’s great love for all humanity. This is not a story that predicts the calamities that will befall humanity at the end of the world. The Book of Revelation is story of love in the midst of sorrow, grace in response to fear, hope in response to loss and oppression.
In the Gospel of John Jesus says he is giving a new commandment, that we love one another. But it is not new from the sense that no one before this moment had been commanded by God to love. What’s new about it, in the way Jesus means it, is its intention, the action, the doing, of love. To love more than just this person or that person, and instead to love all people. This is a commandment to action, it is not a commandment to believe the right thing, but to do the right thing, love. This love is not an emotion nor is it a feeling. It is a verb. To love means to respect the dignity of every human being. To love means to struggle through the challenges of life trusting that in the end one will find new life. To love means to share the gifts of life with one another, food, clothing, shelter, money. To love means to see the good in others. To love means to hold one’s self and others accountable and to seek reconciliation when necessary, to living in right relationship with each other.
A mature faith is willing to take a step into the unknown, take the risk to do what God is calling, to reach out and love others as God loves. To love in this way is a new commandment because in doing so we too are made new again.
a reflection on the readings for Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35