Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spiritual Milk

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was 1 Peter 2:2-10:

According to futurists, the first person to ever live to be 1000 has already been born. That seems really hard to believe, but we really have no idea of what medicine will be able to do in 50 years, or how the things that are likely to kill us now will be fixable in the not too distant future, and so I have to at least give those who postulate these things some benefit of the doubt. Or at least admit that while they might not be born yet, they will be born in the near future. Just to give you a perspective, if you had an ancestor born a thousand years ago, and they were still alive, you would be roughly the 50th generation, and when they were born, the emperor Charlemagne’s death would be as recent as Thomas Jefferson’s death is for us. They would have been alive when the Chinese perfected gun powder, Macbeth was becoming king of Scotland, and in 1066 they would be alive to hear about, or participate in, the Battle of Hastings, one of the most  important events in Western history. They would have celebrated their 500th birthday at the time of the Protestant Reformation, and been 600 when Shakespeare actually wrote about Macbeth. That type of life span will radically change how we live, perhaps how we love, and definitely how we relate as family, or perhaps even how we have families.

Rabbi Harold Kushner has written about what might happen if we became immortal, and questioned whether people might stop having children, if for no other reason than a form of population control. But, he says, that means that not only would humanity stop having the joy of having children around, but that they would also stop having the joy of being a parent, and if that happened we would lose the concept of what it meant not only to have the love of a parent, but also of what it meant to dedicate your life, and be prepared to give your life for another person. We would also lose the understanding of the needs of infants, and of milk as life giving force, as we hear in the passage from 1 Peter.

Now this motif of infants and milk is not unique to Peter. In the letter to the Hebrews, we hear, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need, not solid food; everyone who lives on being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness.” (5:12-13)  Probably more famously, in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he says to them, “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready,for you are still of the flesh.” (3:1-3a) Now both of these passages are rebukes being made towards the people that Paul and the author of Hebrews are addressing. Basically, they are saying, “look, you think you’re mature in the faith, but in fact your still infants, needing the food of infants, you are not ready to deal with the real meat of the faith because you can’t handle it.” And yet, while rebukes, they are also reminders of how we all start out in the faith, that our first meal cannot be steak and potatoes, that we have to start out as infants, being fed milk until we can grow and become acclimated to eating solid foods and maturing in our faith.

And so, when we hear Peter saying that we should long for milk so that we can grow into faith, we shouldn’t hear it as a rebuke, but instead as good advice, as a reminder for where we have to start. No one yells at a baby for wanting milk, well maybe when you’ve had no sleep and are they are crying their heads off and you think it’s because their hungry, but they’re not actually eating, and you’re at your wits end, you might yell, but that would be for them to take the milk, not because they were drinking milk. But normal, non-infant non-sleep deprived people don’t yell because of that. Instead we feed them the milk because we know that’s what’s best for them and what they need in order to begin to grow and mature. And that’s what Peter is encouraging to happen here. In verse 1, of chapter 2, which was not included in today’s reading, Peter says “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice and all guile, insincerity, envy and all slander.” That is, move past the things of the flesh, as Paul had been saying to the Corinthians, and become a new person, be transformed in the love of Christ. His emphasis in the firsts chapter is on being born again, not the way we typically understand that, but as being freshly born, with all of the things that come along with that, which includes drinking milk, and so Peter urges us to “long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it we may grow into salvation.”

Of course that sounds so easy, but it’s not really. There is an innate part of humans, and other animals, that we know how to nurse after we are born. It’s sounds easy, and we’re hard wired to do it, and yet it takes some fumbling and work, on both the mother and the infants part. It takes a lot of intentionality, especially on the part of the mother, at the start in order to get it to work right, so that everything lines up correctly and both parties are happy with the situation. Like other skills, later it becomes much easier and tired moms can get their babies to latch on, and sometimes even fall back to sleep, or at least semi-sleep, while the baby’s feeding. That’s nearly impossible in the first days, even with a mother who is experienced with the issue. But, more importantly, mothers are willing to do this, and to keep doing it, even with the discomfort it can bring, which is more than the discomfort some of you are feeling about me talking about breast feeding, and I’m trying to be as discreet on this issue as I can.

But, as we celebrate our mothers and the other important women in our lives on this day, one of the things that we need to remember, is that, I believe, that our mothers are the first people in our lives to show us what the love of God looks like. Now this is not to dismiss the roles of fathers, as we bring something too, but that’s for another day. Although as an aside, I read this past week that in a study in Norway, men who took paternity leave were 50% more likely to share laundry responsibilities with their spouse than men who did not, and in a Candian study those who took leave were also more likely to spend time on domestic chores and childcare. So that’s another reason why we should support both maternity and paternity leave, and the United Methodist Church calls for both. But, back to the topic, this is not to say that there are not women who are unable or unwilling to show the love of a mother, and while it may not bring you comfort if that was your experience, they are the exception to the rule. Now obviously I am not a mother myself, although I’ve played one on TV, so I don’t have personal experience, but I’ve had plenty of women tell me that once they became a mother that they truly understood what it meant to love unconditionally, what it truly meant to give of yourself for another person, not worrying about what you might get back in return. A true and pure love for another.

But this can extend to more than just those who have given birth, because I think all of us, and I’ve never met anyone for who this was not the case, have had another woman in our life who made a difference in our life. Who gave of themselves and went above and beyond what the expectation was to impact us. Who adopted us as their own, sometimes literally, but more often metaphorically, and to care for us as would a mother. I have had numerous women who had filled that role in my life from teachers and clergy mentors, but I had a Sunday school teacher in the 4th grace who made a difference. She didn’t have any children of her own, so she wasn’t there because she wanted to be the teacher for her kids, she just wanted to be there, and I can’t remember her name but she made a difference in my faith life in fanning a flame in my faith, or strangely warming my heart to think back to last week’s passage of the walk to Emmaus, or of John Wesley’s conversion experience. I don’t know where I would be without what she gave to me. She was the one who made me want to thirst for the spiritual milk of my faith. Who is that person for you? Your mother, or some other woman who was like a mother, or perhaps even a man who fed you that spiritual milk?

But part of the point of this passage from Peter, as well as from Paul and Hebrews, is that we cannot remain as infants, we have to grow. Now my wife has perfect vision when it comes to spotting babies. She can spot an infant at 200 yards, and then she gets all googly eyed, and “oh a baby, don’t you miss that.” To which I say, “no.” I mean there are things I miss about it, but it’s more the idea of them as babies, not the actual activities of them as babies. Now don’t get me wrong, Linda loves them as they are now too, although we are only a few years from having teenagers when we won’t love them as much, but they have to grow up, which means that we have to be prepared to give them different food. We as Christians have to be willing to seek out different food, growth in our faith, for if we keep living only on milk then our faith is never maturing, it’s never moving forward, we’re never learning to feed ourselves, and certainly never learning to feed others. But what Peter is saying to us is that it is a choice. The first choice that we get to make is in longing for the spiritual milk, and once we have tasted it, the second choice is to say that the Lord is good and to seek more. To come to him, a living stone, which has been rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.

We get to choose. We get to decide whether Christ is going to be the cornerstone of our lives, or whether we are going to reject it. Now our mothers, and fathers, and other important people in our lives give us the spiritual milk we need to start our journey, but eventually we have to choose whether we are going to choose the ways of God, or the ways of the flesh, as Paul says. Whether we are going to reject malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander, or choose to live as Christ has called for us, to see Christ not as a stumbling block but as the cornerstone of our foundation, and to begin to live like him. But pay attention to what Peter says about this. He does not say that we are to build ourselves, but instead we are to allow ourselves to be built up. To allow ourselves to be built up by God and to become a royal priesthood, that is that God is the one who does the work within us. It is God who is building us up, but we have to choose to allow that to happen and to open ourselves up to be changed and to open ourselves up to live and to love like God loves.

That’s where we come back to our moms and the significant women in our lives again. The ones who show us the way, who feed us the spiritual milk, but then who pushed us outside in order to grow and to learn to eat on our own. Peter says that followers of Christ are a chosen race, which means we are all of the same family, we, in fact, have generations of the faith going back more than 1000 years who have built up for us and who show us the way. It started with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and continued with Mary Magdalene who was the first to proclaim that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and became the apostle to the apostles, and it continues on to us today. We celebrate our mothers not just because they gave birth to us, but we celebrate them because of the love they gave to us. They allowed God to build them up, and they became the example of love in our lives. A love given without price, because nothing we could do could earn it, and a love offered without condition, that there is nothing that could keep our moms from loving us. They gave us the milk of life, and the spiritual milk, and then taught us how to live for ourselves, and do things for ourselves, as tough as that sometimes was for us, and they told us to go out and fly, and they had to learn to let go, but still hold on tight. That is like God’s love for us.

We are given the choice whether we want to follow our not. We are given the choice of whether Christ will be the cornerstone of our lives, or whether he will be a stumbling block. We are given the choice of whether we long for spiritual milk, or the things of the world. We are given a choice, but it’s also a good time to think about what your mom might have said to you about the way we should go and the way we should live and the example we should follow. So let’s follow mom, who loved us without condition, just as God does, and choose to follow Christ this day and every day. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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