Growing Up, Waking Up

November 15, 2020

Series: November 2020

Category: Patience, Prayer, Community

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Today's Scripture

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Today's Teaching

           Do you ever wonder what the point of all this is?  What is the point of going to church or pursuing a spiritual path?  There’s community.  That’s critical, maybe most important, but what are we trying to do as a community and what are you trying to do as an individual?

            Let me tell you a story that may help, actually a series of stories.  They’re about Jesus, but you won’t find them in your Bibles.  The source is a noncanonical gospel called The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.  In the canonical gospels, we hear almost nothing about Jesus’ childhood except the birth stories and one story in Luke about Jesus at 12.  In the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, we have a number of such stories.  For example, at 5 years old Jesus gathers pools of water by the mere power of his command and fashioning 12 sparrows of clay.  In a miraculous turn, he later brings those clay sparrows to life just by clapping his hands!  Jesus had his power young. 

            What he did with his power was not also so creative or lifegiving.  Jesus does the aforementioned miraculous work on the Sabbath.  There are rules about what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath.  Accordingly, another child, the son of a scribe, an expert in the law, condemns him for it.  Jesus snaps.  He commands the boy to wither like a tree and the boy withers!  Later, a child runs into Jesus’ shoulder—it’s unclear if there’s any intent—and Jesus strikes him down dead on the spot.

            Things do shift for Jesus.  In another episode, he and another child are playing on the top story of a house – in the ancient world the roof was a living space.  The other child falls down and dies.  The parents come and accuse Jesus (he may have now had a reputation!).  Jesus leaps down and says, “Zeno (for so was his name called), arise and tell me did I cast thee down?”

            “And straightaway he arose and said:  Nay, Lord, though didst not cast me down, but didst raise me up.  And when they saw it, they were amazed.”  You’ll recall that amazement is often the response people have when God seems to show up in Jesus.  Later, unrelated to Jesus’ actions, a young man strikes his foot with the axe while chopping wood.  Jesus bursts through the crowd, takes hold of the wound and heals the man, and they said, “Verily the spirit of God dwelleth in this young child.” 

            You may dismiss these stories because they didn’t make into the Bible.  I love them.  I find them useful, which is not a bad test.  Here we see the young Jesus wrestling with his own power or learning to wrest control over his power.  He has power, that is clear, and but he has to learn to move from using it for violence to employing it for healing and restoration.  He grows up before our very eyes, and that tells us something deep about what this is all about.

            Philosopher and religious thinker Ken Wilber says, “As the wisdom holders, we need to help people find what’s important—to Grow Up by moving through the early stages of emotional maturing, Clean Up by doing shadow-up, Wake Up by doing spiritual practice, and Show Up by serving humanity I the world.”  There’s more than a sermon series in that one quote but let me comment briefly on two so we can more fully delve into the other two.  When Wilber speaks of Cleaning Up by shadowing-up, he is speaking of the Jungian concept of the shadow side.  The shadow side is the part of yourself you’re not conscious of.  It’s not necessarily negative, but given its belonging to a place of unawareness, it can get us in trouble.  Wilber is advocating we become familiar with our shadow sides so that we can clean up anything that needs attention.  If we don’t what needs attention will find a way out, most likely sideways.  A basic example, not perfect, is when you have a bad day, but you don’t really attend to the emotions or the emotional patterns at play.  As a result, you come home and what do you do?  You take it out on your family or your cat.  The most destructive people among us are not without shadow sides.  They are those who have either no awareness or no fruitful engagement with their shadow side.  They don’t know about and thus can’t care about the destructive things of which they’re capable. 

            Wilber’s call for us to Show Up is more straightforward, can be explained in two sentences.  Show up and serve humanity.  The spiritual life is not complete without engagement.

            The two I want to focus on today are Growing Up and Waking Up.  Those strange stories about Jesus are about him growing up.  He begins by using his power to appease his impulses, sometimes causing real harm.  To use modern popular neuroscience terminology, he’s operating out of his reptile brain.  He’s reacting to something impulsively and explosively, like a child does.  I learned something about rattlesnakes this year, after encountering one on the trail and in our yard.  The juveniles are the most dangerous ones because they’re unable to moderate how much venom they release in a bite.  They haven’t learned to control their power.  As Jesus matures, he learns to control and channel his reality-shifting power and employ it for healing.  When we grow up, we can do the same. 

            The tragedy of some Christianity, and other religions I suppose though they aren’t my problem, is that it is content to remain childish, not childlike, but childish, with many people carrying around immature understandings of the faith.  We wouldn’t pull our own children out of school after kindergarten.  Why would we be content with concepts that haven’t progressed since we learned them as children?  Would we not want our religious and spiritual thinking to similarly evolve and grow, attending to it with the same rigor and attention we would our education?  Whole movements embrace this, however.  Fundamentalism, among other things, is a refusal to evolve and mature, and it is as dangerous as the unattended shadow side is destructive.  Often, they go hand in hand. 

            We must grow up in our faith just as we must in other areas of our lives.  This should be good news to you.  Yes, it’s work, but like all good work it is both likely to bear fruit and is intrinsically rewarding.  Do you know how many people come to me because they think they cannot accept the Christian faith?  They want to, but they struggle with this or that and they feel as though they haven’t failed.  They haven’t failed.  They just cannot force themselves into a kindergarten Christianity, and nobody has bothered to tell them there is something else.  My experience is that many people have held onto the wrong things as essential to the faith.  Are you still wringing your hands over the biology of Jesus’ birth or are you now searching for what it means to be so infused by Spirit that you birth the sacred into this world?  We don’t have to grow up; we get to grow up, and the world needs us to.

            Wilber also talks about Waking Up.  He is well-grounded in Eastern traditions, and so the concept of enlightenment works well here.  Enlightenment is the waking up, the becoming conscious of a greater reality a greater consciousness beyond what the untrained (or overtrained) eye and heart can see.  Remember, some referred to Jesus as the enlightened one.  His teachings and his actions are so surprising to us at every turn because he sees something, he is aware of a reality, we don’t readily see.  He’s eating with people he shouldn’t be.  He’s telling us to forgive, even pray for our enemies.  He wants to distribute, not hoard and protect.  This doesn’t make sense to those who, well, haven’t seen the light.

           What is the imagery of the First Thessalonians passage you heard earlier?  “But you, beloved, are not in darkness…you are all children of light and children of the day…let us not fall asleep as others do” (1 Thess. 5:4-5).  The imagery is one of wakefulness, of seeing clearly.  Be conscious.  Don’t mosey through this world half-asleep, on autopilot, totally unaware of the reality around you and the impact of your actions.  Don’t be like those who are asleep or those who are drunk.  Paul’s is not merely parroting some temperance movement.  He is warning about a dull mind and a numb soul.  Cultivate clarity and awareness, a spiritual sharpness, and let that be your ultimate protection, not the weapons of this world that only blunt and destroy.

          Okay, so you’ve heard enough that you want some of this.  How do you proceed?  Well, the first thing is if you truly want it, if you’re truly committed to the path, your desire will take you where you need to go.  You don’t need instructions.  If you want it badly enough, and you let your inner-curiosity drive you, it will lead you.  That said, here are a few possibilities. 

         On growing up:

  • Go back to school, so to speak, if you left off at kindergarten, or somewhere else along the way. Build a curriculum.   
    • Read the Scriptures, but not like a beach novel. Study it.  Go to Torah Study at a synagogue or Bible Study at church lead by someone who knows what they’re talking about.  A small group of us have been studying the Gospel of Mark for the past two years.
    • Read theology. Good theology is on par with the best philosophy, and wrestles with existence and the good life in light of the faith we proclaim in Jesus Christ.  Our spiritual life group has been hosting book studies on some really excellent works.  Check them out.  
    • If you need recommendations, come to me. I’ll work with you to see what might be helpful.  If there’s enough interest in certain areas, perhaps we’ll launch a study group.
    • When your reading grows up, the way you read everything changes.

  • In addition to reading, there are all kinds of ways to access evolved thinkers, podcasts, TED talks, lectures, audio books and online courses.
  • Fill your mind with the wisdom of the ancients until now.
  • Do your therapeutic work. This bleeds over into Cleaning Up and Shadowing Up, but don’t let your own blockages get in the way of your spiritual maturity. 

        On waking up:

  • Wilber says this is accomplished through spiritual practice.
  • Think of how many hours you put into your field, or the resources we pour into our physical health, exercising our minds and bodies. Why would we assume proficiency or spiritual health without the same level of commitment? 
  • Make it a priority. When our kids tell us that they don’t want to go to school, we don’t say, “Well that’s a fight I don’t want to take on.” No, we recognize it’s essential.  Treat it as such.  Someone once told me that when volunteering required them to be at church each week, it totally changed them.
  • Develop a regular prayer practice. It matters less what it is than that it is.
  • Join a group. The accountability of assembling does wonders.
  • Get a spiritual director. This is someone who walks with you on your journey.  I’m almost to the point of saying everyone needs one.
  • Again, talk to me if you need any help with any of these.

            There are a lot of points of entry for deeper exploration.  For some, it comes through the other areas Wilber emphasizes, Cleaning Up, doing deep work with the shadow side or Showing Up by serving the world.  I think for many of us that latter is out outlet, but we can even move through service unconsciously or as a distraction without the kind of reflection that leads us into deeper communion and understanding and awareness.

            Whatever your point of entry is, what I will tell you is that if you take the spiritual path seriously, you can become like that growing up Jesus who takes these clay sparrows and claps his hand and new life takes flight. 


Quotes, Questions & Prompts for Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer

“As the wisdom holders, we need to help people find what’s important — to Grow Up by moving through the early stages of emotional maturing, Clean Up by doing shadow-up, Wake Up by doing spiritual practice, and Show Up by serving humanity in the world.” -Ken Wilber

  1. Your thinking on many things has changed since you were a child.  What about your faith? 
  2. About what things are we, as a people, not properly aware?  Attentive to?  
  3. In this most recent season of life, what have you become more alert to?
  4. What growing up do you yearn for?
  5. What things lull you/us to sleep?