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Jan 16, 2022

Grow, Know, Go

Grow, Know, Go

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: January 2022


Today's Sermon


"Grow, Know, Go"


1 Peter 2:1-5
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Proverbs 17:17
17A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

James 2:14-18
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.


Grow, Know, Go

            How did you wind up here?  How did you find yourself on a Sunday morning after your life’s story, sitting here?  I gather your answers would vary a great deal.  Maybe you’re a lifelong Christian, Presbyterian even.  Maybe a loved one dragged…er, brought you along.  Maybe something started to resonate.  Maybe you had gone away from the church and found yourself drawn back for one reason or another.  Maybe it’s one of the groups of the church that was your entry point, not Sunday morning.  Maybe it’s the service work.  Maybe you left some kind of somewhere else and this was an attempt to find a better fit. 

           The point is, there is no one way in, into a church or into the faith.  No one way is superior, though my experience is many carry some degree of judgment about their own journey.  Many fall prey to a sense of imposter syndrome.  I remember going on a spiritual pilgrimage with an interfaith group, to later find out that one of the participants had confided in another, “I don’t know if I belong here…I feel a little like a fraud.”  The essence was that thesepeople seem spiritual. Friends, we’re all spiritual.  We all belong here if we’re truly seeking (Spirit).

           This week we continue our series going line by line through the church’s Christian Identity Statement, so we can get clearer on who we are, more focused about what we do and how we articulate it with the wider community.  Today’s line: We strive to grow spiritually, to nurture friendships, and to better the world.  First, we strive to grow spiritually.   Notice there is no judgment about where you are, only the shared commitment to grow, expand, deepen.  I have an elementary school son and they’re always talking about a “growth mindset” in his school.  It can be confusing to encounter people in a church setting who seem not to want to grow, learn, or change.  Imagine signing up for a class at Spirit Rock, or College of Marin for that matter, but being determined not to learn. 

            I chose a passage from our sacred texts for each of the three elements of this line to help us delve more deeply into them.  In 1stPeter, the author says, “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander” (1 Pet. 2:1).  The first step, and one to which we must return repeatedly, is of purification, of ridding.  Too often in the West we assume the path is solely about accumulating, taking in, but growing spiritually begins with subtracting.  The mystics knew this. Martin Luther King knew it.  The first step in their activism was always purification, purgation.  In 1stPeter, Slander, envy, insincerity, guile, malice are to be shed for they impede the spiritual path. 

           Last week one of you reminded me of Lincoln’s 2ndInaugural. You’ll remember it was quite a short address especially for the time, barely 700 words.  It’s not all about volume, but insight.  That last paragraph, for a speech at a time of unbelievable division and pain in the nation, begins “With malice toward none; with charity for all…”[1]  We start with ridding ourselves of malice, that we might be filled with charity for all. Then, with attentiveness to what is right, you can set about the work of binding up the wounds.[2]  Another of you prayed last week, lamenting a climate in which you see others as totally untethered reality, recognizing that they must see you as quite the same, and you named it beautifully as grief.  That kind of wrestling with the animosity we understandably feel toward one another models an active response to the spiritual call of growth. 

           Spiritual growth is about changing the diet of consuming that which ultimately makes us sick.  What you put into your mind and your spirit manifests in your wellbeing or lack thereof.  “Like newborn infants,” says the author, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2).  Notice, salvation—rescue, liberation—is not something you “get;” it’s something you grow into.  You grow into liberation from all that to which malice, envy, guile, insincerity, and slander bind us.

           Second, nurture friendships, and by friendships think of both the secular concept of friends, nice people whose presence you and enjoy and of the spiritual notion of what the Celts call “soul friends”, those who know you deeply and draw the best from you.  Last week, one of you reminded me that Desmond Tutu once said the two things we really need in this life are love and relationships.  In a land in which we have so much, so many are starved for authentic relationships.  Those of you who have them know how precious they are.  In this so-called age of connectedness countless are morbidly lonely. 

           Proverbs, this biblical collection of wisdom, captures it with characteristic succinctness, “A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity” (Prov. 17:17).  I read somewhere this week, maybe a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, that the core of love is nonjudgment.  A friend loves at all times, no matter what.  A friend doesn’t condone at all times, but loves at all times. Could we quantify the value of kin with whom you can share adversity?  Adversity cannot be avoided; the best thing we can offer is to share it, enter into it together. 

           Fred Craddock, famed Methodist preacher, tells a story about going to lead a weekend retreat at another church.  As he arrived on a Friday, a funeral was letting out, and when he was introduced to the widow, she apologized saying she wouldn’t be at the event that night, but she would Saturday and Sunday.  Craddock responded, “Oh you don’t need to.”

            “Yes, I do,” her response surprised him. 

            “Well, what I meant was, I know it’s a very hard time,” responded Craddock.

            “I know it’s hard,” she said, “It’s already hard, but you see, this is my church, and they’re going to see that my children and I are okay.”[3]

            It used to be the dirty secret kept from the pastor that people came to church for the relationships not necessarily the preaching. I’m here to say, it’s not dirty, and there’s no need for it to be a secret.  This is, in part, meant to foster that.  We should do what we can to make more and more occasion for the kinds of relationships that carry you through this life. 

            Finally, better the world.  There is a lot of healthy examination these days of the unintended consequences of trying to do good, “toxic charity” it is often called.  Before I ever went into ministry, I earned a Master’s in Philanthropic Studies, and I came out seeing how philanthropy can so easily and often cause more harm than good.  All of that said, with that awareness if we don’t believe we have both the mandate and the ability to contribute something meaningful and helpful to the world, not from the top down, but through informed action and relationship (there’s that word again), what are we doing?  Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t try to help, you might get it wrong.”  He listened and looked for what the need was, then he helped and told us to do likewise.  And yes, we’ll get it wrong sometimes, but we mustn’t be too fragile for the critique.  Sitting it out is an act of ultimate privilege.  In the book of James, the author writes, “What good is it, my sisters and brothers, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  Can faith save you?”  If you tell someone who needs food and clothing to keep warm and eat, but “you do not supply their bodily needs, what good is that?”  (James 2:14-16).  Faith not put into action is dead.

           And, active faith, alive faith, cannot only be charity; it also has to be an effort to affect the causes of undue suffering.  Again, Desmond Tutu once said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river.  We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”  Are we as willing to go upstream?  I wonder if we are reticent to dip our toes into this work because we fear we might cause disagreement, division, discomfort?  In addition to feeding people, it is our responsibility to ask why people are hungry that goes beyond blaming them for it.  We can survive a little disagreement because, remember, if we are doing our work, we are continually ridding ourselves of all malice toward one another. 

           My guess is all of us lean naturally toward one or the other of these three. We found our way in through one – maybe spiritual-seeking, maybe relationships, maybe service or justice work.  All of this is good, and each should be points of invitations to others.  It should guide our internal ministries here and sharpen how we talk about what we’re about out in the world.  The question is, now, what sidestep might you entertain?  If you are all about good works in the world, might you deepen your study of sacred wisdom that might enhance what you do and how you do it, and that you might be bolstered for the challenges you will surely face?  If you are most at home in quiet prayer and study, might you start to extend into relationship bringing your gifts to bear and readying yourself to receive in turn?  If you have come for the kinship that gets you through adversity, might you use that as fuel to ease someone else’s adversity by working for those who are less fortunate?

           We are here to grow spiritually, know one another on a deeper level, and go out into the world to be of service in whatever ways we can, and we all can. It’s easy to remember - Grow, know, go.





[3]Fred B. Craddock, Craddock StoriesEd. Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis:  Chalice Press, 2001), 123.