— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ 14th Sunday after Pentecost ~~~
I Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11).
Much of what preaching does for us is remind us of things we already know. If we preachers were breaking new ground, making new discoveries about the intricacies of the universe, elevating knowledge of the great mysteries in life, well, then most of us would not be qualified or able to function. Rather, we study and learn and then work to find creative ways of reminding us of truths we already know deep down are truths. It is no small thing… to remind people of what they know … because we often know things to be true and then do the opposite of what we know to be right.
This sermon… and I will borrow heavily from a sermon I heard preached by Rob Wright, Bishop of the Atlanta Diocese… is a reminder of some things we already know. It has a political tinge at the end, but I’m not telling anyone who to vote for in the upcoming elections. I will, however, remind us of what we might want to be looking for in our candidates and anyone we might place in a leadership role.
Here’s something we know –
adults should be mature
and open to growing in wisdom and truth.
Adults should think of others,
listen to others,
be willing to learn from others.
We know this about who we should be as adults
and we also know that it takes work, practice
to grow into wisdom and maturity.
We all are capable of this kind of growth
but we all do not do the work necessary
to become better at being mature adults
who seek after growth in wisdom, truth, love.
Here’s something else we know –
we should select in church and state –
leaders who demonstrate maturity,
who embody wisdom,
who model for us how we should live and who we can become.
One of the things that is troubling to me at this point in our world and national history is there seems to be taking hold of our body politic a destructive combination of moral nihilism and cut-throat, win at all costs forms of capitalism and political contests.
Moral nihilism is a belief that there are no “should-s”
and that no behavior is any better than any other behavior.
With this mind-set there is no difference between
respecting political opponents and poisoning them.
With the rejection of moral truths as guides for behavior
it is no different to lie than to tell the truth,
no different to think of the free press as the enemy of the people
or as necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
With moral nihilism
we don’t have the concept of a mature, wise adult;
rather, all we have are people pursuing whatever
it is that makes them happy
with no regard for what is right and what is wrong.
You combine this nihilism with the win at all costs mentality in business and politics and what you get is rule-less, moral-less, grasping after the reigns of power. What is left in the wake of such behavior is any semblance of democracy, equality under the law, fairness, truth, wisdom.
But let me bring us back to what is a fairly straight forward and helpful sermon given by Bishop Wright. Bishop Rob Wright of the Atlanta Diocese spoke to the incoming class at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School several years ago. Bishop Wright has a son who attends the school. I went to hear what he would say. Rob Wright started his career as a chaplain in a boarding school in New York and his ability to speak to young people is well known. He is also known to be a very fine preacher. I was grateful to have the chance to hear him. He did not disappoint.
I had a chance to speak with him for a few minutes after the convocation. He told me that what he said to the young people is pretty much what he says in his wedding homilies. He tells people getting married that marriage is for grown-ups, and he supports his message with the verse from Paul we just read.
When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult,
I put an end to childish ways
(I Corinthians 13:11).
The structure of Bishop Wrights speech to the student body at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School (and I assume when he preaches it at weddings) is simple. He asks the question – What is the difference between being childish and putting away childish ways when it comes to love of one another? Here’s some of what he said…from memory… so don’t expect word for word recounting on my part. I think I’m being faithful to his message. If not, it’s still a good message and I stand by it.
Paul said – “When I was a child a spoke like a child.” How do children talk; what is one of the early words a baby learns? Quite often the first word a baby learns to use and use very often is the word – “Mine!” “Mine, mine, mine,” the child will say or cry or demand. To put away childish speaking, said Bishop Wright, is to move in our language and in our hearts from “Mine” to … “Ours.” If we want to grow in love and in our discipleship and in wisdom and truth, if we aim to become mature adults we will begin to think beyond self-centered desires and think about what is good for others, good for the communities in which we live, good for the world we inhabit.
Paul said – “When I was a child…I thought like a child.” How do children think? Quite often a child thinks that she or he is always right! My thoughts are the best thoughts…my thoughts are the only important thoughts… my thoughts are all that matter. To think like a child is to be certain that you have within yourself all you need to know and you have all the information you need to have and you are the clearest of everyone else in the room on what is the best thing to do or way to be. To put away childish ways is to have a spirit that is open to learning from others, to discovering new information, to letting someone offer you a new slant on old information. To become a grown-up requires and openness to learning from others and throughout time.
Paul said – “When I was a child…I reasoned like a child.” This is related to thought, but there is a slight variance to it. Reason is how we talk in our heads and in public and a child’s way of reasoning is to talk, talk, talk without ever listening to anyone else. Quite often this talkativeness is born of a defensiveness and a desire to insulate oneself from change. To put away childish ways is to do less talking and more listening. To become a mature, grown-up, functioning adult is to listen to others and learn from others.
To put away childish things, then, is to move from
“mine” to “ours,”“closed” to “open,”
“talking” to “listening.”
Bishop Wright said at the beginning of this sermon that he knew for a fact that “youth is fleeting, but immaturity can last a lifetime.” Don’t we know it!
So, here’s the political tinge to the sermon…
when you vote, as you should in a democracy,
vote for mature people.
Look for and vote for people who show the ability
to act like grownups.
When you enter the voting booth or fill out your absentee ballot, ask these questions:
Who can help us as a community, as a nation
move from selfishness to generosity?
Who can help us learn how to be open to the gifts of others? Who can we trust will listen
to the needs of the people of our community, our nation?
We have the knowledge of the candidates, I think,
to discern the right choices.
Let us put an end to childish ways .