Summary: Just as we need to grow physically, so we need to grow spiritually
Tonight I’m going to start by telling you a joke. A door-to-door salesman is selling encyclopaedias. He knocks on the door of a house and when the man of the house answers, the salesman begins to expound the virtues of his product. He hasn’t got very far into his sales pitch when the prospective customer says, “It’s no good to me mate, I don’t need it.” The salesman is a bit taken aback, but nonetheless he carries on and begins to detail all the knowledge contained in the volumes he is trying to sell. Again the man of the house interrupts he and says, “Look, I told you I don’t need it; I’ve got a teenage son who knows everything.”
Those of us who have had teenage children or who remember our own teens will know that it is a rather strange and difficult time. I’m not talking here about the destructive nihilism of adolescents from disadvantaged backgrounds, but about teenagers from normal, loving, supportive families.
For one thing there is this strange mixture of idealism on the one hand and self-centredness on the other. This makes it possible to agonise about world environmental issues while maintaining a personal environment of complete squalor: to worry about the destruction of the ozone layer while the 2 week old dregs of cocoa grow all sorts of interesting cultures and the month old banana skin festers quietly under the bed.
This strange mixture also makes it possible to be passionate about world peace, while at the same time flying off the handle with anyone in the family at the slightest provocation.
Then of course there is all that dreadful insecurity. All that worrying about having the right clothes, liking the right music, having the right friends in order to fit in with peers and avoid being laughed at and held up to ridicule. At the same time, there is this seeming certainty that anything that the older generation says, particularly parents, must be outdated, old fashioned, or just plain wrong.
Sometimes it seems to me that we are spiritually adolescent. By this I mean that one the one hand we have no trouble accepting the central ideas and ideals of Christianity, but on the other hand we have great difficulty with the practical application.
We know that we need God’s forgiveness and know that God wants us to forgive others, but we often find this difficult in practice. Every time we say the bit in the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” while at the same time allowing grudges and resentments to fester, like the mouldy banana skins under a teenager’s bed, we are displaying our spiritual adolescence.
When we say that we desire Christ’s peace and yet continually fail to get on with our neighbours on a day-to-day level or bicker constantly with our nearest and dearest, we are displaying our spiritual adolescence.
When we say that we long for God’s reign of justice but fail to make the same allowances for other people that we make for ourselves, we are displaying our spiritual adolescence. Believing, for example, that when I speak sharply, or am offhand with you, it is entirely excusable because I am tired, or worried, preoccupied or whatever, but when you do the same it is completely inexcusable, is hardly a sign of spiritual maturity.
We also display our spiritual adolescence when we are ashamed of our spiritual clothing. By this I mean when we seek to blend in with the world around us by adopting its ways rather than standing up for Christian values.
In a book I read recently one character says “Many people want to serve God, unfortunately they often want to serve him in an advisory capacity”. Wanting to serve God in an advisory capacity, thinking we know better than him, that our way of doing something would be better than his, is that a sign of spiritual maturity. I hardly think so!
Good human parents do not seek to keep their sons and daughters marooned in childhood forever, and they certainly don’t want to keep them perpetually embroiled in the turmoil that is adolescence. In the same way God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to grow and mature and to help us he has sent his Holy Spirit. We begin to grow and mature the minute we first allow the Holy Spirit into our lives and we then find that the more we give the Spirit free reign the more we grow and the more mature we become.
Today is, of course, Pentecost and we need look no further than this morning’s and tonight’s readings from Acts to see how the Holy Spirit changed the disciples. After the crucifixion the disciples had been afraid for their lives and locked the door of the upper room when they met together. Now they were afraid no longer. The coming of the Holy Spirit transformed disciples from fear to confidence. The Holy Spirit gave them the courage to go out into Jerusalem and to declare the resurrection of Jesus to a city whose people had so recently called for his death.