We think life will be easier when we are wealthier, have a different job, are in a relationship/out of a relationship, or in a different home. And? Rev. John Weems considers how we navigate life’s perpetual growing pains.
1 Peter 2:2-5; 9-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
My mom carried me through the heart of a cold Idaho winter.
And she carried . . . and carried . . . and carried. Finally, four weeks after the due date and battling toxemia that nearly took her life, my dear mama gave birth via C-section. She says that Dr. Stone told her that my brown eyes were wide open staring at him, ready to join the world weighing more than 10 pounds. Dr. Stone predicted that I would be 6’9.” As I spent my first 14 years in a town as basketball obsessed as the movie Hoosiers with the varsity coach less than a block away, I envisioned a future as a basketball star. Though I was about as coordinated as a baby giraffe and had no ball handling skills, I was the tallest kid in my class and even had to start shaving in sixth grade. As I grew nine inches between seventh and eighth grade, Dr. Stone’s prediction appeared to becoming true.
At the end of eighth grade, our family moved about 50 miles north to a town just south of the Sun Valley ski resort. I was excited, especially to play basketball. What I didn’t know was that rumors had already started to spread about the new kid. I had met a teacher from my new school, who told everyone that I was at least 6’5” in eighth grade. When I arrived to meet my new teammates, they looked at me with great disappointment. I was the same height I am now—barely 6 feet tall with thick-soled shoes and big hair. Dr. Stone was incorrect. My growth had stopped, and the market for a relatively short center with minimal ball handling skills is rather weak. By the sophomore year of high school, my days of playing organized basketball were over.
Though I couldn’t articulate this at the time, my identity was in disarray.
I could not foresee how my halted physical growth would play a major role in forcing me to wrestle with matters deeper than sports and live into a new identity.
What about you? Have you assumed you would follow a certain path in life, only to have circumstances force you to find a different route?
Today’s Scripture lesson from First Peter was addressed to a group of people who were struggling to find their identity as followers of Jesus in relation to the rest of society. The letter was likely written approximately 80 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Professor Pheme Perkins of Boston College explains that the First Peter community consisted of “Those who had no claim to being a people have become God’s people.”  I do want to emphasize that the “chosen race” and “holy nation” language is not a license for groups to use as a supremacist weapon to oppress. The emphasis was on finding placing God first. The early Christians couldn’t quote agree upon how to do that.
There was infighting in the group and in some cases accusations and charges from outside the group. As I shared a couple of weeks ago, local governor Pliny the Younger didn’t really know what to make of these new believers. Some of these early Jesus followers thought they should isolate themselves from the rest of society, while others could not afford to separate because they had to work for or do business with people of different beliefs.
The letter calls them seek “pure, spiritual milk” as they grow. This idea was in part derived from the philosopher Philo in On Husbandry, who wrote about the need for milk-like nourishment for the soul. First Peter is calling people to humble themselves in the name of Jesus—the rejected living stone—and allow themselves to be shaped like an infant or uncut stone.
This growth and shaping imagery is powerful. Oikodomeisthe, Greek for, “let yourselves be built,” is in the passive imperative tense and is a reminder that we are not 100 percent in charge. People longed for control over their destinies, just as we do today. We are inundated with messages intended to make us anxious about our identity and take control in some way—buy this, sell that, vote for this, click on that. The Scripture reminds us that our deepest and truest identity comes not through our buildings or possessions or titles, but in relation to our Creator.
Colleen, my wife and Chief Wisdom Officer, shared some interesting insights from a book by researcher and author Brené Brown. In Rising Strong, Brown writes that, “Two of the most common messages that trigger shame in all of us are “never good enough” and “who do you think you are?” Dr. Brown explains that she will sometimes compensate for these shame triggers by engaging in feelings of self-righteousness toward others, calling those she deems inferior “sewer rats and scofflaws.” Brown’s therapist challenged her to consider whether people were just doing the best they could.
To Brown, the idea of people just “doing the best they could” seemed like a cop out. It frustrated her and sent her on a research journey that included Brown asking the question of a friend she really respected. “Do you think that, in general, people are doing the best they can?”
“Oh, hell no!” the friend exclaimed. Brown was thrilled to have found a fellow hater of sewer rats, until the friend proceeded. “Let’s take breastfeeding, for example.” The friend went on to say how she had endured pain and infections and that if someone isn’t willing to breastfeed for at least a year, then they should reconsider having children. “Quitting is lazy,” the friend said. “And if quitting really is your best, maybe your best isn’t good enough.”
The friend didn’t know that Brown had tried to breastfeed, but had complications and just couldn’t. Brown said nothing to her judgmental friend. She wanted to tell her that she loved her kids as much as anyone else and didn’t feel that mothers should be judged like that.
Brown was convicted her own judgment of others.
Troubled, Brown had a conversation with her pediatrician husband that night.
She asked him, “Do you think that, in general, people are doing the best they can?”
After thinking for a long time, he said, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
I’m well aware that there is a fine line between assuming one’s best intent and endorsing mediocrity. There are times when we all need to be challenged and coached up to live to our full potential. I do not believe that everyone should get a trophy for remembering to wear pants.
That said, there are times when we need a boost.
One of the blessings and challenges my mom provided came in four words: “Get up. You’re fine.” During those clumsy baby giraffe years, I fell down quite often. I have distinct memories of hearing my mom say it if she was nearby when I fell: “Get up. You’re fine.” To this day, if I literally or figuratively fall down, I still hear my mom saying that.
At the church I formerly served in Lafayette, we hosted a homeless shelter for two weeks each year. One of our volunteers named David was playing with some children when he fell down on the carpet. After about 30 seconds, I made my way over and reached out my hand, along with the four magic words: “Get up. You’re fine.”
David looked up at me, and said, “I can’t,” as beads of sweat started to appear on his brow. As often seems to be the case at Presbyterian Churches, a doctor was in the house. He pulled me aside and said, “John, look at David’s foot and leg. It’s not supposed to turn that way.” David was severely injured. He needed paramedics and a stretcher and a surgery and several months of physical therapy. At that moment, he didn’t need me saying, “Get up. You’re fine.”
Here at Calvary, we often lift up some version of the sentiment, “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
I firmly believe that is the case.
We are surrounded by people in this church and in our neighborhoods who are doing the best they can.
We have students stressed out as the school year comes to a close.
Perhaps the person who relentlessly criticizes you, was criticized by someone along the way.
We have neighbors who project an image of perfection and are feeling suffocated by the façade. Others are in dire need of affordable housing, food, or employment.
Sometimes we need to be told, “Get up, you’re fine.”
But there are other times when we live into our call when we see someone through the compassionate eyes of Jesus because they really are doing the best that they can.
We are all here together, seeking the spiritual milk that will shape and form us.
 Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude: Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 40-44.
 Philo, On Husbandry 8-9, in Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude: Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 40-44.
 Perkins, 42-44.
 Brené Brown, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Reprint ed. (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2017), 99-123.
 Brown, 113.