Change: Growing Young

Change: Time
A Message on 1 Timothy 4:11-16
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 3, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

1 Timothy 4:11-16 (NRSV)

These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

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This was supposed to be Confirmation Sunday. We were supposed to have some young folks that are in our confirmation class leading us in worship. The 15 of them (yes, it’s a large class for us this year) would have spent the last 12 weeks meeting with me once a week, meeting with their adult mentors once a week, and have gone through a confirmation book that delves into the various aspects and topics of Christianity and particularly what it means to be a United Methodist.

As you can see that is not happening. We were several weeks into the classes when COVID-19 forced us to stop meeting. When it became apparent that we would not be able to meet during the rest of the spring school year, we made the decision to move Confirmation Sunday to the fall. We will start classes after we are able to meet together and will celebrate their great accomplishments sometime this fall.

Because of all this I started to change the scriptures for today. We are in the midst of a sermon series titled “Change” dealing with the things in our lives–and in the church–that change. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that we should leave it alone and go ahead and explore this scripture from 1 Timothy because I think it can apply to all of us, regardless of our age.

The book of 1 Timothy is considered one of the “Pauline Epistles,” which is a fancy way of saying it is one of the letters written by the apostle Paul. He is writing to his young protege named Timothy and it is chock full o’ advice and wisdom that Paul is passing down.

The first sentence of the passage that we read today says this, “These are the things you must insist on and teach.” Okay, so what things are those?

If we back up a bit we find out. If we go all the way back to the first chapter we see Paul warning about false teachers and how important it is to express gratitude for the mercy God extends us through Jesus Christ.

In chapter 2 he discusses prayer and the often debated advice that women should remain silent and not teach or “have authority” over a man. (That is another sermon for another day.)

In chapter 3 Paul tells Timothy of the qualifications for bishops and deacons. He finishes the chapter by talking about the mystery of our religion.

In chapter 4 he speaks against false asceticism (severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence). He tells Timothy to not get involved in myths and “wives tales” but to “train yourself in godliness.” Then we get to the scripture we read today.

So Paul is giving Timothy advice just as our confirmation mentors give advice to their confirmands.

One of the pieces of advice he gives is to not let people dismiss you just because you are young.

I remember back when I was young. Yes, it was a long time ago and my kids think I have always been an old man, but I was young. I can remember adults not taking me seriously because I was young. Now I’m the old man that wants to yell, “Get off my yard!”

It’s a common phenomena. With age comes wisdom, and so as a result many of us… ahem… older folks believe that our age and experience make us wiser. And while I believe that is certainly true to an extent, we can also be quick to dismiss something that those of us much younger than us might believe.

Aging is an interesting thing. It is part of our world that changes. Our bodies age a little every day. It may be almost imperceptible to us as the days go by one after another, but it does happen.

During the first part of our lives, when we are kids, we want to be older. We can’t wait to be tall enough to ride the “big rides” at Six Flags (“You must be this tall to ride this ride.”) or to be able to ride a bicycle without training wheels. We can’t wait to be old enough to get our drivers license (although that is often not the case today), to graduate from high school, to be able to vote, to turn 21 (for some strange reason), to meet the love of our life, and to have a stable, nice income.

And then ironically in our older years we wish we were younger. We wish we didn’t have what I call Rice Krispies knees (they snap, crackle, and pop), that we didn’t get out breath so easily, that our eyes and ears worked the way they used to, and that we would again dream dreams and look forward to the future.

We change when we age, both physically and emotionally. I think we change spiritually as well.

It has been said by others much more intelligent than I that when it comes to our faith we are either moving toward being more like Jesus or moving away from that. There is no staying the same. It contradicts one of those laws of physics that says an object going up will stop momentarily before coming back down. Our faith is in perpetual motion, either going toward Christ or away from him.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago when we talked about “time,” the concept of time is pretty much a human construct. We base time on the rotation of the earth and the earth around the sun. And yet God transcends time and space. There never was a time when God was not.

Getting old is a human condition. We age. Most of the cells in our body regenerate but eventually for a variety of reasons that regeneration starts to break down. Our skin loses its elasticity and we get things that we call “wrinkles.” Our eyes lose their flexibility to focus and our lenses can become clouded, what we call “cataracts.” The cells in our brain change and we don’t remember things as well as we used to.

We change. We age. We grow old. But God does not. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Earlier during the Children’s Message Natalie talked about Peter Pan, who was known as the boy who never grew old. That fact is even in the official title of the play, which is “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”

The story and play was written by J.M. Barrie back in the early 1900s. What you may not be aware of, however, is that it is believed that Barrie based much of his character Peter Pan on his older brother, David, who died at 14 years old in an ice skating accident. Barrie and his mother thought of the deceased David as being a boy forever. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now I know that’s sad and kind of a downer, but the point I want to make is that the character of Peter Pan is upbeat and lively. He exhibits both the innocence and curiosity of a child, and yet the bravery of an adult, saying “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

If you think about it, as Christians we should almost be growing young spiritually while we are growing old physically. Hear me out on this.

When the little kids were coming to Jesus and the disciples tried to shoo them away, Jesus told the disciples to stop it and let the kids come to him, adding, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” — Mark 10:15

In Matthew 18:1-5 it says, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

So maybe spiritually we are to be like children? Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t mature in our faith as well, but for us to keep certain characteristics that children have in our spiritual life.

What kind of things? Things like wonder and awe, excitement and anticipation. Being able to believe without seeing. To have trust in others and to expect the best from people without judging them for their skin color, what language they speak, or where they are on the socioeconomic ladder.

To love their parents and seek wisdom from them. To know the comfort of being tucked into bed and kissed goodnight. To know who to run to when they get hurt, and to feel the care and compassion as they treat their “boo-boos.”

So maybe, just maybe, as our bodies are growing old our spirits should be growing young?

Years ago the late Rich Mullins wrote a song titled, “Growing Young,” based primarily on the parable of the prodigal son. Here are some of the lyrics:

I’ve gone so far from my home
I’ve seen the world and I have known
So many secrets
I wish now I did not know
‘Cause they have crept into my heart
They have left it cold and dark
And bleeding,
Bleeding and falling apart

And everybody used to tell me big boys don’t cry
Well I’ve been around enough to know that that was the lie
That held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons
Well we are children no more, we have sinned and grown old
And our Father still waits and He watches down the road
To see the crying boys come running back to His arms
And be growing young
Growing young

So what happens when our faith has those childlike characteristics? We become closer to Jesus. We live in ways pleasing to God, and draw closer to God. And we change our behavior.

As Paul tells us in the scripture we read today: “…set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

In other words, don’t just talk the talk. Our actions, what we say, how we act, must be done in “love, in faith, in purity.”

Let me give you an example. There are groups of us United Methodist Pastors who talk to each other regularly. We have a group that meets by Zoom once a week, and I am on several Facebook groups where pastors can share concerns or seek the advice of other pastors.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak and the suspending of in-person worship services one of the big questions on everyone’s mind is, “When will we be able to worship in-person again?”

Here at JFUMC our CLC met this last week and made the decision that we would not meet in-person until June 7 at the earliest. This decision was made after hours and hours of reading reports, watching videos of experts, and prayer.

I think that date is pretty much the one that a majority of United Methodist Churches are aiming for. And as expected, there are some church members who disagree with that.

However, there’s a difference between disagreeing with something and being mean about it. Some of my colleagues have been sharing how some people in their congregation are responding to the decision to delay in-person worship, and frankly some of them aren’t very nice about it.

Now I want to say I am proud of the congregation here in Jacksonville. I know congregation members here who disagree with our decision, but they are nice and respectful about it. It is done in love. And boy, do I appreciate that!

But other pastors have shared where congregation members have disagreed in… how should I put this… “non-loving” ways. Well, really, in mean ways.

The term “mean Christians” should be an oxymoron, a phrase that contradicts itself. And if these “mean Christians” treat their pastor that way, how are they treating others they come into contact with, especially those unchurched people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Hmmmm.

No. “Growing young” means growing in faith, growing in Christ, and living like Jesus.

So, my challenge to you this week is to be “growing young.” No matter your age, no matter the shape of your physical body, seek to grow young in your faith and in “love, in faith, in purity.” Remember the sacrifice Jesus made for you–and for everyone–on the cross, and respond to that gift of grace not with meanness, but with love.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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