I suspect most parents learned, with exasperation, all about growth spurts. And how hard it was to keep their children in clothes and shoes that fit. The solutions in the Kempf house, where mom and dad had 5 boys to tend to, were twofold. Hand me downs. I had more than my share of those. And we had clothes that were bought ‘with room to grow’. Mom would put cuffs on those ‘longer than we needed at the moment’ pants, make us wear an extra thick pair of socks with our oversized shoes, and then, when we ‘grew into them’ – would let the cuffs out and give us normal socks, and we’d be fine. It was a practical way to stretch the clothing dollar in the Kempf house. Buying clothes with “Room to grow” was a way to make sure we got all the use we could of the clothes we wore.
Sometimes the most important truths we learn in life take time to “grow into” as well. It takes time, maturity, repeated failures and the resulting life wisdom to understand fully, or to live fully, the deep truths of life. We know that in our relationships. And in our parenting and pastoring. The tasks we are called to do and the people we are invited to be, take time to grow into.
Paul knew that as he set forth these simple, yet profound words that were a gauntlet of challenge for the people of his time. “In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you all are one in Christ.” Many will argue, and correctly, that the church and our society have not yet grown into that set of clothes even now. So it is okay to kill the pre-born, it is okay to put the elderly to death. It is okay to go into an LGTB nightclub in Orlando and start shooting. Corporately and as individuals, we still do not see and stand in that radical equality before God that is ours by grace. We have room to grow.
But even more so, we learn about ‘growing into’ truths in today’s gospel. Peter and the disciples were pretty happy that they had passed the pop quiz. “Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?” They all got the first one right. Simon Peter got the second one correct for them all. But, like a parent with kids in the middle of a growth spurt, Jesus warned them that they had some ‘room to grow’ in WHAT this meant.
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” That is part of what it means to be the messiah. But Jesus does not stop there. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
That is the “growing into” that I need you to be about, Jesus tells his disciples. It is not enough to ascribe to me the title messiah. Anyone can say that. But if you are to be my disciple, then, as I have done and will do, so you must do. That is the growing into the clothes of discipleship Jesus wants us to do. So, what does that look like? We know what cuffed pants and oversized socks look like. But:
Who do I say Jesus is in the usual post Orlando debate about guns and gun violence? Will be another example of people wringing their hands, and feeling sorry, but nothing more happening? Will I lend my voice and vote to likely strategies to prevent even more guns to find their way to the streets?
Who do I say Jesus is in the prejudices I still nurture, the judgments I utter, and the gossip I pass on in the office or at the pool?
Who do I say Jesus is – in the prayers that I say and the time I set aside to spend with the Lord?
Finally, Who do I say Jesus is in the forgiveness I offer my fellow human beings; the charity I extend to those in need, and the compassionate concern I show to those whose life has taken an unexpected turn for the worse?
I never liked that phrase “Room to grow” when I was shopping for clothes with mom. But in my life of faith, it is the only reality that matters. You see, there is ALWAYS room to grow in the life we live as Christians. There is always room to grow in our understanding of the practical consequences of saying Jesus is the messiah.
And you, who do you say Jesus is?