Caught in a Chrysalis
June 25, 2017 Pastor: Matt Wilcox
Topic: Following God's Call Scripture: Hebrews 5:13–6:1
This morning I want to start by telling you a story. It’s a story about Carl the Caterpillar. Carl was like every other caterpillar that we might notice while we’re strolling the Constitution Trail or that may visit the bushes around our homes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s got the brilliant green color and those distinctive black markings that make him a sight to behold. And Carl does mostly what many caterpillars do. He eats. He inches along through life and enjoys snacking on the leaves and the plants he comes across. Aside from the occasional bird scare, life is pretty good for Carl.
But like most caterpillars, Carl hears that call that many like him hear. It comes from within but also changes the way he sees everything around him. It tells him that he was meant for more than simply inching through life. It tells him that the ground is not his home. It tells him that instead of simply being afraid of the birds that he is called to glide through the air like one. It really is kind of a silly thing when Carl thinks about it. His whole life has been about the ground, about slow movements in a single direction, about eating what and when he wants. This odd sensation that he is meant to become something else, something different, and something more…well…it’s silly. But also undeniably compelling.
As I said, this calling not only echoes through his mind but it changes how he sees that which he once loved. Where once he was content to inch across the ground or over a branch, now he is sluggish and each inch feels like a mile. Before, he would barely finish one delicious leaf before fixing his eyes on the next delectable frond of vegetation. But now, he’s not hungry. Not for leaves and green things anyway. This call is telling him to begin a process of transformation. To fix himself to a branch and conceal himself in a chrysalis. While none of it really makes sense to Carl, he can’t deny that he too feels compelled to this. That, perhaps, he is made for more. It would be work but maybe it would be worth it. And so, he begins.
Don’t let anyone fool you. It’s daunting to even decide to begin this process and that’s before the work even starts. And then it’s a process of surrounding yourself with the material of the chrysalis itself. It’s foreign and somewhat confining but also oddly comforting. And when the work is done, it’s actually kind of nice. And that’s exactly what Carl experienced.
He certainly noticed the changes happening to himself though he couldn’t really see them himself. But boy was he comfortable. It was nice, actually. Being completely protected from the outside world. Not having to worry about inching from place to place. Not having to search for that next leaf or blade of grass. Carl could just relax. And that he did. Carl became comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that Carl thought to himself: “Why should I have to leave at all?”
We’ll come back to Carl later on but his story might sound or feel kind of familiar. It’s not uncommon for us to be drawn into what is comfortable and what feels safe, even if it does present some drawbacks. It takes form in some big areas of our lives and even in the tiniest. From staying in a role or career we have grown out of but are fearful to move away from to never buying any candy bar except the same one over and over in fear of getting something we don’t like as much. The power of the comfortable can hold us captive. It doesn’t necessarily hurt us, not directly or right away, but it does hold us back. Even from the two examples I just shared, we can see this. Staying in a certain career because it is the safe and comfortable choice very well may cost us the ability to live out a dream we’ve had for some time. And always buying that bag of M&M’s instead of branching could lead to never experiencing the sheer bliss that is a Milky Way or Snickers. But the same is true for our faith.
We often talk about faith in terms we might use in a garden or in a field. We tend our faith, grow our faith, nurture our faith, and even dig into our faith. That’s appropriate. Our faith is less a stone statue and more of a living, growing thing. It requires care. It moves through stages. It looks different at different times just as a stalk of growing corn or a flower might. It is a process; slow but meaningful. Our faith requires movement and growth and development as well.
At the end of chapter five, in Hebrews, we come across our text for this morning. It’s a portion of the letter that is encouraging its listeners to not give up on their faith, to not fall away. It’s a message about growing in our faith and becoming what and who God has called us to become. We’re in Hebrews 5:13-6:1.
* Read Hebrews 5:13-6:1 *
This text shows us a progression that is supposed to take place. It’s one that every parent knows well. Going from the bottle to solid food is a fun and interesting step in the whole child raising experience. And whether it is funny or just plain frustrating, we do this progression as the parent because we know our child needs more to grow. Paul talked about this very same image in 1 Corinthians 3 when he told his listeners that he intentionally gave them milk and not meat because they weren’t ready for something more yet. And here the author of Hebrews describes the same thing. Progressing and growing and moving from one thing to another. There is a call, an urging, to move: “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”
Move beyond. Grow. Become more. Our existence as followers of Christ and the faith we have in Him is a thing of movement and growth and dynamic transformation. Christ told us that He came not only to give us life but to give us life at its fullest. A life of faith is meant to be anything but stationary, sedentary, or standard. It is meant to be the stuff of renewal and conversion and innovation. It has its moments of brilliant flashes and sharp changes in direction, but it also has the steady beauty of a blossoming flower. It is both slow and immediate. It is intended to be the true work of metamorphosis. It doesn’t happen in a single moment and yet it is filled with moments of distinguishable, often inspiring difference and growth.
Daniel Migliore is a really eloquent, intelligent Presbyterian theologian and former professor from Princeton Theological Seminary. When he speaks about the development and transformation experienced in the Christian he uses the word growth and he offers some clarification. He says: “The term ‘growth’ must be used with care in reference to the Christian life. Any suggestion of an undisturbed process of development or a neatly ordered sequence of stages should be avoided. There is, to be sure, real movement in the Christian life, but it is neither quantifiable nor predictable.”
Migliore captures for us something we can often forget or maybe never consider in the first place. The Christian life is one of movement and growth but that growth is as unique as it is steady. It is different for every heart that comes in contact with the Holy Spirit just individual flowers or crops will grow at sometimes slightly and sometimes drastically different speeds and shapes. All of us, at some point, have likely experienced or are experiencing or can remember moments of growth in our faith. My question to you is this: How long has it been since you personally have seen or felt that growth, that transformation?
Being a youth worker can be an experience of incredible fun and inspiration but it can also contain moments that are tragic and painful. My call for eight years was to support and tend to and encourage the growth of faith within the students of my previous church. And there were moments where I was given witness to those moments. Like watching a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, I witnessed students become disciples of Christ and take hold of their faith in powerful ways. But I also witnessed many students who were caught in a chrysalis.
Before I go on, let’s get back to our friend – Carl the Caterpillar. When we last left Carl he was wondering why he should leave his comfy chrysalis at all. Well, that is what he decided. Carl could feel the changes that had happened when he had first entered the chrysalis but he noted to himself that he hadn’t really felt much of it for a while. Still, he was safe – if a little cramped – in his little pod. And so he stayed within longer than he was meant to. In fact, he never left. Carl spent the rest of his days in that small but safe place despite all that he was meant to do and offer to the world around him.
Now that might be a little bleak for a sermon but, in truth, it is what I witnessed more often than I ever wished when I was a youth director. I would see students make an initial decision to follow Christ and to begin the difficult work of growing in their faith. They’d enter their own chrysalis of a sort. They were sheltered within their church, the youth group. They were happy there and they were comfortable in that place and space. But when it came time to emerge from it, to go on into college or a new phase of life, well…it appeared they were caught in a chrysalis. Don’t misunderstand. They went to college or into a new phase of high school but while their lives changed, their faith did not. Their faith remained tucked within the comfortable confines of the familiar. The only thing was that as these kids grew into college students and into adults their faith remained immature, sheltered, unopened. And it began to whither.
I, nor anyone else in this world, have the ability to make a declaration of where the faith of another ends up or really what state it is in. I believe God moves in the subtlest and most intricate of ways. But from my vantage point I witnessed something that broke my heart.
Mike Yaconelli was a celebrity in the youth ministry world. He was the cofounder of Youth Specialties, one of the most renowned student ministry resourcing organizations. He trained countless youth workers who would go onto make unimaginable impacts in the lives of students. He was known for his larger-than-life personality and a truly warm presence. He wrote a book called Dangerous Wonder about what could happen if people truly embraced the call of Christ and lived out a faith without limits or restrictions or “yeah-buts”. And in that book he describes what I might have witnessed. Something that seems all too common in too many stories.
“The death of the soul is never quick. It is a slow dying, a succession of little deaths that continue until we wake up one day on the edge of God’s voice, on the fringe of God’s belovedness, beyond the adventure of God’s claim on our lives.”
Friends, this is what happens when we are caught in a chrysalis. This is what happens when our faith becomes ho-hum and our devotion to Christ becomes little more than the ritual of driving to this building once a week. It is what happens when we become comfortable within the confines of a sermon and content with our faith only filling the space within these walls. We become caught in a chrysalis, often by our own inaction or choice. In truth, it happens to many of us. But it leads to the heart break I felt as a youth worker. It leads to the end of Carl’s story. It leads to what Mike Yaconelli called the death of the soul. But it doesn’t have to.
We are not called to put up permanent residence in the chrysalis. We are called there for transformation and inspiration, and then we are called to break free and be what we were made by God to be: ambassadors and examples of Christ. Just as a butterfly inspires with the beauty of its wings, so too should our movements and presence in this world inspire. It can be and often is hard work, emerging. It requires us to leave the comfortable for the compelling, to forsake the status quo for the unknown. But even that struggle is a necessary and good thing.
Did you know that if you try and cut away the chrysalis of a butterfly to “help” you will actually be crippling that butterfly? It needs to struggle in order to strengthen and spread its wings. Without the struggle, it can never fly.
But I don’t want you to jump to any conclusion. I don’t believe all of us in this room are called to become missionaries in distant countries though maybe some are. For each of us emerging from the chrysalis will look different. And it will change and alter as time goes on. In your home it could mean no longer being content with church being the only place you look at God’s Word or pray. In a world filled with hot takes and fake news and endless advertising, what would happen if we filled our hearts and minds with the voice of God on a daily basis? Maybe it means setting a space and time in your home with your family to study God’s word together. What could happen within your family if all of you talked about and wrestled with the truths of Scripture together? In the office it could mean starting a Bible study during the lunch hour. It could mean changing the way you spend your money. It could be as personal as committing to reading your Bible each day and it can be as reaching as becoming a volunteer in our youth ministry. To decide that your story will collide with the stories of the younger ones in this church and that you would help them and encourage them. It can and will look different for all of us but one thing is sure – we can no longer stay caught in a chrysalis.