Confirmation Sunday-September 17 2017
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
For the past several months, these five youth spent their Sunday morning, in the hour preceding worship, learning together with their adult mentors. As a church, we owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Hazel Mitcham, Denny Petty, and Libby Goodwin. They have done the long slow work of preparing these five youth to take vows of baptism and membership this morning. I hope that the time shared among the youth and their mentors is an indelible mark on their life of faith in Jesus Christ.
Aaron, Miquel, Anna, Tommy, and Micah, let me start by saying that I’m incredibly proud of you and excited for you. I hope that years, even decades from now, you’ll look back on this day and it will be one of the defining moments in your life. My prayer for you is that with each new day you stand more in awe of the vows you just took than the day before. You should never lose your sense of wonder in declaring the lordship of Jesus Christ, in demonstrating your commitment to create an inclusive church, and in stomping out evil with good.
It could be years or it could be next week when each of your vows will take on a new weight and urgency. There will be moments when you see with absolute clarity the evil, twisted ways that human beings inflict suffering upon one another. Among your peers, bullying is prevalent enough to drive classmates and fellow students to end their own lives. Remember your baptismal vow calls for your rejection of evil power and to turn in a new direction when you miss the mark yourself.
There will be moments when the suffering of your neighbor is overwhelming and acts of compassion and charity just aren’t enough. Room in the Inn provides a night of shelter and warmth for our neighbors who are homeless; we can’t let chronic homelessness be normal. May you be compelled to ease your neighbor’s suffering and then wreck the unjust system that keeps your neighbor enslaved and oppressed. Remember your baptismal vow calls you to resist injustice and oppression in every form.
You love this church and it loves you. One day Christ’s church will disappoint you if it hasn’t already. Even when it does, remember that your baptismal vow calls you to serve Jesus Christ as part of the universal church. Christ has opened his church to all ages, nations, and races. Remember that for the church All means All. No exceptions. Everyone has a place prepared for them here, to experience grace, to find community, to glimpse the presence of God Almighty. Under your watch, may it also be so.
Your baptismal and membership vows can give you direction in life, and even inspire your vocational plans. That’s not my way of saying that you should enter the ministry-it’s my way of saying that the Spirit of God has gifted you, given the tools to live out your faith in a visible way, and even in your professional work, you can manifest your faith in Christ.
In other words, whether you’re in class, with family, on the sports field, off at college, or working in your first job, I want you to bear the marks of Christian faith. I want you to be a Christian in the best sense of the word, not in the annoying way that is off putting and condemning of others. Your friends and family should be able to say of you that you are humble, empathetic, hospitable and welcoming, self-giving, joyful, and hopeful. You should be working daily to become a clear reflection of Jesus Christ to others. When others see you, they see Jesus. This is not quick or easy work-it is the kind of work that lasts a lifetime and is best done in community. Those seated around you will nurture you in this work of growing in grace and becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.
And to the entire church, I entrust Aaron, Miquel, Anna, Tommy, and Micah to your care. You have loved and cared for them long before this day and I know that will continue long into the future. They have done something sacred today, for four of them, they confirmed for themselves the vows that were made at their baptism. For one, he professed his faith and took those vows for the first time. They are full members of the church now. It’s not entry into an exclusive club or a designation that should be lorded over those who are not members. Far from it, church membership is a responsibility more than it is a set of privileges. It is a commitment to serve, to lead, to imagine new ways of being in ministry with our neighbors, to deeply involve one’s self in the life giving ministry taking place in this corner of Christ’s universal church.
For those of you who have taken those baptismal and membership vows, you will be some of the best teachers for these young people. You can model what grace looks like even in difficult situations. You can share how the grace of God has shaped your own life in different seasons. I hope a trust grows in this place so that the daunting questions of faith and doubt can be asked, received, held, and talked through. And I hope you’ll be willing to listen well and deeply to the formative experiences that have brought these young people thus far. We have ample opportunity to share and to teach as we become more faithful and fruitful followers of Jesus Christ.
I have certainly lifted baptism, confirmation, and church membership up quite high today. I believe that in the life of faith these are major milestones or waypoints along the way. It’s like marriage anniversaries, one year, five years, ten years, twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty. Reaching one of these waypoints is not the conclusion, just a way to measure time and distance traveled.
Baptism, confirmation, and church membership are not desired ends in and of themselves-you don’t get baptized just to get baptized and call it one and done. You get baptized to experience God’s grace because you want to pursue the love of God. You don’t join the membership of the church because it’s just something you do. You join the membership of the church to publicly declare that you’re ready to pursue the likeness of Jesus Christ in every facet of life, while sharing that pursuit in community.
Baptism and confirmation point past themselves, always to the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. For those of you who have not yet experienced baptism or taken vows of membership, I hope you’ll look toward these confirmands and what they’ve done today. They’ve taken vows that will shape their life with God until their dying days. They’ve made the commitment to fully share in the ministry of this community until they’re planted elsewhere. When you’re ready, let me know and we’ll carve up time in our worship of Almighty God for you to do as these confirmands have done.