Sermon preached May 10, 2009 (Confirmation, Mother’s Day)
Texts: I John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
A Mom asks her son who has just rushed in from school, “Do you want dinner?” “What are my choices?” he asks. “Yes or no,” replies his mother. The comedian Buddy Hackett used to say that his family menu when he was growing up had two items – take it or leave it.
As human beings we make choices. It is an important part of what it means to be human – making choices. We are a “choosey people.” But just because we are a choosey people in that sense does not mean we are a choosey people in the other sense – people who tend to make good choices. The fact is in all our choosing, we will make some good and some not so good decisions. I recently came across this list of signs that tell you you made a poor hotel choice:
• The complimentary news paper tells you that President Nixon just resigned
• The mint on the pillow starts moving when you come close to it
• Behind the picture on the wall are holes left by previous guests
• You have to wait until the guy next door is done with the towel so you can use it
• There’s a chalk outline on the bed when you pull back the covers
• The continental breakfast comes from the day old bakery next door
Unfortunately, we have all probably stayed at a place like that at least once in our lives. I remember the year I was appointed a district superintendent and had a training meeting in North Carolina. Our family decided to take a few vacation days and travel to Florida. We made an on-line hotel reservation in Orlando. When we arrived at our hotel we discovered that the room we had had a door to the outside and that door had a big enough gap on the bottom to accommodate small animals. We left that hotel.
Hopefully, the poor choices we make in life are about little things like hotels, or meals, or clothes (you know, the shirt you buy that looks great in the store but when you get it home somehow the trip transformed it into something hideous). We can probably not avoid every poor choice we will make in life, but one thing is certain, we cannot not choose - we are a choosey people.
The Scriptures that members of last year’s confirmation class, read, affirm that about human beings – that we have to make choices. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the disciples over and over again, “abide in me.” They have a choice. They can abide in Jesus or not. They can continue down the road of faith, they can choose to endure, or not. Eugene Peterson translates “abide” as “make you home with.” Jesus is telling the disciples that they will need to choose again and again to make their home in Jesus and let him live in them.
In I John, early Christians are also asked to choose. They are asked to choose love – “let us love one another.” The writer makes his point strongly. You cannot claim to love God while not loving others – your sisters and brothers in the community of faith, your sisters and brothers in the world around you.
God created us as choosey people, as people with the power to choose.
Confirmation is about choices, about informed choices. This year’s confirmation class has been together and Julie and I have been their teachers for the past two years. It has been our pleasure to work with you. Before saying more about the content of confirmation, I want to say a few words about the class members.
Edited for privacy purposes
And so we have all been together for these past two years learning about being choosey people, learning about making informed choices.
Confirmation is about informed choices. At the end of confirmation you get to choose – will I celebrate the completion of confirmation, will I also affirm Christian faith, will I also join the church? Confirmation is about making adult choices about life and faith and church, but making such choices requires some information. How do you make choices when you don’t really know what the choices are? So we have talked together about Christian faith. Last year we focused on different passages from the Bible to talk about faith and life: the creation story to talk about God’s creativity and our responsibility for the environment, the story of Moses to talk about what it might mean to be a reluctant leader, the story of David to see how God uses even very flawed people to accomplish wonderful things, the prophets demand for justice, Jesus as teacher and healer, his death teaching us that God never leaves us even in the bleakest moments, and his resurrection which tells us that we are never without hope. We looked at New Testament letters to discover what living together in faith and grace is about. This year we spent time focused again on Jesus, God and the Bible. Then we talked about the church and The United Methodist Church. We talked about prayer and prayed. We talked about living Christian faith through compassion, justice, care for creation and breaking down barriers, and we concluded by discussing making choices as Christians.
Making choices – God created us to be a choosey people, people who need to choose. Now you in this year’s confirmation class know more about what choosing to be a Christian is all about, and the choice is yours. But the choice to live as a disciple of Jesus, to live Christian faith is not a once and for all choice. It is a part of the choices we make every day – not so much the choices of what to wear or what to eat, but the choices of who we will be, of what kind of person we want to be, of how we will treat others, of how we will live in relationship to others and to the world and to God.
In a few moments I am going to ask you – “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?” Evil and wickedness will not disappear because you say “I do.” We watched part of the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird” to help us understand the strange language of “spiritual forces of wickedness” – and we saw them. Spiritual forces of wickedness are those attitudes and structures that dehumanize others. Tom Robinson, an African-American man is routinely called “boy.” It is a spiritual force of wickedness which entrapped many. The prosecuting attorney is shocked that Tom feels pity for a white woman, as if an African-American is incapable of this human emotion. While the film is set in the south during the depression, such dehumanizing attitudes have not gone from the planet, and you will choose whether or not to continue to reject them. We see spiritual forces of wickedness when we hear the story of a man whose entire life was torn apart by drug use, and he ended up shooting himself in a police stand-off – not in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago, but up the North Shore (Quincy Pederson). We see spiritual forces of wickedness when we see stories about human trafficking, as on Frontline this past Tuesday night. There I was at home thinking about confirmation and how best to explain the strange language of spiritual forces of wickedness, and there they were.
Then you will be asked, “Will you use the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” And we watched as Atticus Finch used his freedom, his intellect, his integrity to defend Tom Robinson, and we can look to Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others to teach us what this means. But we will have to choose again and again and again to use our freedom and power wisely and well.
Then I will ask you, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace and promise to serve him as Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to all people.” As I think about this question I am reminded of the words author David Foster Wallace used at the commencement address for Kenyon College in 2005, now published as This is Water: Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship eats you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life –then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough…. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. You don’t get to choose whether or not to worship, but you do get to choose what to worship, and you have to make that choice again and again.
Such choices, even when informed choices may seem like a lot to ask of fourteen and fifteen year olds, but you are making all kinds of choices about your lives right now, and the choice of how you will use your freedom, your power, your gifts, the choice of what you will worship happens now. But this choice is not just made once, now. All of us need to keep making choices about how we will use our freedom and power. All of us need to keep making choices about who or what we will worship. All of us need to make choices about renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness, about resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
So today as you are making choices about abiding with Jesus, about living with integrity and love, about renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness, about resisting evil, injustice and oppression, about who you will worship and who you will follow, we make these choices again. Today you make choices and I invite you to build on these choices in the years to come. We are here as a church to help you do that and you join us to help us do that too.
The writer Ernest Becker once wrote: religion is an experience and not merely a set of intellectual concepts to meditate upon, it has to be lived (Denial of Death, 272). Christian faith is not a single choice, but continuing choices about life. It is not simply what you learn in confirmation, it is how you live your life from here on out. Continue to look to Jesus. Continue to struggle against all that dehumanizes. Continue to use your freedom and power to love. We are with you. God is with us all. We can love because we were first loved by God. It is up to us to respond to that love as we choose, day in and day out. Amen.