Sermon preached May 16, 2010
Text: Acts 16:16-34
I am going to begin this confirmation sermon with a brief quote from one of the great theological voices of the last century. Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. Dr. Seuss.
Sara, Katie, Megan, Eli, Cali, and Emily, today is your day. Thank you for sharing it with 200 + of your new closest friends. Today is the culmination of two years of confirmation – last year you were wonderfully taught by Anne Miller, and this year, Julie and I, with help from our son, David, were your teachers. This year, we used episodes from the Bible to try and describe some of the important parts of being a Christian, of being a follower of Jesus, of having trust in God and committing yourselves to live with faith, hope and love. We tried to make some of the Bible stories come alive with art and movies and music. We took a “Magical Mystery Tour” with Abraham and Sarah. We made Dionne Warwick’s “Promises, Promises” a theme song for God’s relationship with Abraham and Sarah. “We Are Family” described Jacob’s twelve sons. Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” helped us understand something of the story of Moses. It also helps us understand what God desires for humanity – freedom and new life. Along the way we heard the incredible story of David and how this unbelievably flawed person could still be remembered so lovingly in the Bible. We watched scenes from “Jazz” and “Hotel Rwanda” to get a better understanding of the prophets concern for justice, for peace and reconciliation. Garth Brooks video, “We Shall Be Free” summed that up nicely. We spent a number of weeks looking at the life of Jesus because for Christians his life tells us something about who God is and how we should live in relationship with God.
Of course, there were some wonderful games along the way, especially thanks to Julie who is much more creative in that department than I am.
Along the way we talked about some hard questions you all asked. “Why do people let their faith get in the way of being a good, loving person?” “What age do you see people when you are in heaven?” (22 – kidding) “If someone goes to church every Sunday, but is not a good person, would they still be a good Christian?” “How do we know if the Bible and Jesus are real or telling us the truth is the Bible has been written so many times?” This class has asked a lot of questions, and I asked them questions, too.
I shouldn’t give the impression that this group talked all the time, because that isn’t true. They can be quiet, very quiet. Sara is quiet, but when some other commitments made Wednesdays difficult, we worked together on-line to complete confirmation. I appreciated her willingness to hang in there with this unique way of managing part of confirmation. For Megan, who moved to Bemidji this year, on-line work was a necessity, but she was determined to work toward being confirmed in this place where she was baptized and did cart wheels. I appreciated her determination. Speaking of determination and a willing spirit, Eli demonstrated that. You may have noticed that he is unique among this year’s class – the only young man. The situation was different in class as eighth and ninth grade met together this year, still he was there, the only young man being confirmed, and he was thoughtful and displayed his good heart. Katie, too, is extraordinarily thoughtful in her faith. She has some deep questions and is willing to ask them. We see her helping out with worship a lot, coming up during the last hymn to extinguish the candles – today the candles may just burn right through the final hymn. She has been so faithful in doing that, that one time someone told me they thought she was my daughter – and I took it as a complement. You are all my kids, in a way, and I am grateful for that, and if you are all my kids, then you are like siblings, and no two are more like sisters than Cali and Emily. They enjoy each other’s company and brought their joy to class. Yet both also know how to ask good questions. I appreciated Cali’s smile and questions and her love for the candy we passed around. I liked Emily’s smile, too, her inquisitiveness and her good spirit.
Anyway, here we are today, the end of the confirmation road. And all that we have learned, well, some might see it as a box – a nice frame within which to understand life – the Christian box within which to build a life. The trouble with that image is that boxes too well-defined can become cages, prisons of sorts. I would rather you think of what we have talked about and discussed together as a launching pad, something that will launch you into the adventure of life in the world – to appreciate its beautiful and haunting complexity, and to try and make the world kinder, more loving, more just, more peaceful. I hope you will use what you have learned to help you grow more and more in faith, hope and love. Just as good an image as the launching pad is the image of a home. I hope we have built together a home of the Christian faith, a place that gives you roots to grow on and wings to fly.
Why a launching pad or root and wings rather than a strong box? It is because the God about who we have been learning, the God who loves us and seeks a life-long relationship with us, is less a God of the well-defined than a God who shakes things up. The story in Acts is one among many of a God who shakes things up – the God of the open door, the God who sets free for life. Paul and Silas, filled with God’s Spirit, get in the middle of the usual way of doing business and are sent to prison for it. Then, as now, people don’t like a God who disturbs the status quo. In prison, the foundation shake and the prison doors are open – oh that God! You would have expected Paul and Silas and others to make a break for it, but again, the unexpected happens. They stick around for the good of the guard.
The God of Jesus Christ, this God in whom you will again profess faith/trust, is a God who is willing to shake things up in the interest of a greater and deeper good. I am reminded of the wonderful line in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, where one of the characters describes Aslan. Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he’s not safe, but he’s good. That’s God, and if we are to be followers of the God of Jesus Christ we need to be born again to be wild.
The reality is that to do good in our world means to shake things up, and to be ready to do good means being shaken ourselves sometimes.
Two years ago, J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books spoke at Harvard University, at their commencement. In her address, she spoke about a time in her life, before Harry Potter, when she was just making ends meet. She worked, then, for Amnesty International. In her job she read letters smuggled out of countries where the people were not free to express themselves. She read testimonies of torture victims, and saw pictures of their injuries. Her work began to give her nightmares as she confronted the “evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power.” Yet Rowling also says that she “learned more about human goodness… than I had ever known before.” What she witnessed, along with the horrors of evil, injustice and oppression was people using the freedom and power God gives them for good. She was especially impressed by the power of the human imagination to be able to comprehend what others are experiencing, and to see other possibilities. “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
But sometimes we are willing to let that power go to waste – we only imagine the next day or the next dollar. We allow our imaginations to become imprisoned. Then we need a God who shakes us up so we can use our imagination, and our other freedom and power, to make a difference in the world. It is the task we all commit ourselves to as followers of Jesus, as church, and today you being confirmed make that commitment anew.
Congratulations today is your day, your off to great places, you’re off and away. Today is your day to be born again to be wild, to say you will follow the God of holy surprises, the God of the open door, the shaken foundations. We pledge to join you in that – companions on the journey. As we make this commitment, may we also remember that the God who shakes things up is also the God who, when life seems most perilous, reminds us that we are loved. Amen.