Friday, May 20, 2011

Confirmed for Life

Sermon preached May 15, 2011

Text: John 10:1-10

Picture this. You are riding in an old West stagecoach. Suddenly, a man riding a horse pulls up to the left side of the stagecoach, and a riderless horse pulls up on the right. The man leans down, pulls open the door, and jumps off his horse into the stagecoach. Then he opens the door on the other side and jumps onto the other horse. Just as he rides off you yell to him, “What was that all about?” To which he replies, “Nothing. It’s just a stage I’m going through.”
Today is confirmation Sunday here at First United Methodist Church. In some ways it marks, for those being confirmed, moving from one stage in life to another. At baptism, we are welcomed into the church, the family of Christ. The church community promises to surround us with a community of love, care and forgiveness and commits to helping us grow gently in love of God and others. Today, Brooke, Keara, Tyler, Erin, Alyssa, Laura, Gus and Maria make the vows made at their baptism their own. They pledge to follow Jesus and pledge to be part of the Jesus community which Christ has opened to all people. They will be part of this community that journeys together with Jesus and promises to welcome and nurture others as they have been welcomed and nurtured.
This is a milestone, a significant faith marker, a stage if you will. Today you are confirmed for life. But there is danger in that “stage” language. We often think of stages as something we go through, something we then leave behind. Unfortunately, confirmation is often considered that kind of stage. Parents express a sigh of relief – “at least I got my child through confirmation.” Confirmation is seen as a sort of graduation, and what does it mean to graduate? You don’t have to go back to school. Confirmation often becomes the end of one’s training in religious knowledge.
If we think of confirmation in only that way, we miss its deeper meaning, its more profound purpose, its true significance. Confirmation is an end, but more importantly it is a beginning. You are confirmed for life – confirmed to live the Jesus way of life which is a way that always needs to be reaffirmed and reconsidered anew. If you want to live out the vows of confirmation in this Jesus kind of life, you are in for a bit of a wild ride, as wild as a guy jumping through a stage coach. The Spirit blows where she will. The love of God leads us to new places. The Lord of the Dance invites us to new steps.
In John 10, Jesus is clear about his purpose in being a part of our lives. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” It is helpful to consult a couple of different translations, just to get some more of the flavor of these words. Eugene Peterson in The Message says about the life Jesus seeks to bring that it is “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” The Common English Bible, one of the most recent translations of the New Testament, translates the saying of Jesus this way: “I came so that they could have life – indeed, so that they could live life to its fullest.”
To make sure Jesus got this point across, he engages in some metaphorical shape-shifting. He sets us a scene – sheep, shepherd, gatekeeper, sheepfold and gate. Jesus seems to want to say that he is like a shepherd. If you want abundant life, listen carefully for the voice of Jesus. Become familiar with his voice, the voice of God’s Spirit. But those hearing Jesus did not quite get it. So Jesus says that he is the gate. He is the way into this full and rich life. In verse 11, he becomes the shepherd again – I am the good shepherd. All these images, which seem distant to most of us, are attempts to make the point that following Jesus is a way of life and a way to life. Abundant life, rich life, full life, more and better life than you dreamed of – that is what the Jesus way promises, and you are being confirmed for that life.
There are a lot of voices out there, but not all the voices out there are life-giving. The first two vows of confirmation acknowledge that. Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin? There are voices in the world of hatred. There are voices in the world that tell us not to care. There are voices that tell us the meaning of life is all wrapped up in stuff. These are not voices of life.
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? There are voices that would lead us astray, but the voice of Jesus reminds us that God has given us freedom and power. The voice of Jesus encourages us to use it well, use your freedom and power in ways that make for fullness of life for you and for others.
Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to all people? Jesus leads to life. Where Jesus is there is life – rich, full, abundant, overflowing, more and better life than we may have dreamed possible. We live following the gentle winds of God’s Spirit, never sure exactly where Jesus may lead. Except we have some clues of the general direction of this fullness of life.
In Acts chapter 2, there is a description of the life of the early followers of the Jesus. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. It goes on to talk about sharing, and about being taken with wonder at what is possible when people work together to follow Jesus. The Jesus life, which is the way of abundant life is a way of learning, growing, praying, sharing and being open to wonder. It is an exciting journey, and for you being confirmed, a new chapter begins today.
Brooke, Keara, Tyler, Erin, Alyssa, Laura, Gus and Maria, you are being confirmed for life. My hope and prayer is that you will continue this journey, that you will continue to try and listen for the life-giving voice of Jesus, that you will follow that voice wherever it leads, and in doing so, know life in its fullest.
But the encouragement to continue the journey with Jesus needs to be given to us all, whatever our age or stage. The journey with Jesus is there for each of us, and now we have these eight fine young people joining us on the journey in a new way.
One of the beautiful things these eight will share with us along the way are their gifts, just as we share ours with them. And when gifts are shared together in the community of faith, wonderful things happen. With these eight we have gifts for thoughtfulness – particularly strong in Brooke, Tyler, Gus and Maria. All will share with us their gift for laughter, an important gift for the church. The sixteenth century saint, St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “From somber, serious, sullen saints, save us, O Lord.” These eight will help us from becoming sullen saints. We have gifts of care for the environment, particularly strong in Erin. We have actors among us in Laura and Gus. We have musicians in Brooke, Keara, Alyssa, and Laura. We have athletes in Keara, Tyler, Erin, Alyssa, and Maria. Gus snowboards. Brooke writes. Though often quiet, these are thoughtful and energetic young people. They have found ways already to contribute to the church and will continue to do so. They care about each other, they care about the church, they care about the world. All share gifts for compassion.
Of course the best gift each of you has to share with the church and the world is the gift of yourself, the unique, full-of-life person God desires you to be. When you share yourself with us, you will be changed, we will be changed, and the world will be made different.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” One way Jesus gives life is that he brings us together into community – to help each other grow in faith, hope and love, to pray for each other, to be there for each other when life gets hard, to share in Jesus’s work of touching the world with God’s love. Today we celebrate that these eight, already a part of our community, join us in a new way on the journey with Jesus. Amen.

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