Friday, May 17, 2013

The In Crowd

Sermon preached May 12, 2013, Confirmation Sunday

Texts: John 17: 20-26

It will come as no surprise, but I use music when I teach confirmation. So here is one last "confirmation teaching song" - though you also know music finds its way into many of my sermons.

Dobie Gray, "The In Crowd"

If it sounds like that song is really old, well, it is kind of old. I was five when it came out. Many of your parents were not even born yet. I am guessing none of your parents were born in 1964, but we won’t ask. That’s not a requirement of confirmation.
The In Crowd. Today, you are becoming a part of the “in crowd” here at First United Methodist Church. You are affirming your faith. You are joining the church. While this is an important day, it is also another step in your journey of faith. You have been part of us for a long time. My guess is that it does not seem that long ago to your parents when they presented you for baptism, just as Easton’s parents presented him for baptism today. Baptism is another moment when you become part of the in crowd of the church. We use more theological language to describe it. Through the sacrament of baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church. We are incorporated into God’s might acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
Jesus generated crowds. More importantly, out of those crowds Jesus sought to form community. He cared about the quality of the community that he formed. Gus read part of a prayer that Jesus is said to have prayed toward the end of his life. He prayed for the community formed in his name. “That they may be one…. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.” He concluded by praying that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Yes, the words are a little confusing, but the point is that Jesus cared deeply about bringing people together and cared deeply about the quality of life the Jesus community would live.
Today, you are becoming part of this particular Jesus community called First United Methodist Church in a new way.
To you in this community, let me tell you a little bit about the fine folks who we have known, and yet will get to know even better. As a group they have been quiet and thoughtful. Julie and I are not sure how much the quiet part had to do with 8:45 am classes, but that’s how it goes. We have enjoyed working with this group.
Luke brings energy and sensitivity to all that he does here. I have appreciated his work with our Sunday morning children’s programs.
Hans will ask good questions. He will add to our community both musical talent and computer skills. He has helped put together some videos for the children’s and youth programming.
Jimmy is thoughtful, and will also ask us good questions. His mind searches over lots of areas. I have appreciated his help on roadside clean-up.
Jon likes the Beatles – do we need to say more? Of course. Jon enjoys sports, but he matches his love of the sports and outdoors with a caring heart, a desire to do the right thing.
Parker brings music and organization to our community. From unofficial manager of Tapestry, to Strikepoint, to helping serve communion, Parker has been involved in a lot of areas of our church. We appreciate his sensitivity and energy.
Jake, too, has been active here in the bell program and the youth program. He, too, is a sports person, but also a music person. He brings joy and enthusiasm to church.
Courtney gets the award for courage and persistence. For a long time she has been the girl in this age group in our church. That has not deterred her from being here, from participating, from sharing her thoughts. She is a dancer.
These delightful young men and woman have been a part of us, and they are becoming part of us in a new way. We are adding to our “in crowd.” We are filled with pride and joy.
Today is a good day for all of us to remember, even as we celebrate our “in crowd,” that Jesus idea of an “in crowd” is an unusual one. Jesus prayed that we might become one. He asserted that the quality of our life together would say something to the wider world about Jesus himself and the power of the Spirit unleashed in him. That idea should haunt us a little. An important part of our witness to God’s love in Jesus is how we act together. At times in the history of the church throughout the world, I would think Jesus has been more than a little embarrassed about the kind of witness given.
Jesus prayed that we would be one, and I think the meaning of that is something we encounter every time we share in communion. I don’t always, or even often, follow the liturgical prayers in the hymnal when presiding at communion, but there is one part of the liturgical prayer that I almost always use. “By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”
The Jesus community is that unique in crowd that seeks to be made one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. Confirming your faith and joining the church is saying that you want to be part of this community that is seeking to be one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world. In welcoming these seven into church membership, and in welcoming those baptized, all of us recommit ourselves to being that community that seeks, through the power of God’s Spirit to be one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.
Each of these “onenesses” deserves just a little more comment.
We are a community seeking to be one with Christ. What makes us different from other good organizations in the world is our commitment to Jesus Christ. We look to Jesus to understand God. We look to Jesus to understand what a good life looks like. We look to Jesus not just as a figure from the past, but as, somehow a present reality. Part of becoming one is becoming one with Christ through prayer, worship, and actions that form Christ-like character.
We are a community seeking to be one with each other. The journey of faith is not intended to be a solo endeavor. We are on this road together. Yes, there are personal choices to make, like the fundamental choice to follow Jesus. Once we decide to follow Jesus, though, we are brought together into community. Father Gregory Boyle in his wonderful book, Tatoos on the Heart, quotes Mother Teresa, who said that one of the problems in the world is that we have “forgotten that we belong to each other” (187). We belong to each other as followers of Jesus and members of this Jesus community.
We are a community seeking to be one in ministry to all the world. Jesus brings us together not simply so we can enjoy each other’s company, though I hope we do. Jesus brings us together not simply so we can work on our own personal spiritual growth, though we need to be doing that. Jesus brings us together so that as we grow in love, we share that love in the world. In confirmation, we talk about following Jesus through compassion, justice, caring for creation, and breaking down barriers. Gregory Boyle has some good words for us here, as well. “Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself” (75)
This is the kind of in-crowd Jesus is still working at forming, people becoming one – one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. But “in crowd” is not a very good term for what the Spirit of Jesus does in our lives. In crowd typically implies an out crowd. Not with the Jesus community. For the Jesus community, the in crowd is an inside-out crowd. We give ourselves away in ministry to all the world, and invite all who would to join us. The love of God that we feel in our hearts, and in our community, needs to be shared with the world.
This is big stuff that you being confirmed are getting yourselves in to. It is an adventure – a crazy, courageous, joyous, sometimes heart-breaking journey. The good news is that we are not alone. We have each other. We have Jesus. The adventure continues. Amen.

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