Friday, May 16, 2014

That's Life

 Sermon preached May 11, 2014, Confirmation Sunday

Texts: Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-10

            Frank Sinatra, “That’s Life”:
            I thought I would begin by playing something that I was sure was on the ipods of all these fine young men being confirmed today.  Do you know who that is?  I guess we can be glad that Frank Sinatra never came up as a word in Catch Phrase or Telestrations.
            Beginning with a little bit of humor seemed appropriate.  This year’s confirmation class can be quiet, very quiet.  It might have something to do with adolescent boys and 8:45 am on Sunday mornings.  Though they can be quiet, they each have delightful senses of humor.  It found its way a bit into the confirmation bios, at least I am hoping Oscar’s goal in life is not really to live in his parent’s basement.
            That’s life – ups, downs, twists, turns, joys, sorrows, moments of clarity, moments of doubt and questions – that’s life.  What does faith have to do with life?  What does it mean to confirm one’s faith?  While these are questions especially for these five young men, they are questions for each of us.  What does faith have to do with life and what does it mean to confirm our faith?  My biggest criticism of the idea of “confirmation” is that we sometimes reduce it to a one-time event in life.  Confirmed my faith – check.  In reality, confirming our faith is something that should happen again and again.  The life of faith is a life-long adventure, and involves life-long learning.
            What does faith have to do with life?  One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the very last part of this morning’s Scripture reading.  Jesus is using images taken from the experience of shepherds to describe who he is for people of faith.  Here he compares himself to a sheep gate. Later he will compare himself to the shepherd.  Whatever the comparison, the key seems to me in the last part of verse 10.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message: I came so that they have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  The Jesus way of life, the way of life of faith in Jesus is intended to be full, rich, abundant life, more and better life than we may have even dreamed of.
            Really?  Let’s take a peak at Acts 2 for a moment -  a picture of some folks trying to live the Jesus way of life.  They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
            Now many of us reading or hearing that may say to ourselves, “That sounds really pious to me, but not necessarily a description of grabbing hold of life, of shaking the tree of life to gather as much fruit as possible, to sucking the marrow out of life.”  But look again, not so much at the exact details, but at the overall themes.  These people are learning, praying, sharing, experiencing moments of awe, and developing glad and generous hearts.  Learning, praying, sharing, openness to awe, and developing glad and generous hearts – this seems like the makings of a way of life.  This is not a bad description of the Jesus way of life, and confirming our faith is saying “yes” to Jesus and this Jesus way of life.
            And by faith here, I mean trust.  The essence of faith is not belief, it is trust.  Do you believe that the earth was created in seven days is not really a faith question.  It is an empirical question, a scientific question to which the answer seems to be "no."“ Do you trust that however the earth came into being that God has an intention for creation, for human life, for your life?  That is a faith question because is it a question of trust and if we say “yes” it asks of us that we live differently.
            Reflecting on faith as trust, the theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote: You cannot life authentically without trusting that life is good, even your life, that the difficulties and setbacks are not the last word, not even for you, and that your life has a purpose (Not Just Yes and Amen, 54)  The religious writer Sam Keen also reflects in a similar vein.  The ultimate significance, meaning, security, value, dignity of my life is not dependent upon anything I can do, make or accomplish.  Therefore, my action may spring out of what I am rather that arising out of a desperate need to establish myself (quoted in Donald Evans, Struggle and Fulfillment, 25)
            Life will have its ups and downs, twists and turns, joys and sorrows, moments of clarity and moments of confusion, times of achievement, and times of disappointment.  That’s life.  Do we trust that life is good and that finally we are valued and have dignity no matter what?  These values and dignity are rooted in the love of God in Jesus Christ.  When we know this deep valuing of our lives we live a way of life characterized by learning, praying, sharing, openness to awe, and developing glad and generous hearts.  Do we trust that this is the way of life?
            This way of life is different from other ways that are supposed to give us abundant life.  In his delightful book about Christian faith, Unapologetic, Francis Spufford says that the world shaped by advertising suggests to us that “the center of gravity of the human race, our default condition, is to be young, buff and available” (9).  Of course, that’s true about this morning’s confirmation class, but it is not true for any of us all of our lives.  Sorry guys.  That’s life.  That narrow definition of the good life seems to boil life down to enjoyment, but that’s not really all of life.  Spufford writes: The rest of the time, you’ll be busy feeling hope, boredom, curiosity, anxiety, irritation, fear, joy, bewilderment, hate, tenderness, despair, relief, exhaustion, and the rest.  It makes no more sense to say that you should feel the single emotion of enjoyment about your life than to say that you should spend it entirely in a state of fear, or of hopping-from-foot-to-foot anticipation.  Life just isn’t unanimous like that. (8)  A way of life characterized by learning, praying, sharing, openness to awe, and developing glad and generous hearts seems to be truer to life.  Do we trust that?
            Two more brief reflections on faith and life before wrapping up.  Writer Doris Betts asserts that faith is ‘not synonymous with certainty… [but] is the decision to keep your eyes open” (in Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, 169).  When we trust that life is good, even with its darknesses and difficulties, even my life and your life, then we can be more open to the world.  We are not so fragile.  We can take it all in and in doing so are more open to awe.
            A Desert monk in the Christian tradition offers this reflection on faith.  “Faith is to live humbly and give alms” (Norris, 170).  That is a nice shorthand way of saying that when we trust in the love and goodness of God, we live lives characterized by learning, praying, sharing, openness to awe, and developing glad and generous hearts.  We trust that this Jesus way of life is really life – abundant life, more and better life.
            This is faith.  This is life.  Confirming our faith should happen again and again, but as we are encouraged to confirm our faith, let’s admit that this Jesus way is not always easy.  There are “spiritual forces of wickedness,” that is powerful influences that would have us narrow the scope of our lives.  Life is about more than success, getting spending – none of which are bad in themselves, but they are not the whole of life.  Enjoyment is not the whole of life, though there is nothing wrong with enjoyment.  Yet if we are not at times brought to tears by some of the tragedy in the world, are we really open to life?
            This way of faith is a way of courage – using the freedom and power God gives us to oppose evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.  That is certainly not an easy task.
            The way of faith is a way of forgiveness, of admitting that sometimes we don’t live up to our faith and need forgiveness.  It is trusting that forgiveness is always there.
            Drew, Robbie, Jeremy, Oscar, Josh – you have gifts – music, athletics, acting, thoughtfulness, humor – develop them, use them for good.  Trust that doing that is the way of life, the way of Jesus.  Even more important, continue to develop your hearts, may they be glad and generous hearts.
            Always remember, you are not alone.  Today you say “yes” to God, and you say “yes” to the church.  We will continue to surround you with a community of love and forgiveness and we will walk this Jesus journey with you.  We will with you learn, pray, share, be open to awe, and work on developing glad and generous hearts

            Now that’s life.  Amen.

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