6.10.18 Confirmation Sunday
Confirmation Student Testimonies:
Morgan Paige Torrey
Pastor Julie's Sermon:
Today is Confirmation Sunday, and while it is a day where we congratulate the four students who have completed the 2 years of hard work in our Confirmation Class it is also not a graduation day. This is not your day to wish us all farewell and begin your own journey through the church or with your journey with Christ. Instead it is a day where we say to Samantha, Cayden, Erin and Morgan that we are excited to hear that God is doing amazing things in your life and we want to continue to walk beside you as we journey together as you confirm your faith. And today is not just about these four amazing young people, even though they are pretty amazing, it is also about all of us, as we continue to encourage, love, and pray for each other. Before we do that, let us pray.
Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
The scripture that was read for us today by Erin and Val was from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul is writing to his friends, these are people he knows and loves and we know this because he starts off by saying that he thanks God for them every time he remembers them. Do you have people in your life, that the instant you think about them, you just immediately smile and your heart is just filled with joy? I do! And I hope you do too! He goes on to say that it was their partnership in the Gospel that he prays with such joy. This makes sense to me. The people in my life that bring me the most joy are the ones I have had an experience with. People who I have seen on their best days and their worst days. People who I have a shared experience with are the ones my heart tends to melt the most for.
This goes for praying for people too. I can pray for anyone of course. And I often catch myself praying for people as I drive down the road who look like they are having a hard day. Or people will send along a prayer request for a friend of theirs and while I do not know them personally I will pray for them. Or I will pray for people I hear about in the news, such as the lives of those who have lost their children to senseless violence. My heart easily breaks for these strangers and I know that God hears all our prayers. I have personally been on the receiving end of many stranger’s prayers this year in my journey through cancer. I am so honored to have so many people I don’t know praying for me daily on 5 different continents I’ve learned. But it is the people who came and sat with me during chemo, or the people who gave me a warm smile in the hallway here or the people who encouraged me and loved me through chemo- that bring complete joy to my heart.
When I am praying for someone I know or love my prayer for them changes. I can think of their characteristics, their personality, their quirks and what their specific needs are. It is a different prayer to pray for someone you know and love. Your heart holds that person differently. And so to the confirmation students I encourage you to get to know the rest of us. Learn our stories, learn about our quirks and what makes us tick. And to the Congregation- get to know these incredible young people. Get to know their joys and their hobbies and what they are dealing with. Your prayer for them will change in doing so and Christ will continue to be the way in which we are united together. Paul isn’t praying for people he doesn’t know from a distance, he knows these people in Philippi. He has their faces in mind and a smile on his face while he remembers them. We don’t know what those shared experiences were, we just know that these relationships changed Paul and filled him with love and joy.
Some of the best memories of my life were the summers I spent as a counselor at Mission Meadows. There are uncountable stories and millions of memories that I hold close to my heart from those four summers but I am going to share just one of the stories this morning. These are people when I think about, I immediately am filled with joy and love at just the memory of our partnership together. One morning my mentor and the director of the counselor in training program came to my cabin one morning and woke me up very early. If you know me at all, early morning is not my best time of day- so I was a little grumpy. But Lisa’s enthusiasm was contagious and at her instruction I put on my walking shoes and met her on the front porch. She informed me we were going for an early morning walk through the woods, since both of us were new to camp and we were going to explore them together.
Lisa and I crossed the road and started making our way through the woods. Some of the way we talked about what was going on in our lives and some of the way we walked in silence. It was beautiful and quiet that morning. Somewhere along the way I, as I almost always do, got hurt. I was not paying attention to where I was walking, and I scratched my leg pretty good on a stick coming up from the ground. In my morning grogginess, I asked Lisa if we could just go back and she insisted we keep going, that we needed to complete the journey we began. We continued to walk a little longer, and we came to a beautiful clearing where to my amazement I found a blanket, a thermos of water, and a picnic basket filled with breakfast. Lisa had tricked me and come to this spot earlier in the morning. We spent the next hour enjoying breakfast and sitting in this field and it was one of the best surprisingly wonderful mornings of my life.
Imagine if I had insisted that we turn around and abandon our journey that morning? I would have missed out on a wonderful, memorable, special morning with my friend and mentor Lisa. Of course, Lisa wouldn’t do that through! She knew what was at the end of the journey and encouraged me to keep going. Even when I got a little scratched up and hurt she encouraged me to keep moving and to not give up on the journey just because of this bump in the road. She didn’t tell me the end of the journey was going to be this amazing picnic but instead just kept me moving.
One of the really cool parts of Christianity and being on this journey of faith together, is that we know the end of the story. We know that it is going to be WAY cooler than a picnic in the middle of a field. Instead we know that Jesus will restore all things and that death will be defeated and we will live as we were created to live, which is in perfect unity with the Triune- God and with each other. Forever.
Paul says he knows that he who began a good work in you is going to carry it out to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. He knows that God isn’t going to turn around or leave us mid-journey. That’s not how God works! Once God starts something, he is going to complete it and it is going to be good and wonderful. God doesn’t move backward, he doesn’t live in the past, he is not fascinated with what happened yesterday. He is instead with us in our present moment and moving forward and toward that final victory we will find in Jesus. He knows where he is going, he knows we are moving toward something really good and he is unafraid of the bumps and bruises we may find along the way.
Our journey together, as followers of Jesus, is then to serve each other and love one another as we move together in the direction of our Lord. We build each other up. We pray for each other. We learn from each other. We live in community together. We know each other’s stories.
Today we celebrate 2 rites in the church: The rite and sacrament of baptism and the rite of confirmation. These are not just about those receiving the rite, they are also about the rest of the us. Morgan took vows for her baptism and we pray that she would continue to grow in love and knowledge of the love God in her life. And our confirmation students are confirming that they believe in the tenants and teachings of the church and the work of the church.
But there is more. We take vows too. We take vows to pray for them, to walk beside them, to love them, to teach them to encourage them and to learn from them. These are not vows we take for the sake of it or to sound nice. These are vows that are as sacred and true as wedding vows or ordination vows. Vows are sacred promises we make to God and to each other and they are meant to create a bond or a covenant with each other and with God. I am going to tell a story I have told here before, so forgive me if it is the second time you have heard it.
I grew up in a Covenant Church in Lyndhurst Ohio. I was baptized in 1978 when I was 6 months old and the vows my parents and the congregation took were probably close to identical to the ones we took today at Morgan’s baptism. In the congregation that day was a man named Jack. Jack was a man who I knew my whole life. He always smiled when I passed him in the church. He was always asked how I was doing and he always stood and really listened when I answered him. He was at my school plays, he was at my graduation parties, he was just always around- always there with a smile and a familiar presence. The Sunday before I left for Seminary, my church family stood around me and prayed for me, one woman made me a beautiful quilt and then Jack stood up. He informed me that he and the church had made a promise to pay for all of my seminary books throughout the next 3 years, which is a very generous gift. I stood there in a bit of shock, and Jack went on to explain that on a day in 1978 he took a vow. He took a vow to encourage me, to love me and to build me up in my faith and walk with Jesus. This was just him fulfilling that vow.
My friends, I encourage you today to take these vows and rites of confirmation with an open heart and a willing heart that is excited to know these beloved children of God. Know their names. Know their stories. I can attest to the fact that these are incredible students, filled with amazing questions, kind hearts and love for their families and friends. Be patient with them when they are discouraged or struggling. Remember your vows to them. Remind them that we know the end of the story and we are on this journey together. And then I pray that this kind of friendship and love and encouragement would expand to not just our students- but to all of those around you. Pray with joy for those you know and love. Pray with endurance and a full heart.
And to Samantha, Erin, Cayden, Morgan- I pray that today be a day you remember how loved you are. Remember that people pray for you. Remember that people here want to encourage you and walk with you. People want to hear your story and support you. And then I want you to do the same for us. Pray for us. Laugh with us. Be on this journey with us. And my prayer for you and for all of us is the same as Paul’s to the Philippians: “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory
and praise of God.” May it be so. Amen.