Then Jesus, who saw how the crowds of this world were harassed like sheep without a shepherd – how people were going hungry not just in body but in heart and soul. How people had forgotten to treat people like people; Jesus summoned the disciples – Lisa, Ada, Lucy, Julius, Calvin, and Elijah; Jesus summoned these six and through them all the rest of us – and Jesus gave them authority to go and share the good news of the kingdom of God by organizing themselves – and all the rest of us - to donate needed items for the SPCA animal shelter of Ulster County and supplies for the sandwiches and lunch bags that would be taken by them to the unhoused on the streets of NYC. And they would share the good news of the kingdom of God – that is the good news that God’s love is not distant and unforgiving but present and active in this world, that God desires healing and mercy; they would share this good news by making soups for the Free Fresh Food Giveaway and by organizing face painting and activities for an intergenerational and ecumenical gathering here at Redeemer and down at the New Paltz town park on the day of the Pride Parade, and they would share this good news by volunteering at the KidsPeace Foster Care Christmas Party.
These youth would be built up as a fledgling community over the last two years – not an easy thing to do as we came through the pandemic and tried to remember how to be together even as we were all still stressed out and tired; they would be built up as fledgling community through games of Taco, Goat, Cheese, Pizza and splashing in the pool and setting up tents and watching a movie at the Carroll’s House – aka “Camp Carroll” and making smores and playing mini-golf. And they would further enrich the life of this Redeemer, New Paltz community through helping to lead worship, presenting the occasional skit and lighting candles in vigil for a world in need and as readers and choir members and cantor, as well as behind the scenes on post-production video editing and helping with the Greening of the Sanctuary and church clean up days.
Today, dear confirmands, you will affirm your faith, the faith in which you were baptized. Baptized into a love that is not distant and unforgiving but present and active and which desires healing and mercy. While this faith is connected to our choices – we can choose to do nothing or we can, like Martin Luther wrestle with what faith means in ways that lead to defying our parents and unintentionally starting a revolution in the church and the world; while this faith is connected to our choices - we can choose to do nothing or we can, like the slaves who were brought against their will to this country and into a faith not of their choosing discover in that faith a God and Savior who knew what it was to suffer like them, and in that discovery find the courage and the faith to rise up and cast off the shackles of slavery – allowing their faith to be the foundation that helped them agitate to change that which was broken in the world; while this faith is connected to our choices, it is also, as we hear again in the book of Romans today, a freely given, justifying gift from God that is often planted in us when we least expect it, and which can give us sustenance and roots and build endurance and hope even as we will experience struggles and suffering in our lives and in this world.
Yes, you may not have realized it before today dear confirmands, or you may in some part of your brain or heart still be scoffing at what I am saying (after all, we as humans have an amazing capacity to scoff), but I see the work of God in all of you. I see this justifying faith already planted in you. I can see it in the love and care you pour into your families and the way that you build friendships with people you like and with people who may not be your favorites. I see this creating and redeeming work in the ways you serve through schooling and extracurricular activities and I see it in the service projects you organized and I have seen it in your families and the confirmation leaders who tirelessly continued to invite you to be present on this journey.
And dear people of God gathered online and in person today for worship, I see this work of God in all of the rest of you as well. In your living and your striving, in your best moments and in your worst moments, too. God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit lives and breathes in all of you. In all of us. And we have a holy calling to help each other and this world better understand that the kingdom of God is at hand – not with a distant and unforgiving love, but with a love that is present with mercy and healing and which seeks to grant us the gift of faith that in turn can help us know peace that passes all understanding. That we might pass along that peace to others through our words and actions.
I was telling our confirmands and their parents the other night that I came across a photo myself on my confirmation day. I had a bowl cut hairdo complete with dyed blond super gelled bangs. I had on a vertical striped shirt with colors that clashed with the vertical pinstriped blazer and tie that I wore. Hearing my story, one of our confirmation parents quipped that we clearly should have made t-shirts for all of us to wear today with that photo of me on my confirmation emblazoned on the front. I think I’m really glad I didn’t tell that story any time sooner so that those t-shirts didn’t get made! Maybe we can all be glad for that.
I don’t have any of those clothes from that confirmation day. I don’t have most of the hair I had on that confirmation day. I do have a ring that my godparents gave me that day. I wear it as an outward sign of the faith I hadn’t even begun to understand as I stood before my faith community of Christ’s Lutheran Church in Woodstock and affirmed my baptism. I know now – I suspect many of you do as well, regardless of your ages, that I will always just be beginning to understand the enormity of this gift of faith, and how it seeks to pull and prod each of us to know how deeply we are loved just by virtue of existing. And how deeply God in Christ is at work, seeking amidst our suffering and the suffering of this world to bring to fruition a resurrection story of blessings for us and through us for others.
For the kingdom of God has come near. Amen.
Hmmm…I wonder what my forty-seven-year-old self would want to tell my fourteen-year-old-about-to-affirm-my-baptism--self? Hmmm…I think I would want to tell Tobias, as he was affirming his baptism, about how all of us in all of our diversity are beloved children of God, created in God’s image. We are not loved because of what good selfies we can take of ourselves or how many people respond to those selfies being posted or to videos and content that we post online or because of how much other people like us and how many friends we have or because of how well we please others and meet their expectations. We are loved by God simply by virtue of our existing, by virtue of God’s creative work that created and fashioned and molded us into the beautifully unique human beings that we are born into this world to be – each and every one of us.
The apostle Paul reminds us that we do not have to do anything to earn God’s redeeming, justifying grace. Grace that meets us in our bumpiness and in the bumps on the road and seeks to bring good out of struggles. This is the person who gets bullied and becomes an advocate for others being bullied and this this is the person who struggles with their mental health and who gets support and as they discover healing for themselves in turn volunteers or gets training and goes to work in the mental health field in order to help others in need and this is the person who makes mistakes so major they end up in prison but when they get out, they go to work alongside youth at risk to help them avoid making the same mistakes.
This is the grace of Christ active in the redeeming, working over struggles of our lives and this world for good, and I would want my teenage self to know that I didn’t have to do anything to earn such grace. I didn’t need to make people happy or do service work or get good grades or be the best in everything I tried in order to prove to others and myself that I was worthy of such grace, of being loved and met with love. The grace active in our Creator creating us is the same grace active in our Savior working over our every mistake to try and bring a blessing for us and those around us as well as opportunities for deepening and wisdom and peace that passes all understanding and growth in that mysterious experience called faith. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans – we heard it again today - we can know peace because we are justified by faith – faith made possible by Christ who died on the cross not because we are righteous or good but because we need saving and it is God’s merciful and gracious nature to want to bring into harmony all of creation that drifts – or sometimes runs or gallops – into disharmony and brokenness and sin.
Yes, the apostle Paul names it. Though we might wish it otherwise, we will know suffering in this life – being bullied or having those we know and care about be bullied. We will know sickness and disease, either ourselves or in those we know and care about around us. We will watch ourselves and others around us do the very things we should not do, contributing to the catastrophes of climate disruption and war and poverty and
If you don’t think you’ve met them, I can tell you that they are all around you on this very day, online and in person for worship dear confirmands. If you don’t think you’ve met them good people gathered here online and in person today for worship, I can tell you that our confirmands number among them. Whether we have ever seen or realized it before today or not, we are people being filled by grace with faith that is working over our brokenness so that God’s song of new life delight might burst forth, even from through these cracked clay vessels.
This work of God in our lives, this grace and faith planted in us is what it possible not just to suffer, but to discover through suffering that a capacity for endurance is being built up within us, and character and hope that does not disappoint because it is rooted in God who first loved us into life and who continues by grace and mercy to resurrect us into new birth and new life amidst the struggles and suffering of this world.
Full of complex feelings and gifts just waiting to be nurtured into skills that are intended to help and benefit not just the individual, but the communities and world of which we are a part.
I would want to share that even if we as teenagers haven’t yet gotten our countries to ban the plastics polluting the oceans and lands, like those teenage sisters in have already done, that doesn’t mean we haven’t done things that matter. I see the way that
Martin Luther’s parents wanted him to be a lawyer and he made them mad and sad by becoming a monk - by pursuing God and faith with his whole being, only to eventually leave being a monk and marry Katharina Von Bora, a former nun.
Maybe it’s ok to do some of the things our elders want us to do and it’s definitely ok to move into making our own decisions for ourselves and sometimes, by the time we get further along in life, we might find the two paths converge and we stand as individuals supported by the wisdom of our elders and having a chance to support the generations that come after us.
Confirmation ring (maybe confirmation photo on screen?)
Grandmama crosses, person on street asking “why do you wear that symbol of death and suffering around your neck.” “Oh no, this is a symbol of great love.”
Lutheran Christians usually have empty crosses in our sanctuaries - rather than crucifixes depicting Jesus’ death and suffering. We are not avoiding the death and suffering - it was part of Jesus’ story and death and suffering are a part of our lives, too. But the cross we see all the time is empty because Jesus has been raised as part of God’s great act of love - Meeting death and suffering with the promise of new life and new hope.
Outward signs matter. The inner life and journey that they reflect matters even more of course!
And whether they knew it or not, for often it is only in retrospect that we see things more clearly; whether they knew it or not, these young people – you beautiful and wonderful young people - have been walking in the footsteps of countless others who have led good rebellions to change the world for the better. You have joined those first disciples gathered around Jesus, who defied a Roman society and world caught up in power and greed by instead building communities focused on healing and restoration. You have joined those first women to whom Jesus revealed his resurrected self and you have joined the apostle Paul who declared, as we heard again today, that faith is a justifying work of God that brings peace and gives us deep roots and sustenance for the journey of this life.
You have joined Martin Luther who rebelled against his father’s wishes – here we are on Father’s Day; rebelled against his father’s wishes that he become a lawyer and instead became a monk, only to find himself becoming a pastor and professor and then discovering alongside Katie Luther (herself a former nun) a holy calling to build a family, even as they unwittingly become the center of a reforming revolution trying to steer the Church back from where it had gone astray, lost in greed and power as it seems we as humans are prone to do.
Now I wonder if any of us gathered here today, who are a bit older than our confirmands, remember what we felt like on the day of our confirmation? Whether it was just a few years back or decades ago…