April 18th, 2015 – Confirmation Day Sermon on Exodus, Romans, and John

Exodus 3:1-12
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you.”

Romans 8:31-35,37-39
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 13:34-35; 14:15-17, 25-27
34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

By way of introduction, I want to let all of you know that this group is the first Confirmation group to go through all three years of Confirmation in our current form. The way we do Confirmation is we begin downstairs by lighting candles and sharing our highs and lows. We light candles as a way of reminding ourselves of God’s presence with us but also that Jesus has said to us – you are the light of the world. And so that is our calling – to be light to the darkness of this world.

Then we would share together the best part of our week and the worst part of our week, and then we would gather for a snack, we would review what we had previously learned, we would have a Confirmation lesson, and then we would gather again around the candles for closing prayer together and then every Confirmation student would receive a blessing as they left.

Now that we all are a little acquainted with how we did Confirmation, let’s begin with a little trip down memory lane during our time together during Confirmation. Pop quiz:

– In our first year together, who was known for digging a big hole in his backyard? Payton
– During one of our retreats, who was ordained as pastor and baptized a gnome? Evan
– Who has had more injury days out from Confirmation than anyone else? Taitelynn
– Who never ever had a high or a low? Kristian
– Who was most likely to speak in a funny voice and accent during a Confirmation Session? Jace
– Who always conveniently needed a bathroom break 15 minutes before Confirmation was over because he just couldn’t stand it anymore? Cameron
– Who played the roll of Jesus when we created a live version of the Lord’s Supper? Dalton
– Who was so constantly well-behaved and polite and even-keeled that it makes it difficult to come up with trivia questions about him? Ethan
– Who is the best volunteer adult leader you could ask for in Confirmation? Niki

Those are just a few of the wonderful memories that I have of our time together. But most of all, what was most meaningful to me was to watch how you came together as a group of people that we would support and care for each other. As some of you said, Confirmation became a place where we talk about hard things that we couldn’t talk about in other parts of our life. And while we may not all be best friends, you all have formed a bond of support and care for one another. And what a great witness to what God calls us to be. God calls us to be like a family to one another. And we are to treat each other like family. And as some of you know, families don’t always get along perfectly. But you still have a love and a respect for one another. And I think this bond that you all have created is something that will stay with you throughout your life. Some of you may leave here today and you won’t see each other for years. But when you do see each other again, something will creep up in you and you’ll say, Hey! I was in Confirmation with that person. And you’ll instantly remember the bond that you have. And that’s a real gift.

Now, I’ve shared this with our Confirmands and their parents but I will share it with all of you as well. Today, these young adults get to choose to affirm their baptisms. Which means they have all the power in the room today. I’m not the one confirming them or blessing them because they’ve passed some sort of spiritual test or because they have completed a handful of requirements. But rather they are confirming their faith. They are affirming the promises that their families and sponsors made in baptism and they are choosing to take responsibility for their faith life. The great promise of today is that God is in love with this group of young adults and will forever be a part of their life. And they have the power and the freedom of whether to say yes or not to that love.

Which I think in a lot of ways makes today kind of like a wedding day. God has made a proposal to you – to love you and to walk with you forever. And you, our Confirmands, get to decide if you want to say yes. It doesn’t mean God will stop loving you if you say no or that God would no longer be part of your life. But it is to choose to have an active part in the relationship.

So in that way I think today is kind of like a wedding day. And here is the thing, it is down right scary to commit yourself to kind of life-long relationship. To make promises like that. And there is a problem with weddings these days. Sheryl Paul, an author on marriage, writes that one of the most common myths about marriage that most people believe but no one talks about is that people seem to think that by the day of their wedding, their relationship should be in perfect shape and they should be more in love than ever and they should have all their problems figured out. That the relationship is supposed to be perfected at the time of the wedding. (Sheryl Paul, Huffington Post, “Marriage is a Work in Progress.”)

When in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. So if today, Confirmation day, is like a wedding, I fear that some of us believe this same myth about today. That on a day of Confirmation your relationship with God must be at it’s highest. That you have figured out this thing called faith and it is easy. And that your love for God is as big as it can ever get and that now you’ll just spend the rest of your life happily believing in God and Jesus. And that it will be easy from here on out. And nothing could be farther from the truth.

Committed relationships are hard. And a life of faith is hard too. I’ll never forget what my mom said to me. She said, “Jon, when you are dating and engaged, you’ll have bad days and bad weeks in your relationship. When you are married, you’ll have bad months and bad years.” The same is true in the journey of faith. You’ll have good months and years of faith, and you’ll have some bad ones too.

To our Confirmands, today is like a wedding day, because you are making promises to God about a continued relationship with God. But your relationship with God doesn’t have to be perfect today in order to confirm you faith. Don’t worry if you have questions and don’t worry if you have doubts. Like all relationships, your relationship with God will be a work in progress. So don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out by now. In fact, none of us will ever have it all figured. But it will always be a work in progress and it is never finished.

But when you are saying yes to being in relationship with God, you are daring to say yes to some of the most incredible promises that have ever been made. Promises that God gives to you. And today in our readings, we have just three of those promises that I want to lift out.

The story of Moses and when God calls upon Moses for help in freeing the God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Many of us think that the miracle in this story is that God spoke through a burning bush. But the real miracle is that God called on Moses. What sin had Moses committed before God called upon him for help? Murder! That’s right, Moses is a murderer.

So, today, one of the things that you confirm is that God can and will call upon and use anyone for the sake of creating a better world. You can never ever lose God in your life. God will never give up on you. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, you will forever remain part of God’s life and love. And God will always have a purpose for you.

And what’s the purpose? We learn it in our Gospel reading. To love. Not to love in the sweet, easy, all-you-need-is-love sort of way. But to love even when it is hard to love. Love is not easy. In fact, it can be very difficult sometimes. But it is the greatest work and the greatest power in the world. Which is why the Scriptures say that God is love. In fact the Scriptures even say that you cannot even love God while hating another person. They are linked. If you want to work on your relationship with God, if you want to love God, work on loving people. And that means all people, including our enemies. To love God is to love people. They are one and the same. And if we are going to love people, then we are going to have to work on tearing down those pyramids of power that we learned about. We cannot live in a world where there are people on the top and people on the bottom. How do we begin to tear them down? By loving all people and not just some people. By offering compassion and forgiveness and grace to all. When we walk out of here today, we will be singing Onward Christian Soldiers. But here is the thing, you are like soldiers that the world has never seen. You leave here as Soldiers of Love. You are not soldiers carrying weapons that hurt and harm but soldiers carrying medicines that heal – medicines of love and compassion and forgiveness.

Now, like I said, this is hard. And we are going to fail sometimes. Many times in fact. But then God has another promise for us. And we heard it from Romans today. And you Confirmands heard it every single time you left Confirmation in the past 3 years. Child of God, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing. Nothing can separate you or anyone from the love of God. And by nothing I mean…nothing. God will still love you if you stop going to church. God will still love you if you fail to listen to God and love your neighbor. God will still love you even when you say and do things that hurt other people. And through that unconditional love, God will always be calling you back from that life, so that you can be the light of the world that God has created you to be. And that is good news for all of us here.

So that’s what you dare to confirm today. Faith in a God who is so in love with you that God wants to be in relationship with you forver. Faith in a God who makes the most incredible promises one could ever hear. May you find the courage to say yes to that today.

And finally. I hope you know how much each one of you mean to me. Confirmation with you has been one of the best parts of being pastor here. So thank you for that. You have been bright lights to my life and I have no doubt that you will continue to be bright lights for the world. So I thank you for all that you are and I thank God for you. Amen

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