Confirmation Sunday

Confirmation Sunday

April 29, 2018

Maple Grove UMC

 

8:30

 

          At second service, I’ll share three things I wish I’d learned in Confirmation forty years ago—maybe you want to come back.  Here at first service, when we’ll present each youth a Wesley Study Bible, I want to share a one-minute message on each of the twelve scriptures the youth shared today—okay, maybe two minutes on each. 

          We used a new Confirmation curriculum this time called “Confirm Not Conform.”  The emphasis is not on the pastors telling youth what they’re supposed to believe, but on youth discerning what they do believe.  So we did not just assign each of them a scripture.  Each youth worked with their Confirmation mentor to select their own scripture, and they told you why they chose that scripture.  I’m going to pick each youth’s scripture out of a hat and share a few words them about it.  You all can listen in:

 

Genesis 1:21-31 (Jennie)

          Genesis 1 is sometimes treated as if it were a scientific explanation of how the earth came to be.  But it’s not—it was composed centuries before science existed.  It’s also sometimes called a creation “story.”  But it’s really not a story, exactly.  What it is, is poetry, or better yet liturgy, the language of worship.  And what this liturgy says is this:  what God made is good, it is good, and behold, it is very good.  Sometimes we get to thinking that God cares only about so-called spiritual things—souls, feelings, beliefs.  Genesis 1 says that’s not true—God created and cares about the physical word.  Therefore, Jennie, our relationship with God includes rescuing animals from harm, preventing pollution, and saving the planet from Climate Change.  Why? Because what God made is good.

 

1 Samuel 2:1-5 (Sasha)

          Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was barren, never expected to have a child.  So when she did, in 1 Samuel 2, she sang a song of praise to God.   But it’s a surprising song of praise for a child.  Hannah sings that rich people will end up starving and the poor will have more than enough.  Sounds like revolution to me!  Over and over, the Bible insists that God cares for the poor; there’s no excuse for leaving people hungry.  You may have kids of your own some day, Sasha.  Teach them songs of praise.  But I hope you’ll also teach them songs of justice, that God cares for the poor.

 

 

 

 

Psalm 23 (Matthew)

          Matthew, the world can be a stressful place, can’t it?  That’s why God gave us the 23rd Psalm—something to turn to when you’re nervous and afraid.  Even when bullies are all around you and you don’t know the answers to the test, the Lord is your shepherd, so it’s going to be all right.  Even in the face of death, God is with you; it’s going to be all right.  The youth asked Cathy and me why we wanted them to memorize their scriptures.  Because what you’ve memorized is with you everywhere, all the time.  And Matthew, everywhere and all the time—that’s when you need to know that the Lord is your shepherd, and it’s going to be all right.

 

Psalms 46:1-6, 9-10 (Nina)

          Nina, Psalm 46 is one of my very favorite psalms.  It helps me not to be so afraid, to feel calmer in the face of troubles.  It helps me breathe deeper, worry less, and trust God more.  It says:  Be still and know that I am God.  Will you do that, Nina?  Will you do that, everyone?  No, not later.  I mean, right now.  Will you take a moment right now to be still and know that God is God? . . . Here’s the thing—you can do that anywhere, anytime.  Just be still for a moment, and let God be God.

 

 

Psalm 103:3-14 (Simon)

          Psalm 103 is about mercy.  The older I get, the more I realize I need mercy.  I get tired and need the mercy of rest.  I mess up and need the mercy of forgiveness.  Times are divisive and I need the mercy of overlooking disagreements.  And the older I get, the more I realize the people around me need mercy.  Sure, sometimes people need guidance and accountability and correction.  But mostly mercy.  Simon, I hope you get the mercy you need, and I hope you’ll all live lives of mercy.

            

 

Proverbs 4:1-9 (Julian)

          This was Julian’s scripture.  All I can say, Dimitri and Amy, is that when, out of the entire Bible, your 13 year-old son selects a scripture about paying attention to his parents and following their instruction, you’re doing something right.  I’m just saying.

 

 

 

Proverbs 29:11-20 (Wyatt)

Wyatt was one of three youth who chose scriptures from the Proverbs.  Two others also chose verses that are rules or practical advice.  The common wisdom is it that youth don’t like rules.  But maybe, parents, that common wisdom is incorrect.  Sure, maybe we have to let youth have a hand in shaping the rules.  But maybe they want rules more than we think. 

 

 

Sirach 27:4-12 (Helen)

          I had to search for Helen’s scripture.  Along with a handful of other books, Sirach is in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant Bible.  It’s another example of a truth we’re learning—that diversity enriches us.  We don’t have to apologize for our traditions; we don’t have to change what is and isn’t in our Bible.  But we can appreciate and learn from the Catholics.  And from other religions.  And from science.  And from so many sources.  Thank you, Helen, for increasing the diversity of our scriptures. 

 

Matthew 5:3-10, 14-16 (Brendan)

Before the bitterness of betrayal

  And the time of tempting,

    There came to Jesus the baptismal blessing:

You are my beloved child,

  With you I am well-pleased.

As if to say—

  Hear these words first.

    You will need them.

 

He in turn would say hard things to others:

  Love your enemies . . .

  You give them something to eat . . .

  Take up your cross . . .

But first, he said, hear these Beatitudes.

They’re backward blessings, to be sure—

Upon the poor,

                           the sad,

                                                   the bullied.

But they are blessings, nonetheless.

And the disciples would need them.

 

 

And now you also, I expect,

Have things you have to face—

  Many hard,

                       Some feel impossible.

And soon enough

  You will go out to face them.

But first, hear these blessings:

  You are a beloved child . . .

    You are well-pleasing to God . . .

      Yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Take these blessings with you.

You will need them.

 

 

Matthew 5:43-48 (Max)

          Max Nauman is a young man who keeps his head down on the table much of the time.  You might think he isn’t paying attention when you talk about Jesus.  You might think that he isn’t taking it in and thinking about it for himself.  You might think that, but when Max shared his scripture, you knew different.  Boiled down, in a few words, the Christian life comes down to one thing—loving people.  And not just loving people who are easy to love, but loving people who are hard to love.  That’s what Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 5:43-48.  Max’s head may be down, but watch how Max treats other people.  He’s paying attention.

 

Matthew 7:1-5 (Joey)

          Don’t judge other people, so you won’t be judged yourself, Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-5.  It’s the scripture selected by Joey, but it might serve as a theme verse for Maple Grove’s entire youth ministry.  TMI and Youth Group and the Confirmation Class—all of these are so accepting.  It’s been a long time ago, but I have not forgotten how I got treated when I was 13.  When I’m honest, I also haven’t forgotten how I treated other kids when I was 13.  People made fun of me because of my weird last name, and because my ears turned red when I got embarrassed.  And in my insecurity, I would put down other kids.  Don’t do that, Jesus says.  That’s no way to live.  Joey picked the scripture, but these kids live it out. 

 

Acts 16:25-33 (Jamie)

          Jamie is the only youth who picked a story for his scripture.  Stories are probably my favorite part of scripture.  Stories don’t tell you what to do.  Bible stories make you ponder what kind of person you want to be and what God is like.  The story Jamie chose is about when Paul and Silas were in prison and an earthquake set all the prisoners free.  The guard, responsible for all the prisoners, was about to take his own life, figuring that would be better than what the Romans would do to him for losing his prisoners.   But Paul shouted, “Don’t do it!  We’re all still here.”  What sort of people, Jamie, does this story want us to be?  What is our God like?  Thanks for sharing a wonderful story!

 

 

11:00

          Leading my last Confirmation group at Maple Grove got me reflecting back on my own Confirmation experience, over 40 years ago.  It was really very good.  Our pastor was young and fresh out of seminary, so he had new ideas and cared a lot.  He took us on field trips.  He listened carefully to us.  I loved him and I learned a lot.  Still, looking back over all those years, there are a few things I wish I’d learned in Confirmation, or wish I’d learned better.  Let me share three of them with you today:

          1. I wish I’d learned that Christ’s Church is bigger than Bushton, Kansas (or Columbus, Ohio, for that matter).  The Church is big and almost infinitely varied.  The Church is global and takes different forms around the world.  Despite what it might seem like from a thirteen year-old’s perspective, the Church is always changing—the Church of my youth was nothing like the Church of a few hundred years earlier, and a few years from now the Church will be nothing like what we know today. 

          So . . . I was surprised during college when a friend took me to a Church of all black people.  Cool!  I was surprised when another friend took me to a church where everyone spoke in tongues and some people rolled around on the floor.  Whoa!  I was surprised when I went to Africa and church lasted more than three hours and people get up and dance!  There are churches in Columbus where everyone speaks Chinese or Nepali or Spanish.  There are churches that have women pastors and churches that don’t allow that.  There are churches . . . well, you get the idea.

          I wish I’d learned more about that in Confirmation.  I wish I had taught you more about that in Confirmation.  Because I grew up kind of thinking Church is this one thing, it’s what we did in the 1970s at the Bushton United Methodist Church.  So when I encountered churches that did very different things, I wondered if maybe they were doing something wrong.  And I worried that maybe we were doing something wrong.  But it’s not like that.  We all do our different things for God, and God just soaks it all up.  God made us different for a reason.

          So first of all, I wish I’d learned earlier in life that the Church is great big, diverse, global, and almost infinitely varied.  The more different kinds of churches you experience, the less worried you’ll be about the church being how it’s “supposed” to be, and the more you can just give yourself to God in any way and every way.

 

          2. I wish I’d learned in Confirmation how to love the Bible without idolizing the Bible, how to take the Bible seriously without taking it all literally.  Here’s what I mean.  I was taught that the Bible is God’s rule-book, that what the Bible says goes, forever and for everyone.  And then, as a teenager, I came across some words in the Bible that say women should be silent in church, that women should not teach in church.  Well, that didn’t seem right to me.  But because I’d been taught that the Bible is this eternal, infallible rule book, I felt like I only had two choices:  either get women to be quiet in church or throw the Bible out.

          I wish I’d learned in Confirmation that those aren’t the only two choices, that the Bible is God’s Word, but was also written by human beings who were shaped by their own times and culture.  For a time when women had no rights, the Bible shows a remarkable amount of freedom and leadership for women.  Certain verses of the Bible sound hurtful and restrictive towards women, but the direction, the trajectory of the Bible is towards equality. 

          Too many people nowadays write the Bible off completely, because no one ever taught them what the Bible is and how to make sense of it.  And other people wind up believing unloving and narrow-minded things, because no one ever taught them what the Bible is and how to make sense of it. I wish I had learned in Confirmation how to love the Bible without idolizing it and how to take the Bible seriously without taking it all literally.  It would have saved me a lot of anguish and let me make better decisions.

 

          3. Finally this:  I wish I’d learned in Confirmation that GOD LOVES ME.  Let me explain.  Of course, in some ways I learned in Confirmation that God loves me.  And I grew up as a little child singing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”  If one of the Confirmation questions had been, “Glenn, does God love you?”, I would have known that the right answer was “Yes.” 

          But there’s a difference between knowing the right answer, and really knowing something.  There’s a difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it in your heart.  So I was taught it, but I’m not sure I really learned it—that God loves me.  And it is one of the most important things there is to know, maybe the most important thing—that God loves me.  It’s so important because all too often the world will try to teach you that you’re no good, that you’re not loved.  Some teachers will teach you that, bosses, family members, friends (or sort-of friends).  And if you’re anything like me, all too often you’ll teach yourself that you’re not good, that you’re not loved.  That if you don’t get good enough grades, or if you don’t make the basketball team, or if you make choices others don’t approve of, then you’re not loved.  But that’s not true!  Now don’t get me wrong—grades do matter, I love sports, and considering how others feel is very important.  But none of those things makes any difference about whether or not you are loved.  You are.  When you’ve done well and when you’ve messed it all up, God loves you.  When you follow Jesus and when you don’t follow Jesus, God loves you.  When other people like what you decide and when they don’t, God loves you.

          God loves you.  Not only do I wish I’d learned that in Confirmation.  I wish I’d learned that in college.  And seminary.  And last week.  If it’s the last thing I say to you--and it is--God loves you.  

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