Items filtered by date: May 2018
27 May 2018

Acts 4:43-47

Bridges Out of Poverty

May 27, 2018      Maple Grove UMC

 

          Several miracles took place on the day of Pentecost. For example, the disciples told about Jesus in all the languages of the world, even languages they didn’t know. That’s miraculous. The church grew from about 120 people to more than 3000 in one day. That’s a miracle. But the biggest miracle of all is the one we read about today—that those early believers shared so generously that there was not a needy person among them. Now that’s a miracle!

         

          Acts 4 tells about a community that ended poverty, and it did so in two ways. Here’s the first: someone once asked the Dalai Lama what the answer to world hunger is. He responded with one word: “Sharing.”1 It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just share. What set those Acts 4 Christians apart from others who talk about sharing is that they actually did it. They sold property and shared the proceeds; they held their resources in common, so that no one took more than they needed and no one got less than they needed. They shared

          John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote, “Do you not know that [all money above what buys necessities for your families] God entrusted to you to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless . . .? How can you, how dare you,” Wesley asked, “defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”2

               You might think this kind of sharing wouldn’t be enough, that even generous sharing couldn’t possibly meet the needs of our own neighbors, let alone the world. But about fifteen years ago researchers named John and Sylvia Ronsvalle estimated that back then it would take $70-$80 billion a year to meet basic human needs worldwide through projects such as clean water, prenatal and maternal care, and so forth. That’s a lot. But if every church member in the US alone would increase their giving to 10% of their income, it would generate enough to do all of that.3

               Sharing really is one part of ending poverty. The only problem is that we simply don’t do it.

 

 

          But as government programs have shown, sharing by itself does not end poverty. The other thing it takes is relationships. In the Acts 4 church, they didn’t just mail checks to the needy, they worshiped with needy people, prayed with needy people, lived among the needy and knew them personally.

          On Wednesday and Thursday, June 6-7, Maple Grove is offering a workshop called Bridges Out of Poverty.   Bridges Out of Poverty focuses on this relationship aspect of poverty. The workshop will help us better understand what poverty is, what it’s like to live in poverty, by identifying some of the hidden assumptions and values that may be different for poor people, middle-class people and wealthy people. It will help us form deeper, more equal relationships with people who live in poverty. I hope you will make arrangements to be here; it will be life-changing.

          Here again, is what John Wesley taught 250 years ago: “One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is that . . . one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know; they keep out of the way of knowing it—and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”4

 

          Sharing and relationships with people in poverty—that’s what Acts 4 is all about. Now to prepare you for Bridges Out of Poverty, Cathy Davis and I want to share with you some words and images from Shane Claiborne.

 

 

1 Quoted in The Christian Century (July 12, 2005), 7.

2 https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/672107-do-you-not-know-that-god-entrusted-you-with-that. Accessed 5/28/18.

3 The Christian Century (September 7, 2004), 7.

4 Quoted in Henry H. Knight III, The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1992), 112.

27 May 2018

John 14:25-27 and 16:12-15

The Holy Spirit: Bridging Past and Future

May 20, 2018      Maple Grove UMC

 

To build bridges of healing, compassion and justice

through our relationships with God, self and others.

          Again, that’s Maple Grove’s new vision statement and throughout this year we’ll seek to see all that we do as the building of bridges. In this worship series we’ll ponder how the church can bridge the generations, how to build bridges out of poverty, and return to the idea of building bridges of reconciliation. But we shouldn’t think that all the bridge-building is up to us. The chief bridge builder, of course, is God who sent Jesus to bridge all gaps—any gap between God and us, the gap between sin and forgiveness, the gap between feeling lost and knowing we’re beloved.

          Specifically, on the Day of Pentecost, we celebrate how God sent the Holy Spirit upon the disciples to bridge from their time with Jesus to the time after Jesus; to bridge from their fear and hiding to the courage to tell everyone about Jesus; to bridge, in other words, from the time of the disciples to the time of the church. And according to John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit—often known in John as “the Advocate,” or “Comforter”—continues to be our bridge. The Holy Spirit now serves as our bridge between the past and the future—that is the Holy Spirit helps us look back to who Jesus was and what Jesus taught, and the Holy Spirit helps us look ahead to what Jesus would have us do next. Let me tell you what I mean.

 

          First, the Holy Spirit bridges us into the future. In John 16 Jesus promises to guide his disciples into all the truth, to declare to them things that are to come. We might wonder, teach them all what things? Did Jesus leave some important information out? Why more teaching? Well, because new life situations call for new understandings of Jesus, new circumstances require new ways of applying our faith.1 For example, after Jesus ascended into heaven, how would the disciples cope with the absence of Jesus? How would these Jewish disciples learn to pray and eat with Gentile believers? How would Christians respond to Roman persecution? to Nazi Germany? To the Sexual Revolution and feminism? to climate change? the global refugee crisis? Come, Holy Spirit, we need some more truth!

          The idea that there is “more truth” sounds radical and dangerous to some people. It can be more comfortable to believe that God has told us everything there is to know and that it’s neatly sewn up between two covers, preferably in King James English. However . . . God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “From this time forward, I make you hear new things, hidden things you have not known” (48:6). In the fullness of time God sent Jesus to make a new covenant with people, and through a vision to Peter God taught the disciples to do a new thing—to disregard the rules and eat unclean food with Gentiles. The Holy Spirit leads us to new truth, bridges us into the future God envisions for us.

          As I mentioned before, some of this new truth we need has to do with ways the world keeps changing. My grandparents grappled during the Great Depression with whether to keep teenagers home to work and help feed the family, or sacrifice and let them finish high school. My parents wondered whether too much TV would corrupt their kids (probably so). Parents of my generation worried about the influence of violent video games and social media. Goodness knows what my children will face as parents. We need new truth for new times, and the Holy Spirit bridges us into God’s future.

          But some of the new truth we need just has to do with going through the stages of life. If someone tried to tell you when you were 7 what you’d need to know at 17, it wouldn’t do any good, would it? It’s not that it isn’t true, it’s just that you don’t have the life experience to grasp it. You don’t need that truth yet because you can’t understand that truth yet. Again, if someone tried to tell you at 17 what you’d need to know when you were 40 . . . or 70, you wouldn’t really be able to hear it. You’re not ready for it, don’t need it yet. The Holy Spirit bridges us from age to age, teaching us what we need to as circumstances evolve.

          Let’s face it—sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, what decision to make, what kind of person you need to be. As difficult as these struggles are, Jesus promised not to leave us on our own. Jesus sent the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach us all things and lead us and to lead the church into all the truth. The Holy Spirit is our bridge into God’s future.

 

          But here’s the thing—the Spirit always leads us into the future by leading us back to Jesus. The other side of the bridge that takes us to whatever is next, is firmly grounded in what Jesus taught and who Jesus was in the past. As Jesus puts it in John, the Holy Spirit will not only “teach you everything,” but also “remind you of all that I have said to you.” The bridge forward is also the bridge back . . . back to Jesus.

          One of the early Christian definitions for being lost was “to have amnesia”—that is, to forget who we are, whose we are, how Jesus taught us to live. Therefore, to be a Christian means, in part, always to be reminded of Jesus.2 And that is what the Holy Spirit does—it bridges us always back to Jesus.

          James Somerville has suggested that the first disciples must have had some painful and confusing times after Jesus ascended. They must have looked at each other with anxiety and shock. They were like children left without their parents. One of them, most likely Peter, probably blurted out what they had all been wondering: What are we going to do now?

          “Wait,” one of them replied, “do you remember? Jesus told us he was going away. But—remember?—he also promised to come back to us. He said he was going to the Father, and that he was telling us ahead of time so that when it happened we would still believe. Well, now it’s happened—we don’t need to be afraid; we need to believe. Remember?”

          The others nodded their heads, Yes, Jesus had said that. We remembered now! It’s all coming back to us!

          “In fact,” one of them went on, “he said that we’d remember all this because the . . . what did he call it? Because the Advocate—that’s it—the Holy Spirit would remind us of everything he taught us when he was here.”

          And suddenly it dawned on them: they were remembering the things he’d told them, as if he were right there whispering in their ears. And in that same moment, they realized that they were not alone, that Jesus had kept his promise.3 That’s the work of the Holy Spirit—to lead us into the future by reminding us of the past.

          That’s why we get together here every week, some of us several times a week—to be reminded of Jesus, to recover from our amnesia, to let the Holy Spirit build a bridge to the future that is firmly planted in what Jesus said and who Jesus was. Sure, some things may still confuse and trouble us. But we don’t ever have to wonder about whether to welcome strangers—the Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus always welcomed strangers. We don’t ever have to wonder whether or not to give to the poor—the Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus said to always give to the poor. We don’t ever have to wonder if it’s okay for the church to take risks or for us to put ourselves in dangerous situations—the Holy Spirit reminds us that that Jesus didn’t let even the cross stop him from doing God’s will. We get to wondering about things; it’s not always clear what to do next. And then it dawns on us—we do remember what Jesus said and who he was. We’re not alone in our struggles.

          The Holy Spirit bridges us into God’s future by leading us back to Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit!

                   

1 See Fred B. Craddock, John (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 113.

2 Craddock, 113.

3 James G. Somerville, “Who Will Take Care of Us?” The Christian Century (May 6, 19998), 471.

06 May 2018

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Bridges of Reconciliation (Part 1)

May 6, 2018         Maple Grove UMC

 

To build bridges of healing, compassion, and justice

through our relationships with God, self, and others.

               That is Maple Grove’s new Vision Statement. It’s visionary language because it invites us to see the world a new way—to see all our ministries, everything we do, as bridges to God, and bridges to lonely, hurting people. These words invite us to look for what we need in order to draw closer to God and one another. They inspire us to see our own lives as bridges to reach others with healing, compassion and justice.

          We begin this worship series on Building Bridges with 2 Corinthians 5 and the bridge of reconciliation. Be reconciled to God, Paul writes, and be ambassadors of reconciliation to others. Surely in these angry, divisive and polarized times, what the world needs now is not just love sweet love, but the special form of love called reconciliation. Reconciliation can be as big as the generations of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the endless bloodshed in Syria.

          It can also be as close as home. I’ve heard that there are spouses (this would never happen in the parsonage, you understand!) who after angry words have been exchanged and both spouses have reason to feel hurt, each one will lie on their own side of the bed, backs turned to one another, arms crossed, neither one saying a word, each one waiting for the other to make the first move. Until perhaps minutes, perhaps hours, perhaps days later, one finally reaches a hand across the divide, just letting it rest on the other’s shoulder. That hand is the bridge of reconciliation.

 

          2 Corinthians was written during a period of intense conflict between the apostle Paul and the church at Corinth. Paul was an early hero in that church; he spent more time there, I believe, than anywhere else besides Ephesus. But after he left, other teachers came to Corinth, teachers who disagreed with Paul and disparaged his character. Many of the Corinthians turned against Paul. One of them treated Paul so harshly that even other critics of Paul had to rein him in. Paul had intended to visit Corinth once, maybe even more, but so great was the conflict that Paul canceled these visits and sent Titus instead.

          This letter, 2 Corinthians, is Paul’s olive branch to the Corinthian church, his attempt to patch things up, and chapter 5 is the high point of his appeal. Now, in the midst of this conflict, we might expect Paul to say something like, “Come on, Corinthians, let’s be reconciled to each other.” But instead Paul says, “Come on, Corinthians, let’s all be reconciled to God.” Paul understood that Christians cannot claim peace with God unless we are at peace with one another. And when we are truly reconciled to God, peace with one another will follow.1

              

               2 Corinthians 5 is a treasure chest of good theology about reconciliation:

  • In terms of our relationship with God, note that it’s not that God needs to be reconciled to us; it’s that we need to be reconciled to God. Sometimes we think God is angry about our sins and that we need to appease God or win God over with our repentance and faith. But the truth is, God doesn’t need to change at all. God is always standing there with open arms, ready to receive us home. In fact, Paul says, God has already reconciled the whole world through Christ—all that remains is for us to take God’s hand.
  • And in terms of our relationships with one another, Paul insists in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that Christ died for all, for everyone without exception. In other words, Christ died for me and Christ died for the people with whom I have conflict. Therefore, I can’t relate to those people only in terms of our disagreement; I have to relate to them as persons for whom Jesus gave his life. That puts our conflict in a different perspective.

     Paul is saying not that Christians need some day to be reconciled to one another, but that in Christ reconciliation has already been accomplished. If anyone is in Christ, he says, everything old has passed away. There is a new creation, a new world to live in. Therefore, as one Bible scholar has put it, the old conflicts, like our old sins, have passed away. Like it or not, I am “already reconciled to my neighbor who is now my brother or my sister.” When we keep our eyes on Christ, our Reconciler, we have no time for enmity, no energy for hostility, for everything has been made new.2

 

          That’s the theology. Here’s what it looks like in real life. In the Walking While Black film that we showed last weekend, there is the story of a white police officer who, feeling pressure to get convictions and get bad guys off the street, was persuaded to falsify evidence against an African-American suspect. An innocent man went to prison, and it wasn’t until four years later that the cop ‘fessed up and the man was released. When he got out of prison, the man confronted the now former officer, demanding to know why he’d lied. The former cop first apologized but then said some things that made matters worse, and the two parted with one still bitterly angry and the other feeling guilty and helpless. Years later, by chance, these two men got assigned to work together one-on-one, and they stood there staring at each other. “I figured I was going to take a beating,” the white man says. “I deserved to take a beating.” Instead the black man from whom he’d taken four years of his life, reached out and hugged him, forgave him, became his friend and coworker. Why? Because, he said, “We’re brothers now. Brothers in Christ. All that happened in the old life; there’s a new creation now.” Through Christ God has reconciled us to himself and given us the ministry of reconciliation. I hope you’ll see the film when we show it again June 21.

 

          Reconciliation is not a passive experience, it is an intentional activity. We don’t get to lie back on our side of the bed, arms crossed, waiting for someone else will make the first move. Rather, in Christ we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ—God sends us out as agents of reconciliation.

 

          This scripture has been working on me for weeks now. So here is how I have been an ambassador for Christ this week. I am painfully aware that over seven years as your pastor, I have done and said things that caused people pain. I’m also aware that others have said and done things that hurt my feelings. And whose fault it is—that’s always hard to say, and in the end it doesn’t really matter. All that happened in the old life; in Christ there is a new creation. Christ died for those who have hurt others and for those who have been hurt; we’re all sisters and brothers in Christ. Reconciliation isn’t a passive experience, it’s an intentional action. So this week I sent hand-written letters to several people at Maple Grove, people with whom I’ve had conflict—asking their forgiveness, offering my forgiveness, seeking to build a bridge over all that might hold us apart. I admit—it was hard to do. But I couldn’t preach this sermon to you until I had done that.

          All too often, we lie in bed, turned away from each other, arms crossed, waiting for someone else to make the first move. Well, in Christ, God always makes the first move. And we are ambassadors of that God. I’ve told you what I did this week, as an ambassador for Christ, as an agent of reconciliation. You too, are an ambassador for Christ. What will you do? What bridge of reconciliation will you build for God this week?

1 Drawn from Ernest Best, Second Corinthians, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987), 58.

2 Glenn T. Miller, “2 Corinthians 5:11 – 6:13,” Interpretation 54/2 (April 2000), 186-88.

06 May 2018

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.  

mg3

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