May 7, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan and Rev. Chris Carr
View, print or save PDF: Sermon.05.07.17.I Believe
May 7, 2017
Rev. Melanie Homan and Rev. Chris Carr
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[a]
This morning, at our 11:11am service, six of our 9th graders will be confirming their faith. Confirmation is a long standing part of our Christian tradition, but what exactly is it? And what does it mean for our youth, or for the rest of us? Chris and I are going to share some of our thoughts on confirmation as you consider what it means to you.
Each one of the Gospels ends in a different way. In Mark – we have an abrupt ending. Jesus isn’t in the tomb and the women run away in fear. In Luke – we go directly from “part 1” to the book of Acts, or “part 2” of the story. In John, we hear that there are many other stories of appearances of Jesus that haven’t been written down. And in Matthew – the Gospel ends with the passage we just heard. Matthew writes that the 11 disciples of Jesus (notice that there aren’t 12 – as Judas is not among them) – are given a commission. A charge. After his resurrection, Jesus gives an answer to the disciples unspoken question: “What’s next?” “What in the world do we do next?” And his answer is not only for the 11 disciples, it’s for all of us.
There are three things that Jesus challenges us to do:
- Make Disciples.
Make disciples. In my mind, the word “make” can be taken a lot of different ways. I view it more as “nurture”. Nurture people. Encourage people. Show people what Jesus’ teachings look like in real life so that, when they see it, they want to live by those teachings, too. Nurture disciples. That’s what we do here at Lake Harriet. No matter your age, we are all on a path of discipleship where we keep growing and stretching as we follow Jesus’ teachings. When those first 11 disciples were wondering what they were supposed to do next – Jesus told them to make disciples. That’s what we do when we nurture people’s love of God and others.
Now, sometimes in our history, making disciples has been interpreted as forcing disciples. Case in point…the Crusades– Repent! Believe! Or die! Or – if the head of your household believed in Jesus, then the entire household was forced to believe – parents, kids, servants, slaves. One person makes a decision and everyone else has to follow suit (which doesn’t really seem like a personal decision, because it wasn’t!).
So – when our confirmation youth claim their faith and commitment to God and this community this morning – it’s really important to us that they do so of their own accord. We do not believe in forcing disciples. This past week, Chris and I met with each of the youth to talk about their beliefs and their desire to confirm their faith.. We made it clear to each one of them that this wasn’t their parents’ choice or our choice – it’s THEIR choice.
And when we talk with them about this choice, their choice to claim a place on their faith journey, as they have built community, learned, and challenged over the past three years of Confirmation, it is important for us to acknowledge that the questions that they are asked today, these are not the first time these questions have been asked in their presence, for at their baptism their family and sponsors said these same or similar words on their behalf, and claimed their place in faith as these young people do today. That moment, in Baptism, as the waters of Creation and the reminder that we are washed over in the blessing and Grace of Christ, a decision was made for them by people that love them, as a family but also a congregation and now, today, they confirm that independently, for themselves.
Baptism came for an ancient ritual of the cleansing of impurities. When Jesus send the disciples forth to baptize, it is about more than just water. Jesus is calling them into the practice of reminding each person that they come in contact with that they are cleansed, they are Holy, they are enough as they are because of God’s grace. He did not tell the disciples to only go baptize your friends, or the people with money, or a particular social status. He just says “go do it”. The Baptism that Jesus tells them to go do is as much about the building relationships and practicing the expression of God’s Grace to others they do not yet know
As we have talked with the 9th graders this year, one of the big reasons why they get connected and want grow in that connection with a church, specifically this church, is because of the relationships that have grown through shared experiences. The practice of building relationships is something that is not done with intentionality in many places outside of the church. Here, we claim that as part of our ministry, to learn how to genuinely care for one’s neighbor through service experience and through the challenge of deeper spiritual discussion.
The final thing that Jesus challenges us to do is to teach…to pass along to others, and to learn as deeply as we can for ourselves, Jesus’ teachings. That’s what happens every Sunday in Godly play and Explore classes. It’s what happens every Wednesday night in confirmation classes and senior high youth group. It’s what happens throughout the week in adult small groups. In our confirmation conversations with the youth, one of them said, “When I started confirmation three years ago, I thought it would be a binary class where I would come and you’d give us a bunch of concrete faith answers. But, then I realized that it wasn’t so much about answers as a chance for us to talk explore the ‘big’ questions.”
Jesus was often teaching, and it’s one of the most important things we pass on as a community. We teach and learn and stretch our own ideas and beliefs together. This is why, at the end of our interviews with the youth, they got to ask Chris and I questions. And, let me tell you, they asked us really good questions like, “How do you describe God?” “What do YOU think the Holy Spirit is?” “What did confirmation mean to you when you went through it?” And, my personal favorite, “How did confirmation connect with your call to ordained ministry?” (My answer was, “Well, if you want to be ordained, you need to confirm your faith first!” And then I shared a story of my own confirmation trip to the Annual Conference Office in downtown Minneapolis, and meeting Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher and her saying to our group, “One day, you, too, might be a pastor.” I laughed out loud and said to her, “Who would ever want to be a pastor?!?” Sometimes the best words are the ones we have to eat!
So the point that we have been hammering with everyone, from parents, to youth, is that this is not graduation. As much as we mirror the academic setting and schedule, this is not the culmination of three years of program and ministry to take the final exam and you have now passed and graduated from church. In fact, this is the starting point. We celebrate today accomplishments of people who have cared and been driven to explore their faith intentionally, but this has been prep work in order to now take on this commission that Jesus has passed down to his disciples, over 2000 years ago, and today. Now is the time to get to work.
To put a confirmed exploration and growing relationship with God and a faith community to practice. And not just as a student, but as a member of equal authority and status to all other members of the community, something adolescents do not always get to experience. You are not here just as learners, but as leaders and teachers. Perhaps that is leadership expressed through creative gifts being brought into leading youth programming. Planning a retreat, inviting new people into the experience, recruiting new adult leaders. Perhaps it is using voice and perspective within a leadership committee in the church. Perhaps it is helping form into reality the ideas that we are working on in our Healthy Church Initiative, which our youth have already had an important role in.
As we think about new and creative ways to practice faith; to be the Church and bring an experience of the Holy to those who might not have had it, or think they are unable to because of circumstances, this is where these new Confirmands can lead us. Perhaps it is bringing gifts of music, or speaking, or time and energy to starting of our new Wednesday Night Worship Lab that we will be starting next Fall. As Jesus calls us to go to people and meet them where they are at, I am excited for this and other new ministries to be borne as we grow in our connecting and deepening of faith with people in new ways.
Church, These are all areas that they can use their gifts, that we can help guide, but also of equal importance, we can also learn from them, be be inspired into new perspective on our faith as well.
One of the great parts of getting to work with our youth is getting to support them as they begin to put their own words to their faith. They have some insights and perspectives that the rest of us can learn from here this morning.
As I share some of the reflections from the faith statements of our confirmation youth, think about your own beliefs and how you articulate them.
Here is some of what they shared:
“I believe God is a guide on the long trail of our faith. God leads us to what’s right and helps us run from what’s wrong.”
“I believe Jesus was a person who saw the world he lived in for what it could be. He saw and taught about a world where everyone works as equals for the good of each other rather than themselves.”
“I believe the Holy Spirit is what brings us all together. The Spirit is God’s way of connecting with us for our entire lives.”
“I believe the church is neither a building or a place. I believe the church is people. The church is a community who gathers to learn about God and Jesus and to pray for people around the world.”
“I believe discipleship is treating all God’s children with the same love and forgiveness that Jesus would. It is also connected with helping others.”
“I believe that faith without works is dead. I’m hoping that “works” with a little bit of faith is okay.”
Finally, one of our youth wrote, “I feel like it’s going to take more experience for me to solidify my beliefs. I have a feeling, though, that my beliefs will always be a complicated mixture of ideas.”
Our beliefs do not stay the same. They change and morph and deepen throughout our lives, and they are almost always a complicated mixture of ideas! And that’s okay!
In the United Methodist church, it is more than just about an having the right belief or studying and gaining the knowledge of the history and practice of the Christian faith (that is important, too), but it is about true and active expression of love. John Wesley said, “An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.”
So you must hear it first here:
Chloe, God loves you, and so do we.
Betsy, God loves you, and so do we.
Willem, God loves you, and so do we.
Jake, God loves you, and so do we.
Isaac, God loves you, and so do we.
Gaby, God loves you, and so do we.
And in knowing that, GO!
make disciples, baptize, teach. That was Jesus’ charge to us. Building on that, here’s our charge to you: The world needs you. This community, here at Lake Harriet is here to equip you to carry forth this commission, loving you unconditionally each step of the way, especially when we fall short, or mess up, because that is what it means for each of us to experience God’s amazing grace, why we come around a table together for a meal and are reminded what it looks like to share that Grace with others. It will not always be easy, in fact at times it pushes us all beyond our comfort zone and what we think are our limitations. Bring all that God has created in you to challenge and to bring forth change, change your school, your workplace, your home. To change the church, and change the world. That is our Call, and we love you through it.