Sunday, August 19, 2007

Confirmation Day sermon

Texts: from Hebrews and Luke

It is always interesting to me to look at the scriptures that the lectionary offers us when I have planned something out of sync with the customary time frame. Confirmations are usually celebrated on Easter or on Pentecost, not in the middle of the summer. But for us, this is the season for confirmation, and we today celebrate the decisions of these 4 young people to take vows of professing membership in the church.
The scriptures today seem an odd choice for such a festive occasion, and I suppose they are a choice, because I could have easily picked out something else and gone off the lectionary today to find some more “appropriate” texts to focus us on the things at hand, but the lectionary texts are there to challenge preachers to apply the text to the context, and that’s what I feel led by the Spirit to do.
What are we professing? “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” Christ assures us that making this pledge doesn’t always win us friends and make us popular. Today’s Gospel passage gives us pause. You may have wondered, “who is speaking here? Is it Jesus? “I did not come to bring peace to the Earth, but division?” But what about the angels calling him “Prince of Peace” at his birth? What are you getting at Jesus?
Christ is telling his followers and his listeners that things aren’t going to be easy because we become followers. In many cases they become harder. It sometimes creates divisions, even ripping the fabric of the household, when we truly follow Christ and take a stand for him in the world.
I had colleagues in seminary who were practically disowned by disappointed parents when they chose to go into the ministry. Jesus didn’t write the book “How to win friends and influence people.” He writes the “Book of Life,” and sometimes life, Real life, is threatening to our comforts of home and the status quo.
“Resisting evil” has been Hollywoodized in our mental perceptions. Resisting evil may conjure images of standing up against the fiery, scary, repulsive, and unabashedly hateful powers of Hell. While evil can be all of these things, we take vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Don’t forget that what you pledge to resist can oftentimes seem very comfortable, it can seem glamorous. It wouldn’t be very tempting if it weren’t.
Part of resisting evil is resisting temptation. Our gospels tell the story of evil presenting itself to Jesus as power, glory, and “easy street.” Pray for the faith of Christ and the wisdom to discern when God is offering you rest and when Evil is masquerading as good. If “good things” are distracting you from the Love of God and neighbor, if your Spirit feels drowsy, then you have probably fallen into the trap of temptation. But you can always climb out if you ask God to throw you a rope.
Author of Hebrews speaks about those who have been victorious and those who have suffered with equal admiration. He ascribes faith to both of the groups. Faith does not keep us from suffering, sometimes having faith makes us a target for suffering.
But we do have comfort in the “cloud of witnesses.” There is a reason why the congregation responds to each of these young people who profess their faith. There is a reason we ask parents and sponsors and friends to come and surround each person as they kneel and we invoke the Spirit’s presence and activity in their lives. It is because the cloud of witnesses is alive and present! It is real, not just a name!
Hebrews speaks about the generations upon generations who have exemplified the faith that is the “assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things unseen.” The Bible contains stories of the called who have professed the faith over the centuries. These stories can lift us up when we are faltering. The cloud of witnesses include our loved ones who have run the race before us, and the people of our faith story who shape the present with the record of the experience of God in the past.
And what is it that we are all called to do? Lay aside every weight and Put aside that sin that clings so closely. Put it aside because it’s not the real you! It’s not the clothes of the children of God! I told the confirmands that the way the early church practiced baptism was to take off every stitch of clothing and come down into the waters. This symbolized this very real notion that we do lay aside that weight and that sin, and when we are reborn out of the waters of baptism, we are as naked and new and blameless as that newborn coming from the waters of her mother’s womb.
Early Christians would then come up out of the water and stomp on their old clothing to symbolize their disregard for the previous life, and then would receive new white robes. The new white robes evoked “putting on Christ,” as Paul speaks so eloquently about in his letters. This almost always occurred on midnight of Easter Eve, when the church watched and waited and celebrated the New Creation that was inaugurated upon Christ’s resurrection from Death itself.
So, we take off the weight of sin and run with perseverance the race. Don’t give up when you get out of breath. Push through the cramps in your guts and keep running. Get outside yourself and understand that you are running for the glory of Christ. Your faith is a testament to the triumph of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, God over evil.
Running with perseverance the race that is set before us: When we profess our faith and pledge our allegiance to Jesus Christ, we boldly step forward into a future unknown by us with the assurance that what we hope for awaits us if not before, at least at the end of our journey. We may hope for health, wealth, and peace—and for some that is the race that is set before them. For others, it is not. Jesus speaks to that reality in the gospel lesson today.
For some, following Christ down the path set before us may mean poverty, oppression, and division. But faith can be exemplified in both paths—and the stories in our Bible lift up examples of both. In everything, God may be glorified, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. I’ve never liked running. I can recall running for football and tennis when I was in high school. I don’t know if I’ve run since then (unless it has been running to catch an airplane). Running isn’t pleasant for me. But there are those who crave the “runner’s high.” They love the feeling of pushing through the pain and feeling the rush of endorphins that our body injects into our bloodstream to keep us going.
Hebrews speaks about the vision of Christ in his glory as that kind of “runner’s high.” This vision keeps us going even when we encounter difficulty and division along the way. Can you see Jesus? Can you see him bearing the cross ahead of us? Can you see him being lifted up in glory? Can you follow on the race set before you?

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