Together in ChristPosted: November 20, 2016
Together in Christ
SLIDE 3: CONFIRMATION SUNDAY
On this confirmation Sunday we celebrate the choice our confirmands have made to affirm their willingness to follow in the way of Jesus and take their place as adult participants in the community of faith. And my prayer for them today parallels the prayer Paul offered up for those early Christians in the City of Colossae: “Be assured that we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to God’s will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul — not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking God who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful.”
SLIDE 4: INCLUSIVE OF ALL
Paul’s prayer is really for all of us, because today we celebrate the covenant relationship that forms the United Church of Huntsville. Our foundation is in our Mission Statement: The United Church of Huntsville is inclusive to all. We strive to humbly walk the path of Jesus and to show love and justice in our church and in the world around us. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome at the United Church of Huntsville. Everyone is welcome at the Sharing Table of Jesus. So one of the ways God is at work in each one of us and in our fellowship is through radical hospitality, seeking to include all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, educational level, and theology.
SLIDE 5: DISAGREE IN LOVE
Our confirmands had a powerful example of how we seek to be inclusive by embracing a non-doctrinal fellowship. At the Sharing Table we asked all of the adults as well as the confirmands to fill out the Great Questions Questionnaire, and then we spent two Thursday evenings asking everyone at the table to share their answers. Needless to say at United Church wherever two people are gathered there are three opinions. And so we discovered that even though we disagree about our statements of belief, we are still able to live together in a spiritual fellowship that seeks to follow the way of Jesus together. As a witness to our diversity of belief, Evan and Cole will read their Statements of Faith as part of their confirmation, and their joining our fellowship.
SLIDE 6: REPAIRING THE WORLD
Why do we study Holy Scriptures, come to worship, engage in mission, and pray with and for each other? Because as we learn more about how God works, we learn more about how to do our work. One of the purposes of confirmation is to help young people to begin to identify how they might use their gifts and talents to serve God. During our sharing about the Great Questions Questionnaire we did discover one remarkable convergence of thought. Stewardship, using the gifts God has given to us to help repair the world – in Hebrew Tikkum Olam. It is my prayer that both Evan and Cole will find their own unique contributions they can make to the repair of the world.
SLIDE 7: THE STAR THROWER
On this subject of repairing the world the Monday Bible Study has been reading The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. The story that gave the book its title speaks to repairing the world.
Loren Eiseley would go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the sand, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.”
“I guess I should have asked, ‘Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?’”
“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”
“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one!”
SLIDE 8: VOCATION — WHERE YOUR DEEP GLADNESS & THE WORLD’S DEEP HUNGER MEET
And that reminds me of a favorite quotation from Frederick Buechner about finding your niche in the world: “Vocation,” he wrote, “comes from the Latin word vocare (to call) and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you enjoy your work, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing television deodorant commercials, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is serving as a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy and depressed, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but you probably aren’t helping any of your patients either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.“
SLIDE 9: SERVING IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH
Today, not only are we confirming two young people, but we will also be electing new officers for our congregation. Part of our call to repair the world is to give our time and talents in the life of the congregation. The congregation has a unique mission in the life of the Tennessee Valley to help others see that we follow in the way of Jesus by creating and sustaining an inclusive community of faith.
SLIDE 10: JOY FOR THESE CONFIRMANDS
And this brings me to the last part of Paul’s prayer. “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul — not the grim strength of gritting your teeth and gutting it out, but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking God who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful.” And after forty-one gutting it out in ministry, I’m not proud of some of my life, but coming now to my last confirmation class with joy I offer prayers of thanksgiving with their parents and the rest of this congregation that God will see them through to become responsible adults.
SLIDE 11: NO HALLOWEEN GOD
So, look for the joy! God doesn’t need any more long faced fun killing gloomy Christians. Jesus laughed because God laughs. Jesus told jokes. Jesus enjoyed life so much, they called him a party animal. It’s time to put away the Halloween images of God, angry, vengeful, scary, ready to zap unbelievers and anyone who transgresses even the minutest portion of the law.
SLIDE 13: ROWDY CHRISTIANS
No God wants rowdy Christians, who enjoy life, who have a smiles on their faces and a ready laugh, who are ready to forgive others, because they know what it means to be forgiven — often.
Today let’s celebrate Evan and Cole’s confirmation as they take their place in our community of faith, as we elect new leadership for the challenges that lie ahead.