Jeremiah 29: 11; 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8; Joshua 1: 9; and Romans 8: 28-29 were chosen by the Confirmands for today’s reflection.
I understand that your parents/sponsors have written you a letter – that is wonderful. And I have been reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s a letter he wrote to his son about what it is like to live in this world. So I decided to write you a short letter – longer than a post card, longer than a Tweet…but shorter than a sermon – sharing with you what I want you to know.
Before I read the letter: Let’s ask if there are any people in the congregation today who joined a church when they were 13 or so? If you joined this church after taking the confirmation class – stand up!
That’s an amazing number of confirmands! Okay, my letter:
Dear New Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Today you have done something that millions, indeed billions of women and men of every age, race and gender, throughout the world have done in the last 2,000 years: you have joined the church.
Welcome! Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything or if you are still not sure you really know what you believe; for some of us (including me) it takes a lifetime and a community!
After all, Jesus’ first disciple, Mary, was like “What?” But she was willing to be “a handmaid of the Lord.” The other early disciples Peter, Andrew, John, James – didn’t understand a lot – some folks call them the DUH-ciples because they were so easily confused. St. Paul was making it up as he went along! But he trusted the story of Jesus and he loved the people. These disciples knew deep down that Jesus was telling them something good and true.
Soon after you were born, for most of you were baptized. At your baptism: God made a promise, your parents made a promise, you made a promise, and the church made a promise. God promised that she loves you! Your parents promised to show you that love, the church made that promise of their support and nurture. So joining the church is joining a community of love and support!
Today you are standing among us as equals – because we are all on a journey learning about what it means to be a Christian. Remember, you haven’t joined a club. And joining the church doesn’t make you better than anyone. Don’t ever forget that!
But I hope that after today you will be a little bit different. Perhaps you will become even more of a leader; showing everyone how to care for others and stand up for those on the outside and when people ask you why, you can say because I am a follower of Jesus and a member of Forest Hill Church. Invite your friends to this place!
And I want to say to those youth who decided not to join the church today: You are a beloved child of God as much as ever! Your decision took some guts – maybe standing up to your parents, and peers for the first real time. It’s ok – it wasn’t your time to join – but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you or we don’t love you any less. You have been baptized and you are absolutely part of this family! God doesn’t break promises and neither do we!
Whenever you want to join, just let me know and we will make it happen! You have been through the confirmation class, so you are good to go. And if you decide not to join a church until you are older – that is good too. So don’t worry. And parents: don’t you fret either: it is all good! Your children are so, so blessed to have you in their lives!
What does being a member of the church mean? It means showing up for worship!
It means that you are on a journey with all these people seeking to know God better, and yourselves better, to be like Jesus – serving others, loving all people, not being scared of life – loving life – trusting that you are made in the likeness and image of God – knowing that you have a community that has your back – you are welcome here – and we welcome everyone else too!
Being part of a church means that you are part of a community that believes that love wins! And even when things feel scary, we are not alone. No matter how confusing life gets, God is present. And we know this because we have this – the Bible. So read it!
Every morning when you wake up, say “This is the Day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!” And “All things work for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose!” And “Give me this day, my daily bread!” Pray the Lord’s prayer often!
A brilliant theologian Karl Barth – he wrote so much that a whole shelf can hardly contain his thinking – was asked near the end of his life if he could say what he believed in one sentence, and this brilliant man said this: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
I love being part of this church – these are good people – generous, kind, forgiving, accepting, thoughtful, active, fun! You can now vote in congregational meetings, and serve on committees, and go to Presbytery meetings (well 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!).
You get to offer your best self: your time, your talents, and your treasures to this church and to the world.
In closing, remember to seek to love God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your being. And love your neighbor as yourself: you will have fulfilled all the commandments.
Come on, let’s get this party started, let’s continue the journey. It will be quite an adventure. I am glad we are in this together!
Love, Pastor John