Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter and Confirmation Sunday - Isaiah 29; James 1; John 16
Carry and I just got back from a quick trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was our first vacation together, just the two of us, in the last five years. No, I am not counting the fancy trip I took her on to Synod Assembly last year. We usually time our vacations around big anniversaries – 5, 10, 15, 20 years – so on and so forth. I spent part of our vacation apologizing to her because usually, when we go somewhere, my historian-side overrules my husband nature and so I drag her to all these things that I find absolutely incredible, and she might not. Ruins, old churches, museums. Defunct houses in the middle of nowhere. So, I had to say I’m sorry over our anniversary dinner at El Meson because I felt like she was having to put up with my unfortunate whim for anything archeological or historical. She said she liked what we went to see, enjoyed it, so if you are wondering if we need counseling, you might be right, but she and I are good. I think.
From an historian’s perspective, I look around the world and I am always seeking to find the old things. Things that have been well traveled. Stood the test of time. Last Saturday she and I went walking through Bandelier National Monument, a canyon that was populated by Pueblo peoples 700+ years ago. Literally, Carry and I walked and touched places that people lived in centuries previously, and these things are still standing.
We went into San Miguel Mission, the oldest church still in use in the US. Almost 400 years old. That is old for America. We sat in the pews. Said a prayer. Touched the altar rail where thousands have received the Sacrament.
We walked the streets of Santa Fe where so many people have been before. Where the Pueblo Revolt sacked the governor’s palace. Where Spanish soldiers, Mexican Soldiers, Confederate and Union soldiers all marched. Where people have protested for human rights, civil rights, voting rights. Where so many travelers have walked and laughed and shared in an enchanting place. As an historian, this is how you see the world. Always looking and seeing these places as time captured in a bottle.
“Now, Pastor, that’s all great”, you say. “What does this have to do with Confirmation, or our readings?”
Well, I’m glad you asked, because our faith is not a modern faith, but an ancient one. It is one not tied to modern sensibilities as much as one that influences, transforms, and even negates the will or desires of today. When we are captured by this faith, by the work of God in and through us, a change occurs in which we look at the world differently. We look at life differently. Life being one not based on how educated or successful we are, but on this way in which God’s work opens our eyes to his will in our lives and in the world.
So first, we say that this faith that Savannah will be affirming is one that is well beyond us. It is not some sort of thing we can wrap our minds around once, get it right, and move on. It is a daily thing. A daily reaffirmation that what we hear God say to us in his word, in his sacraments, is true. In Isaiah 29, the Israelites were paying lip service to the faith. Their success and prosperity had made God obsolete in their eyes. They could say the words of the liturgy, but they were just words. No heart. No life there. We could say the same for us. Our faith and religious observance often go that way because we lose the wonder of it all. For Savannah, and for you, you are stepping into time, captured in a bottle, where God works his wonders in and among you. In worship and Word. In life and service. In small and large ways. Now Savannah joins you in that place before God, living out this faith that science, math, psychology cannot explain. Something that cannot be seen and yet it is. Not understood in many ways and yet there stands the hope of it all. The hope of a God who brings wonders to us even when our faith is more sight than anything. Amazed that the same God is speaking and working in Savannah as is working in any of us.
Second, we hear that this faith is one that is given to “us”. Emphasis on the “us”. James speaks of birth from above. A birth that makes us part of God’s harvest. A basketful of good fruit grown by God, together in the field that is faith. He calls us “first-fruits”, meaning the best of the best fruit. The right fruit. The first picked. You as the people of God, joined together with Savannah, are this harvested fruit. This good growth that God has grown in the fields of the world to be both one’s that were given life, but also a source of life for the world. You, like Savannah taking ownership of it today, have stepped forward into this life in Christ, wrought through your baptism and the Spirit, to be joined together as one people, offering the remedy of Christ, and dragging along even more folks into this new Kingdom of God that is made manifest by his Gospel. Savannah being just another member of this Body of Christ joined together. One big Body, unseen as some physical thing, but seen in you as those redeemed and joined together by the Spirit of God.
Lastly, we welcome Savannah into full membership in the church, as an adult being gifted by the Spirit same as you. As one who is in need of the conviction of the Spirit over sin, same as you. In need of the life of the Spirit for the sake of righteousness, same as you. In need of the power of the Spirit for this work of the Body of Christ in the world, same as you. Savannah will be taking ownership of all the promises her parents made at her baptism so long ago. She will be saying that she will not rely on others to believe for her anymore. It is hers now, even more than it ever was before. With that ownership comes a joining into this Body that encompasses billions of people over 2000 years. Joining into this faith that will always be bigger than her and bigger than you. Something that has been preached, taught and confessed by a church that has stood since the beginning of its founding at Pentecost. That she now will walk this journey like so many others have before her and will after her. Meaning, you and she, are not alone in this. We have an historical church, the communion of saints, to which we join in the march of time towards the day when we will not need the Spirit to bring us truth anymore. On that day, Christ will come, the fulfillment of time established, and all for whom we have joined together will be united in one life.
As we step into this place each Sunday, we are walking into history every time. Walking into a place forged by the Spirit active and working in so many before you. You all, including Savannah, are just another part of that story. Christ’s story in the world. His-story. Because the Christian life, the faith, is an historical undertaking. Christianity being an historical faith. Based on a person and an event given by God to you. A particular time, 2000 years ago, on a hill outside Jerusalem, where this Jesus we confess bled, died and rose for the sake of the forgiveness of sin and victory over death. Uniting us in his blood to reconcile all people to himself. We join together, as these people united in reconciliation, to share in this story together, this story that becomes who we are well before we even know who we will be. The Spirit active and working in you for your salvation, but also for your calling into the world, not to be a superhero and wonderworker, but to live lives worthy of the Gospel. Savannah has many years ahead of her to grow and learn to see how God will use her and her gifts in the work of the Kingdom. But what she knows, and you must know, is that because of Christ, you are inheritors of God’s Kingdom, joined as brothers and sisters into the work of the Lord for the sake of the World. Thanks be to God. Amen.