5th Sunday of Easter, year A, preached 5/14/17
first reading: Acts 7:55-60
second reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
gospel reading: John 14:1-14
*Today we were celebrating the Rite of Confirmation. I have only used the confirmand’s first initial to protect her privacy.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation… let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood… a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people… Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Our second reading for this morning about sums up our journey of faith, and I think it’s a perfect reading for today, as we celebrate S’s confirmation.
“Like newborn infants…” That’s how all of us come to God, regardless of how old we were when we came to the font for Holy Baptism. Whether we were five months old, or five years, or twenty five – we all come to God as newborns – with nothing to offer for ourselves.
Newborns are completely helpless, and will die if left to themselves. They are utterly dependent on others for food, cleanliness, and protection. Just like the tiniest baby, are you and I before God. We can’t do anything to make ourselves worthy, can’t ever be good enough.
Our motives even when we do the right thing are often complicated instead of altruistic. Someone hurts us and we can’t or won’t forgive, we screw up and we can’t forgive ourselves. We’re a violent people: there is violence in our homes, prisons are filled with stories of violence, and the need for armies is a testimony to our collective urge to fight instead of make peace.
None of this is worthy of God. So, we come to God helpless. Beggars, looking for a bit of mercy. And God gives us everything. More than we could ever could’ve dreamed.
In our baptism we are made a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – God’s own people.”
S – on November 11, 2001, Pastor “P” splashed the Water and the Word on you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – and in that act you were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
It doesn’t mean that you, or the rest of us as the Church, are perfect. Far from it. To be “chosen,” “royal,” and “holy” isn’t a weapon we use against others, it doesn’t make us better than anyone else – it’s not a sign of OUR worth, but of God’s grace and love.
All we can do is live our lives in a way that says “thank you” for being made into “God’s people,” and the mercy we have received through Jesus Christ.
How do we do that? Well, the liturgy for the Rite of Confirmation gives us all a good place to start. As S will affirm in a few moments, it would be good for all of us to reflect upon how WE are continuing in the covenant God made with US in Holy Baptism:
- “To live among God’s faithful people,
- to hear God’s Word and share in his supper,
- to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
- to serve all people following the example of our Lord Jesus, and
- to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”¹
What all that really boils down to is what Jesus said were the two most important commands – to love God and to love neighbor.
As I said, none of us are perfect. We fail as individuals and as Church. But it doesn’t mean we stop trying. And not only do we fail – we doubt and struggle with faith. And let me make it clear that struggling with our faith or doubting, is NOT the same as failing.
Failing is when we know we’ve done something wrong. Doubt and struggle are natural parts of faith that are not a sign of failure, but are actually signs of STRENGTH.
There are positive and negative things about only having one student in confirmation class. The negatives might seem pretty obvious. But the positive is that I think S and I have had some good conversations about doubt and struggle. She has shared with me some of hers, and I have shared with her some of mine.
S, I admire your ability to be as open with me as you have about your questions. And I hope you KEEP asking questions, because it means you’re actually thinking about your faith. Not blindly following. Doubt and struggle are ways we “grow into salvation” and in many other parts of life too.
It doesn’t mean we always get the answers, we’re not God after all – and the struggles and doubts can get really frustrating – but God can take it. The most important thing we need to do for ourselves is to keep talking to God, and to keep hearing the Word and sharing the supper. Because when we all wrestle, struggle or doubt, the worst thing we can do with God, or with any person or group, is to stop talking, to separate ourselves.
This is why Confirmation is not the end of our Christian education journey, or faith journey, but really is just the beginning.
The questions don’t end, they just change as we go through life, and sometimes questions we “think” we found the answers to come back around again.
Because we really are just “newborn infants” longing… Faith is never a destination – only a journey.
Welcome to this new part of your journey S. We, and most importantly GOD, are walking along with you.
¹Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 201