Confirmation Sermon

A sermon preached on June 14, 2009 on the occasion of the confirmation of the faith of Bobby, Kelsey, Jared, Valia, Kayla, Ryan, Jenna, Daniel and Zachary.

In our confirmation journey together, we considered the story Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in which Jesus quietly returns during the days of the Spanish Inquisition. The people instinctively recognize him; and he begins giving life to people. The “Grand Inquisitor” — the head church dude — appears and promptly has Jesus arrested. The Grand Inquisitor visits Jesus in a prison cell, during which he lectures Jesus about how he made a mistake when he turned down the offers made to him by the devil out in the wilderness. “The one thing human beings can‘t bear,” the head church declares declares, “is freedom. We have corrected your work, taking away the peoples’ freedom, which they have been all too ready to hand over to us.”

We were made in the image and likeness of God, which means we were given the gift of freedom as our birthright. Unfortunately, we routinely deny our freedom.

I want to tell you a little bit about Dostoevsky’s personal story. Living in 19th century Russia. As a young man Doestoevsky got involved in the movement opposed to the tyranny of the Czar. He was arrested, and sentenced to death by firing squad. He was standing before the firing squad, preparing to die, when a messenger arrived granting him a reprieve, and sentencing him instead to five years hard labor in prison.

With his life having just flashed before his eyes, a woman Dostoevsky did not know handed him a copy of the New Testament on his way to prison. Reading this book changed his life as he spent his years in prison marvelling at the figure of Jesus.

This morning, when you come to the altar to be confirmed, I will hand you your own personal copy of the New Testament. It’s a translation in contemporary language entitled “The Message” written by a man named Eugene Peterson. I think you will find it far easier to read than the translations you may have read in the past.

I want you to read this book. Somewhere inside your personal copy, I’ve selected a verse for you. You will tell it is your verse because I have written you initials next to it. I wrote it small and in the crease, so you’ll have to search for it.

Read this book. Here’s a crazy suggestion. Why don’t you have your mother or father read the book to you at night when you go to bed? Sure, you’ve probably assumed you are too old for such things. But remember, you’re free, and that means you’re free to do a such things if you choose, regardless of what your schoolmates might say. Let yourself be a kid again. Encountering Jesus would be a nice thing for you and your parents to share together.

So read this book.

You will also receive a cross this morning to wear. People often wear crosses without giving much thought to it. I would like you try and keep in mind Jesus when you put  it on. Jesus said, “Unless you lose yourself, you will not find yourself.” When we get to middle school, we realize that people are self-centered. It easy to spot in others; less so in ourselves. Self-centeredness afflicts the whole human race. When you wear this cross, let it be a little reminder to you that you are going to try as best you can to be less self-centered — not all about yourself.

The only real way to find happiness in this life is to move away from being all about yourself, to losing yourself in something vastly larger than yourself, what Jesus called the “kingdom of God.”

Jesus told this little parable about a tiny mustard seed which gets buried in the earth and amazingly sprouts and grows into this large bush, capable of hosting all the birds in its shelter. There are a lot of different ways to think of this, but one way is to think of the mustard seed as your soul. God has blessed you with treasure — great treasure hidden inside yourself. At this point in time, you have only the barest notion of the width and breath and depth of this treasure. The rest of your lives will be spent in partnership with the holy spirit unearthing these gifts, and allowing them to be used by God to bless this world. Believe me when I tell you that there are more gifts hidden inside you then you can imagine, and never assume you’ve already found all there is to find.

There are a lot of things I might say about the Christian life, but I want to finish by just mentioning two.

First, Jesus said, when you pray go into your room by yourself where you won’t have an audience before which you will perform. Alone with God, pour out your heart and mind, whatever is inside you, the good and the bad. Then be still and simply listen. Be present to the One who gave you this life. This is the way to develop a personal relationship with God. It is also the way to find out who God really made you to be beyond all the expectations others have of you. It is in these solitary times with God that you will rediscover that you really are free, after all. This is something that requires you be alone.

Having said this, the second thing I want to say to you is that the Christian life can’t be lived alone. You need other people; you need a church of people who share a commitment to follow Jesus who will support you and for whom you can offer support. The prodigal son went out into the world and found friends of a sort, but they weren’t “thick and thin” friends, people who would stand beside you come what may. Believe me when I tell you that you will need these kinds of friends as you go through life.

One of the interesting things about church friends is that they aren’t necessarily the people we would have chosen for our friends, since our inclination in our self-centeredness is to choose friends who pretty much resemble ourselves: same age, same race, some opinions. These sorts of similarities have a way of just reinforcing our self-absorption. In church, God gives us thick and thin friends who may well be quite different from us in many ways, and as such, they will challenge us to be larger than we would have been otherwise. The one thing we have in common for sure is Jesus, and if we really get it about Jesus, well that’s a pretty powerful thing to share.



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