St. Paul’s Congregational Church, June 2, 2019
Confirmation Sunday – Called As Partners
Easter 7C – John 17:20-26
Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I’d like to start our meditation this morning with a story that’s very important to me – my good friend Sherry Taylor told it at my ordination service – I’ve never forgotten it and I believe it’s shaped my ministry in many ways. It’s by Rabbi Marc Gellman, taken from his book, Does God Have a Big Toe.”
“Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”
So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be...just rocks.”
Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be... just water.”
Then the angels said, “Well, God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered, “Nope.”
On some of the rocks God placed growing things and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?”
And God answered, “Nope.”
God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me...really, it’s almost done.”
But the man and the woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone. You have the plans and we are too little.”
“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I will agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”
The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?”
And God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.”
And they all agreed to that deal.
Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?”
And God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”
Each one of us gathered here this morning to celebrate – and that includes the youngest here as well as the oldest, and certainly you, confirmands, is one of God’s partners. That’s the challenge but it’s also the joy of this day and all the days to come: we’re all in this together because none of us can do the work of finishing the world alone! We all have to depend on each other, we all have to depend on God. And we dare not let each other or God down as we walk together.
It’s a big day for all of us, especially for our two confirmands, as today you will come forward and publicly state, publicly promise, to be a disciple of Christ, to follow in Christ’s ways, to show love and justice, to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ - and you will promise to grow in the Christian faith and be a faithful member of the church - celebrating Christ’s presence and furthering Christ’s mission in the world.
Heavy promises. Hard promises. Certainly not promises that you can keep going it alone. But we’re all in this together. We celebrate the Rite of Confirmation around the festival of Pentecost for a reason - the birthday of the church - the day when the Holy Spirit filled those early disciples, when the Holy Spirit poured out on them - the same Holy Spirit that pours out on all of us, enabling us to be God’s partners in finishing the world.
So, what does that mean. You’ve already started - over the past weeks years you have shared the journey, shared the work of this church and the church universal. You’ve thoughtfully shared your faith with each other and your sponsors, you’ve struggled with the great questions of who is God, just who is Jesus, what does it mean to be a member of the church; you’ve taken on the ethical and moral questions of our day - you’ve worked hard to relate your faith to your daily life. Your scripture interpretations were especially good – you worked hard on them and they were a gift to us as a congregation. You worked to put into words your Faith Statements – and you can all read them in the bulletin today. You’ve wrestled with the “being” of your faith.
And you’ve given of yourselves - your time, your talents, your treasure - in so many ways - think back on the service projects you’ve done; both in the church and outside of the institutional church. You’ve created beautiful gardens on our property here. You’ve worked hard at the Scouting for Food project for Nutley Family Services. You’ve done both large and small things for this church and for the wider community. You’ve helped this church in its outreach. You’ve shared your extraordinary musical talents with us during worship – we’re counting on you to continue doing that too! You’ve hosted fellowship hours here too – that’s one of the projects that really defines St. Paul’s – our weekly hospitality following worship is an important part of our ministry. And you’ve also done so much that doesn’t really show - just because these things needed to be done. You’ve worked hard on the “doing” of your faith and we all thank you for that. And that work isn’t without joy either – you’ve talked about how much fun you had doing all these things.
And the reflections you wrote after attending the Annual Meeting were profound – I passed them along to the Church Council: your thoughts stopped us in our tracks – yes, we all know St. Paul’s, like so many churches, looks back with some discouragement on the “good old days” – but THESE are the “good old days” for you – you love this church – it’s home to you – and you want to do your part in continuing the ministry we’ve shared for 125 years!
Your faith journey, the work of “being” and “doing”, isn’t finished yet. Your confirmation marks the end of your “Sunday School” years - but it doesn’t mark the end of that journey in faith, the end of your commitment to this or any other church, most importantly, your commitment to God and each other.
It’s a milestone in your lives for sure - but the world isn’t finished yet.
There are still hungry, thirsty, cold, sick people in this world. There is still war. There are still bullies around us. There is still sickness, sadness, fear, all sorts of tragedy in the world. This weekend we mourn yet another mass shooting in Virginia Beach – senseless loss of life from gun violence. There are all sorts of injustices that happen all around us. How many times have you, have all of us thought, “That’s not fair!” No, the world is not finished yet. We all have work to do.
You may hear people say that you are the future of the church. I strongly disagree with that - you are the now of the church. All of us here are partners, with God’s help, in the now of the church. All of us here are partners in the call to do justice, love mercy, and walk in the ways of our God. It isn’t always easy, that’s for sure - but we can do it - together. So my charge to you is this: Stay involved. Keep learning. Keep trying to make this world a better place. Concentrate on the “being” and “doing” of your faith. Most importantly, keep God at the center. We all need a rock upon which we can stand - a rock that never wavers, that never changes, that will never let us down. And the only thing I know of that never changes is God’s presence, God’s love for us shown in Jesus Christ - we can’t get away from that and isn’t that a good thing. In these days when it’s easy to get discouraged, when we’re so involved in homework, activities, sports, friends, rehearsals, when we’re sure there’s nothing we can do to bring about peace or justice, when we get caught up in the sadness of the world, perhaps even in our own families - that’s when we need the most to remember that we are all partners - with God and each other - the world isn’t finished yet.
You who are sponsors: continue this partnership with your young people - you’ve taught them, walked with them, and whether you realize it or not, you have modeled to them what the Christian life is about. You’ve done that not just by your words, but also by your work here in this community of faith, no matter how you participate. Thank you for helping your confirmands learn what difference this faith journey really does make in our daily lives, not just on Sunday mornings here in this place.
We must never forget that all of us, all of us, are called to be partners: family members, members and friends of St. Paul’s, all of us!
Valeria and Becky, I’m proud of you and I’m even more proud and grateful that you are part of this church family. I’m honored to be your partner in faith and I’m glad that you’re my partners too. You’ve grown in your faith, you’ve helped me grow in mine. Thank you for that too.
So let’s all celebrate that the Spirit has led these young people to this point in their faith journey as they take their place as full members of this church – with all the joy and responsibility that comes with that! Let’s all share this ministry that we have. Let’s be partners – partners in the household of God. With God – we can make a better world – together! So may it be! Amen!