October 23, 2011
“Our life together”
Rev. Elizabeth Schultz
Good morning. You may have noticed that there is a significant change to Confirmation Sunday this year. Here we are in October instead of May. Confirmation class usually ends in May, at the end of the school year. The parents and students out there know why we changed this, but for the rest of you here, let me explain why we are here today.
For as long as Matt and I have been in youth ministry, since way back in 1997, we have noticed a certain trend when it comes to Confirmation. For many, the ending of confirmation class also means the ending of their presence in the church. And the way we, as the larger church, have scheduled the class has not helped this. We place confirmation sunday at the end of a school year and celebrate is as a graduation of sorts, hand out a certificate and give a gift, take a picture, have a party together and then say goodbye. We have made it so easy for our kids to leave, and not come back.
The very name of the class sounds almost like an ending. Confirmation. Something that has been confirmed. It has been proven to us. We confirm it, we accept it, we believe it....check it off. But that is not how faith formation works. We don't ever reach a point where we are done, where we have felt that all things have been proven for us, that all our questioning and growing is over. The name, Confirmation is not helpful. We almost changed it twice last summer. In lamenting the name, one Dad said to us,
what we are really hoping to do is launch these kids into a vibrant life of faith. This is launching year, not an ending year!
Confirmation almost changed its name to The Launching Year.
Matt wanted to name it, The Ebenezer year, referring to the Old Testament story where Samuel takes a stone and places it as a marker of God's faithfulness to the nation of Israel, saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us." The stone, The Ebenezer, the stone of help, was used as a visual marker for God's faithfulness along the way. A marker on the journey. Confirmation Sunday, the day you become official members of the Presbyterian church, is a visible marker along your way.
Unbeknownst to me, Noel had chosen our opening hymn this morning, Come thou fount of Every Blessing, This Hymn is where most of us hear that word, Ebenezer for the first time. We sang. "Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come, And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
Ebenezer, the recognition of Gods faithfulness and help along the way.
If you get nothing else out of this sermon, at least you now know what the word Ebenezer means!
We didn't change the name this year, because we wanted to change just one thing at a time. But we would be happy to hear your ideas on names for this class if you want to share.
So, instead of ending in May, at the end of a school year, we are ending the official “class” today, but in no way are we ending our time together. Instead, since the beginning of the school year, the Confirmation Class has been woven into our Sunday School curriculum and our church ministries, they have begun the year with us and are a part of us, ready and able to keep going. They are being launched into life in the church as official members, ready to learn and to grow and to serve.
But they will need help. To be fully embraced by this family of faith and this church home, they will need the help of our whole congregation. We've talked about this Journey of faith that they are on, and this day being one marker on the journey, but like all of us…they still have a ways to go. Instead of Journey, I think a better metaphor for faith formation is to think of it as a run Not a sprint , not a competitive race, but a marathon run. A marathon with incredible highs, and beautiful scenery, but possible with some terrifying lows and dangerous pitfalls. This marathon is good, but this marathon is hard.
I want to tell you a story of another run, a specific race actually, that will never forget.
When Matt and I were youth pastors together in Anchorage, there were two students in our ministry named Diana and Andrew. They were strong athletes, Andrew being a long time cross-country runner, and Diana being a star soccer player and nordic skiier. At the beginning of her freshman year in high school, Diana decided to try out for the cross-county running team, a sport she had not done before, but she was very determined to be good. She and Andrew did not go the same high school and did not really run in the same social crowds, but at youth group we would over hear them talking about running, and comparing times and accomplishments.
We were there to cheer them on at the first track meet.
The boys and the girls ran the race together, with Andrew coming in with the lead group of guys He has run hard and, while I don't remember him winning, I know he was in the top 5. I remember seeing him pacing around a bit and leaning down to get his breath back. He had done well!
We waited and cheered as many other students came down the final stretch of the race, congratulating lots that we knew, but we didn't see Diana. The lead groups came in, then the next crew, then the last few runners. Still no Diana. The crowds at this time were dispersing, parents patting kids on the back, many heading to the parking lots. Still…no Diana. Finally, we saw her coming out of the woods and into the final stretch, running bent over with a side cramp that had crippled her for the whole race, but not giving up. And next to her was Andrew, jogging alongside her and encouraging her. We couldn't yet hear what he was saying, we just watched him moving is arms like this……
At some point, without any of us noticing, he had realized that something must have happened to his friend, Diana, and….even though he had just run his heart out and was spent…he went looking for her on the trail and ran along side her for the rest of the race. He knew how much this race meant to her, and how hard she had worked to get there. As they got closer to us we could hear him shouting his encouragements…not bad shouting…good shouting...
Keep going. Keep going. You're almost there. You can do this. Keep going…..
And he crossed the finish line with her and cheered for her…and then moved on
It was not noticed by many, and this was before the days of cell phone videos, so this act never turned into a tear-jerking youtube clip..although it could have! It was just Andrew, deciding he wasn't going to just stand there and watch her struggle, but he was going to go run the race with her, run the race again while yelling, "keep going. Keep going. "
The next year, Andrew's world fell apart. He and his younger brother came home from school one day to find their Mom crying and their Dad sitting silently, waiting with some news. His Dad told them that before he had met their mom, he had been married before and that he had never stopped loving this woman or communicating with her in secret. She had recently divorced and asked him to remarry her, and he had accepted. He was moving out of Alaska and going back to his home state of California at the end of the week and he was sorry. And then he left.
It was terrible, and our hearts broke for them. Andrew could have holed up in his room and locked the door, he could have shut down and stopped going to school. He could have done a lot of things, but he didn't . What he did do was come to church, and I remember seeing him sitting on a couch up in the youth room one night, surrounded by kids who wanted to be with him and to help him, one of whom was Diana. Only this time it was her turn to encourage. And instead of yelling, "Keep going", she was quietly saying, keep coming. Keep coming. In her actions of support and in the actions of the rest of the group too, they were saying, keep coming, keep coming, we know your world has been rocked. We don't really know how to help or what to say, but keep coming. keep coming And he did. He came to church with all of his anger and all of his tears. And so did his mother, and so did his brother. In church he found a place of support and a community of love.
Our New Testament Verse this morning was Hebrews 10.
Hebrews 10: Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.
Not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another.
Confirmation Students, you are in the midst of your race of faith. You can't run this race alone. It is too hard, it is too long. But you are not alone. You do not have one person jogging along side you calling out to you to keep going, keep going----you have hundreds!
Look around you.
Everyone in this room is with you on this run and everyone in here is saying, Keep going, Keep going.
Many of the people in this room have been running along side you for years. They were here when you baptized, they held you in the nursery, they watched you in the Christmas Pageants, They welcomed you when your family moved here, they taught you sunday school, they served next to you at the Crisis Ministry, they were your confirmation mentors this year.
Hebrews chapter 12 continues. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Keep going. Keep Going.
Isaiah 41:10 "So do not fear, for I am with you; Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you." Keep going. Keep going.
And keep coming,
We want you here. We want to help you in your race, and we will need your help and encouragement in ours. We want to share the views of the trail with you, celebrating the milestones and the Ebenezers along the way. And we want to pick you up when you fall, and walk with you when you are tired. Keep coming. Keep coming.
Many of these views will be wonderful. You will have mountain top experiences and moments where you feel the love of God surrounding you on the way. You will find joy in fellowship, and you will find strength in learning. You will give of your gifts in worship and in service and many will be blessed.
Some of you have gone through this confirmation year and are choosing not to become members today. You are not ready to make those vows, and that is a decision to be honored, because it means that you take them seriously and that you want to be honest and full of integrity when you stand up here and profess your faith. But remember, You don't have to have all of your questions answered or all of your doubts put to rest. Faith and doubt go hand in hand, and through it all…God knows us and loves us. Nothing can change that. We want you here, whether or not you ever officially become members. Keep coming.
To those taking your vows, you will soon be answering the questions we have been studying since last January.
Is Jesus Christ your lord and Savior?
Will you be Christ's faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love? And,
“Will you be a faithful member of this congregation”
“…Sharing your gifts and talents and taking part in our life together”
This congregation proclaims its faith in Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior, and it is in him alone that we find our identity, our hope and our life. We hold fast to the words of scripture that Dave read to you on Thursday night from the Book of Phillippians
Here again the words of scripture:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. I can do all things, through Christ who gives me strength.
Keep going. Keep coming.
© 2011, Property of Nassau Presbyterian Church
Contact the church to obtain reprint permission.