Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
May 20, 2018
Pentecost & Confirmation Sunday
John 20: 19-23 (CEB)
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.
Today is a day full of milestones. First and foremost, today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the “birthday of the church,” the coming of the Holy Spirit among that first gathering of believers. One of the ways the church has traditionally marked Pentecost Sunday is through the Confirmation of new professing believers and reception into membership. So, here at Wesley Memorial, today is also Confirmation Sunday and we will later celebrate together as four of our youth claim their faith in your presence and become full members of this congregation together with a youth and adult reaffirming their faith and an adult joining our congregation by transfer from another church. There’s a lot happening today as we celebrate many “milestones” along the journey of faith. So, as the youth celebrate their Confirmation on this day, I’m going to have a conversation with these young folks, and I invite those of you who are young or just young at heart to eavesdrop, to listen in as we reflect together on our life of faith.
So here we are. You have come to a significant moment in your great faith journey. In just a few short moments, as soon as I’m done preaching (which knowing the way preachers go could actually be more than just moments), you will—with your own voice and conviction—affirm your faith in Christ and be welcomed into the membership of this congregation. This is a really important day. Your Confirmation is an important milestone that we celebrate in our Christian lives. You have worked hard to get to this point. For many of you, since you were children, you have been learning about God, and Jesus, and the Bible, and the church. In the last several months, each of you has faithfully participated in the Confirmation classes. You have done special work at home with your families and other members of the congregation. Now, with all of that preparation behind you, we are all here, ready to celebrate your growth through Confirmation.
But here’s the thing—Baptism (whether it is happening today or has happened at some earlier point in your lives) and Confirmation are just brief moments in your life and in the life of faith. These services are the ways that we as humans mark and celebrate our continued growth in the faith. And that’s the key of all of this—our growth is continual. Confirmation is definitely really important, as is our Baptism, or even sharing in Communion with fellow believers. But what I want us to celebrate today, as much as Confirmation, is what happens in the in-between times. The things that go on in our lives between Baptism and Confirmation, or following our Confirmation, or even between Sundays—because that is where the significant moments really happen.
Who here likes Oreos? I have to confess that I really LOVE Oreos. I don’t eat them as much as I used to. But I remember that when I was a little kid, I had Oreos and milk as a bedtime snack almost every night. My Mom would go down to the kitchen and she would put two or three Oreos on a paper towel, and then she would pour some milk in a little glass and we would go back upstairs to my parents’ bedroom. I would sit down on the floor in the middle of the room, and we would watch TV together while I enjoyed the Oreos and milk. I can remember that almost as if it was yesterday. I can also remember that I didn’t always eat the Oreos the same way, at least not for a while. Sometimes I would just devour an Oreo in two or three bites. Other times, I would dip the Oreos in the milk and savor them a bit more. Then, over time, I discovered that good stuff in the middle. So I started pulling off one cookie and eating it, then eating the cream out of the middle before finishing off the second cookie. Now, admittedly, I’m a chocoholic. I love anything and everything chocolate (unless it’s white). Chocolate is my most favorite food, hands down. But when it comes to Oreos, it’s not the chocolate cookie that I love so much, it’s the creaminess in the middle. I mean, I think that many of you would agree that when it comes to Oreo cookies, it’s all about the middle! Well, the same is true in our life as disciples of Christ.
These milestones that we observe, and remember, and celebrate today, Baptism and Confirmation, they are great and they are very important, just like the chocolate cookies in an Oreo. But the things that really make us into Christians, the really good stuff about us, are those parts in between these milestones—the parts that happen in our lives every day. It we are to really follow Jesus’ charge in our lives, and are to live in the world as people called and claimed by Christ, then we have to get to that stuff in the middle. You see, Baptism is not an ending, it’s the way we mark God’s claim on our lives. Likewise, Confirmation is not the end of an intense period of learning and study, it is the beginning of our journey as full members of the body of Christ called the church.
An Oreo would not be an Oreo with only two chocolate cookies. In the same way, our lives as Christians do no consist only of a Baptism here or a Confirmation there, or even just a Sunday in this very room. Our lives as Christians are marked by what happens beyond these moments. This is where Jesus’ charge heard a few moments ago becomes so important. We heard earlier John’s account of Jesus coming among the disciples and saying to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has send me, so I send you.” Then Jesus breathed on the disciples. This was the giving of his spirit, the Holy Spirit, through which all disciples of Christ are enabled to carry out Christ’s work in the world. John very specifically writes here that Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to forgive or not forgive sins just as Jesus does. But we are called to even more.
Christ expects that we will go forth as he sends us to do, just as the Father sent him. Jesus has commissioned us, his disciples, his church, to continue the work that God sent him to do. The whole world does not yet know Jesus. They did not know him when he walked the face of the earth, nor do all know him today. We are to be about the work of making Jesus known the world-over. We are to love others as Jesus loves because Jesus says that’s how people will know God and know that you follow God. And as God is revealed through believers who are embracing the “in-between,” it is possible for the world to choose to enter into relationship with this God of limitless love that we affirm together today.
The world will not know the profession that you Confirmands make here today and that we celebrate as a community unless we tell them. The world will not have an opportunity to see the love of Christ if our Christian lives consist only of our gathering here on Sunday mornings. The justice of God cannot be known unless we are the ones out in the world fighting for it, and the unconditional love and grace of God cannot be experienced unless we are the ones offering it.
This week, I pulled out The Youth Bible my grandparents gave me on the day I was Confirmed. That was 25 years ago this week. I remember my Confirmation Sunday. I was excited about being Confirmed because my grandfather, a minister himself, would be a part of that milestone. But I must be honest in telling you all that I didn’t understand the significance of my Confirmation until almost three years later. Only then, in the midst of a retreat, did I finally learn what it meant to be forgiven and loved by Christ. Only then did I understand that the acceptance of God’s love and forgiveness is also the acceptance of a call to service, to sharing those gifts with others. This was also when I first discerned that God’s call on my life might involve full-time ordained ministry in the church. I did not know when I was Confirmed that I would be ordained 17 years later, it took living in the middle to figure that out and to get to this point where I stand before you today as a minister.
My Youth Bible remains my most worn Bible. That’s because for more than ten years, it was the only Bible I used (now I have about five different ones I use regularly). Between my Baptism and my Confirmation, between my Confirmation and my call to ministry, between my call to ministry and my Ordination, I had to embrace the middle. I had to continue to be intentional about studying God’s word and learning about the church. I had to seek out communities of believers to challenge me and nurture me in my continuing walk. I had to immerse myself in prayer every day, many times a day. I had to get out into the world and help feed the hungry and give voice to the voiceless. I had to step out in complete faith and surrender, hoping only that somehow my life might be useful for God’s purposes in this world. I’m still not there yet. None of us are. But here’s why Confirmation matters—because it says we are in this together. We will leave this building today, as we do every week, a “sent” people, commissioned by Christ to be in ministry in every part of our lives with every person in our life. This is discipleship, this is the stuff that Christians are made of, this is the goodness that fills out our lives and makes us who we are in relationship to Christ.
My prayer for each of you on this day is that this profession of faith that you make before this, your church family, and their affirmation and welcome of you as fellow believers, is only the beginning for you. Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples is a breath of new life that marks this beginning—not only for the Confirmands on this Sunday, but for the whole body of believers every day. I pray that each of us will not stop with the chocolate cookie, but that we will go for that great and wonderful creaminess in the middle. I pray that our lives as Christ-followers will extend beyond this moment and this place, bringing God’s goodness to the whole world.