A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon by Youth Director, Joe Palmer (May 17) - "What Are We Confirming?"

I cannot be more proud of the 12 young adults that we have welcomed into our church family this morning. During the last 8 months, I have been meeting with these students and we have been discussing what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a Methodist, and what it means to join the church.
During their last retreat at Geneva Hills, we sat around a table and planned this morning. After they arranged the services, chose the hymns, and wrote the prayers, I asked them if any of them want to give the message. Not a single one raised their hand! Can you believe it! Well you all are an intimidating bunch sometimes and it does take a lot of courage to get up here and read scripture, lead you in prayer, and play musical instruments. So I volunteered to deliver the message for them. However, they sure were opinionated in what they wanted me to say. They gave me their bullet points and approved this message this past Friday night.
The confirmands decided they wanted me to take you through the confirmation year and share with you what they learned and what resonated with them most during this process. Their hope was to help rejuvenate you all in the manner that they have been. 
So let’s start off at our first retreat, last October. We stayed in the cabins at the Lancaster Campground and met at Crossroads.
 During this week we focused on the voices that we listen to.  We constantly have voices in our heads telling us things. Good and bad things. Some of those things were put there by others and some by ourselves. The confirmands worked at sorting out those voices and tried to tune in to the voice of God.
In the middle of the afternoon, we explored different types of prayer.

Traditionally when we imagine someone in prayer, we think of someone with a bowed head. This was the first image result when I googled “person praying.” However, we tried different postures and positions of prayer. We reached towards the sky, we covered our faces, we laid on our backs with our arms spread wide, and then we held our hands open and looked up into the tower at Crossroads.

As we were spending a moment in this position, a large brilliantly white cloud slowly crept its way over Crossroads. The cloud whited out the windows and made the black cross stand out more pronounced than ever. It was in that moment that some of us felt His presence and felt tuned into the voice of God.

Later that night confirmands were blindfolded and lead through an activity where they experienced Peter’s Life with Christ. They experienced the disbelief when there was enough bread and fish for 5000 people.  They experienced the terrifying sensation of trusting Christ and stepping out from the safety of our boats and walking to Christ on the sea of Galilei. They experienced the grace of Christ when He washed their feet. Then they experienced the gut reaching sounds of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us.  We finished in a catacomb worship service where we prayed for the ability to recognize the Christ presence in our lives, we prayed for the sight to identify the miracles in our lives, and we prayed for the wisdom in how we can respond to His presence.

Later on in the year we traced our United Methodist heritage back, and back, and back. The United Methodist church is a branch on a large tree of faith that is rooted in the Jewish Faith. To better understand where our religious ancestors came from, we visited a Jewish synagogue and Greek Orthodox Church.

At Temple Israel in Columbus we were met by a very welcoming group where we shared a mutual understanding and belief that is seeded in the Torah. 

A month later we traveled to the The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Columbus where these 13 year olds sat through a 3 hour service with Greek being spoken 80% of the time. And no one fell asleep. The confirmands wanted to make sure you know that Pastor Robert and Pastor Cheryl have been taking it easy on us! In all honesty, we were all enthralled by the beauty of the cathedral and kept spotting similarities between their service and our own here. The confirmands were able to acknowledge that our Christian family transcends the walls of our church and our own denomination.

During our meetings on Sunday we discussed the many different ways that we can follow Christ. However, with most topics we referred back to this.  This diagram is one way for us to chart the four spiritual practices of being a Disciples of Christ.
Devotion is the private activity that draws us into Scripture, focuses our attention on prayer, and helps us to be mindful of God’s presence in our life. Devotion is more than just spending a few minutes each day reading from a daily devotional guide, although these resources have their merit. It also, includes spending time each day in personal prayer; reading, studying, and reflecting on Scripture; and spending time in silence and solitude.
In worship we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another. Worship is something that has happening here for years and will continue after we are gone. We pray for one another as we hear the concerns of the people of God, and we hear the interpretation of Scripture. Then we leave empowered to minister to the world. 
Compassion represents practices of caring for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others. Through compassion, we put our gifts, blessings, and talents, to use on a personal level, caring and extending God’s grace to individuals. Acts of compassion are important ways in which we follow the biblical commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Justice is the corporate side of compassion. It involves seeking peace and wholeness for all people and all of God’s creation. When we seek justice, we move beyond meeting the needs of individuals and look at the root causes of social ills, such as poverty, hunger, slavery, sickness, and oppression. The work of justice sometimes means getting involved in politics, economics, and law; and it often involves being an advocate for those who lack the power and resources to make their voices heard. By striving for justice, we honor a God who is just, and who desires the well-being of all people.  
These four easy-to-remember concepts – devotion, worship, compassion, and justice – give us, all of us, structure for Christ like living. Jesus spent much time in solitude and private prayer but also worshiped with a community of followers. Jesus met the immediate needs of the sick and hungry but also said that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to “bring good news to the poor,” “proclaim release to the captives,” and to “let the oppressed go free.” We kept referencing this cross and the specific concepts throughout all of confirmation.

During class we also talked about Joh Wesley’s House of Salvation. He used the different parts of a house to describe salvation and God’s Grace.
John Wesley compared prevenient grace to the porch of the house. When we experience prevenient grace, God had invited us into the house, but we haven’t yet accepted the invitation. We are still just standing outside, loitering on the porch. The idea that of Prevenient Grace is the reason why United Methodists love to baptize babies. The act of baptism is a symbol of God’s prevenient Grace. Even if we are unable to cognitively recognize it, we still are extended the love and grace of God.
Now with justifying grace, John Wesley calls our attention to the door of the house. When we respond to God’s invitation and open the door into God’s house, we are right with God and have assurance that our sins are forgiven. For many Christians this is the most familiar form of grace. Our responsibility is to respond to God’s grace with our participation in the ministries of the church.
Once we enter the house and pass through the door, there are a lot of rooms for us to explore.
 Sanctifying grace is the grace that guides us when we are inside. We understand that salvation is a process, not just a one-time event. Gradually, God transforms us into the person God intends for us to be. This gradual transformation is called sanctification. The four pillars of Discipleship are what we can us to help guide us in this process.

It was during the last retreat that 4 of the confirmands were able to acknowledge God’s grace and reach out for that door handle of God’s house. Brittani, Hannah, Kaleb, and Adam were baptized infront of family mentors and friends.  These four were able to confirm God’s prevenient grace extended to them. 
All of this and more is what has led us here to today. This morning the twelve confirmands, and I find it very fitting that there are twelve of them, stood before you and confirmed their faith. They renounced the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejected the evil powers of this world, and repented of their sins. They accepted the freedom and power that God gave them to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. They confessed Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, putting their whole trust in His grace. The pledged to remain faithful members of Christ’s Holy church and serve as Christ’s representative by being faithful participants in the ministries of the church with their prayer, prescreens, gifts, service, and witness.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Christ and Carynn / Maggie read for us the Ascension story from Luke. In this passage the disciples were witnesses.  They had seen Jesus with their own eyes.  They could testify to having seen Jesus after his resurrection and they could also testify to seeing him ascend into heaven.  These disciples were charged to go on and testify to what they had seen.  They were to tell the story.  To tell it not as hearsay, but as of their own knowledge.
These confirmands today have not seen the risen Christ with their own eyes, nor have they seen Christ ascend into heaven. However, they have experienced Christ in their lives.  They have confirmed their responsibility to go and tell the story.  To tell it not as hearsay, but as their own knowledge. 
Along with their vows today, we re-confirmed our responsibility to go and tell our story. We renewed our covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness so that together WE can glorify God though Christ.

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