Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Reflection from Confirmation Sunday

God’s Faith, Our Faith

Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount all the way through, in one sitting? It’s not long, only a few chapters in Matthew. The first time I read it with sincere attention, I found myself suddenly wondering if I was a Christian at all. The demands seemed too great. The requirements to be a true follower of Christ seemed impossible.

Jesus has brought his disciples high on a mountain to instruct them on how to truly follow him. But if you read this list closely, this list is a Sermon on the Mount that is full of impossible standards:

He says:
If you break “even the least of these commandments, and teach others to do the same,” you “will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven…” “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
If we think we’re doing well for not acting on our anger, Jesus ups the ante by saying, “don’t even be angry.”
If you call someone a “fool,” “you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Jesus gives us prison images: “Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
He gives us drastic imagery: Tear out your eye if it causes you to sin. Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.
If someone hits you, you should turn the other cheek.
If someone takes your coat, you should give your cloak as well.
Give to everyone who begs.
And the very difficult: Love your enemies.

Towards the end, Jesus gives the disciples a complete impossibility. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We are left at the top of the mountain a little lightheaded, a little short of oxygen, and a little bewildered.

How often do we feel this way about our own faith journey? If you’re like me, all the time.

And I’ve seen this concern, this worry that they won’t size up, that they won’t know enough, believe enough, do enough, or be enough, that they won’t “be perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect” in our own confirmation candidates’ questions and their concerns.

But if we stop here in the story of Jesus’ Sermon, we will be like the rich man who leaves too early to hear the grace. All he hears is that he must sell everything and give it to the poor, and so, he leaves, hopeless. Don’t walk away too soon, or you’ll miss it.

Jesus doesn’t walk away. Jesus doesn’t stop here. He gives us words of encouragement: Ask and it will be given to you, Seek and you will find, Knock and the door will be opened. Jesus tells us that when we walk with God, anything is possible.

Today, we celebrate that God does not leave us alone on that mountain with only impossible expectations. When we ask, seek, and knock, God will be faithful to answer our calls, to be there when we look for God, and to open the door for us when the way seems impossibly locked. Even when we feel the silence of God as thick as a winter wool sweater, God promises to be faithful. Sometimes, our faith is in the waiting.

Today, you have heard from these young people about the journey of faith that begins with what Jesus leaves for us on that mountain. Since October, and even since their baptism, these young adults have been actively acting, seeking, and knocking.

They have asked by meeting with their mentors, studying together on Sunday mornings, and asking tough questions at retreats.
They have sought by serving at the men’s shelter, packing coffee for Building New Hope, and, just yesterday, helping re-roof a home in the Hill District, and they have been meeting together Sunday mornings, and experiencing different ways of worship at the Baptist church, the Synagogue, the Hindu Temple.

They have knocked with their journals, their prayers, and with the Statements of Faith.

And when they asked for bread, God did not give them a stone.

Today we celebrate and witness the faith that God has given them, the faith that God has in them. We celebrate and witness the journey we are all on, and the journey that these young people have begun and have promised to continue.

We come to ask God for fish, for a feast of faith and love and hope. On this Confirmation Day, we ask for blessings on these young people. We seek the renewed hope that God will help us fulfill those tasks that seem impossible. We know on the door of God’s Grace, and long for humble encounters with the Face of God. And God will not give us a snake. God will be faithful to what we ask. And if your experience is like mine, we must hold on, we have to keep knocking, we have to keep searching, even when we only hear silence on the other side. Faith is holding on to the hope that God is faithful, even if we have to wait for years. May we stay, listening to God’s word long enough to hear the Grace, to hear that our journey of faith is what is important, and with God’s help, we too can embrace a faith that leads us to right actions, that we too can be recognized by others as children of God, a faith that gives us the courage to hold on, even when the path is not clear, even when God seems far away.

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