It is my sacred duty as a pastor to assure that our youth are welcomed into the congregation as members and prepared for their faith. In past generations, Confirmation was a time for youth to learn by rote: catechisms, creeds, and other information was force fed so that students could regurgitate these things when called upon. But what rote memorization of facts/theologies/ideas didn’t do was prepare them for their own questions and doubts.
Over the course of many Confirmation classes over the past 15 years or so, what I’ve begun to develop is the process of leading youth into an understanding of God in their own lives and to notice how God is working through and relating to the world even today. We have come to understand God through the Trinity — the revelation of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The following skit is the “sermon” that this year’s amazing class of disciples wrote to present to their church family in worship for Confirmation Sunday, Feb. 18. They also presented their very own statements of faith to the session when they were approved for baptism and/or membership.
I feel that our newly Confirmed youth know that their faith journey is just that: a journey. A Life-long journey — not an actual destination (or at least not until their lives are completed)! I couldn’t do this by myself; this is thanks to so many who help with our youth. To Traci Maddox, who served as the Mentor for this class of confirmands; Rochelle Lantermans, Sandra Cormican, Suzie Lovato, Maggie Rainwater, Joe Palmer, and Steve Sears who help with our weekly youth ministries of youTHursday and Tuesday morning breakfasts; the Elders and officers of CEH, and to all of you who welcome them week after week and greet them with open arms and open hearts (and sometimes peppermints): THANK YOU! You are the hands and feet of Christ, the presence of God in the lives of these young disciples, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the impact you have on their understanding of a loving and grace-filled God. Thanks also to open-hearted saints like Sue Perkins, Stephen Eddy, and James Steinbacher, who have helped many of our young disciples find places to serve on Sunday mornings.
I hope you enjoy this skit, as written by our Confirmation class of 2017/2018: Krista Conrad, Dylan Cormican, Emma Lane, and Emily Lantermans.
Krista is confused about who she is. God (Emily), Jesus (Emma), Holy Spirit (Dylan) appear on the scene to reaffirm her identity in and belongingness to the family of God.
Paula: Confirmation is a time where you get to think about who you are and where you belong in the family of God. It’s a time to learn more about our doctrine, your beliefs, and to ask questions. So now I have a question for you, Krista. Who are you?
Krista: Paula! That’s the problem. I’m not even really sure. And I’m definitely not CERTAIN about my faith and beliefs.
Paula: Krista, I know just the person you need to talk with. . . (Paula exits chancel area).
(Emma scoots in on her scooter)
Emma: Hi Krista, Jesus here.
Krista: Wait, like actual Jesus?
Emma: Yes, actual Jesus. You were just talking about me blessing the children. I mean, you read it right from the Bible.
Emma: So I heard you needed some help figuring out who you are.
Krista : I guess. I’m just not exactly sure. I know that I love volleyball, and my family, and my friends. I know that I am getting confirmed later . . . but that’s about it.
Emma: Are you sure that’s it?
Krista: Well. . . I know that my fave color is glitter.
Emma: No, no not that kind of stuff. What do you know about what you believe? What do you know about what you want to do with your life?
Krista: No, I don’t know that, why should I?
Emma: Why should you? WHY SHOULD YOU??????? Because someday that might be all you have. If something tough comes along, knowing what you believe in can make a world of difference. So, what do YOU know?
Krista: I know that I believe in you, and your Dad I guess.
Emma: Good, that is a good start. Now, if I make any kind of lasting impression on you today, let it be this: part of you is still a child; part of all of us is a child. We enter the kingdom of God like a child. You still have things to learn, we all do. I think it would be beneficial to speak to a close friend of mine. *clap clap* I’ll see you later.
(The theme to Star Wars plays as Emma exits, and Emily and Dylan ride in on a holy trike )
Krista: What is even happening? (to congregation) How am I supposed to grow up if I am still seen as a child?
Emily: Hello my child, I have known you for a very long time.
Krista: Wait. . . What? Who the heck are you?
Emily: Oh, ya. (puts on huge white beard) Does this help?
Krista: Oh, so are you like a knock off kind of God?
Emily: Sigh. No. What you are looking at is just the stereotypical image of God. God isn’t actually a human being — that’s the Jesus part of God. God is — uh — less of a physical form kinda thing.
Emily: So that’s who I am. The Creator, the Father, the Mother. You know. So. . . who are you?
Krista: I’m Krista. I don’t know.
Emily: Krista. You are my beloved child. You are my creation; you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ve given you so many wonderful gifts. Do you know any of them?
Krista: Um. My dog? My family?
Emily: Those are gifts; but I’m talking about the unique parts of you that make YOU — YOU.
Krista: So, like, my hair?
Emily: NO, you silly goose. You’d still be YOU without those fabulous highlights.I’m talking about your talents and skills and those special gifts you bring to the world.
Krista: Well sometimes, I feel like I don’t bring anything to the world. Or maybe that other people don’t notice what I try to bring.I mean Jesus says that we are supposed to be like children, right? But sometimes when I come to church people avoid me and act like they don’t know what to say to me because I’m not quite still a child, and I’m not yet an adult.
Emily: I’m afraid that sometimes adults can be a little intimidated by “TEEN” agers. You know — the whole tech-savvy, plugged in generation. Sometimes they see you as focused only on your phones or your tablets or computers or apple watches.
Krista: But that’s not me. I don’t focus on that, and right now, I am trying to figure out what I am really like, not just another comment on a screen.
Emily: Exactly. You’re not just a baby; you’re turning into a functioning adult. You are going to need to start figuring this stuff out. I am here to help. Ask me anything.
Krista: Okay: Who Am I? Why Am I Here?
Emily: Krista, you are my child, once again. You are here to help spread my word, and be loved by me, and love others. Even when they look at you like you’re a robot programmed to to say “get out of my room, Mom”
Krista: Okay, I think I’m starting to figure it out. I think I am starting to recognize my purpose in this crazy world.
Emily: Good, I’ve got to go, I have a few small jobs to do, lol. I’m gonna send someone to help you figure out this last bit of the crazy journey. See ya Krista, and may peace be with you.
Krista: WAIT!!! Don’t leave me here alone! ! !
(Emily rides off to the theme from Star Wars, while Dylan creeps up on stage behind Emily. He is wearing a halo and is wrapped in a comforter).
Dylan: You’re never alone Krista, never alone
Krista: What. . . . is. . . HAPPENING???????
Dylan: You may not know me, but I am always here. I am here for all the trials and tribulations of your life. I will be, and am, here for all of it.
Krista: Really? That’s kinda weird.
Dylan: No, its not. I’m here to comfort you! To let you know that you’re okay. I’m here to help you with your faith journey. To help you continue to figure out who you are with God.
Krista: You mean I don’t have to do this alone?
Dylan: You never have to do anything alone Krista! I’m here, we’re all here (Emily and Emma wave from the back of the sanctuary, and krista sees all of them).
Krista: I think I finally figured it out. I figured out that I can be whoever God created me to be, and God will support me. I can be whatever I want through God when I use the gifts I have been given. I can be a small child, or a fully functioning teen, whatever. I just have to remember that God is my everything, and I’m never alone! AMEN!
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace (selections from Ecclesiastes 3:1-12).
Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4
We broached the painful subject of mourning on Sunday. It wasn’t out of the blue; it’s the last beatitude to examine during the (be)Attitude Change: 2018 series as it leads us right into Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter morning and the empty tomb. Typically, Lent begins with a call to repentance and contemplation. When we talk about “Repentance” remember we are talking about more than just personal confession and turning back to God; we are talking about adapting a completely different mindset. Over the past month we have heard Jesus reminding us time and again to see things from his Kingdom View. In Jesus’ view, the hungry are blessed and filled, the poor are given the Kingdom, the meek will inherit the earth. Jesus also reminds us that those who are mourning will be comforted.
Sunday we took some time to face the question of mourning head on. Our youth director, Maggie Rainwater, shared with us a series of slides describing the rituals surrounding death from across the globe. There was one consistent theme we heard from culture to culture, and that is each culture acknowledges the pain surrounding the death of a loved one and allows an amount of time wherein it is encouraged and even expected for family and friends to grieve and mourn publicly. Of course the time is different from culture to culture — with some traditions lasting a week, and some lasting several years!
But it occurred to me that even within a loving Christian community such as CEH, we are in a quite a rush to sweep our grief under the carpet. Let’s plan the service, settle the estate, and move on. But that’s not a healthy way to deal with death. Sure there are many details and “business” matters to deal with after a death, but our scriptures reinforce the need to mourn by taking time: time to heal; time to weep; time to mourn. If we don’t stop long enough to feel the immense pain of losing a loved one rather than putting on a brave face and plowing straight ahead, we will not receive the precious comfort promised by Jesus in the beatitudes. Perhaps part of the reason that we rush to celebrate and acknowledge the glory of the Resurrection in a “Death, where is thy sting?” kind of way. But Jesus reminds us of what our Hebrew scriptures have been saying for generations: it is okay to lament and mourn and cry and recognize the huge hole left in our hearts when a loved one dies. And when we let go of hubris and show our hurt to the world, we will be comforted.
Comfort truly flows from a Christian community that is paying attention to the Kingdom view. Remember that Jesus calls us to “Hunger” for righteousness and justice, and that our hunger should be not only for our own reconciliation to God and our own wholeness, but our hunger should be deep as we pay attention to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Part of being attuned to one another’s needs is a willingness to be vulnerable with each other. I get it — grief is difficult. Without our promise of eternal life and the hope of the resurrection, I would personally sink into an existential despair so deep I couldn’t even see my way out. Grief can be ugly, with lots of sobbing and tears and too many kleenexes. But as we open ourselves to the pain, we do discover something incredible: comfort.
As we move into Lent, I want to invite all of you to take this new mindset — our hopes of living in the Kingdom of God instead of the oppressive Kingdom of the World that we are completely immersed in. To do this, you’ll need to challenge yourself to grow deeper in your faith; to reinforce your relationship with God and to our beloved community. The “Lenten Cup Challenge” is your opportunity to covenant to spend 20 minutes — unplugged from the world and plugged into God — every day. 20 minutes of mindful study and prayer, resting in the presence of God. Pick up your cup on the table outside of the Fellowship Hall and sign up. The cup has a “Practicing Lent” guide with a reading for each Sunday in Lent, as well as a burlap or “sack cloth” scrap for you to touch and hold while you’re praying. At the end of Lent, we’ll collect the scraps and they will be turned into a collage to remind us of our time together in lament, mourning, prayer, and mindfulness.
Choose your own daily devotional or opt for “The Cup of Our Life” by Joyce Rupp, a daily devotional that will teach you new daily spiritual disciplines and help you examine your own “Cup” and what you have in it. There is a public copy of “The Cup of Our Life” in the fireside area next to the office, that you are welcome to use while at church.
I’m excited to see the way we grow as a community who commits to daily study and prayer. I know God will bring us great encouragement and draw us closer into relationship, so that as Easter approaches and we celebrate the glory of the resurrection, we can take our Deep Faith and take it WIDE to spread it around!
Sunday we continued our study on having an attitude change by learning to see things from the perspective of Jesus’ Beatitudes. This week we focused specifically on hunger. From Matthew 5: Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst after righteousness; for you will be filled; and from Mark 6: Blessed are the hungry, for they shall be filled.
Jesus said we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. But we don’t hunger for much of anything. Sure, we get cravings. And most of the time we can fulfill those cravings in a matter of minutes or hours. I’m not even talking about just physical hunger; I’m talking about the things we crave and seek after in our life. We are certainly filled.
So since we are filled, do we bless those who are not filled? Those who are hungry or those who live in abject poverty?
On January 20 of 1961, President John F. Kennedy made his inaugural speech, pointing to the “power to abolish all forms of human poverty.” What a promising time! In the 50 years since, we have not come very far in “abolishing poverty.” We haven’t even come to a time when everyone who is hungry can be filled. What would it take to feed the world’s hungry or abolish poverty?
The worlds 8 wealthiest men have a combined net worth of $426,000,000,000. 1/7 of the their income ($60,000,000,000) would feed every hungry person in the world! Don’t feel so smug though, $60 billion is also just about 3 billion less than we spend on pet food in the United States annually.
In a newly published report, Oxfam reported, “Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all” (citation here; emphasis added).
So when we wonder why the hungry have not yet been filled, we must look to our own inaction. For one thing, it’s pretty overwhelming. The World Food Program states “In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, 815 million people – one in nine – still go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Even more – one in three – suffer from some form of malnutrition.” Maybe you, like me, feel like that number is so great I cannot possibly do anything about it.
But I’m reminded that Mother Teresa said “If you can’t feed 100 people, just feed one.” Sage guidance from a woman who spent her life taking care of one person at a time. She said, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one.”
But in order to see the hunger of even one person at a time you need to get out of yourself. This beatitude calls for our mindset to be not so much focused on our own hunger, but to hunger for righteousness. Righteousness means that your hunger should be deep for every other human at least as much as it is for yourself. That was the crux of Jesus’ teaching. Personal righteousness was important — “keeping oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). But more to the point, as we also read in James, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15-16).
We will be blessed when we learn to hunger for our brothers’ and sisters’ needs. We will be blessed when we learn to look beyond our own cravings and desires and begin to tune into our neighbor’s needs. We were blessed this Sunday to have a new friend worship with us who learned about us through our food pantry. He came, he worshiped with us, ate a delicious lunch from our pot-luck smorgasborg, and then even left with a backpack full of nutritious food so he could make it through the week. It wasn’t him who was as blessed so much as we, the CEH family, was blessed to have him in our midst.
Your (be)Attitude change for this coming week is to open your hearts to the hunger of others around you. May you be blessed in the trying. You are sharing the love of Jesus through God by attending to the hunger of others. Ghandi suggested, “There are people so hungry in the world, God is only visible to them in a loaf of bread.” So get out there and try and find out what the other’s “Bread” is.