Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Faith Is Caught Not Taught

When I started out teaching confirmation I came up with lots of ways to make sure that the students did what was expected of them.
For example, I had told them that they were expected to be at X amount of worship services.
So every Sunday they had to come into the office to sign in, if they wanted to get credit for being in church that day.
One time right before Easter a student and his mother came to visit me in my office.
They were distressed because on Easter Sunday he had to stand outside of a supermarket to sell raffle tickets for baseball.
His Coach had told him that if he didn’t do it then he would not be able to play on the team.
The mother and son were devoted church people, but because of baseball he had missed a number of Sunday worship services.
They were distressed and worried that I wouldn’t confirm him.
This type of situation played itself out many times in my early ministry.
What I began to think about was what message I was sending to confirmation students with all of these systems, and schemes to keep them in the Church.
It seemed that I was sending a mixed message.
I was teaching them that the faith was about the Holy Spirit.
That we have faith not because we can make ourselves believe, but because of the Holy Spirit.
As Luther writes in the Catechism about the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.
But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

It came down to what is it that we as the Church not only teach, but live out.
This place here, this Church is supposed to be where we experience together God’s grace, mercy, and love.
It is supposed to be the place where the Holy Spirit calls us through the Gospel to have faith in God.
And what I was doing was acting exactly like the world.
Just like the baseball team, I was saying, “do this or else”.
Do this or you cannot participate.
And what God invites us to, what God invites these three young women to, is a life that says, “Come and see that the Lord is good.”
So I changed a lot of what I was doing with confirmation.
Because I came to see that faith is caught and not taught.
Faith is something that pulls us in and doesn’t let us go.

The proof of that is in our Acts reading this morning.
People who were Jesus people had gathered together on the Jewish festival of Pentecost.
Not because they thought something amazing was going to happen, but because that is what you did.
And while they were there something extraordinary happened, something disturbing happened, something out of the ordinary happened.
We know that it was not planned because we are told that “suddenly” rush of violent wind and fire came upon them.
The Holy Spirit was acting on them without them having taken a class, answered the right question, or attended a certain number of worship services.

Now it is hard as we sit here today to trust the Holy Spirit.
Let us be honest, most of the young people that get confirmed seem to disappear after confirmation.
Even though I say it every year confirmation is not graduation from Church, people don’t seem to be hearing me.
Polls are telling us that the Church is shrinking and dying.
That young people are leaving Churches and never coming back.
Our natural reaction is to panic, to fear that the Church won’t be here anymore.
We want to circle the wagons and make a lot of schemes to keep people coming to church.
But I learned early that I have to trust the Holy Spirit.
I put Reilly, Grace, and Angelina today into the hands of the Holy Spirit.
I will trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in their lives.

In fact, during out time together I noticed times when the Holy Spirit was at work.
I would like to share two of those times with you this morning.
The first was when that day we were supposed to have class there were two deaths of young people in bow.
Also, that day one of our confirmation kid’s parents lost their job.
What I was told by one parent was that her daughter wanted to come to confirmation that night.
It just happened that on that night we were studying the second article of the Apostles creed about Jesus.
We were talking about what benefits we have in knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
It was a class filled with the Holy Spirit, because we were able to talk about what it means to know Jesus in life when things were bad.
All three of the girls agreed that it was a Holy Spirit night.

The second thing that happened was that one of our confirmation students was struggling with a moral issue.
They were not sure what to do about a situation that involved some of her friends.
On this night we were talking about the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”
The question was how we know in difficult life situations what God’s will is.
That night I saw all of the students help each other to figure out what the best thing was.
I was really proud of the way they wrestled with the question and the unselfish answer they came to.
This was another Holy Spirit moment in our time together.
The Holy Spirit gave us the right lessons for the right time in our lives.

And these stories also show the best part about belonging to a community of faith.
It is within that community that we receive support when we are down.
It is within that community that we are reminded of God’s grace and love for us.
It is within that community that we come to ask hard questions, and together seek answers.
That is what I want this community to be for all of us.
I don’t want it to be a community of, “do this or else”.
But one that is invites us into a deep relationship with God.
One that is loving and grace filled.
One that is not like the world we live in that is always demanding things from us, but one that is a haven of support.
One that surprises us because we are sitting around on a Thursday night of confirmation class and “suddenly” the Holy Spirit fills the room.

Today all three of these young people have chosen for themselves a Bible passage.
It was another Holy Spirit moment.
One of our students wanted to know if they should be looking up Bible passages before class.
I said no because I wanted it to be something that we did together as a class, and something that would be Holy Spirit led.
They picked bible verses that speak to the essence of faith.
“Keep alert, Stand firm in your faith” the world will try to rip away your faith.
The world will make do this or else demands on you.
Remember to look out for the Holy Spirit that is always inviting you in.
Stand firm in the faith that tells you of a different life of welcome and love.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” A reminder that indeed this is what God is for us, this is what God does for us.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” This is what we are talking about this morning is trusting that God is with us in all things, and that the Holy Spirit will lead us to faith.

Reilly, Grace, and Angelina you are really special people.
You all are so caring, thoughtful, and ready to learn.
I know today that the Holy Spirit will continue to surprise you, guide you, and bring you closer to Jesus.
I have faith in the Holy Spirit.
I hope all of you here today, if you are friends, family, a member of this congregation will have faith in the Holy Spirit to lead these young women.
I hope that you have caught faith, and that it will continue to be part of your life.
This morning may we all have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to surprise us with visions of God’s love, mercy, and goodness.

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