Wednesday, May 30, 2018

You Cannot Bear Them Now

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."
This is how I feel at the end of every confirmation class.
As these fine young people sit here before me I think that there is much still to know about faith and God.
It can't be taught all in two years between 7th and 8th grade.
What these young people have received is the basics.
The baseline of faith.
They received what their parents promised they would at their baptisms.
We learned about the Apostles Creed, the Lord's prayer, the ten commandments, the Bible, and Reformation history.
Those things are the baseline of our faith.
They are the start of the conversation not the end.
But it is all we can bear when we are this age.
It is all that can be taught with the amount of time we have.

But here is always my hope.
That those things will be enough to make you want to know more.
They will be enough for you all to continue to ask questions, and to wonder about God and your faith.
They will be enough for you to at least lean back on at some other point in your life when you need God.
This is the thing about being young is that you don't even know all the ways that you will need God to be with you in this life.
You don't yet know all the things that you will need to face.
And some of those things will be really hard.
It will involve heartache and loss.
I hope in those times that your faith will be what carries you through.

But take heart because Jesus couldn't teach his disciples everything they needed in this three years they were with him.
The disciples didn't even understand all the things they were going to face after Jesus left this earth.
But Jesus assures them that they wouldn't be alone.
That the Holy Spirit would be there to keep them in relationship with him.
The Holy Spirit would continue to teach them the things that they would need to know.
And today I hope that we all feel good about this confirmation of these fine young people.
Because they might not know everything there is to know, but we release them to the Spirit of truth.
We give them over to God.
And we in faith believe that God will be there with them as they go forth from today.
God will be there teaching them about God's grace and love.
God will be there loving them.

Logan, Alex, Emma, Karl, Evan, and Leizel I hope you know that our congregation celebrates this day with you today.
We celebrate that you wanted to confirm your faith.
We celebrate that you have learned some of the basic things.
In faith we give you over to God.
We pray that you will be lead by the Spirit of God.

And we know that in this life you will need God every day.
I was thinking about this.
And in order to demonstrate what we are talking about I wanted to give each of you this sky diver.
On the parachute is written the Bible verse you picked to be your confirmation Bible verse.
Life feels this way lots of times.
Like you are falling through the sky.
Life is going fast, and things seem out of control.
But as people of faith we have a parachute.
We have God.
God helps us to slow down, and to make the landing less painful.

I also did this because this is how our classes would be.
If you ever were around during one of our confirmation classes you would notice that they were loud.
From the outside it would seem like chaos.
It wouldn't seem like confirmation class.
If you are older you might have had a confirmation class were you had to sit at a desk or table.
You had to read the lesson, and the pastor would give a lecture on what it meant.
You maybe had to memorize things.
Maybe you had to take notes, or do homework.
My classes are not like that.
And this class in particular liked to get into the spirit of things.
They were loud, and active.
We had lots of fun.
I really enjoyed these students.
But it seemed like chaos.
But underneath that chaos was something really wonderful.
My confirmation classes are not designed to pump kids full of information.
(Even though there is information shared.)
Because I know that they cannot bear everything now.
It is intended to do a couple of things.
One is to bond the class together.
This class really liked being together and coming to class.
Two, make sure the young people knew that God loves them without condition.
And three to have fun.
We sometimes forget to have fun while we believe in God's grace.

We should always remember that it is within chaos that God does God's best work.
To me that scene on Pentecost is a scene of chaos.
It is a scene were people are speaking many languages all at once, and yet they can still hear and understand each other.
It is God at work in the chaos to form the church.
It is God bringing people together to dream dreams, and see visions of a better day ahead.
When I look at these young people I see in them something wonderful.
The spirit of God.
Logan with all of his passion and energy, with the way he attacks life.
We could always count on Logan for laughs and to ask really interesting questions and to make sure the pastor didn't slip up in any way.
Leizel with her kindness to everyone, with the way that she would go about the task trying her best.
We could always count on Leizel to be kind and thoughtful.
Evan with his charisma, we could always count on Evan to lead us down the lane of crazy and fun.
We could count on Evan to be the life of the party.
Karl with his seriousness and smarts, we could always count on Karl to ask hard questions and go along with the group.
We could always count on Karl to be thoughtful.
Emma with her maturity, we could count on Emma to be the first to participate to be the grown up in the group.
We could count on her to be make sure things did not get too out of hand.
Alex with his constant love of service, we could count on him to help clean up, and to be the person who goes along to make things work.
We could count on him to be the one to give of himself for the betterment of the group.
These six kids give me such hope for the future.
They all have special gifts given by God.
And today we celebrate those gifts, and we look forward to the ways that the Spirit will move in their lives.
We give thanks that God will be there to shelter them, and slow down the hard landings.

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now, and this sermon has gone on long enough."
So let me end by thanking God for Emma, Alex, Logan, Karl, Liezel, and Evan!
And know that the Spirit of truth will continue to guide them in faith.
The Spirit will continue to teach them the things of faith they will need to know.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Easy to Love

I was thinking a lot about love this week because of today's Gospel.
"Abide in my love" Jesus tells us.
I have preached on numerous occasions that love is difficult.
How love takes discipline and devotion.
That is true.
Love can be difficult at times.
It is most assuredly difficult to love those that can't or won't love us back.
It is difficult to love people who are unlovable.
This week I experienced something different.
On Tuesday I went to a prayer vigil for immigrants facing deportation.
At that vigil I heard the stories of people living life in fear.
I heard stories of immigrants that don't feel welcomed here, even if they are citizens.
What I felt while listening to those stories was love.
Love for those people who are having to go through very difficult times.
My heart was big and I felt that I wanted for all of them a better life.
This is what Aristotle and Aquinas called the love that wills another's good.
I wasn't mad, I just felt love.
Also on Tuesday I met with some of my colleagues from Concord for lunch and sharing.
We shared about things happening in our lives.
Some very difficult things.
And what I felt in that meeting more than anything was love.
Love for these people who I got to share intimate hurts with.
On Wednesday night I went and heard from Combatants for Peace.
People from Palestine and Israel who used to serve in the military who now advocate  for peace.
Again, I heard difficult stories of violence and injustice.
I heard stories of fear and prejudice.
But also of redemption and forgiveness.
And all I could feel in those moments was love for the people telling them and for the people of that region who are locked in a long struggle for peace.
As I went about my other tasks as pastor.
Bible Study, committee meetings, delivering health kits,  Cinco de Mayo lunch with one of our members.
I remember that our community is built on love.
I feel love when we are together doing the work of the church,  building relationships, giving for others, planning worship.
I was amazed how easy it was this week to experience love.

And that is what I want us to talk about today.
How easy it is to love.
It is true that love can be difficult, but this morning I want us to know it can also be easy.

It can be easy not because people are easy to love, not because the world is wonderful all the time.
It can be easy to love because we here this morning believe in Jesus Christ who came to show us God's love.
Christians are about love.
Jesus told us this morning, "Abide in my love".
Because of this love should be for us easy.
It should be second nature.
When we are confronted with people that are suffering or hurting we should think about Jesus Christ suffering for us and remember that Jesus suffers along with the world because of his love for the world.
When we are confronted with someone who is deemed unlovable.
We should remember that Jesus loves us.
Jesus loves us even though we don't deserve it, we haven't earned it.
Jesus just loves us.
There are times I feel or think I am unlovable, and yet Jesus loves me anyway.
Jesus tells us this morning, "You did not choose me but I chose you."
We are here this morning because Jesus chose to love us.

Love is a constant theme in John's Gospel.
It is a thread that runs through the whole thing.
From John 3:16 ("for God so loved the world) all the way until the end.
Everything Jesus does and says is to show us God's love.
In John's Gospel Jesus dies on the cross so that we might see his love for us.
And when we remember Jesus' love then love isn't so hard.
When we recall that Jesus loves the world.
Jesus loves his disciples.
Jesus loves the sinner.
Jesus loves us.
Then love is just what we are about.

So when we are out there in the world.
When we are hearing difficult stories about hatred, injustice, prejudice, and violence.
When we are confronted with people who seem unlovable.
When we are confronted with new information that doesn't seem to go along with what we thought.
When we are told stories of other people that are different from ours.
It is natural to feel love, to reach out with that love.
At the vigil after we heard a story from one of the immigrants we would pray this prayer, "Dear God of love help us to love."

I have been accused at times of preaching about politics.
I accept that some people see it that way.
I want you to hear me out this morning about this.
My defense of it is that for me it is not about politics.
It is about love.
I am not telling you this morning what you should think about any political issue.
I am telling you that regardless of the person you encounter in life you should love them, not because I said it, but because you know that Jesus loves you.
I know that everything is political, because certain people twist things to make it about who we vote for, or which side we are on.
But what I as your pastor am always trying to get you to see is that it is about love.
"Loving your neighbor"
Abiding in Jesus love.
To be present with people that are suffering, to pray with them, sing with them, hope with them, to love them.
That might be political but it is also what Jesus calls us to do.
Love is political, because someone will always say that you can't love that person.
They are not the right person.
Jesus encountered this all the time.
It wasn't right that he ate with gentiles, with prostitutes, with tax collectors, with the poor, with the rich.
I would hope that you expect nothing less of your pastor.
I would hope you would want a pastor who loves, and who is in the world trying to show that love to others.
If you don't want it from me, it means you don't want it from yourself either.
And if that is true then it is a problem, because we are not abiding in the love of Jesus.
That is what a church is a group of people abiding in the love of Jesus Christ.
And that love is to exist when we are together, and when we are out there in the world doing whatever it is that we are doing.

This week I hope you think about love.
I hope you see how easy it can be to love.
Because you know of Jesus' love for you.
You know that Jesus is your friend.
You know that Jesus choose you.
Abide in that truth.
Live in that truth.
And when you do it will be easy to love.