“Grace Through Your Life”
This is confirmation Sunday. After many months of study and service, discussion and discernment, 11 youth are being confirmed today and one will be in May. The first part of the first question we ask the confirmands when they join, as we ask any new member, begins with, “Trusting in God’s saving grace……”So what does that mean? For the season of Easter, which runs until mid-May, our theme in worship broadly will be grace. Through Holy week and especially on Easter Sunday, we celebrated the saving – God’s salvation, but what does that grace look like as we walk the journey of life and faith? Let us pray.
Loving Lord, through the gift of Easter you have showered your people with your loving favor. Help us to experience and internalize that gift, confirmed in your grace. Through Christ we pray. Amen.
Luke chapter 15 begins with the statement that the Pharisees and religious leaders were critical of Jesus for “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” That indeed is how Jesus acted at Holy Week. Having a last supper with those who would deny him. Welcoming the sin of the world on his shoulders, on the cross. Welcoming humanity to experience salvation on Easter morning.
Crowds gathered to listen to Jesus and he gave examples of God’s saving grace towards lost sheep, lost coins, and then uses a human example, the lost sons.
A man had two sons. An older son who was dutiful and stayed on the farm and a younger son who didn’t. The younger son said to his father, “I want my share of the inheritance now.” Amazingly the father agreed and divided his assets between his two sons. The younger son took his and traveled to a distant country. But when things didn’t work out there, he came to his senses and returned home.
Sometimes we have to travel in order to come home. As we grow up and become young adults, it can be in new locations and it is often in the questioning of things, including faith, that we end up coming home when we find our own identity in it. That is what the text means when the younger son, “comes to himself,” after being away and then returns home.
That is my own experience growing up Presbyterian but moving away from church and trying Catholic and UCC and Baptist and Methodist congregations. They helped me feel stronger about my Presbyterian faith when I returned to it, finding both a spiritual and professional home in it.
I like sharing sacred space with a Jewish congregation and as it forces me to think about what defines me as a Presbyterian.
During the period of confirmation, we asked our young people to learn about the faith, question it and make it personal as they articulated their statement of faith.
There are several aspects to confirmation. There is our tradition. We often call confirmation the reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant, confirming now the choice our parents made years ago to baptize us as Christians.
When we come to worship each Sunday, we are all reaffirming our baptismal covenant, reminding ourselves we belong to Christ and tapping into his power for the week to come.
Yet the tradition is not enough. As the prodigal son shows us sometimes we need to come to ourselves, make faith our own, in order to come home.
Confirmation is also about affirmation, affirmation of responsibility. When our confirmands join the church they are taking responsibility for their faith journey.
For confirmation is not an end, it is a beginning. Not graduation, but being of a new part of the journey. For confirmands and all young people here, we need you to take leadership at BHPC, for you are the future of the church.
The best way to make faith real is to be involved in the church. To be in youth group, participate in youth Sunday, read scripture and lead prayers of thanksgiving and dedication, go on mission trips, teach Sunday school. We challenge you this day to be an active part of the tradition.
Regardless of your age, take responsibility for your faith. Now is a time for lay involvement. If you would like to get more involved in the church, see one of the pastors or Joan Burns, chair of Nominating. We would like to connect you.
Jesus’ parable warns though about making faith too much our own and relying too much on ourselves.
The older son in the parable had tried to live by the letter of the law but found no joy in doing so. Faith is not meant to be an obligation, but a celebration.
The older son in the story stands for the self-righteous Pharisees and religious leaders who were criticizing Jesus for forgiving sinners and meeting with those who were the most imperfect.
The problem for the older son was that he worked at self-justification. Thinking his merit could make everything right with the father in the story. The problem with self-justification is it bypasses the cross. The power and promise of the season of Easter is that God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That is what Jesus is expressing through this story.
Confirmation means our affirmation of responsibility. It does not mean having all the answers or being in charge of everything.
In confirmation we are stating we want to journey with Jesus and be in connection with his church as our faith seeks understanding.
We ask you to continue participating, not out of obligation but out of gratitude to God.
We need you to do something in the church, but not everything. For at Easter we celebrate God’s saving grace. Grace is what sets us free.
Confirmation is also about initiation. God’s initiation. When we go through confirmation, we are confirming the initiation of God’s spirit in our lives. We are confirming to ourselves and the church, professing publicly, that the spirit is stirring in our lies.
William Barclay wrote that Jesus’s parable should not be called the prodigal son or even the story of the two sons, it should be called the parable of the loving father. For it tells us a lot more about the forgiveness of the father, than the sins of the sons.
The Father in the story is God. The younger son needed to make his faith his own. But the father ran to the younger son even when he was far off to offer him love before he had even asked for it. God knows our needs and initiates our faith. The father forgives the son and gives him robes and rings, signs of honor and authority. He welcomes him home.
The older son was pouting but the father went outside and found him and said, “All I have is yours.” The lifelong journey of the spirit.
What the father offers, what God offers, what confirmation offers, is home.
Bradley Hills is our spiritual home. For some of you it’s been that way for 50 years. Some of you have found this community more recently. For 11 of you being confirmed today you are making this faith and this community your spiritual home.
As we travel through life in high school, college, family, work, retirement, we travel with the Holy Spirit.
I know for many, certainly for Kori and me, the church we grew up in was special and always a source of strength.
For our confirmands and youth, Bradley Hills is your spiritual home and wherever you go, will be a source of strength.
And for those considering joining this community, you have a found a place that embraces your journey and can help you engage your faith.
For this church believes wholeheartedly in God’s grace. Like the younger brother, no matter how far we go from God we are always welcome back. Like the older brother, no matter how much we demand to live by what we deserve, joy is only found in receiving grace.
Jesus expresses through this parable that God cares for us, waits for us, and will always be there for us. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. God loves us at Easter not because of what we have done or tried to do. But of who we are, ones made in the image of God, saved by the blood of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.
In confirmation we are saying that the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives. We respond by professing and participating.
But wherever we go, God’s spirit and this church will be behind us, concerned about us, waiting for us with grace.
What the father says at the end of the parable is true. He tells the eldest son, “You are always with me.” Indeed we are always with God. And God with us.
It does not matter if you have moved around a lot or not. There is always a home of grace for us here.
In spring 1984, I was confirmed at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Ohio.
In February of that year, I was well into the final stages of my confirmation journey, working on our statements of faith, preparing for confirmation Sunday.
It just so happened that some friends of mine and I got tickets that month to see the British Pop Band, Duran Duran, for a February show in Cleveland, Ohio on their 7 and the Ragged Tiger tour. This was a busy time of year and we were trying to finish our confirmation statements but got a chance to take some time for the concert.
The show was on a Friday night. There was a massive snow storm in Ohio that February Friday. It closed the schools, which rarely happened in my community. We had been hoping to drive up in the afternoon but there was no way we could with the snow. One of my friends started looking into renting a helicopter to take us from Dayton to Cleveland in the snowstorm. That was a terrible idea on many levels. So we never made it to the concert. A lot of disappointment. We had to stay home and work on our confirmation statements of faith.
And I don’t think I have actually seen Duran Duran in concert since. Until two days ago, this weekend. It turns out Duran Duran performed at the Verizon Center Friday night and so Bridget and I and some friends went. It was great.
During the encore they sang a prayer for this who lost their lives in recent terror attacks, and rather than asking us all to raise our lighters as they would have in 1984, they asked us to raise our cell phones high, to spread the light as we would have on Christmas Eve.
It was a reminder that some of the bands our confirmands today listen to now, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, may still be performing 32 years from now. Well, maybe not Justin Bieber.
It’s a reminder that things we remember or connections we make about and from our confirmation year, stay throughout life.
It’s a reminder that there is grace in the world. For even when things don’t go our way or we fall apart from what we know, there is always hope of reunion.
So celebrate your tradition, your affirmation of responsibility and Gods initiation of faith in your life through the Spirit.
Never give up on your faith. For God never gives us on us. God always wants to stay in relationship with us.
Wherever we see ourselves in the story, all that matters is that we find ourselves in relationship with our heavenly father. That is where we all belong. Let us confirm this day and always that we belong to God. Let us celebrate God’s grace through our lives. Amen.