Today is Confirmation Sunday!
For those who have never been through Confirmation an easy summary is that many of the youth here in this congregation were baptized when they were itty bitties by no choice of their own, but rather by the witness and promise of their families and their faith community to raise them in a community of faith. So Confirmation is when a youth takes claim of their faith life. Where they choose to accept those promises for themselves and live into them. We’ve been meeting weekly since October not to decide with some finality what we do and don’t believe but to begin to think and be introduced to an ancient conversation that invites us to consider our own lives, our own joy, our own suffering, our own hope, and yes, our own faith.
What I love about Confirmation is that it’s a chance to walk through so many of the big topics of faith and ask safely what we actually think about these things. I invite several adults from the congregation along for the process who share openly and honestly and model for kids that so many of these questions can hold a variety of thoughts and beliefs. Each person has been shaped by their experiences, their education, their culture, their community and youth get to see that their voice is welcomed and encouraged. Even and especially if that voice is “I don’t know.”
So I want to begin today by asking all of the adults in this room to revisit perhaps the most traumatic year of your life…eighth grade. You know the year your mustache started coming in. Holding your arms by your side all day not to let that lovely musky fragrance loose. And in the midst of all of the awkward and embarrassing flashbacks running through your mind right now, I want you to think about what that young person thought about God.
Just for a quick show of hands, how many of you were involved in some kind of church youth group when you were younger?
Now I want you to skip ahead to that season after High School. Perhaps you left home, your church, your town and perhaps you encountered some new people, new ideas, new Christians (Lol) new ways of understanding everything you thought you understood. For those who went to college, did your thoughts about God look the same during that season as they did when you were 14?
Perhaps you stopped caring as much in those years. Or perhaps you became all the more passionate. (You lil’ Bible thumper you.)
How many of you were involved in some sort of faith group while you were in college? ( Going to guess it’s Fewer, but still a handful of you.)
Now I’d like you to close your eyes, try and truly see yourself during those years. Keep your eyes closed and see yourself now. Here you are, years beyond those awkward, confusing, formative seasons of life, what do you think you would tell that young person trying to decide what they believe about their own faith or lack of it?
Did it get any easier to believe? Have you grown? Do some of those certainties you held still sit the same today? Did the world learn new things that challenged and changed what you thought you knew? Did you adjust? Adapt? Did you face a dark knight of the soul filled with doubt and disbelief? Did you encounter something unexplainable that gave you just enough pause to entertain the infinite? You see so much has happened to you since you were in eighth grade.
When I was in 8th grade I was introduced to a ministry that would set path to all the years of life that brought me to here and now. I knew I was loved by God, I was excited about faith and the community of really fun friends I could share that with. I met people, pastors, and teachers that had very certain answers to all of my questions and I liked that. Throughout high school I was told about the world and how the world hates Jesus and is actively working against him and that all the truth I needed to stand against this was found in the passages of Scripture. I became obsessed with the Bible. (Highlighter Bible). I was taught to build my life on a rock, and that if I did that, I’d be able to fight my temptations and my doubts. Oh I was a real zealot let me tell ya. My Bible was worn down, duct taped, and every word was illuminated because I just literally highlighted everything. I did this because I was told that “A Bible that was falling apart belonged to someone who wasn’t.”
In college two things happened, the first, I became a minister to Middle School students and I loved it. I took it very seriously, and wanted to be an effective teacher so I sought to be as informed as possible. Rarely could I be seen without five books in my arms. I was so invested and curious and loved nothing more than hearing people’s questions and just excavating the Bible to find the answers. The second thing that happened was that I changed my major to Religious studies. I was heavily influenced by pastors and teachers to go to seminary but even then I was weary of being put in someone else’s box. I didn’t want to be built up with all the arguments why we believed what we believe. My faith was already so secure… No, instead I wanted to hear from Scholars why they disagreed with my pastors. So that, and this was the important part, I could effectively be prepared to give response to any criticisms.
And let’s just say….that didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought it would.
Those professors chewed up and spat out the version of the Bible I had built my life on. They confronted all my understandings of inerrancy, revelation and Hell and all that I was so certain was capital “T” Truth.
I remember fighting so hard to hold on to what I was raised to believe, and eventually reading a book by a guy named Pete Enns called “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending the Scriptures has made us unable to read it.” All the things I had learned from my Religion major was reinforced in this book with one caveat, the person teaching me these things was a believer. And furthermore a believer who believed that letting the Bible be free to be what it is, letting the bible “misbehave” is actually one of our greatest invitations to the divine. He very kindly followed that book up with a title called “the Sin of Certainty” which gave me the wonderful nugget: The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certitude. Thinking you have arrived and no longer being open to what still may be revealed. He believed God desires our trust more than our correct beliefs.
I’m not sure how many of you have had the rug pulled out from under you. Or have transitioned from beliefs you once held with great certainty. It is a very challenging and isolating experience especially when the community you grew up in doesn’t know what to do with these lovely new things you’re talking about. As a professional minister who excitedly was sharing what I was learning, I was eventually kicked out of that community.
There’s this sort of “virtue” (In quotes) I grew up with that I see so frequently all over this country. We like to appear challenged but unchanged. Standing firm in our faith no matter what ideas might deliver us elsewhere. Truth becomes this tribal football we’re always trying to possess and win with rather than something we remain open to. We seem culturally opposed to transformation.
I think so many of us subconsciously are worried if we entertain these ideas or these experiences our minds might change and our “truth” won’t be as secure as we’ve always been told it is.
But yes! 100% yes! My mind changes ALL THE TIME.
And is that so bad?
I learn new things, I try and listen to and even trust the experiences of other people. Open hearts, open minds, open doors.
We are meant to grow and mature and I can’t for the life of me believe that would dishonor God who I actually believe is ahead of us, inviting us forward.
We bring our influences, our stories, our experiences, our thoughts, our doubts, all of it to God, now, today, right here in the present moment and we wrestle with it openly and honestly in loving communities like this one. Every one of us, no matter where we align shapes the whole of us. No matter how you voted in a church wide vote or whether you literally disagree with everything I am talking about. The hand can’t say to the foot I don’t need you. We are a body. And that body might go through puberty, it might go through a mid-life crisis, but we are called upon to grow.
Comedian Pete Holmes has this riff about the spiritual mind. And how so much of religion he says is stuck in eighth grade. Like we decided to end it all there and abandon further development. He says We were never meant to stay in eighth grade. We’re meant to keep growing, our faith is meant to keep unfolding and maturing.
On the back of one of those formative books I remember reading the words “Questions aren’t scary, what’s scary is when people don’t have any.”
Could I share with you a time where I had some personally disruptive questions? Do y’all remember about a year ago when those Webb Telescope photos were released?
I was so stunned and just awestruck by the beauty of those photographs but if I’m being completely honest, it also really kinda messed me up. I remember looking at these pictures and thinking…”Does the God I believe in make sense within such a photograph? I thought about all of the beliefs I hold and have held with some sense of confidence and I wondered how they stacked up against this image of the cosmos. I remember asking my friends if this image brought us closer to God, or if this image took us further from the idea of God? As you can imagine I had a real range of responses from my friends. I imagine the same is true here in this room.
In a universe of this many worlds, did God really love this one so much that he became one of us, died, and rose again? Are we that significant to the creator of all things if a photograph can make me feel so cosmically insignificant?
What I’ve come to believe is that the invitation towards God will always challenge whatever it is that I think I know. And what a gift this is. I’ve come to see those photos of the cosmos are not so much a challenge as they are an invitation deeper; an opportunity for growth, wonder, surprise and a greater reverence for the mystery we all are wrestling with. And that is likely to lead me to step out from much I might think I know. Which is what makes a community of faith so rich when we show up together. That’s exactly why I want to know what you think about these things. We’ve all had some moment of disruption or expansion. I want to be shaped by your disagreement. I want to be shaped by your faith. I want to find inspiration in the story that God is sharing though your life and your words and your love.
When I was at that crossroads, feeling increasingly unwelcome and disruptive in my former community I remember leaning into a song we would sing a lot. Some of you probably know it well. The chorus goes like this:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.
That’s the only way I got here.
You see the boat in our Gospel reading today is the certainty. We know the boat floats. We know the boat works. It’s safe. On it you’ll have solid ground. The Stormy water…well that’s not so safe. We all know that’s not solid ground. They say if I step there I’ll sink. And yet…Jesus was not in that boat. The invitation for Peter was to come out of that boat and walk not just where he believed it would be impossible to stand, but towards the invitation of the one he trusted; Jesus. “Come.” Peter was able to walk on water because he surrendered the smallness of his mind and believed in the sincere invitation of God.
In fact it’s not till he is distracted and frightened by the storms that he sinks.
I don’t think it’s wrong to put your confidence (which is a different word than certainity) in whatever the boat is that keeps you afloat, as long as when the invitation comes, you remain open stepping out.
My beliefs, I imagine like yours, have evolved over time. I’ve matured, I’ve regressed, I’ve grown and I have a strong hopeful belief that this will continue to be the case for the rest of my life.
While youth today may be declaring an alignment with certain beliefs, we are not inviting youth today into some perfect acceptance of correct beliefs or certitudes that they must adhere to for the rest of their lives, but rather we are inviting youth to wrestle with life and mystery in a community that will not just love and welcome them, but challenge them, and help them mature into healthy adults that are not sidelined by good questions or impossibilities, but excited and hungry for them. Questions about mysteries that shape who we are and who we become. I do believe God is calling them to walk where we do not yet believe is possible. And that is both terrifying and exciting.
We’re inviting them to bring their thoughts, their hearts, their calling, their prayers into this community to allow each and every one of us to be shaped by their experiences, their insight and their testimony. And I am asking that you share the same with them in return. I’m asking for your heart yo remain open for them. May you hold their journey up, and encourage them to go where we could not and may we all keep eyes fixed on the love that sends us wherever we should be called.
And this is my prayer for our Confirmands and all who would welcome them. May we be open to where we are being called. May we not silence the voice of our beliefs, our doubts, our curiosities, but instead hold them as a messy community that is open to the unfolding mystery. May we be a community that has not arrived but still has much to find wonder in. May the unknowns take us deeper. And may those depths invite us to build our home in a peace that suprasses our understanding… and a love that catches our doubt.
I love to say that I don’t teach kids what to believe but how to believe. I’m sure it’s an inherently flawed and perhaps not totally true statement. But I say this because what I believe has changed. But how I believe has not.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me