Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Difficulty and the Declaration of Faith of Confirmation

Acts 2: 1-21
1 Corinthians 12: 12-14

Kathleen Norris is a poet and an author of books that are a wonderful mix of belief and practicality, an English major who writes with plain language about the loftiest and most uplifting Christian subjects.

In a book called Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, she writes about the organized church. She’s at a college doing a poetry reading and there is a reception afterwards. At that party, she gets the usual statements from academic oriented people about how they are good people without going to church, how one can believe in God but can’t stand the organized church (anyone who knows the inner workings of the church can just laugh and laugh at that!), and how religion is the cause of so much strife and pain in the church, and perhaps the world would be better off without religion and specifically, churches.

It’s her opinion that for “people (who) complain about organized religion, what they are really saying is that they can’t stand other people.” For her, “joining a church is not like joining a hobby club; you will find all sorts of people there, not all of whom will share your interests, let alone your opinions.”

For just as the body is one and has many members, and al the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

If you were to poll the congregation this morning, you’d find many different favorite types of music—Barlow Girl, Gaither, Third Day, Toby Keith, U2, Bach and Handel. This is just one example of what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians. This is what is meant when Luke goes through the list of nations represented by the Jews in the temple when the tongues of fire come upon them in a rushing wind.

Can you folks who love Bill Gaither and the music he and his group makes really ever appreciate Kirk Franklin, an African American Gospel artist who constructs his songs on strongly rhythmic beats and raps a lot of his lyrics?

And yet they are both Christian.

There’s too much doubting of the faith of other people. Catholics distrust Protestants, Protestants distrust Catholics. Methodists distrust Baptists, Baptists doubt Methodist’ salvations.
But then, there is this wonderful occasion where people actually have to put down their Bibles, and go buy groceries. And there, they see people. People who go to different churches, people who go to synagogue, people who go to mosque, people who sometimes don‘t even go to any of the above choices, and they all need food, too.

What Kathleen Norris’ point about organized religion is, is this, and she’s quoting another author here; “what looks like a Christmas party in an insurance office is, in fact, pure holiness.” The people of the church are not beautiful, angelic, creatures, “strewn with flowers and sequins,”, but someone with a nose piercing, standing next to the guy in jeans with a red bandanna tied around his head, next to the older man with pants that are belted somewhere above his bellybutton and below his arms, next to the woman with the pearls, scarf, and perfume. That they stand all in one place, moved by the spirit to do ministry, is where the Spirit is.

They stand there together, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia.

The folks who are going to stand up here this morning are not as diverse as all that. They are all Caucasian. Their families all fall within a certain bracket in terms of annual income. But some are musicians, some are hunters, some loathe organization and some thrive on it. And every single one of them has taken a class for a year, and based on what they’ve learned, (or despite what they’ve learned), they will stand before this church and declare to you that they believe that when Jesus chose to die on the cross, that he died for them, and they are saved by grace, and that the people of this church will be their companions as they walk through their life. Of course, they may move away. Of course, some may go away to school, and others will stay here, and others won’t go at all. Some will vote Republican, some will vote Democrat.

However different their walk may be in Christ, it will be genuine, and while they are here, we have no business doubting their faith. Our only job is to support it, to offer ways to increase and deepen it, and to allow them to learn from our walks. The pledges that they will take for membership in the denomination and in the local church are much less deep than the first one, they are pledged within the context of always being a member of Christ’s universal church.

It’s hard to allow people their own way, especially when they are people whom you have loved since before they were born. It’s difficult. But it is a declaration of faith in itself, after all- you are declaring that you have faith that God that will allow God to work in them in their own special way. You declare that you have faith that God will work in them as God has worked in you.

They have chosen to join this church to begin their journey. Some may be here the rest of their lives. Others may be gone in 5 years, some may be gone sooner. But they will have said, in public and in front of a congregation, that God is working in their life, they have taken their baptisms for themselves, and now take responsibility for themselves and their own salvations.

We can do no less than support them and honor their public commitments. That is a declaration of faith in itself.

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