Before I begin my message, I’d like to share with the congregation some of what these young adults have been grappling with since October, when our class began. And grapple is the correct term when you take in to consideration that I was on sabbatical at that time and these students had to deal with Bob Abley and Tony Kotnik as their teachers!! Oh man.
Actually, I am so indebted to these precious friends for the gift they gave me while I was on sabbatical. They allowed me to study, reflect and relax a bit as they led these wonderful teenagers in our Confirmation program. Will you join me in showing appreciation? They hate it when I do this!
Our course of study is entitled, “Building the House of God: in our community, in our home, and in our lives.” Each lesson is ordered around the next logical step in the building of a house. For example, our first lesson looks at site selection and we talk about where the students are at that place in their life, just beginning to be involved in a deeper study of faith. The next lesson involves architectural plans and we look at what kind of relationship might we build with God and how we have some choice in the design of God’s place in our lives. We can build sparsely or we can build extravagantly. It is our choice. And that is how we proceeded in this program which brings us to today, the ribbon cutting ceremony, so to speak, of what we have built thus far.
Tony, Bob and I take great pleasure in presenting to you these 21 students and, as always, we thank Hamilton for his joyful participation in today’s celebration.
I distinctly remember the first time I read the following passage from Matthew 7. I was sitting on the back screened in porch of our home in Ravenna, in the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school. I was reading my Bible on a glorious early afternoon, and I had learned enough about building to actually grasp what Jesus was saying in these verses from Matthew 7. Jesus is speaking and this is the tail end of the magnificent Sermon on the Mount which runs the entirety of Matthew 5 through 7, beginning with the Beatitudes and now ending here.
24-25"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
26-27"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards."
28-29When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.
The verses became life to me on that summer’s day because our family had recently endured some of those storms of life that Jesus described and our house had been damaged. Yet, the damage was superficial because the house had been built very well. We were now in the time of getting estimates for the repairs needed. Fortunately, none of the following actual advertisements for contractors were hired for our needs. These are taken from actual ads.
“We tackle the toughest wiring problems. We’re the frizzy-haired electricians!”
SUPREME SIDING SERVICE
“We install quality siding; we install it fast; and we come to you!”
PITCHMAN ROOF REPAIR
“We give you low-cost materials, fast service, and a complimentary bucket.”
SPRAYMASTER HOUSE PAINTING
“With our patented spraying method, we can paint your house fast and cheap. Scrape the windows yourself and save big bucks!”
ST. NICOLAS CHIMNEY SERVICE
“One-day service. We accept checks, major credit cards, and milk & cookies.”
KRUNK GENERAL CONTRACTORS
"We may be big, but we don't forget to make the little mistakes!"
There are great joys in home ownership and it is said to be a major part of our American Dream. But when you have a home, you have maintenance, up keep, stuff to do.
A few weeks ago I walked around my house and began a list of what needs I must attend to before the snow flies again.
I have to:
• Scrape, prime and paint my house
• Make a roofing repair
• Rebuild a slumping flagstone patio
• Repair an antique window
• Reseed some barren areas in the yard
• Re-plumb a major chunk of my basement plumbing
• And that is just the list for May!
I just noticed the alliteration – rebuild, repair, reseed and re-plumb. That’s just ridiculous!
And what it all comes down to is the maintenance. The upkeep. The “to do” list. Ben Franklin spoke mostly to homeowners when he suggested that a “stitch in time saves nine.” If you don’t take care of the place in which you live, that place will deteriorate around you. Obviously this applies to any home in which we live and when I think about it, it isn’t a rule only for those who own a home, but for anyone who lives anywhere.
And all of this speaks directly to you today as a class and your confirmation. It is what Jesus is talking about in his parable of building on sand or rock. It’s about foundations and the type of spiritual structure you have begun and will continue to build over the course of your life. And it is about choices in what is ultimately a decision each of you has to make for yourself.
It is a question of how will you build?
How will you build? Over the years I have noticed that those getting confirmed follow some predictable paths. And what has always surprised me is that there are no hints, no means of predicting which youth will continue on and which will waver for a time. But I have seen confirmation youth firmly and full embrace their new status as members of Federated and remain involved in our church. Becoming shepherds, working on church projects, continuing to grow in their faith at GROUP, signing up for a mission trip or work camp. They take the foundation of their year of faith building and continue on. This is most gratifying to me, obviously, because I love you and feel these connections that I hope will continue.
Some will simply and completely drop out of sight. I won’t see you again unless I run into you in town or catch a note from you on Facebook. It’s not that something didn’t click for you, but that this may not be your time or perhaps you have other concerns that you prefer to attend to. Fed is always here when that changes for you. You are held in love securely in our breast and our prayers are always with you.
And then there are the innumerable paths in between. Those of you who struggle with faith, those who struggle with a lack of time to do all the things you want to do. Those who participate some along the way as life allows.
But for all of you there is the issue of the maintenance of this great faith we have in Jesus Christ. And the tools of Christian maintenance differ from the ones your mom has in her toolbox for keeping things in good shape around the house. They are vastly different than the lawnmower and chain saw your dad keeps in the garage.
The tools of our faith are spiritual and support us in a different manner than hammers, screwdrivers and socket sets. The outcome is similar, but the tools of maintenance for Christians are indicated in our Bibles.
The Bible is an essential for us, for it is our guide. In the Bible are the clues for Christian maintenance. When we read it, be it alone, in a Bible study or at GROUP, we are looking for words that resonate with our hearts and spirits. We are looking for confirmation of the things we wonder about.
So we know that hammers and screwdrivers, and even sockets are all designed to essentially do one thing – they are all used to place fasteners into whatever material you wish to bond together. A hammer drives nails into pieces of wood to tie them together. A screwdriver does the same using screws to hold wood or metal together. Socket sets also drive in fasteners. These are similar to us in our spiritual lives as are the tools of prayer, fellowship, and worship. These are tools for us that bond us in the love of Jesus, one for another. We prayed this morning for those who are ill in our Fellowship of Prayer. I visit so often and hear say that they felt our prayers and received great comfort that there were not alone.
Fellowship, being together as Christians, wherever Christians gather, is an agent of bonding. It connects us in friendship, in passionate mission together, in discussion and even in disagreement. But we do these acts of fellowship as believers in Jesus Christ, knowing that Jesus gives us our model and basis of coming to grips when Christians disagree. You and I may not completely agree on an issue that we are hoping our faith will illuminate. Yet, in Christ, we are still part of a family of faith and our pledge should not be to separate, but to learn to live together, each trusting the other to do the right thing as Scripture mandates.
And worship, perhaps the most essential tool in our spiritual toolbox.
Recently in a debate about things her at Federated, I was reminded by a friend that it is the kernel of worshipping God together that brings each of us into this sanctuary. It is about focusing on God, who is to be the center of all that we do here at Federated. Jesus Christ is our savior and the one who loved us to his own death, uniting us in his resurrection. Upon being reminded of this, I found that suddenly the dispute did not seem so large. It was still important and decisions needed to be made, but it was no longer this looming potential obstacle. The thought of worshiping God with my sisters and brother in Christ who come to Federated was reestablished as what was primary.
My temptation this morning is to continue on with example and illustration galore. But I will now get to the bottom line.
We love you guys. We revel in the fact that you have grown up among us and now share with us your intention to become members of Federated Church, United Church of Christ. As a church family, this is so cool. We see in you not only our future, but a new, vital, youthful voice in our today.
So we offer you some reminders for your new place in our church, and for this new way of living for God.
First, you each may select a bracelet with different symbols. This is to remind you that you are bound with us. It is a kind of wedding ring saying you are committed to a walk with God that, for now, is experienced here at Federated.
You also get a reminder of maintenance with this tiny tube of SuperGlue. Dudes, this stuff is amazing and can bind together just about anything – even skin, so be careful. Actually, never open this bottle. Keep it as a reminder. Let it remind you of your responsibility in your own spiritual growth. God is always present with you. If it doesn’t feel that way, it is not God who has moved away a bit. You can always reach out when you have strayed or drifted.
Finally, we offer you a little candle. We see in you an amazing light that is the light of God’s presence within you. You are remarkable young adults and while it is fun to dream of what you will accomplish as you move through life, it is more important to recognize how cool you are today. Look at you – unrepeatable miracles, each one of you. So beautiful. So creative. So full of wonder. God worked overtime when you were created.
We finally made it to today. In October, this service looked very distant, almost elusive. But you made it. Congratulations and God bless each of you.