Celebrate: Look Ahead!
- Rev. Braun Campbell
- May 4, 2008
- Categories: Biblical
Confirmation Sunday + May 4, 2008
"Celebrate: Look ahead!"
An open letter to the St. John's Lutheran Church Confirmation class of 2008
Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! You represent the first class that I have personally seen go through our congregation's entire two-year Confirmation program. It has been my privilege to work with you and the other instructors, parent guides, and junior guides throughout this course. As far as I can tell, and despite occasional effort on your part to hide it, I think that each of you has grown in your faith - and not just in terms of knowing more about what we as Lutheran Christians believe. Even though it might not usually be obvious, God is at work in your lives. As Pastor Meehan assured us in his sermon last week, God hasn't abandoned you or me. Jesus, whose Ascension we remembered earlier this week, sent the Holy Spirit to you in your baptism to give you faith. And today, we celebrate God's gifts to you.
In case the robes and flowers and photos and all that other stuff didn't already give it away, this is a day of celebration. This is a big deal: you, your parents, and your instructors have been preparing together for years. But your preparation hasn't just been two years of coming to Confirmation class, and your preparation hasn't been just for this day. Your family at home and your family here at church have had the special duty to teach you God's Word, to help you learn about what God has done for us in Jesus, and to show you how those shape our lives as Christians. By God's grace, this has happened through daily prayer at home, conversations with other Christians, worship services, Sunday School lessons, youth gatherings, trials in your life, and your own study of Scripture. As we celebrate your Confirmation Day, we're celebrating all this: not that everything's over and done, but that it is time for a next step. We look ahead - and so we celebrate!
If we're celebrating something, we're doing more than having a party. Sure, there will be festivities with cake and punch and handshaking and the like after the service has ended, but that's not all that's going on here. To "celebrate" means to rejoice and to proclaim. Celebrating is about action, not just standing around and looking at the past: we're rejoicing in what God has done for you, and we are making it known!
What do you celebrate? Victories seem like good things to celebrate, for one, and you've probably had a number of those, both big and small. When you win a game, you celebrate. When you pass a test with flying colors, you celebrate. (And yes, it's OK to pray before a test - but still be studying and developing the mind that God gave you!) When you get through a difficult time, you celebrate. (And no, I don't think that paying attention to a sermon counts.) When you celebrate, you can say, "Yes! It has happened!" sharing your good news with everyone around.
Because of Jesus, we have much to celebrate. In your written "faith statements" this year, I think that almost all of you made mention of the acrostic of GRACE: "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." We celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection. We celebrate Holy Communion here as we gather together. We rejoice because Christ died for us to bring us forgiveness and because he rose victoriously from the dead. And we proclaim that this is victory is real, a victory for all us human beings.
Peter lays it out in our second reading for today: "But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." He's talking about the struggles that people will endure because they are Christians. As young people who are about to stand up before God and this congregation to remember and renew the vows that were made at your baptism, you should be aware that following Jesus won't always be easy. You probably already know this. As a Christian, you're called to make God-pleasing choices that probably won't be popular with the crowd, decisions that will require self-discipline - like coming to worship in God's house each week. The world rejected Jesus and put him to death on a cross. The world's not going to make things easy for those who follow him, you who bear his name. But Peter isn't telling you to rejoice in the hardship and suffering itself, to celebrate the difficulty; instead, he's encouraging you to celebrate GRACE, remembering that God is with you. He's telling you to look ahead!
As the disciples were standing around, looking into heaven after Jesus ascended, they heard a similar message: the angels said to them, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?" Today, we will celebrate in action, rejoicing and proclaiming, not in standing around cloud-gazing. Today, as on Ascension Day, we care called to look ahead. Confirmation, as you've heard us say, is not graduation. We haven't come together today to send you off and to tell you "goodbye." We're here to say "welcome." Welcome into the life of St. John's as an active member of our life together. Your family at St. John's looks ahead with you to the path that God has set before all of us. Pastor Meehan, Jennifer, and I, along with our congregational leaders, are here to continue to build you up in the most holy faith, into which we have been baptized. We are here to walk with you on this path, following Jesus as we look ahead.
Our loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will be with you every day, even when you might not much feel like celebrating. You've already had days in life where you've felt hurt, or lonely, or sad, and there will likely be more such days; however, at your baptism, God promised to carry you through those times. There may also be days where everything seems to be going your way and you don't have a care in the world. God has promised to stand by you in those times, too, because the devil loves to strike when your defenses are down. For the past two years, you have studied God's word and learned from His instruction - not to pass an exam or to stand up in front of the congregation in a white robe, but to become more prepared for your ongoing journey in Christ. The Holy Spirit will give you the strength to be sober-minded and watchful, so that the devil cannot snap you up in his jaws. God is with you, and so you can look ahead with assurance and hope for the future.
I pray that you celebrate this day, that you rejoice in and proclaim what God is doing in your life. I am glad to have had two years with you in the study of Scripture under the cross of Christ, seeing how God is raising you up as His own. I look ahead to sharing many more with you, in joy, by GRACE.
In Christ, our risen and ascended Lord, Amen.