Message of Blessing
Please pray with me: God of starlight and sunrise, we are grateful for each person here today. For their faith. For their commitment. For the blessing you bring to their lives. These newly confirmed young people seek your peace. They bear their lives to you. They know their own flaws and ask your forgiveness. They know their own gifts and strengths, and offer their gratitude. Saturate them with your peace. Speak your peace into their midst, O God. And open their ears to hear you in this room and in their lives. Amen.
Kenilworth Union Church—gathered here in this room and online across the country: I get to meet with each of these young people one on one and hear about their faith. It is a gift. They reflect a truth that each of us need to hear. And so, for my sermon, I want only to offer blessings to each of these now-confirmed young people. May their faith be a blessing to you.
Goldie, I was struck by meeting with you over zoom. And here’s why. When we talked about your faith statement, you showed me the window you looked out when you were asking big questions about God as a kid, and you talked about that view out that window, and how it connects you to God. And then you pulled out a little scrap of paper from your desk. Written on it was a quote, a scripture passage, a little note that connected you to God. I loved that your God moments were “right there,” accessible. This is no “far away” God, this is a God who meets you there, in the place where you spend most of your time. So for you, I have chosen a scripture passage from Psalm 73, which I hope can serve as a reminder that God’s love is near: God’s love is right there, accessible, no matter where you are on life’s journey. Psalm 73 says, “But me? It is good to be near God.” Goldie Elaine Anderson, may God always be near.
Charlie, I found it very insightful that your faith statement talked about how being connected to one another is key to our common survival. Despite the many different ways this past year has affected us, we need one another more than ever. Whether we are crushed by grief, or steady because own burden has been light, there is something critical that binds us together, the hurting and the healers. So I chose a scripture passage for you from the book of Ephesians that resonates with how you articulate your faith. It reads “Make an effort to preserve the unity of the spirit with the peace that ties you together.” Charles Philip Atteberry. May the peace of God always bind you to community.
Victor, transition is hard. The last year of course, has been full of transition, but there is a certain way in which transition is the norm: whether it’s transitioning to a new school, or a sibling moving away to college, or your whole family being transplanted to a new country, transition is part of life. I know you are moving to Europe this summer. I know that will be a huge transition. But the thing I know and love about God is that there is no where we can go that separates us from God’s love. No matter where we are, God is there. Even when Jesus envisioned the kingdom of heaven on earth, he envisioned people from every corner of the earth. Our God is an ever-expanding God of love. So I chose this scripture passage for you from the book of Luke. It is from the story of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples where he pitches his vision for the global community being unified, all of us together. Jesus said, “And they shall come from east and west, and from north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” Victor Alexander Bopp, may God be with you north, south, east and west, wherever the spirit leads you.
Lily, I love that call God your “rock.” That even as your relationship with God has changed, even as your way of praying to and connecting with God has changed over the years, God is your anchor. Your relationship with God will continue to grow and change. But I hope that the steady, grounding image of God as your rock will carry you along. There is a scripture passage that pastors recite almost every week just before preaching that highlights God-as-rock. It is from Psalm 19 and it says “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Lillian Summers Bowie, may God be your rock, now and always. Amen.
Jack, life is hard. There is sorrow and loss, struggle and grief. I was so impressed with the tenderness of your faith statement: the way you voiced your own struggles, and wrestled with life and death, survival, poverty, gratitude and even obligation. You named that place where God’s light shines through the darkness, where our own broken-heart is mended by the presence of God’s love, and how God connects us forever to the saints of light, like your grandfather, those who have gone before us. You highlighted the ways that God is with us—an ancient understanding of God that is found all over scripture, especially in the book of Isaiah, chapter 43 which says, “But now, says the Lord–Do not fear, I am with you.” John Henry Boyle, may God be with you always. Amen.
Colin, it takes open eyes to notice the ways God is at work in the world. Whether it’s a the shock of a family member’s near death experience, or the simplicity of a sunset or laughter, I am grateful for the ways that your eyes are open to God. I think what happens when you start noticing God is that you trust God even more, and that in turn helps you notice in an even deeper way. What I hear in you is a God who is with us in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, and so I chose this scripture passage for you from Isiah. It says, “The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. God will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry.” Colin Richard Bruso, may God be with you like a spring of water that never runs dry. Amen.
Lahey, I love this nature theme that runs through your poetic faith statement. I think you will find continual comfort in the book of Psalms as you persist in your faith. God is with us in the beauty of this world, and people of faith have been noticing that for literally thousands of years: you are noticing this ancient, prevailing presence of God, and your voicing of God’s love out in the world echoes voices of people across the world and across time. It connects you to a wide community who see God in this way. So hear Psalm 1 as a gift, “You are like a tree planted by streams of water, which bear fruit at just the right time and whose leaves do not fade.” Lahey Olivia Cahill, may you plant yourself in God’s wide stream love. Amen.
Miles, life is a series of ups and downs, struggle and release, getting fired up and being let down. And it will continue to be that way. I am grateful for the way you articulate God’s presence in the midst of everyday life. When we come face to face with struggle, we need to have that still small voice of God already planted within us. I hope that this scripture passage is one you can write on your heart (or at least write on a post-it and place by your bedside). From the letter to the Philippians “I can endure all things through the power of the One who gives me strength.” Miles Parker Cremascoli, may God give you strength beyond what you might ever have imagined, now and always. Amen.
James, you proclaim a God who reaches to the far edge of our galaxy and beyond, a God deeper than the oceans, more expansive than the horizon. I believe this scripture passage from the book of Romans meets your sense of awe and wonder about God, “God’s riches, wisdom and knowledge they are so deep! They are a mysterious as divine judgements, they are as hard to track as divine paths!” To me, that passage acknowledges what you’ve said is hard, “how do I know God?” Well God is mysterious, deeper than we’ll ever know. And yet it points to a God we can see and know, even in part. So, James Patrick Daw, may God be with you—mystery and wisdom and impossible depth—now and always. Amen.
Kate, there is a blessing in every season, and I love the way your faith statement makes certain theological claims about God’s best season being summer. I think you’ll find some ancient biblical writers who felt the same way, and this scripture passage I chose for you from Psalm 112 reminds me of those perfect days of summer when even sunshine and breeze seems to praise the lord. It says “From sunrise to sunset, let the Lord’s name be praised!” Katharine Margaret Dischner, no matter the season, may God’s blessing be upon you. Amen.
Drew, some people have trouble with prayer—it vexes them. But you have eased into a plain and straightforward way of prayer. Prayer talking to God. And, it’s the foundation of your relationship with God. You may not be able to quote 14 bible passages, but you know the presence of God because you show up in relationship with God. So I chose for you this scripture passage about prayer. It is from Philippians and it says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” In other words—talk to God, about everything: gratitude, worry, problems, joys. All of it. Drew Joseph Durdov, May God bless you as you pray, now and always. Amen.
Ashton, there is something transcendent about noticing all the remarkable and odd and mysterious plants and animals of the world, wrapped up in the smallest details down to the cellular level, and up to the largest beasts or even the planets and spiraling galaxies. That awe and wonder directly connects us to the sense of divine presence, and it is an ancient feeling, one echoed by the writers of the biblical texts so many centuries ago. I found this little part of the book of Job really inspiring. It says, “Ask the animals, they will teach you; the birds of the air, they will tell you… with God are wisdom and strength.” Ashton Rocco Freel, may God give you wisdom and strength, now and always. Amen.
Nick, you are amazing at metaphor. When it comes down to it, all of our language about God is metaphor: we are all seeking to describe what God is like, and yet God is always bigger and more divine than our language can tune into. I love your metaphor that God is like a brain: you can’t see your own brain, but it’s always there, working, whether awake or asleep, your brain is on, ever-present. Same with God. You can’t quote-un-quote “see” God, but you can see the ways God is at work in the world. Keep searching for these kinds of metaphors: you’ll find them in Christian theology, in the Bible, you’ll think up your own. Keep at it. I chose this scripture passage from the gospel of Matthew because I believe God is with you in this deep exploring. “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.” Nicholas Edward Goebel, may God open the door when you knock, may you find God when you search. Amen.
Kate Graham, you tuned in quickly to the timelessness of God, the transcendent sense of God breaking through, entire rooms filled with the presence of God, a wordless melody reaching to heaven. (No pressure, but Lisa Bond would really be lifted up by the beautiful way you talk about God in music). Your sense of God’s timelessness, for me, is wrapped up in this image from the book of Revelations that describes God as the alpha and omega, which really means God is our A-to-Z our first and our last. It reads “I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord our God, the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty.” Katherine Elizabeth Graham, May the ineffable timeless God surround you, so that you are always in God’s presence. Amen.
Kate Henry, you articulate this hope for living with respect for others: helping, sharing, giving, living the golden rule. You admit that—yes—we will make mistakes, but that inevitability does not diminish your faith: you have hope, because God forgives, and Jesus teaches us to forgive one another. The tension between living your best, most authentic, intentional life, and the reality of all of us needing forgiveness is so important as people of faith. And for that reason, I hope that this scripture passage from the Psalms will keep you grounded in the gift God gives you. It says “I praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Katherine Elizabeth Henry, may you always be grounded in the God who knows you, who loves you, and who creates you anew with love. Amen.
Avah, you mirror some of the best theological ideas that come from scripture, especially this idea of God as light in the darkness. You also take on this hope for perpetual love, this hope for always living into the caring, loving person you are by being a better sister, a better daughter, a better friend. God is in that love. So for you I have chosen a foundational passage from the gospel of John that says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not extinguish the light.” Avah Nicole Householder, may God be your light in the darkness, your love ever deepening. Amen.
Maggie. Your faith is rooted in gratitude, community, acceptance—things that give purpose and meaning to our common lives. I am so grateful that Kenilworth Union has been that place of safety and wide welcome, a place where you are loved no matter what. I resonate with the way God, for you, is quiet, deeply rooted, found in surprising places, so for you I found this passage from Romans that says, “The very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Margaret Bliss James, May the spirit of God be with you, with every deep sigh, with every breath, with a quiet strength that sustains you. Amen.
Mimi: It's true that we never truly know the fullness of God, we are never able to fully see or hear all of who God is, but we know God is there, God is out there, God has some semblance of control over the universe, making miracles possible. I hope that you will continue to go forward always seeking that deeper understanding, while also simultaneously content with not knowing. I sense that love and unity is at the core of how you seek God in community, so for you I chose a passage from Colossians which says “Over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Emily Trowbridge James, May God bless you with an ever deepening love, and a constant searching for divine presence. Amen.
Grant, the news headlines will always contain conflict and violence, as if the world is falling apart. But it sounds like you have found God somewhere within the constant struggle of the world: in the volunteers and hospital staff, in money raised for research and relief, in restaurant owners feeding hospital staff, in the complex interweaving of good, even when, yes there is sorrow. God is there in the small tender beauty, the light where there is darkness. So this passage from Romans tells me to seek God in that balance, in that constant hope. It says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” You are ever-patient, especially as you witness the affliction of the world. So Grant Lucas Kalil, may God bless you as you pray, as you find hope, as you live patience. Amen.
Brandon, there is something infinitely fragile about life. Something impossibly uncertain about every future possibility. This pandemic has unraveled that sense of certainty. Things in our own lives unravel certainty as well. But this scripture passage from Corinthians reminds us both of our internal strength and our inherent fragility, and puts the extraordinary power of God at the core of everyday life. It says “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Brandon Kyle LeFebvre, May God be with you in every way: fragile and strong, tender and resilient. Amen.
Libby, the pure calm of God’s presence is like the calm before a storm, or the peace after finally resting from an exhausting day. That God of peace is always near, we just need to notice it. I love the way you talk about God present in everyday life, in family, in soccer, in decision making. This scripture passage from the Psalm is a request to God. It says, “Send your light and truth—those will guide me!” You are in tune with God, our guide. Katherine Elizabeth Maier, may God send light and truth to guide you. Amen.
Charlotte, God will always remain a mystery, in some way. It takes trust to pray to God who is beyond what we can see with our eyes. But you found that starting small, starting one day after another, trusting again and again, God was there. God is a suitable wrestling partner who does not let us go. God does not give up on us and meets us wherever our faith begins. So I chose for you this scripture passage that comes from an image from nature. It says “I assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Go from here to there” and it will go. There will be nothing that you cannot do.” Charlotte Lee McMaster, may God instill you with mustard seed faith, so that new possibility will open up day after day.
William, you have the capacity to think deeply and to think theologically: when you say that you are unable to describe God, you say that in the same breath as being awakened to and in tune with God. Pair that with a secure understanding of forgiveness, and the healing presence of God’s love, and you have a rich tapestry of faith. I love this phrase “unapproachable light” from the book of Timothy. I think the tension between not knowing and yet being in tune with God will serve you well as you seek God as “unapproachable light” here is the whole passage, it says, “It is God alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” William Sorensen O’Donnell, May our God of unapproachable light dwell with you now and always. Amen.
Annie, God is in the silent wood, in the work of overcoming the greatest of battles, in people, in nature, in food. God is at camp, and other times when you get to disconnect, and God is in the every day, in early mornings and late evenings when the house is quiet. God is there. God is within you and around you, and you are innately noticing. A long time ago, Kenilworth Union Church chose Matthew 22 as a core way of committing to God and neighbor, and I sense you are living into this passage day by day. It says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Ann Elizabeth Paden, May you love God as God loves you: abundantly, always. Amen.
Piper, the deep blue of the ocean, the sparkle of sunlight on snow, the warm summer breeze, your mother’s love, all of it gets to the heart of God’s presence and beauty. All of that beauty doesn’t erase the struggles of life, the hardship, the tenderness. The love of God covers it all, and your genuine approach to love will keep you open to the presence of God. The scripture I chose for you is, itself, a kind of prayer. It says: this is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. Piper Teigue Ritchie, may God keep a fierce love lit within you. Amen.
Nora, I couldn’t help it—I chose a scripture passage about dance for you. Whether God is calming your nerves, helping you relax, giving you the gift of music, or simply carrying you through the day—I know God is in the dance. When there are hard times, when you are sad, angry, nervous, anxious, frustrated, God is in the dance. God is within you as you dance, and God is a God of dance, a God with whom we can dance. So hear this scripture passage from Jeremiah: Then the young women will dance for joy; the young and old men will join in. I will turn their mourning into laughter and their sadness into joy; I will comfort them. Nora Lee Rolison, may you be in a life-long dance with God. Amen.
Jack, you have said that when you stick with things, whether there is an obstacle to overcome or a success to celebrate, you are putting yourself in tune with the God who helps you persevere. God believes in you. God trusts you. God loves you. God is there when there is only joy. God is there in hard times. And, I love the way this scripture passage says that God calls you by name. The prophet Isaiah says, Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. William Jack Savino, may God call you by name, calm your fear, and draw you near. Amen.
Riley, you make this important claim that there is sometimes a good surprise within even the most frustrating of situations. I also love that you have found this true sense of service in the last few years: that serving others is something that you authentically feel called to do, not because you’re forced to, but because it’s something you know you want to do in your life. Lots of us operate with a sense of obligation when it comes to things like that, and I hope that you can continue to nurture that sense of joy and intentionality about serving others. You say that God is “peace, reassurance, and forever-love” and so I hope that as you serve others, you know that you are spreading God’s peace. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” Riley Susanne Gardiner, may you be an embodiment of God’s peace when you serve and as you grow. Amen.
William, I love how you examine the centrality of showing up at church: that being together, in this sanctuary, inside this church makes a difference in your daily life. But in this pandemic, you’ve realized that whether you are in community, or by yourself, God will meet you there. God listens to you, God protects you, God connects you to people who love you. God is there in uncertainty. God is there in stability and comfort. So hear Psalm 121 as a blessing: The Lord will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life. The Lord will protect you on your journeys—whether going or coming—from now until forever from now. William Fulton Hemmer, may God protect you on your journey, now until forever from now. Amen.
Charlie, you have absorbed and retained and now live out all the beautiful important parts of what it means to know God: God is almighty, blessing our everyday, God is in the world, Christ meets us when we are hurting, God calls us to serve, the Holy Spirit is in the simplicity of this moment and the next. Because of that I found a passage in 1 John that lets love come to the surface of faith in a way that I think will resonate with you. It says, God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Charles Robert Trukenbrod, may you live deep into the love of God, now and always. Amen.
Emma, you see God at work in the world, powerful, forgiving, mighty, perfect. A great comfort in grief and in joy. Even when the tides of loss come in and out. God is there. You see God in kindness and friendship. It all falls into place. I love this all-encompassing God you believe in, and I think you will connect with this Psalm that says, If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean— even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight! Emma Kate Tubergen, May God’s strong hand hold you tight, now and always. Amen.
Caroline, you see God in love, peace, beauty, the birds and flowers, the courage to choose a purposeful path in life. This church has nurtured you in faith, so that even in hopelessness and disappointment, you find ways to remember that God has not abandoned you. I hope this Psalm evokes some truth about how you see God in the world, it says: Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God. Caroline Hannah Tzur, may you drink deep from the sweet well of God’s love, all the days of your life. Amen.
Grace, maybe all I need to say is that “God has faith in you” so I trust that you will have faith in God. Those words your grandmother spoke to you will cover you all the days of your life. There is a gentleness to your faith—not an unquestioning gentleness, but a strong gentleness, gentleness as a rebellion against the unkind and unforgiving parts of the world. I hope these words from Isaiah bring you comfort: Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. Grace Kathryn Weir, may God be your strength and help, now and always. Amen.
August. There is a kindness and love that extends out from you in everyday life. I know it is rooted deep in family. But, part of that kindness and love is also formed here, at Kenilworth Union Church, where you have seen and sought a God who encourages us to do good, a God who asks us to love one another (even our so called enemies), a God who is rock, strength, forgiveness. So, I chose for you our church’s foundational scripture passage from Micah: Do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. August Sinclair Wentz, may the God who calls us to walk humbly and act justly continue to strengthen you for the journey ahead. Amen.
Miles. You have written about how God is the one who forms within you a foundational set of morals, and who guides you toward good, even when it is hard to live up to those moral commitments. I hope this commitment to living God’s way of justice, kindness, and humility continues within you. But faith isn’t just about explicit rules. There is a certain way the Holy Spirit gives us an internal unspoken way of navigating life. God’s ethical framework is contained within this passage from Galatians: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Miles Robert Whisner, may the God of love, joy, peace, patience and so much more be and abide with you now and always. Amen.
Duncan, the rhythms of worship have clearly put faith at the top of your life’s priorities. You know God walks beside you because you’ve listened for God week after week in the sanctuary, in the choir room, in the classroom, at the dinner table, and in your everyday life. Whether you are going through a hard time, or celebrating a success, laughing so hard you cry, or trying to help a friend, I think this passage from Romans tells the truth about how you see God in the world. It says, Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Duncan Stewart White, may you always know and trust the God who is ever-near. Amen.
Sigrid, something in you exudes joy. But, it’s not an unearned joy. You have known struggle. You have known fear. You have known situations that have turned your world upside down. And so when you enter the room bubbly and lighthearted, I trust that your joy is sincere. When you say you have faith, I know it is a faith you have fought hard for. God has been by your side, in sickness and in health. You trust God with sincerity. So I have chosen for you a passage that acknowledges struggle but sees the truth of joy. Jesus says, you may have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and you will be overjoyed. No one takes away your joy. Sigrid Emily Wilson, may God always be by your side. Amen.
Xander, I really appreciate the way that you talk about God: you have a faith that asks big questions, like “Why?” (isn't’ that the biggest faith question we can ask?); a faith that prays, “Help” (isn’t that the biggest prayer we can pray?). You acknowledge God as protector, even when God doesn’t shield you from sorrow, and you see only a thin veil between this world and the next, knowing that God carries us into everlasting light. So I chose this tender passage for you from the Psalms that says, Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Xander John Yaccino, may God be with you day and night, whether weeping or rejoicing, now until forever from now. Amen.