April 19, 2020

Saying “Yes” to God

Passage: Confirmation

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“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  —John 20:29

Gospel Lesson: John 20:1929

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

But Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

This is a familiar scripture passage for many of us. Depending on the day, we all transform into Doubting Thomas. And it always feels appropriate when this text comes up every year on the Sunday after Easter when we celebrate confirmation. Because the task of confirmation, of confirming your faith, means, in part, facing your own doubt, and while confirmation is mostly a task we just ask young people to undertake, I know that each one of us would have our own wrestling to do with doubt if we were asked to write a faith statement this week.

Faith and doubt are a binary star: two distinct ways of being orbiting around one another that appear always together and merge seemingly into one. Faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. Two peas in a pod. Ketchup and mustard. Peanut-butter and jelly. Salt and pepper. Springtime and baseball.

Confirmation somehow amplifies the proximity of faith and doubt. One confirmand put it gracefully, “The times I feel most alone are times when I feel like God has left me and I have no one to turn to.” They imply at the same time: God, I need you more than ever. And, God, I can’t touch and see your presence. It is a Doubting Thomas orientation to the world. But then, like all the ancient psalms of lament, oscillating between doubt and faith, frustration and adoration, these kinds of confirmation confessions are accompanied by an equally graceful affirmation, “In my darkest moments,” one person wrote, “I have prayed to God with faith, and God is always there to listen and advise me.” The impossibility of feeling abandoned by God is met with the possibility of God’s reliability.

These days hold that tension, too; the impossibility of feeling abandoned by God met with the possibility of God’s reliability. If faith and doubt orbit one another with renewed intensity these days, our confirmands have much to say about that—decidedly that God is present even when God is silent, and that nearness to God has something to do with crying out to God when the days are long and the nights are hard and all seems a struggle.

For, while confirmation makes way for doubt and affirms 20th century theologian Paul Tillich’s claim that doubt is an inescapable and essential part of faith, this year’s confirmation ultimately becomes a litany of hope: a litany of hope not just for our individual confirmands, but for you, for us, for me as we together seek a way through.

As we move toward the ritual of confirmation, Bill and I will offer up a small portion of their litany of hope, words from this year’s confirmands that seem resonant with the times. But first, four stray thoughts about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus.

First: Jesus enters into places where the doors are shut for fear of death. Jesus’ disciples fear death by the local powers-that-be. The Jewish authorities and the Roman soldiers feel threatened by Christ’s litany of hope for the hopeless and liberation for those without liberties.

Our doors are shut, too, for fear of death, and rightly so. So many doors are shut now for fear of death: the doors of school, now for the rest of the year; the doors of the church, for the duration; the doors of local stores, some maybe for good; the doors of opportunity; the doors of possibility; in some cases the doors of justice. How many more doors might shut, O God? Jesus enters into these places in our lives where the doors are shut for fear of death.

Second: Jesus is recognized by his woundedness. All the disciples, Thomas included, are eventually invited to see the wounds in Jesus’ hands that remain there, even after the mystery of the resurrection. In other words, we do not worship a God of shining perfection, but a God who is made perfect in weakness, in hardship, in woundedness. We worship a God with scars. We worship a wounded healer, a God who knows intimately what it means to draw breath, and to draw one’s last breath, who knows the pain and ache of fever and heartbreak and loss. Jesus is recognized by his woundedness.

Third: When Jesus shows up speaking “Peace,” he is not made manifest in some grand sanctuary or well-furnished chapel. Jesus is made known in someone’s home: a home ill prepared for such a holy visit. Our homes are ill prepared, too, for work and school and life and sacred rituals to unfold the way it is now. Our global economy is ill prepared, to sit idle, to wait, to return to health. Our health care systems are ill prepared, to bear the burden of exponential illness. And our sanctuary, too, our church home, is ill prepared to sit empty.

All is ill-prepared. But on that first Easter evening, Jesus was not made manifest in grand sanctuary or the king’s court, but at home, at the family table, where soup and bread and cereal and toast are prepared. Jesus shows up to the places where we are ill prepared for such hope, such peace, such tenderness to arrive.

Fourth: Thomas’ faith is made, not so much in seeing, but in touch. And today, somehow, we’ve ended up in a situation where we value and notice and long for touch in a way we’ve never felt before. The handshake, the hug, the absentminded shoulder-bump in a crowded train station, sitting next to a friend on the couch, sitting across from a mentor at lunch. And, we long for the shared comfort of touch that is almost too raw to mention: to bury our dead, to hold the hand of the dying. It all seems too unprocessed, even, to begin to name aloud.

The infinite chorus of human community harbors a deep longing to be together. Because of that deep longing, I want to approximate at least, the deep and wide cacophony of voices who are displaying for us a litany of hope. I want you to hear the reverberations of this year’s confirmation community. I want you to hear their voices, and to meet their God in whom they place their trust.

The God in whom they place their trust is the God they know because you, Kenilworth Union Church, you friends and family, you church-across-the-ages have been there with them as mentors and teachers. You have been saying “yes” to them all along as they say “yes” to God.

The following is what I call their litany of hope, their common faith arising from their individual and collective experiences. Here is what they say, the confirmation class of 2020:

  • I know God is part of my everyday life.
  • God is there when times are tough.
  • God’s heart is always unlocked to us.
  • My faith is rooted in the passion and faithfulness of my grandmother.
  • My faith is made strong by my friends.
  • With God we are never alone.
  • God holds me when I cannot walk anymore.
  • God is my shelter in times of hardship.
  • God is seen in pain and in prayer.
  • Jesus carried the message of God from Nazareth to me.
  • God is with us, even on the risky path.
  • Christ’s light shines during the darkest times.
  • Jesus is a gift from God, so that we might see God face-to-face.
  • The love of God is not a reward we can earn, but a gift freely given.
  • Through prayer, I hear the kindness of God.
  • God is with us, especially through pressure and hardship.
  • I let Jesus guide me.
  • God is the answer to the unknown.
  • I notice God throughout my everyday life.
    • In a warm hug, in the sun rising after a dismal day, in a heavy room filled with negative emotions.
    • In the songs I remember from preschool.
    • In blessing and honor and duty.
    • Buried in my own emotions.
    • In the wind.
    • In school where I can make mistakes and learn.
    • In church full of trust and friendship.
    • In the prayers my brother taught me to pray.
    • Even through tragedy, sadness or illness, when my grandmother died this summer, or my neighbor died this fall.
  • No matter how ugly and exhausting life gets, God is always near, always bringing calm, peace and beauty into our lives.
  • When bad things happen, God is there to guide us, even when things are scary and unexpected.
  • My faith is rooted in prayer and gratitude.
  • God is with us through adversity and hard times.
  • Church is a safe space to pray and worship.
  • Church is home, my safe place.
  • My faith in God makes me want to work to preserve life and all creation.
  • Church is a place where I can grieve, ask big questions and find supportive community.
  • The church is holy ground, a place where I feel close to God because of the people who surround me who I trust.

Having heard the ways God is drawing near to this year’s confirmands, let us now welcome them into the church through the ritual of confirmation.

Madeleine Brennan Alshouse
Emily Claire Astolfi
Kate Caroline Baur
Amanda Penrose Bigelow
Nicholas Forrest Bond
Declan William Bornhoeft
Victoria Rose Brown
Christian John Brunso
Malcolm Angstadt Clinger
Angus Kims Collins
Andrew Stuart Crossgrove
Robert James Dold
Landon Watt Douthit
Natalie Claudine Eger
Mackenzie Marie Fowler
Frederick Philip Groff
Kenneth A. Harris III
Andrew Raitt Hepner
Andrew David Herb
Tyler Mead Hurley
Grace Elizabeth Malliband
Avery Juliet Martin
Owen Christopher Miller
Carley Elizabeth Moerschel
Clare Carolyn Nahrwold
James Patrick O’Toole
Jackson Matthew Ochsenhirt
Christopher Edward Ottsen, Jr.
Katherine Atwater Peterson
Joseph Blaise Ricciardi
James-Patrick Forbes Ruck
Lucy Marie Rush
Clayton Richard Scherb
Michael Alexander Shubny
Kitchel Vaughan Snow
Andrew James Spencer
Henry Allen Timmerman
Tyler James Van Gorp
Charles Harrison Veber
Margaret Isla VerMeulen
Lillian Elizabeth VerMeulen
Morgan Janice Weisenberger
John Andrew Worth

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