The Sermon I need to Preach

Sermon #936

March 8, 2020

Second Sunday of Lent

Service for the Lord’s Day with Confirmation and Holy Communion

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Genesis 12:1-4
Psalm 121
John 3:1-17

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Let us pray: God of Spirit and new birth, free us from our narrow understandings and help us to live as your born-again children with transformed hearts. Amen.

Questions about God, the church, the bible, the rules, faith.  These confirmands have asked, invited, pushed, and even demanded of the mentors and clergy. It has been wonderful, exciting and at times a very scary journey with these young people. I can’t speak for the other adults, but I have tried to take seriously the questions they ask even the one about cooking smores in hell. Even if I don’t have a clue as to what to say, what is important is the fact that each of them has a voice to ask. Their questions are vitally important because the inquiries show engagement and wonderings and testing. Can I believe in God?  Will I be accepted in the church? Does God really love me? These are at the heart of these confirmands’ questions. The good news is you aren’t the first class to ask them. Every year, every class, each student, askes them or something just like them. The bad news is we continue to ask them for the rest of our lifetime.

To be completely clear, I am thrilled that you are being confirmed or will be confirmed. I am happy that you are choosing to be confirmed as Presbyterians, because I am one, but it really isn’t a competition. It really isn’t that important if you are Presbyterian or Episcopalian in the long run. What is more important is that you are being confirmed to the Indian Hill Church. That you are publicly claiming the promises of God that your parents made for you at your Baptisms. Why is this important?

Every year for the past 23 that I have been a minister I have told the confirmation classes and confirmands is that God loves you, the church loves you and I love you. I want you to understand that. The bible stories, the creeds, the questions, the retreats are all important and will impact your life but what is more important is that you know that you are loved.

Over twenty-two years ago, Monnie and I were watching TV late at night when a knock came at our door.  I was startled but went to the door and opened it. Standing there was a teenager from my church. She was crying and she was clearly upset.  I welcomed her in and asked her what was wrong. She said that her father was upset with her and she was afraid. Why, I asked, and she said it was her boyfriend. Her father didn’t want her to see this boy. Why, I asked? She said well, he is black…”my daddy, is going to hurt him.” She needed to know that she was loved, valued and cared for by something beyond her family.

About fifteen years ago, I got a phone call from a young man who was in one of my early confirmation classes.  I hadn’t seen him in years because I had moved to a new church in a different State.  He was the youngest child in a very prominent family from this community.  He father was a State Supreme Court Judge and his mother was a School District assistant superintendent.  He said he would like to come visit me.  I said sure and he flew into town and came to my house. He wanted to talk, get some advice. He himself was a recent law school graduate and he was just starting work in a law firm. He said that he was in love and didn’t know what to do because he was in love with a woman who was separated but not completely divorced and she was pregnant with his child. He needed to know that God, the church, and I loved him.

I about ten years ago, a young man in one of my confirmation classes asked if he could talk. I said of course, we met in my office and he began to cry. “ I am so afraid, I am so ashamed, I have let my family down…I am failing out of College, I am thinking about killing myself. I am gay.” He needed to know that God, the church, and I loved him.

Now, 99% of the confirmation classes, the confirmands move on and when we cross paths at ballgames, or church or school we do the awkward hello, wave or smile.  So, I don’t tell you these stories to inflate my importance or shock you, I tell you these examples because you need to know that God, the church, your mentors, and I love you. We are here for you and will always love you. You can call and ask for help, you can seek our advice, you can seek us out.  We aren’t concerned if you know the bible backward and forward or if you can recite the Lord’s Prayer from you heart or if you were blessed by the Bishop or not. You are a beloved child of God and loved by the church. That is what Confirmation is all about.

Now, that is why, Confirmation is more than a rite of passage. It is more than a box to check it is a reminder that you as all of us are loved by God, claimed by Jesus, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. We all know how the Church, the people of God have failed, let people down and even caused great harm to African Americans, Women, Immigrants, LGBT humans, by upholding Slavery, the misinterpretation of verses to keep women silent, excluding others from the Table, and being a silent when a strong voice is so desperately needed on issues facing our world.  This is where you, the newest members of the Indian Hill Church come in…you are not the future of the church because today you are the church. That means you get a voice, a vote, power.  What does that mean?  Many of you in your faith statements said that you were going to be more involved in the life of the church. Hallelujah! With an H not the A-word. We welcome you.

Jesus says welcome the child and a little one will lead them. We need you and your energy, imaginations, your ideas and your leadership. Yes, you an eight grader can lead. In one of my former churches a young person put together a recycling program to recycle paper, cans, and plastic to help the church to learn more about saving the environment. Another young person asked why we couldn’t try some different music. So, the church began a different worship service with praise music. These are just two examples of the voice of young people can bring change.

Another way that you are important to the church. You, even you eighth graders are vitally important in helping the church to better understand this ever-changing world. Think of the church as your grandparents who love you very much, but we don’t understand Phones.  We still use landlines, and at best we have flip phones, are you old enough to remember them?  No screen clip them to your belt.  We might use Facebook, but we have no idea how to use SnapChat, Tic-tok, or what a hashtag is. Our VCR clocks are blinking, so don’t get mad or give up on us, we beg for your patience as we dip our toe into this brave new world. You will lead us in how to understand millennials and even love them.  In all seriousness, I want each of you to help us, your Church understand this new world and not to be so afraid of it. The problem we have is not that we don’t love but that we don’t understand and what we don’t understand scares us and when we are afraid, we forget how to love. Which brings me back to John 3:16-17

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

If you learn nothing more than that from this Confirmation journey, know this at the core of being a Christian, at the core of our faith, is a relationship, a relationship with God through the church. A relationship with God who sent his only Son, Jesus into the world to save us is the God who is still with us through thick and thin, day or night, good or bad, now and forever.  May you walk in the light and trust in the one who loves you and guides you every step of the way.