What a spectacular day! Caleb, Katelyn, and Karlee have worked really hard to get here today. They had a very untraditional Confirmation class by having Pastor Engstrom and then myself teaching. But, they learned a lot and I think we had some fun along the way too. We learned that there is no difference between a snowmobile and a snow machine (just like there’s no difference between a snow blower and a snow thrower). We learned that Katelyn loves her neon colors and Karlee helped us to figure out whether or not donut holes bounce. In the midst of all this fun, we talked about faith. We may have done it in some unconventional methods, but we talked about faith.
If you have not taken the time to read the faith statements of these young people, please do. Caleb, Katelyn, and Karlee all managed to accomplish something that I think most of us would find difficult: to write a statement of faith. I mean, really, could you do it? Given the chance to respond to the question “why do you believe what you believe?” most of us would probably stop and stutter and struggle to answer. Here are some other questions I asked them to think and pray about (although not necessarily answer) “what does God’s grace mean to you?” “What does it mean that Christ died on the cross for you?” “Does being forgiven by God change the way you interact with the world around you? If so, how?” “Why is having a good faith foundation important to the rest of your life?” These are difficult questions to answer and let’s not forget that these young people are 14 and 15 years old. Did you have any idea what your faith meant at 14 or 15?
Last night we celebrated these three young people with a lovely dinner at Rastrelli’s and I expressed something then that I will share again now. So often, people lament that the church is dying. Attendance is down, giving is down, churches are in conversation about how they can afford pastors, some churches talk about consolidating with other churches, some churches make the difficult decision to close their doors. The lament is real. However, after working with these three and as I continue to work with our confirmation class that we have now, I am convinced that the church is not dying–at least not here. In fact, this church is thriving and honestly, I think, on the verge of another Reformation.
That’s how this whole party got started anyway, right? Our buddy, Martin Luther, I like to call him Marty, was studying to be a Monk. The more he studied, the more uncomfortable he became with the structure of the church and the interpretation of scripture. Marty didn’t set out start a revolution or a reformation for that matter. He just wanted to bring to light the places where he thought church was incorrect in its teachings. And so, as the story goes, he wrote his list of issues, 95 of them as a matter of fact, and nailed them to the church door. The rest, as they say, is history. But, I’d like to believe that because Marty truly believed that he was free in Christ, that he had been set free by the cross, that nothing, not even challenging the system he was a part of, could ever take that freedom away.
I think it’s hard for us, as Americans, to talk about freedom of a Christian and separate it from the freedom of politics and Constitutional freedom. Our Constitutional freedom encourages us to vote in the upcoming election. Our Christian freedom encourages us to research the candidates and issues so that we may best be informed who stands on the side of justice and righteousness. Our Constitutional freedom gives us the right to keep and bear arms; our Christian freedom begs us to keep asking how those same firearms are used in unjust ways and in places that should be holy (like mosques or temples) or safe (like schools). Our Constitutional freedom provides for families and individuals who struggle to make ends meet; our Christian freedom calls us to provide for families and individuals who make just enough money to be outside the guidelines of “helping” yet still go hungry, naked, and cold.
Because we are freed in Christ, we are freed for the opportunity to serve one another in Christ’s name, we are freed to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world, we are freed to go and “make disciples of all nations”, we are free to respond to the call that Christ has on our lives. Because we are freed in Christ, we are also freed for the opportunity to dream, to imagine, to envision, to explore, and to hope. I hope you’ve been asked this question before: what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? So often we think about that question in regards to personal failures. If I knew I couldn’t fail, I would lose weight and keep it off. If I knew I couldn’t fail, I’d try my hand at cooking different ethnic dishes. If I knew I couldn’t fail, I’d moonlight as a writer who’s also a world-class wine expert.
It would be good of us, as we celebrate Reformation, to ask the same question of our church. As we have three young people hungry to help us move into the future, what would we, as a church, do if we knew we couldn’t fail? Would we be willing to have Katelyn sing more of those songs she hears Joel listening to on KLove? Would we take our Sunday school classes down to Karlee’s calves as a way of talking about stewardship of land and animals? Would we encourage Caleb to host a COD tournament here because we want young people to see that the church can be a place for them too?
Reformation wasn’t a one time event, friends. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are constantly being reformed. With bread and wine, body and blood, we are being fed and reformed. In the waters of baptism, we were reformed. When we affirm that baptism, as we did today, we are reformed. Every time we are forgiven for our sins, we are reformed. Reformation happens daily therefor freedom happens daily.
Jesus didn’t realize the call on his life and so he decided to stay where he was, hoping people would come to him to heard the good news and be healed. Nope. Jesus listened to that still, small, voice that reformed him and us. Jesus listened all the way to the cross. In that cross comes freedom. And yes, I know that it may not be comfortable and yes, it may not be the way that we’ve “always done things before” but that freedom requires and enables us to form and reform ourselves and others around us.
What would you have us, as a church, do if you knew we couldn’t fail? In what ways do we need reforming? In what ways is our freedom nudging us towards new horizons? You may have an idea in your head and immediately, a little voice says “but what if… “ or “how much…” or “it’ll never…” and that is the voice of fear. See, the opposite of freedom is fear. Fear can paralyze us and lead to a stagnant church that has long forgotten about forming or even reforming for that matter. Fear turns our “what if’s” into “no ways.” Fear turns our “maybes” into “never.” Fear turns our hope into hopelessness. Fear turns these young people (and many more like them) away from the church, never to be seen again unless they need married, buried, or splashed.
It is time to stop being paralyzed by fear. It is time to be prepared to be reformed. It is time to open our hearts and minds to Christ, the one who reforms us daily into beloved children. A mighty fortress is our God, right? Not “a wimpy pup tent is our God…we think.” There is no better occasion in the church than this one to start asking how we are reforming and how we are being reformed. Through faith alone, by grace alone, we cannot fail.