By Rev. Sarah Buteux
April 28, 2019
Confirmation Sunday, Easter 2 Year C
Today is a big day. Chloe, Maja, and Rowan are going to stand up here in approximately 9 minutes to be confirmed. And I imagine you three are all feeling a little nervous? Maybe even still wondering if getting confirmed is such a good idea?
And that’s ok. We get it. Confirmation is all about affirming your belief in a faith that was chosen for you before you were even born. It’s the day when you stand up in front of your family and friends and the whole church community and claim this faith as your own.
And, as if that wasn’t enough pressure, we went out and rented a whole second congregation just to make this day feel even more momentous.
Today is the day you declare not what others believe or hoped you would come to believe, but what you yourself believe right here, right now. And if you’re sitting there thinking, “Omygosh, Omygosh, Omygosh” – or maybe even stronger words I can’t say from the pulpit- “I’m still really not sure what exactly I believe about any of this,” then…good.
Because the sort of belief we are looking for today, the type of belief we have come to affirm in you and celebrate in you and hope to continue to nurture in you
-which we can only do if you keep coming to church even after you get confirmed, right? right? right? deal? deal? deal? Good-
Where was I? Ah yes, the sort of belief we are looking for is not an unquestioning faith grounded in concrete certainties about the true nature of God, or scripture, or the church.
We don’t need you to believe that God is one God but three co-eternal and consubstantial persons, that righteousness is imputed not infused, or even in the inerrancy of scripture…because really, where’s the fun in that?
You don’t need to have all the answers this morning.
What we want for you is a faith grounded in the freedom to ask questions.
We want you to have a faith that can keep growing and expanding precisely because you know you don’t have all the answers.
What we have been trying to give you all along is a faith grounded, not in certainty, but in hope and trust and courage.
The hope that Jesus is who he says he is, whether we can prove that or not.
Trust that if we follow in his way we can help heal a world that feels irreparably broken.
And the courage to keep following Jesus even when we have no idea where he’s taking us. That’s the kind of faith we’re affirming in you today.
Maybe you remember that prayer by Thomas Merton that Matt shared with us on the retreat back in March? The one that begins:
My Lord (and my) God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing…
Remember that? I think that is one of the most faithful prayers ever written by one of the most faithful people who ever lived. I think that is the perfect prayer for a day like today, because you don’t know where you’re going, but you’re willing to take this next step anyway. That’s the kind of faith we’re looking for.
Thomas Merton had it, and so did another famous Thomas who came long before him. The one from our scripture reading today.
The one we all know as “Doubting Thomas,” even though I think he was more faithful than the other 12 combined. He’s actually my favorite disciple, because Thomas shows us that faith doesn’t have to be all neat and pretty to be both brave and true.
I think Thomas should actually be the patron saint of confirmands everywhere, because I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what was going on half of the time, but he kept at it anyway.
Like that time, during the last supper when Jesus was trying to comfort the disciples. Some of you may remember this scene from last week. Jesus has just told the 12 about his coming death. He’s predicted his betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the fact that they will all abandon him before the night is through.
And they are all – understandably- totally freaking out. That is when, in an effort to calm everyone down Jesus utters those famous words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you. … I am going there to prepare a place for you, And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me …You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4).
It’s beautiful, right? And you can just imagine all of the disciples sitting there nodding right along with Jesus, completely caught up in the moment, finally feeling some sense of peace, some sense that everything’s going to be ok.
Everyone, that is, except for Thomas who, rather than nod along with everyone else, raises his hand, and says: Um, actually, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, (what? we don’t) so how can we know the way?”.
Thomas is the one who keeps it real, even if it means killing the mood. Thomas doesn’t pretend to understand what he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not; not for Jesus’ sake or anyone else’s. He is open about his questions. He is open about his doubts. And yet we know Thomas believed in Jesus, because he continued to follow Jesus whether Jesus made sense to him or not.
A lot of people forget this about Thomas, but after Lazarus died, none of the other disciples wanted to go back to Bethany because the last time they’d been there, Jesus had very nearly gotten himself stoned to death. They figured that if Lazarus was sick, well, stinks to be Lazarus. And it did…but that’s another story.
The point for today is that the disciples were afraid to return to Bethany because they didn’t want to get hurt. They actually tried to talk Jesus out of it. But seeing that his Lord was going, with or without them, it was Thomas who said: enough, “Let us go with him, that we might die with him.”
That took courage. Thomas was under no illusions that it would be safe. He wasn’t sure what they were walking into. But he followed Jesus anyway, because even when he didn’t know what to think about Jesus, Thomas still believed in him.
And in our reading for today, although it is very easy to fixate on his doubt and demands for proof, I think it is worth noting that the only reason Thomas missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples was because Thomas wasn’t there. Now we don’t know exactly why he was missing.
He might have drawn the short straw and been sent out to find food. He might have just left the others to take a long walk and clear his head. Or maybe he was out looking for Jesus because he hoped Mary’s testimony was true. We can’t say for sure.
All we know is that unlike the rest of them, Thomas wasn’t cowering behind a locked door in fear. Thomas may not have understood what was going on, but Thomas didn’t let that stop him from living and moving as a follower of Jesus out in the world. And I respect that.
Thomas was loyal and he was brave. He was the one willing to ask the questions no one else wanted to ask, the one willing to wait for proof no one but Jesus could give. Thomas was willing to look foolish the better to understand, willing to keep serving his Lord even when he wasn’t entirely sure that his Lord was even out there.
Thomas didn’t know what he was doing or where he was going, but he was willing to take the next step anyway, and that, my friends, is faith. The same kind of faith I see in each of you, or you wouldn’t be here today.
Faith isn’t about what you know is true. It’s about what you hope is true. It’s not about knowing exactly what to say or think about Jesus, but about trusting in him. It’s about daring to believe that if you stand up next to me and I stand up next to you and we reach out together to live and love like Jesus, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to follow in the way of Jesus, that together we can become the body of Christ and help heal this world in his name.
And I know you believe in the power of that, because we’ve done some of that together already. We’ve fed the hungry and welcomed the stranger. We’ve helped little children come closer to Jesus at Vacation Bible School. We’ve prayed together and broken bread together.
We’ve explored scripture and asked some big questions together. And I know you’re still figuring things out. The truth is that we all are, and I hope we always will be.
I guess I just want to close by saying that I’m so glad that you’ll be joining us today, because I’d rather figure things out with you than without you, and I want to keep doing this kind of work with you for years to come.
But that means you have to keep coming to church right? Right? Right? Deal? Deal? Deal? Yes!…ur…I mean…Amen. Let us pray…