Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir

June 7, 2015  (Confirmation Sunday)

Mark 3: 20-35

 

This is a big high school graduation weekend and the weekend Gazette gave a sampling from keynote speeches:

“Love Yourself, love others and never quit.” Amherst Pellham Regional HS

“Don’t Forget where you come from. Always learn.” Hadley

“Never forget, life is a gift.” Smith Academy

“Ask a kindergartner.” Frontier Regional High School

 

Family and friends watched with tears in their eyes, filled with pride as diplomas and awards were handed out. It is a great day after much study and hard work. This led me to think about Confirmation Sunday, and how we celebrate it with you.

 

Asa, Christian, Claire and Carolyn – this is not your Christian graduation day and actually, this is going to be an anti-graduation sermon. Now don’t get me wrong, we are all very proud of you, even those here who don’t know who you are, they too are proud of you. But you’re not done, you are just beginning. I have been searching for the right metaphor. I thought about passing an entrance exam, but that is not quite it-we are not asking you to pass a doctrinal litmus test, in fact we hope you change and grow and believe some new things about God 10 years from now. It is partly an initiation, for you are now fully adults in the life of the church. You can join a committee and vote at any congregational meeting, such as the budget vote next week. But I don’t think you went through confirmation so you can join a committee.

 

So here is what I think the right metaphor is. We are deputizing you. If you have seen a Western movie, like a Clint Eastwood movie before he got old and started talking to empty chairs, the sheriff gets the town folks together, and asks for volunteers to go after some dangerous criminal, a bank robber or cattle russler. They deputize the citizens to form a posse to act with the powers of a trained law enforcement officer.   If you think about it, that is really crazy. The criminal is too dangerous for the professionals, so lets send the untrained folks as reinforcements. I doubt posses had a good track record. But sometimes that is all you have, no one else can do the job for us. So we are deputizing you, to act with the love of God, to do justice and proclaim truth and the Good News of the Gospel. If you feel like you are not ready for that, welcome to the club. We all feel like that quite often. But this is the deal, look around the room, this is who we have to make a difference in the world. Most of us just have a little time left. I might preach for 15 or 20 years, but then I am retiring and I’m going to be counting on people your age to carry on. So don’t think of yourself as a graduate today, be a deputy.

 

I always start my sermon thoughts with the Gospel text for the day, and it is not always easy to relate to the occasion. Today in the reading from Mark, Jesus is speaking to a great crowd, but it does not sound like standard graduation advice.   Jesus had a lot of graduation type advice like “love your neighbor” or “Go the second mile.” But this speech is a vigorous defense against the charge that he is in league with the devil. Strange stuff. Jesus had been preaching around the countryside, and had healed a few folks, and cast out demons from people being afflicted by this troubling spirits. This is not something I learned how to do in seminary. Jesus applies some logic to the situation. If I were in league with the devil, why would I be casting out demons? A house divided against itself cannot stand. Good point Jesus. But how do we relate to this strange reality where Jesus sounds more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer than a graduation speaker?

 

Here’s a relevant example. When Martin Luther King, Jr. became prominent nationally after organizing the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington, many Southern white folks started referring to him as “Martin Lucifer King.” This is what people do when they feel their values and status quo are seriously called into question. They demonize the opposition and make them into the personification of evil. Turning Luther to Lucifer delegitimizes someone, so you don’t have to listen or respect them. If someone is league with Satan, you can segregate them into different neighborhoods and schools, lynch them, or shoot them if you don’t like what they are doing. The normal rules of society and morality don’t apply if someone is in league with the devil. You can torture people in Abu Ghraib, or do whatever you think needs to be done.

 

Southern white people did not dream up this tactic on their own. It was in play already with Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus starts out as an agitator. By the third chapter he has already had five confrontations with the religious leaders of his day. He picked grain on the Sabbath and scribes said he was breaking the law, and he said, “We were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for us. He forgave a man who was paralyzed and Pharisees said he was committing blasphemy for only God could forgive sins. Jesus actually united squabbling factions because they all wanted to kill him, so step one was to start the propaganda campaign and spread the rumor that he was working with the devil. Jesus was ironically the first to be labeled the anti-Christ.

 

Things are so bad for Jesus here, that his mother and brothers come to get him. They don’t just want to talk with him. They have come to take him home because of all his crazy talk. The original Greek verb is closer to saying they are coming the restrain him. It is the same verb used as when Herod sends soldiers to come and get him. Can you imagine being a speaker with a large crowd gathered around you, and your family comes to get you. “Sorry about our son Jesus. He gets like this when he is off his mediation.” This is the Blessed Virgin Mary doing this. This is the Mary who sang the Magnificat in Luke, who said the might shall be thrown down and the lowly lifted up and the poor would be filled with good things. Isn’t that what Jesus was doing? Just when Jesus really gets rolling in his mission, his family gets frightened and comes to restrain him. Its like being the valedictorian speaker and teachers want you off the stage, and your parents think you have lost it.

 

So confirmands, this is your guy. Sometimes to follow in his way, people will think you are crazy. But you already know that. You already know it is not easy to be a Christian in your peer group. You have already experienced people who label and stereotype you, but you still put a great deal of time and effort to do this, and we do not think you are crazy for doing so. As Jesus said, whoever does the will of God is my family. And we are your spiritual family, we unite with you to do what is right, even if sometimes it is unpopular. We covenant to walk with you even when you may start to ask us challenging questions and finding new answers. When that starts to happen, then we will know that we have taught you well.

 

So church, we have four new confirmands. Lets think of some crazy things to do, like turn the other cheek, practice forgiveness, love your enemies, be allies with those who society wants to ignore. Is everybody in? Say “Amen” if you are in!