Readings (NRSV) and Psalm (ELW):
Acts 1:15–17, 21–26
Psalm 1 The LORD knows the way of the righteous. (Vs. 6)
1 John 5:9–13
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear brothers and sister, dear confirmands, we have dedicated this day to the rite of confirmation for these our children who are children no more, but young adults. The gospel casts light on this day and helps us to understand what we mean by confirmation. Jesus had been speaking to his disciples before his arrest and execution when he turns his face upwards and prays to God whom he most often addresses as Father.
14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:14-17)
These words are both full of promise and foreboding. And this is rightly so because the Christian faith does not offer life that is outside the world or above the world but in the world. For this reason living by faith is not unrealistic but very realistic in its assessment of this world and our life in it. We acknowledge the evil that is around us, but faith is the recognition that God far more greatly encompasses this world and the evil we encounter in it. The foreboding that we experience in our daily lives is real, but the church gives witness to the gift of faith which God bestows on the human race through Jesus Christ.
When Jesus prays to his heavenly Father, he confirms that he has given his disciples God’s word. This statement is deliberately ambiguous. According to the Gospel of John, the word is none other than the Word of God made flesh. We live in an age of anxiety that desperately seeks a word that is tangible, written down and quantifiable. So it should come as no surprise that in our modern period the word of God has been reduced to mean the Bible. What is even more disconcerting is that the physical book itself is held up as the word. We hear in our society the proud words, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” But this is not what is meant by Jesus when he declares, “I have given them your word.” (John 17:14) What is meant of first importance is that Jesus is giving himself to his disciples.
Yes, the Bible is very important to us. We have spent years in teaching our children the Bible through the curriculum of “Godly Play.” It is a method of familiarizing our children with the great narrative of the Bible in such a way that they are not indoctrinated into a literalistic interpretation of the Bible that results in anti-intellectualism, moralism, and unbridled egoism. You do recognize these things do you not? They are everything that Jesus is not. Jesus was infamous for his interpretation of scripture that scandalized the people of his day. Their leaders like many of our leaders are interested only in the “letter” of scripture but not what we would come to understand as the “spirit.”
Walter Brueggemann, a contemporary Old Testament scholar, has helped the church avoid the narrow interpretation of scripture that leads to an anti-intellectual, anti-scientific posture now all-too-prevalent among fundamentalist Christians. Brueggemann writes that Christians are not to take the Bible literally but seriously. Or in another version, “I take the Bible far too seriously to take it literally.” The fundamentalist version of Christianity that with help from the media is dominating our culture is untenable. We know that the truth of Holy Scripture is not a truth that can be measured by such beliefs that the Bible is scientifically or historically accurate. This asks too much of us in the modern period. Yes, science itself is concerned with truth as accuracy in that realm where we must quantify our knowledge in order to verify it. Our Bible was written by our ancestors who lived in a pre-scientific age in which histories were not judged by their accuracy but by their truth. The truth then was that word that liberated human beings to become more truly human.
Precisely on this weekend of graduation exercises let it be said that the truth of Christianity will challenge science and historiography not by making the Bible accurate at the expense of scientific method. No, the Christian faith challenges science and historiography with the word which Jesus Christ has given us, the word which is Jesus Christ himself. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
Jesus Christ comes to us as gift in the foreboding world in which we live. Moralism is not what Jesus offers. Jesus offers us life. Just as we cannot secure our lives with a fundamentalist Bible, we cannot secure our lives by our moralistic attitudes and behavior toward others. And for sure no exaggerated sense of self-importance will save us at the end of the day. Christ himself came to us in bodily form, subject to the moral ambiguity of this world. Our confirmands have been offered a view of Christ who never measured people by their moral superiority. On the contrary, it was moral superiority that condemned him to death. Christ came that life might be abundant and that our joy might be complete. (vs. 13)
Finally, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ comes to us in his holy church as one of self-renunciation. This is a necessary antidote to the rampant egoism that pervades our society today. One has only to look at the statistics around such authors as Ayn Rand, the master of the autonomous ego. She is the new rage among young adults who have yet to figure out how the individual asserts oneself in this world for the good of the world. Here we have the example and ongoing presence of Jesus Christ who makes service to the neighbor as the defining act of self-expression. Jesus is the embodiment of that which is most offensive to the unbridled ego. He is the example of self-giving from which we learn what is the true nature of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, today we invite eight young adults to affirm the baptism which like faith itself was given as a gift in their infancy. This gift of faith was offered and cultivated that they might learn how to use their baptism in a life threatened by evil at every side but more greatly encompassed by God’s promise in Jesus Christ to make us holy. That means to set us apart that our lives may account for something greater than ourselves and for the good of this world that God most dearly loves. Amen.