In Your Own Words

“The single craziest day of the year.” That’s how I have come to think of the day before Youth Sunday. On that Saturday morning, we gather and assign roles for leading worship the next day and we rehearse the music and the various parts of the service.

In my experience, this particular morning is total, complete, wonderful chaos, in part because, young people’s schedules today are as busy as any adults. So one youth is leaving early to go to a soccer match, while another youth is arriving late because of early morning band practice, and another youth can’t be there at all because of SAT tests on that Saturday morning, but they really want to have a part, so we use someone to stand in for them and try to remember who’s who the next morning.

On this morning before Youth Sunday there is a palpable buzz in the air because we’re all excited to hear the senior’s preach the next day, but, in the meantime, there are details to attend to. And since I’m not a detail person, I think we all pray and hope for the best.

This year, four weeks ago now, in the midst of this chaos, a couple youth asked if they could be communion assistants. Happy for their enthusiasm I said, “Of course.” But later that morning, someone pointed out that these young women actually couldn’t serve as communion assistants, according to our ELCA constitution, because they were not yet confirmed. These youth now wanted to know, “Why is it there are some things only confirmed members of the congregation can do?”

The impulse to ask that question is a good one. We are Lutheran Christians after all. Baby-baptizers, who have witnessed many a cute or crying or cute and crying infant washed with water right here before our eyes and every time we witness a baptism we see a clear, powerful sign that God’s gift of love is not based on something we do, not on some special quality we have, not given because of our deep biblical knowledge, or even our exemplary moral behavior. We have learned well that we are all on equal footing before God.

When we see an infant baptized and witness God’s name given to them with the words: “you are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, ” we see God choosing to pour his love out upon this child because of his kindness and generosity.

At the font, we have seen many a tiny sinner…and yes, some may ask, “A sinner? But has this child ever done anything wrong?” But St Augustine says, “how dare we think an infant innocent when every cry they make is calling out for their own needs” …which is the definintion of sin. So this little sinner… (Ask a parent)… receives God’s unconditional gift of love.

This child, because of God’s goodness, receives God’s unconditional YES. God says: “Yes, I love you! Yes! I will be watching your life unfold. Yes! You are mine forever!”

Today, little babies who were baptized at this font or one like it, but who are now all grown up, come to be confirmed into the life of the church. These now-young-men-and-women, come to RESPOND to God’s “yes” on their lives. Confirmation is our response to God’s “YES.”

Stephen Colbert, who is the host of the Late Show on CBS, is a Catholic and continues to find time to teach Sunday school in the midst of his hectic schedule. He got his start in improvisational theater in Chicago at Second City. My sister Sarah and I visited this very improv theater and witnessed scenes made up from scratch before our very eyes, and if you ever get a chance to see this, it is a wonder to behold.

Colbert has said, the thing that most continues to inform his work today is his early experience in improvisational theater. In “improv” there is just one rule: The rule is “Yes, and.” It’s a verb, as in: I yes, and….You yes, and… she yes, ands…Colbert says the secret to improv is “Yes, And.” To build anything on stage, Colbert says, you have to accept what the other actor initiates. If the other actor says you’re doctors, then you’re doctors! You have to agree and you have to add to that. You might say, Ok we’re doctors and we’re in a snowstorm. Colbert says the power of improv is that neither of the actors are in control. And it can surprise an audience and even surprise the actors because neither of them are in control.
He says: There is no script. You have no idea where the storyline will go. It’s all unknown.

Baptism is God’s YES to you, and confirmation is your “YES, AND.”

You don’t know where your life is headed. You might have some guesses and some hopes…but you are not in control…there’s no script…and the future is unknown…But today you say to God, “yes, and.”

Yes, I accept what you have initiated at my baptism…you poured your love out on me and claimed me as your own…and your love has gone to the core of who I am…deeper than a school jersey that says what team I’m on, deeper than a tattoo that we might wear in our flesh…God, you have poured your love into our heart…to the depths of our being…and you have done it as a gift. Yes, I understand you love me and want me close by your side and I am going to try to walk with you.

Being a Christian is improv. We don’t know how the Spirit is going to call us to serve, who the Spirit is going to inspire us to reach out to.

Today Greg has been baptized – not an infant – a very capable, gifted, young man…and God has been calling to him through a special young woman and her family and this congregation… And for him, I imagine this experience has had a surprising quality to it!
Following Jesus is improv.

Confirmation is about learning to put the faith in your own words.
I know the confirmands heard Paul’s letter to the Romans, “And not only that, but we boast in our sufferings” and they think he’s talking about Pastor Phillip’s confirmation quizzes. And they hear him talking about how “suffering produces endurance” and they think he’s talking about the confirmation essay questions…

But confirmation is an opportunity to wrestle with your faith, to begin putting your experience with God and this community called church into your own words…so when you hear “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” know that it has been…when you feel that and when you don’t…when tragedies come, because sometimes they do….No matter what, the Spirit of Jesus’ love has been poured on you and into you. Not even red marks on your confirmation test can change that.

Confirmation is simply practice for the great improv theater to come…and so you’ve practiced articulating your faith with confirmation mentors, Sunday school teachers, youth group, Timothy Ministers, pastors, and family…and now if someone asks you why the church you belong to baptizes adults AND INFANTS, you might tell them it’s because God decides to love us before we can decide to love him…but in your own words.

Some Sundays we say a creed – the apostles or the Nicene Creed, both written over a thousand years ago, without our input.
These creeds are helpful because they’re a good script to follow…but what if someone suggested you could put those creeds in your own words?

This creed I want to share with you was composed in 1960…which some of us remember…in East Africa, by the Maasai people, in partnership with the Christian missionaries who first shared the gospel with them.

This is their creed, in their own words:

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created Man and wanted Man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know Him in the light. God promised in the book of His word, the Bible, that He would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, He rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Him. All who have faith in Him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for Him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.

This is a creed, the words from the Apostles and Nicaean Creeds are a creed, “Walk the Journey, Worship the Christ, Witness with Joy” is a creed.

A creed is simply a statement of what we believe.

How good to know that before we believe in God, God believes in us.

God believes we are worthy of his “Yes!”

God believes you are precious and so he pours his love out on you…and pours his love into your heart.

God sends his Spirit to lead us in this improv called life.

And just one last thought for these youth who are getting confirmed today: Pastor Phillip and I look forward to serving with you at the altar!