One summer, when I was 25 years old, I had an invitation from my grandmother to come and stay with her for a week in Hickory, NC.
She had recently renovated her home for the first time since they had moved into this house in the early 1960s. Part of what they did in the renovation project was take down the huge wallpaper mural that was on her dining room wall. The image on the wallpaper was of an enormous oriental-styled tree growing on a rocky hillside. Her family had eaten under this tree for Thanksgiving and Christmas and every time they gathered for 40 plus years and Granna thought it didn’t seem right for it not to be there so she asked me to paint the tree back on the new wall as closely as I could to the original.
Coincidentally, Granna’s younger sister Terry happened to have come up from New Orleans for part of the time that I was there working on the mural.
During the day I would paint, and at night we would sit in the kitchen and drink coffee and talk, and they would tell stories of growing up together in Lucy, Louisiana, a small town that no longer exists, which was overtaken when New Orleans grew and absorbed the little town.
One evening as we sat in the kitchen, Granna told the story of leaving home for the very first time. She had been accepted to nursing school and she was going to get there by riding the train.
The day came for her to leave and so Granna said goodbye to her mother at home, and her Dad took her in the family car, with little sister Terry tagging along, to the train station. Granna and her father were very close and so she rode in the car that day with a dread of saying goodbye to her father. Terry remembered sitting in the backseat and thinking about how she would miss her big sister.
They arrived at the station and they were on the platform and it came time to say goodbye. Granna began to cry, Terry began to cry, but their dad was composed, matter-of-fact, and Granna remembered, he even seemed distant.
Granna said she had been hurt in that moment and that it had hurt her all the years since, because their dad died a month later and that was the last time they had seen each other, and her Dad hadn’t cried.
And Terry looked at Granna across her kitchen table and said, “Well, Ethel, what do you think Daddy did all the way home?”
All those years, Granna didn’t know that part of the story.
She didn’t know the whole story.
There is so much we can’t know about the love of our parents.
Confirmands: (and as I want to say now to other youth in middle and high school) I imagine you may sometimes wonder about your parents. There are probably things your parents do or say that seem like they don’t make any sense. What is it all about?
We may never know, but understand this: You cannot know the whole story of your parents love for you yet.
You can’t understand how much they love you; how much they cherish you; and how proud of you just for being you; just because you exist.
Our relationship with God is the same way.
There are things about the life we’ve been given that we don’t understand.
We might like to ask God about why we have to go through hard times. We might like to ask: why do people in the world suffer? Why did you make me with a particular trait that’s a constant thorn in my own side?
We don’t understand everything about the way we’re made, or the world around us, and there’s a lot we won’t know completely until we see him face to face.
But we do know he loves us with a Father’s love. He won’t leave us alone. He won’t leave us orphaned. He has given his Spirit to guide us and we can trust him.
Confirmation is not a day when we say, “I know the whole story.” But a day on which we say, “I believe that God made me in his image; I am precious in his sight; and that, in Jesus, God has come to show us what love looks like and how he would like us to live and treat one another.”
For our confirmands, today is not about saying: “I have all the answers.” But a day on which you say: “I want to continue in the relationship that God initiated with me in my baptism into Christ.”
It is a profound moment in your journey faith, it is a profound moment for your families, and a profound moment for our congregation’s journey of faith.
We are proud of you and we know, it can be hard to be a young person today.
I just spent yesterday and the day before at an overnight retreat in Waynesboro with the Kairos planning team. We are in the process of preparing for the week-long Synod youth event, which will happen in June. And part of the process is asking the youth: What is going on in your life? And they say judgement and being judged is oppressive. You are judged by how you look, how athletic you are, how smart you are, who you have in your friend group, and everyday all this judgment feels like a burden to carry.
Paul says to those the Athenians and to us: God will judge the world in righteousness. Jesus’ resurection is the assurance we’ve been given that he also has the power to judge.
Christ sets us free from the burden of thinking other people’s judgments matter.
The truth is we’re not as smart, athletic, aesthetic, or perfect as we want to be. But that’s not why God loves us. God loves us because of Jesus. And this love – the love which created us and will receive us at the end of our life, is the love that matters now too. This love from God is what gives us our identity and our worth.
If you are a young person, there may be days you feel like your parents don’t understand you… Days you might feel like your friends have sold you out… Days when you might feel like the whole world is against you.
At some time in your life you might feel absolutely, completely all alone.
You are not alone. God is with you. God is in you. And you are in God. As close as your breath. As close as the beating of your heart. As real as the words of Jesus you hear me speaking for him: I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.
A song that has meant a lot to me is a song called “Orphan Girl,” written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
It is the first song on their album called Revival.
It is song from the perspective of a young girl and in the folk tradition, I won’t try to change the gender of the speaker, but speak it from her perspective.
Jesus tells us he won’t leave us orphaned as he sits around the table with his disciples on the last night of his life.
“I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, as he breaks bread and passes a cup of wine…
When he calls us, we will be able, to meet our family at God’s table…Here in this community where each of us have a special place.
Our Epiphany family eats at a table, under the image a tree. Every time we gather, we are gathered under the image of the tree of the cross, which tells us the depth of God’s love for us, and tells us who we are.
We don’t know the whole story…like my grandmother on the train, there are things we don’t know…like her father, there are things we want to say to each other that we can’t figure out how to say.
Parents and adults may not want me to tell the children and youth among us out secret: that we don’t know the whole story either. We are also trying to figure it all out.
What we do know is that God walks beside us each day.
He is and will forever be our mother and father and sister and brother. We are not orphans, but sons and daughters: accepted, beloved, cherished…
Sent out to accept, love, and cherish one another.