May 2, 2021
Fifth Sunday of Easter (Confirmation), Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
To all of our confirmands: congratulations on the day of your televised confirmation.
It was a joy to see you when you came to church with your families and your mentors. You stood at the font, where some of you were even baptized, and you affirmed the covenant that God made with you. You promised to keep trying to figure out what that means for you. You said you would keep connected to the people of God, listen for life-giving words, eat at the table with the rest of us. You also said that you are willing to pick up the life of Jesus as a guiding principle for your life; using your gifts to serve God’s mission of love, peace, and justice in the world.
Jesus would say to you, “I am the vine. You are the branches.” He would want you to know that no matter what happens in your life, love will flow through you like energy through a vine.
A few years ago, another member of Gloria Dei gave us some seeds for a hyacinth vine. I hadn’t heard of them before. They grow super-fast in the Minnesota summer. In fact, the vines almost seem to grow before your eyes. They’re one of those climbers that sends out a long shoot looking for something to grab hold of. Almost before your eyes, you see them growing, stretching, trying to grab hold of some support so that they can start their work of budding and producing seed pods. Eventually, they wrap themselves around each other as support. They create their own trellis to keep climbing.
They remind me of you, growing fast right before our eyes, stretching, reaching out to grab hold of your dreams, looking for support so that you can become what you were created to be.
It can be tough doing all that reaching before you find the solid support. When I was in tenth grade, I was not all sure what it meant to be Bradley. There were a lot of parts that I was really ready for the world to see and I was eager to jump in and be myself. Yet there were a lot of parts of me that I was afraid to name out loud, terrified that I would get trimmed back or judged. There were times when I felt like there wasn’t anyone else like me. Maybe some of you feel that way. Not sure just how to be yourself in a world that has lots of ideas about how we’re supposed to be.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: It does get a little easier in some ways. You’ll figure out a lot of the things that seem really hard right now. But truthfully, there will be always be more stretching that happens in your life. Surprising doors will open that you never planned for. You’ll meet someone who seems perfect for you, and really different than who you thought you would find. Friends will come and go. Your body may start teaching you things that you didn’t’ know before. People that you love will disappoint you or go in another direction. New teachers and guides will join your growth process. As we’ve learned this year, the life that you thought you were going to have for the next year, can change in the blink of an eye. Pandemics happen. Even at my age, which probably seems quite advanced to you, I still feel like, in some things, I’m still trying to find a way to hold on. I’m flailing around trying to grab hold.
The promise that you get on confirmation day is not that you will get it all figured out if you just try hard enough, or do the right thing, or have the right beliefs. The promise that you get on confirmation day is that God is going to keep sending love to you. There will always be tendrils of love reaching out for you. Sometimes it will come through people that you know and love. In more surprising times it will come through strangers or people that are really, really different than you. Sometimes it will even come through the closing of one door or the end of a dream. Sometimes, you’ll find your true meaning and direction only after great pain and loss. (That’s the pruning part that Jesus talks about.)
God will send you what you need for the day. In fact, there will always be more love available to you than you can even conceive. There will be more chances than you think you deserve. You’ll get through things that seem overwhelming right now. You have more gifts and abilities than you could ever write down. You’ll even grow new gifts and abilities. You’ll have courage and grace, strength and compassion that you never thought possible until you faced something really tough. You’ll fail spectacularly, and then get up and go on. In each moment, God will send up into your life the gifts of creation: love, peace, forgiveness, mercy.
And our job, as the church that holds you right now, is to always be here for you. We’re those other tendrils that are winding around you to provide support for your own reaching. We want to remind you that God’s love is surging through your life. We’ll sing it to you, and we’ll preach it to you. We’ll even put love in your hands in the form of bread and wine every single time you come for it. And any time you need it, we’ll make the sign of the cross, remind you of your baptism and tell you once again that you are God’s beloved child. Nothing can take that away from you.
I hope you’ll discover the wonderful truth that when you’re in touch with that love; when you trust it and count on it; when you let yourself be loved and nurtured, you will blossom with a beauty that is transcendent; a beauty that changes the world around you.
I learned something about the science of plants this week from poet Susan Cherwien. “Just under the outer bark of the vine and the branches are two layers necessary for the survival of the plant: the xylem and the phloem. The xylem carries water and nutrients up from the roots, through the vine, into the branches and the leaves. The phloem carries sugars, the products of photosynthesis, down from the leaves, through the branches, through the vine, to the roots. It is a reciprocal arrangement of survival, nourishment, and fruit-bearing.”
That’s the poetry of God. Yes, you’ll need the gifts of love that surge upward. But, lo and behold, the church, God even, needs you, the branches and leaves, not just as volunteers for its programs or ministry. But we need you to go out into the world and interact, be present. To photosynthesize. Take the light you experience and transform it into a sweetness that nourishes the world. Take in what you experience and turn it into wisdom and insight that the old vine back at church needs if it is to survive. You will be the ones to think of new ways to talk about who God is. You will be the ones who will discover where God is doing something amazing. You will be the ones that notice where God is challenging the old thick, gnarly vine with something fresh and vibrant.
One of you in your confirmation project used the pronoun “they” for God throughout the project. You suggested that it’s really the better way to think about God. Not he or she, but they. I thought it was beautifully Trinitarian, God in Three Persons. They! Let me tell you, a lot of the gnarly, old vines are still struggling to get the pronoun thing right. You’re already thinking of God in expanded and non-binary ways. Wow, that’s amazing.
You’re going to be the ones that learn about racial justice and how to care for the environment. Just last month, one of our former confirmands came back because she had something to say about stopping Line 3, the tar sands pipeline that’s going Minnesota forests and waterways. You’re the ones that will develop new models that don’t just use up everything. You may be the next set of pastors and church leaders that help this old vine to produce fruit for generations to come. You will be the prophets and agitators and lovers and the service workers that send the sugars of your learning back into the vine.
In the end, that’s what you promised in the affirmation of baptism, to be part of this rich exchange between nutrients and photosynthesis, capturing the light that is in the world and sending it back, as well as using it to produce the beautiful gifts of God for the sake of the world: love, kindness, gentleness, compassion, peace, justice, harmony, welcome, and enough for everyone to thrive and grow and produce seeds.
For today, let me end by just reminding you that God is your vine. You are branches. And you are beautiful. We can’t wait to see you blossom. And we can’t wait to see what you grow that produces the seeds of God’s future for the world.
We love you, and we’ll always be here for you. Always, to the end of time.
 Susan Palo Cherwien, “Living By the Word,” Christian Century, April 21, 2015, online: https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2015-04/may-3-fifth-sunday-easter?code=eAhwpSKy3NvVNODBvyCG&utm_source=Christian+Century+Newsletter&utm_campaign=83d95467cd-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_09_11_08_32_COPY_11&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b00cd618da-83d95467cd-82381019