April 29, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Confirmation), Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

John 15:1-11

We lost one last year.  When confirmation was finished, and we gathered on the front steps for the official picture that will be posted with all the pictures since 1910, one of the class was missing.  Before Jesus sent his disciples, he prayed to God, “I have not lost one that you have given me.”  We did. However, with the miracle of photoshop, we were able to add the missing sheep to the fold, so, in the end, no one was forgotten.

To avoid the problem this year, Pastor Lois suggested that we give you a rope to hold on to.  So that’s what we’ll do.

Pass Out Rope.

Now, hold on.  The truth is that we want you to hold on, to stay connected to one another, and not to get lost.

Confirmation is affirmation of baptism.  When most of you were babies, your parents came to the baptismal font, some even to this one here.  They were holding the rope of faith that had been given to them, this line of love that stretches back to Jesus when he said, “Look, I’m going to be with you until the end of the world. Go, baptize and teach.”  The promise has been the vine.  People like your parents have been the branches for more than two thousand years.  When you were babies, you couldn’t hold the rope, so they held it for you.

For the last four years, we’ve tried to describe what this vine-rope is like.  God’s love stretches so far back in time we can’t even see where it starts.  It’s so ancient, so big, so indescribable that sometimes it’s even hard to believe that it ties all things together.  One tendril stretches from the Big Bang to you. Love: you come from it; you’ll return to it.  That divine love was so obvious in the person of Jesus that we use him still to understand what Ultimate Love is like.  He’s our rope, the way we touch something that’s bigger than ourselves.  He’s the link.  Other faiths have other links, but Jesus is our vine, our connection.

Being connected to that vine means a few things:

  1. You are a precious child of God. It means you have value; you are beautiful; you are amazing, not because you do everything right all the time, but because you exist, because you have been marked with the cross of Christ forever.  I know some of you struggle to believe that.  We’re the community whose job it is to remind you when you forget
  2. You are the church. Without you, there would be hole in the fabric of creation.  You’re essential.  You’re not expendable.  In fact, no living thing is expendable.  One of the things that makes me sad about confirmation is that there are always some who stop coming to church or stop participating. I’m not sad that they’re lost or wrong or somehow bad people because they’re not here.  I’m sad because we lose out.  We’re not a great church without you.  Especially now, we need your ideas, your criticisms, your passion and energy if the church is going to figure itself out.  We simply can’t be church without you.
  3. You have love that can be shared.Of course, you can spend a life just relishing it; looking in the mirror saying, “I’m beautiful.  I’m worth it.  I’m here.”  But it’s even better when you give it away.  In fact, your baptismal work is to give love away.  Connect others to the rope.  Maybe you’ll be a scientist and discover a cure to some disease.  Maybe you’ll paint a piece of art that transforms the way we see one another.  Maybe you’ll work with money and end up giving huge amounts away.  Maybe you’ll teach kids or serve in the church as a pastor or deacon. One of you I’ve got my eye on for bishop.  Maybe you’ll be the person who sits next to some anxious and depressed friend to say, “I’m here for you.”  Maybe you’ll change gun laws or run for office.  Maybe you’ll…fill in the blank.  Take your interests and gifts and match them to making the world a more loving place. The point is to be a channel for love, a branch on the vine.
  4. You will get pruned.There are times when your life will hurt; when you get forgotten; when it seems like you’re not in the picture. The thing, or even the person, that you love the most gets cut off or walks away or dies.  Even parts of yourself get trimmed back.  Or lost. Believe me, the best things that you’ll learn, you’ll learn the hard way.  You’ll make really big mistakes, and lots of little ones.  BUT, when you’re holding on to the rope, when you’re connected to the vine, even the pain, the loss is where God will start to do something new. All the bad gets dropped away and forgotten by God, and the good gets carried forward. We call that forgiveness. You’ll rise from the ashes, from the loss, from the death.  The love that holds you makes sure that you start over.

Jesus says, “Abide in my love.”  He means, “Hold on. Don’t let go.”  You are holding in your hand the most important thing in all of life:  the love of God.  Everything else pales in comparison. It takes all of us a lifetime to understand what that means, but it’s true. All that is most valuable in life is connected to love.

Before I’m done though, I want to switch the metaphor. Instead of imaging that you are holding on to Jesus, the vine, the love of God, the energy of the universe that connects all things.  Now, you be Jesus, and imagine that the rope is you.  Hold on to the rope as if you were Jesus holding on to you.

Because that’s how we want to send you out.  The good news is that the Christ abides in you, holds on to you, remains with you.  You and me, we’ll drop the rope fairly frequently.  We’ll miss some of life’s best pictures.  We’ll let go.

But God never does.  From the day you were born, from the day you were baptized, God decided to hold on to you.  God will never let you go.  Even on the last day of our lives, when it looks like we’re going to get cut out of the picture, we end up photoshopped into a new one, into love that cannot end but stretches into eternity.  Love that never ends.

Abide in that love.  Hold on!