April 30, 2023

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Affirmation of Baptism, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer, April 30, 2023

John 10:1-10

Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you.  Amen

Dear 10th graders –What would your recipe for hope be? A professor I heard this week says she assigns one of her college classes this as a fun exercise at the end of the class. She invited us to come up with our own recipes.

People suggested starting with a pound of life experience, flavored with a cup of patience, a dash of prayer, sprinkled with tears and laughter, kneaded together and left to rise in the warmth of friendship and solitude, until ready to serve a world in need.

Others were clear that the recipe would need to be seasoned with a good playlist, or a stretch of spring weather after a long winter, and some ice cream.

What would you add?  What gives you hope for the future? Hope for your life? Hope for the world?

I expect a lot of the parents and grandparents in this room would say seeing you here before us today, ready to affirm your baptism is the biggest ingredient in their recipe for hope that they’ve seen in a long stretch. In fact I imagine that there are people who have never met you, who didn’t even know what they were in for when they walked in today who are happy to add your presence here in their own hope kettle. You are an inspiration to us.

I have to tell you how much I enjoyed seeing all of your credo projects. Will’s hockey stick cross; Louisa’s artwork; Charlotte’s lights, all of your photo boards and memories….  In Annika’s credo project, she describes how hard it is to cook without a recipe. In fact, she writes about a time she tried to come up with her own recipe for Chocolate Bread. It wasn’t that easy. She learned that we need instructions, and that it helps to have guides and mentors and folks who love us to help us with whatever we’re creating.

Of course, your journey toward a vibrant, faithful hope didn’t quite go according to our intended recipe. COVID meant that you were forced to add a pretty big batch of mediocre confirmation lessons to your mixing bowl– funky technology, hybrid presentations, webcams and speakers that didn’t connect to one another, all led by pastors who were really unfamiliar with  talking into a laptop screen. We weren’t able to worship in person, so you weren’t invited to acolyte or serve in worship. You missed chances to authentically connect with others; you needed to support your peers from afar as they struggled and explored faith concepts. Perhaps it has felt that you were having to make things up as you went.

But searching for our own recipe is never really demanded of us. We read in scripture that God provides all we need, that God doesn’t just offer us the recipe, but serves as our Chef, our Host, the very Bread we for which we hunger.

In her Credo project, Hazel points to Psalm 23. We’ll sing a translation of it during Communion. The psalm reminds us that God prepares all we need. Our Good Shepherd spreads a table for us. God cares for us with such kindness and love, that we can walk through hard valleys still knowing that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. God watches over our going out and our coming into the sheepfold. God calls us by name and comes that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Our recipe for hope is woven right into the scriptures.

Jesus starts with a big portion of freedom to explore the world. The shepherd leads the sheep out into green pastures – to skip along the waters and pathways. I love how much each of you has grown in your faith, being challenged to imagine what God might be saying to you, learning about other faith traditions, staying open to new interpretations of scripture, asking questions, listening to other points of view. Faith need never feel like it traps us behind closed doors. Our Shepherd leads us out to learn about the universe, and opens the gate with an invitation for us to discover all the amazing ways God is at work in the world. Today you affirm a faith that is not afraid to question and grow.

Jesus mixes in a few pounds of the gift of community. The image is of a flock, after all, a whole crowd of beloved ones. The earliest followers of Jesus really felt this sense of connection with each other, spending all of their time together, even pooling their resources and depending on one another for their daily lives.

Every one of your credo projects names the mentors and guides who have shared this journey with you. In fact, a life of faith depends on communal support. None of us is meant to make it on our own. We come together to break bread, to be fed and nourished in our faith. We give thanks today to the people who have been along this journey, to share our ideas and to reflect with us, those who will continue to both challenge and encourage us.

But we also look to the ways you serve as mentors and teachers for each other, and for us, and for those who look to you with their questions. We need your gifts to lead and encourage us, too.

And you all note how you will continue to serve the world in lives of action, serving, here at church, caring for creation, combating injustice, comforting your neighbor. Today you affirm that community is a big part of your recipe.

But there’s something that seems a little bitter in this cookbook of Jesus’s, too. Did you catch it? What’s this about the bandits and the thieves sneaking around? Who are these enemies in the way of the banquet table God spreads for us?

Jesus implies that voices of despair and hatred are nearby, and our Good Shepherd is working to protect us from them. I know you’re all too aware of the dangers you face. Your generation has grown up hearing of constant mistrust and animosity from our elected leaders. You’ve learned about the vicious ways the world condemns or belittles others, especially those who are different or who lack social status. You’ve worried about our lack of concern for the planet, and you’ve lived with the reality of gun violence along your daily paths.

On the worst days, you’ve watched loved ones struggle with self-hatred and shame; maybe you’ve known anxiety or depression along your own path. These are the voices that sow doubt and fear in the sheepfold, trying to convince us that we’re not outraged enough, we’re not doing enough, we’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, that we’re not worthy of love.

Our Good Shepherd won’t have it for us. Jesus’s recipe seems to be full of probiotics that protect us from the lies; he spreads a table for us of grace and love and acceptance right in the face of those enemies. Jesus reminds us over and over again that each one of us is created in the image of God.

At your deepest, truest self, you are each a precious child of God, unique and beautiful, full of creative ideas and energy. The world so desperately needs exactly the gifts only you can offer. Each one of you is worthy of all the love of the universe. That’s why the Good Shepherd knows your name, and call you individually into life. Never forget it.

Even when it feels that you’re walking through valleys shadowed by death, you never need to fear evil. As Noah’s did, many of your Credo projects point to the death of a beloved grandparent or friend. God’s recipe for hope doesn’t sugarcoat grief, but includes your tears and sorrow right into the recipe. And somehow, makes them taste sweet. Because even in the face of grief, we get to celebrate Easter good news. Christ is Risen, and loss or death have no more power over us.

The Good Shepherd’s recipe for life was splashed over you at your baptism. You were washed in the promise of eternal love, and sealed with the cross of Christ forever, that you might have life, and have it abundantly. We’re going to anoint your head with oil again today, to remind you that your cup is still running over with every ingredient you need for goodness and mercy to follow you all the days of your life.

So what would your recipe for hope be? Here’s mine: Take fourteen young people created in the image of God. Open up gates for them to explore the world to discover new insights, new signs of love, new opportunities. Blend them into a community of support and nourishment. Stretch them with places to serve and care. Wash them in the never-ending love of God; pour the oil of loving kindness over them. If needed, add ice cream or chocolate.

And watch them grow into magnificent, faithful witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit. They will knock you over with goodness, and will change the world with goodwill for all the people.

Thanks be to God.