Sermon preached for Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for Confirmation Sunday.
Moses convened all Israel, and said to them:
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. (At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.[d]
Neither shall you commit adultery.
Neither shall you steal.
Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.
Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me.
Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
On this important day, I thought I’d write my sermon as an open letter to our confirmands. This is what I want to say to them, and what I want them to keep in their hearts as they move forward from this day.
God is there. That’s what one of you wrote in your statement of faith, underlining the is. God is there.
I know that sometimes that is the biggest stretch your faith can make. With so many people telling you that God is a fairytale or a relic, the fact that you are still searchers, still hopers, still trusters, is a miracle of a kind.
But what I want to tell you today is that God is more than simply there. If God were simply there, out there orbiting in the sky somewhere, none of this would be necessary. We could do our thing, and let God do God’s.
But God is not just there. God is here, and interested in us. God is interested in you, with the you underlined.
God hollers when you win the game, and sighs when the test scores don’t come back with what you wanted, and cries when your heart is broken. God sends courage when you’re scared and faith when you’re lost. God has definite ideas about the way you should behave, and definitive grace for every time you don’t. God is into you. Your life is not incidental to God.
We just read the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. These can be hard passages, because they show just how in the way God wants to be. God cares about what we love and how we spend our time and what we talk about and how we treat other people. God wants to be part of our ordinary, day-to-day lives. Not just Sundays. Not just holidays. Every time we choose to rest, every time we decide to be grateful for what we have, every time we tell the truth, we are growing closer to the heart of God.
We read a lot of scripture together in confirmation class. I know sometimes you rolled your eyes above your masks. I don’t blame you. But I love this book because it is a window into the heart of God—into what God cares about most. And over and over and over again, what the Bible says God cares most about is us.
Several of you are artists, in one medium or another. I love that. You guys are part of why I wanted to look at the St. John’s Bible this winter.
I was so interested in these two pages, of the ten commandments and the beatitudes. At first, all I see are words—so much talky talky, as my husband says. We can get lost in the words, and stop paying attention to what’s behind them. Or rather, who. God’s heart, beating behind the words, bleeding through in the colors.
Look at the Beatitudes on the right side of the screen. Do you see that jumble of shapes and colors? That is the word blessed, written over and over an over and over, overlapping and crowding itself out. Life’s blessings will come that way, I promise you—jumbled and crowded but strong and beautiful nonetheless. God has so many blessings to pour out, if we only see them.
The Beatitudes show us God’s heart—when Jesus says “blessed are those who mourn,” we can hear that God isn’t just into the cool kids, the ones who always look perfect and perky and put-together. God is into the weird kids, the kids who cry too easily, the kids who are a mess, the kids who never get picked. God doesn’t love you because you’re perfect—thank God—but simply because you exist. God always will, no matter how hard life gets, no matter how messed up. God’s blessings will show up so sneakily beside you every time.
Take a look at the Ten Commandments on the left side. Again, so many words. At the top, in gold ink to indicate the presence of God, God says “Here I AM.” But as the words go on, they fade from black to white and seem to crumble into the bottom of the page. I wondered why these most famous words would be painted almost unreadably, until I came across this story.
“One of the monks was giving a presentation about the illumination of the ten commandments and what it intended to show… When you get to the bottom of the illumination the text is all jumbled, broken up and small, supposedly signifying that as you fall away from God you can’t even see Scripture any more. You can’t read it. You can’t understand it. It’s this whole idea of falling away.
A woman in the audience raised her hand and said to the monk, “You’ve got it wrong.” And the monk said “I worked on the project. I don’t think I have this wrong.”
“No, no” the woman continued, “You’re not supposed to look at it from the top down as a falling away. You’re supposed to look at it from the bottom up as growing into your relationship with God. You started out as an infant. You can’t read, you can’t talk, and you don’t know what’s going on. That’s the text at the bottom. As you grow and you’re a teenager you have rules, and that’s how you manage to get through life, by following the rules as best as you can … And then, once you are mature in your relationship with Christ, you’re up there at the top of the illumination. You’re not doing this because you’re following the rules but because you’re in relationship with God.”
I love the way that woman reads this page—that the life of faith is a chance to grow closer to the heart of God. But I think, really, that they are both right—that sometimes your faith will grow and sometimes it will crumble, that there will be days when you see God shining in golden splendor, and days when it all seems like a meaningless jumble. Today you are being confirmed, but that doesn’t mean that I’m handing you faith like a diploma, a keepsake to put on the shelf. You will never, ever, ever be finished with your relationship with God, and I wouldn’t want you to be.
Here I am, God says. On the good days, here I am. On the bad days, here I am. On the days you are sure, here I am. On the days when you have lost your faith altogether, here I am. God always shows up. Always.
Your opportunity today—and every day for the rest of your life—is to say the same. Here I am. Here I am, to try. Here I am, to forgive. Here I am, to wonder. Here I am, to wrestle. Here I am, to love. Here I am, to care.
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be pious or godly or even—dare I say it—Presbyterian. All you have to do is raise your hand, eagerly or shakily, and say it back: Here I am. Here I am, Lord. To join my heart to yours.
And if you can’t say it, then simply to remember: God loves you, and so do we.