No Mistakes

John 14:23-31
Mark Edwards
May 22, 2022
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Thursday night at Session, seventeen Confirmands were voted into the Church. Their “Histories with the Church” and “Statements of Faith” went thirty-three pages. And so today we are witness to three baptisms, their youth and hopefulness, and in a few moments, to their professions of faith.

Over the course of the past year, in addition to many Sunday mornings, full Sunday evening Fellowships, some Embodied Faith sessions with Annalise, and a few hikes to Wawa, we have gathered for four Saturday evening Confirmation retreats with Tyler, Annalise, Byron, and myself. Pizza at Nomad’s. A walk through Princeton.  Discussions on Romans 8’s “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” on Mathew 6’s “Do not worry about tomorrow,” on Psalm 139’s “Lord, you have searched me and know me,” and on Colossians 1’s “He has rescued us from the power of darkness.”  Some candy from the Kiosk across the street. A few questions about growing up in the church and “Who do you say that he is?” Three awesome leaders. A lot of good friends who have grown up running these hallways. And me, who watches in amazement as some basic ingredients give freedom, purpose, safety, and hope to another batch of confirmands.  It is never routine, but there is, as Pastor Dave has said, a liturgy to it. A rhythm. And a lot of trust that God will do what God has promised to do. How, after all, do you cause faith to sprout? What can five hours on a Saturday night do to result in these?  [gesture to students] How do a few questions and Nutella pizzas turn into this? [wave Statements of Faith booklet]

The critics might call it social manipulation. The skeptics might call it cultural control. The dubious might call it unreal. The sociologists of successful youth ministry might call it a curious model warranting additional study.  I suppose it could be those things.  But as one who is leading it, I can tell you we are trying hard not to be those things. What is going on? Why is this working? Perhaps it has something to do with what we just read in John?

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Perhaps God is doing something? Perhaps the Holy Spirit is using this space, this place, our times, and a few bad rhymes to draw us into a mind of faith, a life of spiritual comfort, a body of Christ?

McKenzie, you chime in:

“My favorite thing about the church is how welcomed I feel. I love how whenever I attend our church or a church-related activity I feel welcomed and included by everyone. This makes me feel comfortable and like I belong in the church community.”

Wes, you concur:

“What Jesus taught about community is the reason that I want to join the church. I love the community of the church. I’ve always loved the community of groups of various activities, from sports teams, to just my closest friends from school, or especially the community from my old church. I want to be a part of this community for all the good times and good lessons it will bring.”

Adeline, you felt the same:

“Staying at home this past season was fantastic for a while, but zoom just doesn’t cut it. I found myself wanting to go to Church. I missed the faces, the small talk, the doughnuts. It’s because this stuff matters. It feeds you and sustains you.”

What might the advocate, the comforter, the Holy Spirit be reminding and teaching us? Perhaps it is that we need more than the world can give. We need community and fellowship that revolves and reforms around Christ. Indeed, Jesus tells us this in John:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Chloe, if I may pull from some of the things you wrote:

“After Covid hit, restaurants closed, schools were online, and friends were distant. My life felt like it was missing a piece. Church. […] God was sending me mixed signals, he was telling me that you were missing something, that my life isn’t complete. Then things started to open back up, I got to see friends more often, eat at restaurants, and actually go to school. […] I want to join a church because it fills in the missing parts in my life, it helps me feel whole, it fills that empty void.”

Perhaps, much of the problem is that the world does not give. “The World takes” says our neighbor’s famous bridge.  Perhaps this is not only true of Trenton. Is not the world, often simply too much of a taker on our lives? It takes our hopes, our energies, our compassions, our time, our attentions, our anger, our families. It takes the lives of innocents shopping at Tops grocery in Buffalo, huddled under a steel factory in Mariupol, or in a  Fellowship hall at Geneva Presbyterian church where a Taiwanese congregation gathered to celebrate a pastor of 21 years.  The world takes. What are we left with? What remains to fill us up, give us peace, and calm our troubled waters?

Dominic, you say beautifully:

“I believe that Jesus is in a way, a form of God on earth helping guide us through life […] “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” This helps me out knowing that God is there to help me through my hardships and lends me his strength to get through my seemingly never-ending ocean of my own mind.”

Because Jesus does give us guidance, direction, and comfort that the world cannot give, we have in Him a peace the world cannot give.  And yes, the church can give flying ice cream, some comfortable t-shirts, and even stale goldfish (an apparent favorite for a number of you), but if these things are going to give true life, lasting faith, and a deep spiritual hope, it is because Jesus is giving himself through them.

Ian, you realize this when you say:

“I walked down the hallway toward the offices and turned left into Niles chapel. The room has an almost magical way of muting the sound from everywhere else as soon as you cross the threshold and enter the room. That’s exactly what happened to me that day. […] I think this was the first time I ever felt God speak to me. […] I felt him there.”

This is God’s peace, Christ’s peace, that the world can’t give, and that we don’t control. Yes, this makes for a frustrating life sometimes.

Kelsey, you are honest about that frustration:

“I have prayed many times, whether that’s to ask for things like health and protection, to give thanks, or simply just to talk with God. […] I have not received the answers and responses I wish to receive from God. The lack of response began to bring questions like “Is God really watching over me?” and “Does God care about me?” to mind. […] these questions frustrated me. I know I wanted to believe in God, but is it something I can control?”

And Jenna, at the beginning of the year you wondered aloud:

“I guess I wish I was less skeptical about church. Obviously, I spent a good portion of my life in church, so what has it all been for? Have I gained anything?”

And then looking back you perceive:

“It was through scripture that I truly started to understand the power of love.”

And Kelsey looking back, you say:

“My confirmation journey has made me feel closer to God by memorizing certain passages or prayers, but over anything, it has made me closer to the family that surrounds me at Church.”

Pierre, in the face of frustrations of faith you ask straight out:

“[Faith] is believing in something that we can’t see, something that many others consider us crazy for believing. The question becomes: Are we crazy or are non-believers crazy? “

In response you write a Statement that would make Descartes and Thomas Aquinas proud:

“There is not nothing, there is something. Something needs to have logic to even exist. Nothing needs no logic.

I want to join the Church because I know that there is something in this world, that God and Jesus have created and preserved an amazing world for all of creation, something I want to participate and thrive in, something I want to help others participate and thrive in”

Elizabeth, you grew up thriving in the Newtown Presbyterian Church and are now here at Nassau. We are so happy to have you because, after all it is a dangerous world:

“Although I don’t know why God had us in that accident, I believe He did it for a reason. Maybe a reason we will later find out, or maybe one we will never know. No matter what, I believe that God has a plan for all of us and for everyone. […] I prayed […] God was there for all of us and He made sure we were safe.”

Matt, you also have had that experience:

“coming down a high hill [our] tires started slipping and our car started slipping, but we were able to swing back just enough to not fall in the ditch in front of us. God is always with us, even in stressful, dangerous times.”

Hear again the words of Jesus: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Adele, you give voice to the troubles we’ve all been through:

“When things are too hard to understand, or the fate of your future starts to crush you, you look to someone or something to guide and ease your worries. Over the past couple of years, doubt and worry have often been present with me, so knowing that there is a being there to guide me, is a beautiful thing.”

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. And this has been given to us this year, as you recognize Cole:

“While I have been going through my confirmation retreats, I have realized how important faith is. Having faith to me is believing in God. I believe this because God will be there for us through thick and thin.”

Sometimes Cole it is just that straightforward. Sometimes, however, it is not. Caleb, like many of us,

“A good comparison for the development of my faith would be a river, it ebbs and flows, twists and turns, and sometimes even takes a step backward. But in the end, it always gets to where it is supposed to go. Nassau Presbyterian Church has been the current pushing me down my path, and for that, I am eternally grateful and look forward to taking the next step of coming into the community by becoming confirmed.”

Isaiah, you are jumping into this river because, as you say:

“I realized Jesus needed to be something I had to make my own thing and He was something I had to pursue by myself.”

And Adrianna, this brings us to you. It’s been a dynamic ride and I’m not sure there is another student who has thought as hard about what this all means as you. That is awesome. From NorthBay a bunch of years ago to today, you’ve been asking the hardest questions: Who’s in charge up there? Why did God create this world? Are people predestined? Does God make mistakes?

I think you’ve come to some answers and you’ve come to some community.  You’ve come to the peace that the world does not give, to the Word who is not ours to control, to the mystery that reveals a Trinitarian love, which as Isaiah says,  “It truly boggles the mind.”

And so Yes, to you Adrianna, and to the whole people of God, if it is the Holy Spirit comforting us, if God the Father has the plan, and if it is Jesus who is giving us redemption and salvation, even going away and then coming back again to show us the divine love, then God does not make mistakes. God makes believers. Saints. Faithful. Sisters and brothers of Christ. Inheritors of the kingdom. Community. Friends. God makes you all members of the body of Christ, which is the church.

And it God might be that God is doing something even more clever:

As I mentioned, the Confirmands’ “Histories with the Church” and “Statements of Faith” went thirty-three pages. The included some ongoing questions and unknowns.

In yours, Peter you wonder about the Bible:

“One smaller question I have is will anything ever be added to the Bible. Will there ever be another story added to it in this time era? Will there ever be another story or book added to the Bible in the future at all?”

Good question, Peter.

The Gospel of John closes with this: “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

So, Peter, yes.  Absolutely. Pop these in your Bible. They belong. Staple ’em, glue ‘em, duct tape ‘em into to your Bibles. Even if there are some typos, these aren’t mistakes. They are the Gospel according to McKenzie, Wes, and Adeline; Chloe, Dominic, and Ian; Kelsey, Jenna, and Pierre; Elizabeth, Matt, and Adele; Cole, Caleb, Isaiah, Adrianna, and Peter.

These, like the rest of Scripture, are witnesses to the living Christ. Amen.