May 21, 2023
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Welcome Confirmands. Welcome congregation. Welcome Skye Aurora. Welcome families and guests. On a lovely morning, the first day of our summer schedule, we gather. We gather. It is what the church does. It gathers. As the community of those who are “called out,” the church walks out and away from some things, and toward and around someone else. It gathers around Christ. It gathers those who have been there before and also gathers in those who are new. Today we do a bit of both. Some in the room have been here many many years, and today they are being Confirmed, having been baptized here 15 years ago. Some in the room are probably newer, even as full adults or older. And so we gather around each other, these confirmands, and Christ. Who is this Christ?
In the liturgical calendar, today is Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday celebrates when, post-resurrection, after forty days on earth in the mode of God, Jesus ascends into the heavens. It is the great, “Beam me up” event in the Christian church. It is a celebratory, triumphant, cosmic proclamation of Christ’s ascent to the divine summit. The Romans couldn’t hold him. The disciples couldn’t hold him. Gravity couldn’t hold him. Death couldn’t even hold him. Jesus, the unrestrainable helium balloon floats through the world’s upper limit. He has been raised. He lives, he commands, he preaches, he cooks fish, poofs from one place to another on a road to Emmaus, and then ascends to the ‘right hand of God the father Almighty.’ Victory. Lordship. Cosmic overcoming. It is finished. The ceiling can’t hold him. It’s hard to beat that.
We too will have, in just a few minutes, our Confirmands come forward. They will ascend a step or two and proclaim their faith in this Christ. It’s been a year of thinking about this and talking about this. “After some long and deep thought (and a lot of pacing around,) however, I have finally found an answer that I could honestly and wholeheartedly express.” (Andrew). We have ascended over doubt and confusion. We have ascended into conviction. We have ascended into faith.
Why then, the harsh scripture readings?:
22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”
While the politicians of boast of power, while the wise of the age assume this to be an empty myth, a ninth grader knows that here, here are the words of life:
Rachel: I knew no matter what happened at school, I would always have the church. Using the lyrics to a classic Vacation Bible School song “God’s everlasting love is higher, higher than the skies”. This is how I understand it. God’s love is so deep it is deeper than the deepest seas. Except, “understand” is not the most accurate representation of how I comprehend God’s love. It is actually the opposite. I do not understand how something can be endless. As a human, everything I have known is terminating. From simple experiences such as finishing an ice cream cone, to the end of someone’s life, it is impossible for me to conceptualize something that will never run out, never become spoiled, never die, and is never ending.
Throughout Jesus’s lifetime, he experiences ending. For example, the death of Joseph his father and broken friendship with his disciple Judas. These happenings Jesus experienced on Earth can be paralleled to experiences all humans and I have. The biggest one, Jesus’s death on the cross. All humans experience death. Except death is not Jesus’s ending.
24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood;[k] see to it yourselves.”
Ella, you too understand: This is what I believe, you write. I believe in a loving, understanding, selfless and forgiving God. He is our father, our creator, and someone to lean on when questioning the difficulties of life. […] I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God who was born of the Virgin Mary to spread the word of God and was crucified, killed, buried and rose again.
If Christ “rose again,” why do we focus so much on the “crucified, killed, buried.” If God is our Creator, why is there so much “questioning the difficulties of life.” And yet there is, and we do.
As Pilate himself asks: 24 “Why, what evil has he done?”25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
This blood, this cross. Bailey, you also know there is something powerful about this cross, that it is the way to truth.
Every morning I start my day the same. Get up, shower, get dressed, and put on my cross. Although it’s a small detail, the last one is the most important to me. My cross symbolizes my religion to myself and others. I’m proud to be a Christian and I’m proud to show the world that I am. However, I mainly wear my cross for myself. It’s a simple reminder to myself to keep the lord in mind with every step I take. It helps me to remember that Jesus died on the cross for us, and that I should live a life that I’m proud to live, and that Jesus would approve of.
26 So Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after flogging Jesus he handed him over to be crucified.
What, we might ask, does Jesus approve of? An about to be the newest member of the church already has the answer:
Liam: There is a statement from the passage titled Philippians 2:3-11 (NRSV) that reads, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” I wanted to touch on this because this is what I believe all people should try to do even if it doesn’t seem like the right time or place or situation. People should look to regard others more than themselves in my opinion. Most people probably think oh well Jesus should help the less fortunate but it is not Jesus who should help, it is the people of the world that need to acknowledge a problem and with the guidance of Jesus resolve it. Jesus is not the one doing all the work, rather, it is the people of the world.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,[l] and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown they put it on his head.
More wisdom from confused confirmands:
Ryan: I felt like this whole “presbyterian” thing was so much work and that I was forever going to stay confused, uncertain. But “the opposite of faith is certainty” (as Annalise said). So now I think I realize, you don’t need all the answers to know God. After hearing this, I realize that everything that was confusing before makes perfect sense. We learn these bible stories about Jesus teaching people God’s way so that we can become closer with God.
29b They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Charlotte: Growing up, church was like the sun to me. My early childhood revolved around a star that shone brighter than any individual key planet.
When the pandemic hit, everything stood still. The revolving planets kept revolving, but the sun shone less and less. The pull for the warmth, for the growth, for the family was blocked by a pile of bricks. My life, my weeks don’t revolve around the church anymore, […] The belief in something better, of Jesus and God, the belief that what I grew up with was true flashed out as quickly as it flashed in.
46 My God my god, why have you forsaken me?
And yet… A sun, a star, a constant, a home, a never fading mass at the center of my galaxy. […] I have faith that there is something greater in the universe that connects the world together. Within my faith is love, within my faith is pain, within my faith is family.
Charlotte with your conviction that “Jesus is the living God” we might get syllogistic: Within this Jesus is love, within this Jesus is pain, within this Jesus is family.
30 They spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.31 After mocking him, they; They : THEY
Here is a beaten God. Here is a humiliated God. Here is a community gathered around him. A community, even here. Even in this violence, here is Christ your Lord
Peter: He helped me get through times when I didn’t understand what was happening, when I was asking the question why, why is this happening? One good example of it was when I was 13 years old, I got sick with kidney stones. Who gets kidney stones at the age of 13? Why me? I had to have surgery. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. At that time I spent a lot of time praying and trusting God. God always has a path, and I know God will take care of me and the people I care about. I trust God, I trust that he will guide me through good times and bad times.
Here is a patient God. Here is an honest God. While the idols of the world prove themself false in the inability or unwillingness to suffer disgrace, here is a community gathered around the true unknown God . A community, even here. Even in this violence and uncertainty, here is Love providential.
Cyrus: Saying to my parents “goodbye” or “love you” in the morning before I go to school shows affection and love. It’s important for me to say these phrases to my parents because I never know if I might see them again. This is my love is key to my faith. Having love will help me understand God. In Romans 8 verse 28 “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Having love for God will make all things work out.
What amazes us? As we gather around today, we are less amazed by a God who flies through air, than a God who gasps for breath. We are not as awed by a beam me up event as we are by take up my cross tragedy. We do not fall silent by an ascent up the Everest of divine pride, but by an ascent onto Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, a mount of human pain. We are amazed by the ascent upon a crucifix. Today we gather around the one who suffered, tho one who was lost, the one of whom it is said:
42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”
Correction: He saved others, he will not save Himself. But he has saved us.
This one is our Lord. We put our trust in him.
As it says behind me: This Lord is near to all who call upon him.
This is our savior. In this one is love. This been done for us.
And so we say: come Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Do not be far from us. AMEN.