“Confirm Your Call”

May 19, 2013

II Peter 1:3-11

Acts 2:1-21

On Tuesday evening last week, the Diaconate met with our two candidates for confirmation: A.W. and I.C.. These conversations are always an inspiring time for the Deacons and for me. They provide a new window through which we see the world as it is and as it is becoming.

Following our tradition here, A. and I. read their statements of faith and we talked with them about the confirmation class, about life in high school, about who they are and about who God is. We talked together about faith and science, about why the universe exists at all, about how we got here , what we’ve doing, and where we’re going. While we didn’t use the words, we spoke about sin and about forgiveness.

As we talked I recalled John Calvin’s famous words at the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion—that real wisdom consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. And it's a “chicken and egg” kind of thing—hard to tell which comes first.

The knowledge of ourselves and our limits leads us to seek God. And the knowledge of God helps us to know ourselves better.

After talking with A. and I. for the better part of an hour, I think we left with greater knowledge of God and ourselves and one another. We left a little wiser.

And this might be connected to why we give Bibles to confirmands. In the stories that we read in the Bible, again and again the human and the divine meet in ways that tells us something about both God and ourselves. Reading those stories helps us to think about the ways in which the human and the divine continue to meet in our own lives.

Most of the messages that we hear—loud and clear—tell us that there will be no intrusions into our ordinary lives by the Holy.

                        That we can go on our way, doing as we please and God will not disrupt us.

                                    That in times of despair or weakness or indecision we are on our own.

Remember the title of the James Baldwin book? Nobody Knows My Name. In a world in which we are more and more anonymous, more and more a number, it often seems like he might be right.

In scripture we hear a different story. And it comes to us as good news.

In spite of the great loneliness that so many people feel,

            in spite of the crushing isolation of life,

Someone does know your name—and calls to you.

Certainly we listen with a very human ear. What we hear is often faint or garbled.

Still, when we stop to listen with the ear of faith, we can hear the divine voice that calls each one of us by name.

The God who calls is a passionate God. God loves with the passion a parent has for a child, with the passion a lover has for the beloved.

The God we encounter in scripture is not One who stands off, unmoved by the human condition. This is a Creator who is vitally interested in the creature. This is a God who, out of deep compassion, calls us to lives that are fruitful and effective. This is a God who wants the best for each of us.

Jesus told those who complained about his actions: “I came not to call the righteous, but to call the sinners.”

Which is just the point. Christianity is not for those who have it made, who are confident in their own goodness and feel that they are getting better all the time. God's passion instead seems to be for those who know their sin.

Which is why we dare to affirm that God loves us as we are. But because God loves us as we are, God does not leave us as we are. The writer Anne Lamott put it this way: “I have a relationship with a God who is so tender and so willing to keep letting me start over. I can’t blow it so badly that God doesn’t still love me—and I can also feel in me the stirrings of wanting to get a little bit cleaner on the inside and a little bit quieter and a little bit less self-driven.”[1]

God's desire is that we be fruitful and effective people,

            not weighed down by our sufferings,

                        not hampered by our failings,

                                    not paralyzed by our regrets.

"Be zealous to confirm your call," Peter writes. Show that God has called you by your faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, mutual affection, and love.

God only calls us to be who we are. By God's gift, our deepest identity is not really to be or to do anything but love. We are, each one of us, the uniquely individual bearer of God's love.

So God calls each one of us—not simply to some particular form of employment but to a way of life. This is a way of life suited to who you are, because above all, it is a call to be yourself, the unique individual created in God's image that you are.

God calls out the best in us. And that gives us some idea of what the church is about—a community of people calling out the best in each other, a community of people supporting each other to live lives of faith, virtue, knowledge, mutual affection, and love.

It is the God of passion who calls us, comes to us, that we might live fully.

And God's action in the world depends on us.

It's not just the old chestnut that we are the hands and feet of God, acting out some purpose whether we like it or not. God's purposes are fulfilled as each one of us fully lives out who we are. We are co-creators, working with God to create the good.

God needs us in order to act in the world.

It does matter. It does matter, after all, how we live in the world, how we live with one another. How we use our money matters. How we care for the earth matters.

God promises: "I will be with you." I will be with you as you live out your calling. I will be with you as you become whom you are called to be.

If that's the case,

            there is strength where we are weak,

                        there is courage where we are fearful,

                                    there is love where we would hate.

It is the God of infinite possibilities who sends us,

            sends us into a life filled with choices and chances,

                        filled with options and opportunity.

As we dialogue with this God, we will gain the wisdom of who we are and who God is.

The God who calls desires that we answer, that we in turn speak with the honesty with which we have been addressed.

The voice that calls is one voice--

these days usually speaking softly,

            inviting us to join in the conversation,

            inviting us to follow on the way that leads to life, on the way that is life.

Until we stop to listen,

            we will never become all that we are meant to be.

            We will never find what we're looking for.

            We will not be aware that the ground we stand on is holy, that the neighbor whom we see is in the image of the one who calls us.

When we listen, we will gain knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of God. We will gain the wisdom that comes from knowing ourselves in conversation with our creator who calls.

"Be zealous to confirm your call."

A., my charge to you as you confirm your call is this: stay with us. We need your exuberance, your searching faith, your new ways of speaking of God, your new ways of speaking to God. Share with us the many gifts that you have. Help us to see what it means to be young in these days—speak to us about the struggles and the joy.

And my charge to the rest of this congregation is this: stay with A.—and I. and all of our young people. Talk with them. Get to know them. Learn from them and share yourselves with them. They need the wisdom of age in the difficult times of youth.

Pentecost gives us a picture of the church that is intergenerational: the young will see visions, the old shall dream dreams. The visions and dreams shared with each other will make us able to enter the future.

We celebrate today. We give thanks to God that A. has joined us on the journey into God’s unfolding future as together we walk in the ways of Jesus Christ made known and to be made known to us.

[1] Anne Lamott, Christian Century, July 28-August 4, 1999, pg. 744.