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Sermon Archives

Statements of Faith

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, Jun 09

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is* useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

In case you haven’t guessed it already, today we are celebrating the teaching ministry of First Church. Our scripture from Paul reminds us that such education and formation has been part of the church since the 1st century and indeed was part of centuries of Jewish teaching and learning that came before. “Continue in what you have learned, and remember from whom you learned it, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” Today, this language of learning takes a particular focus not only in our celebration of our church school classes but in the culmination of our year long confirmation program. Over the last year, 8 of our young men and women have been meeting roughly every other week with Julie and Sarah and the occasional guest teacher to wrestle with and ask questions about and learn about our faith tradition. And just last week, the students shared their final assignments, a written statement of faith. It was an incredible privilege to join them for that class and to listen in on how they articulated their ideas. I can think of no better way of illustrating Paul’s exhortation about learning and proficiency than by sharing with you excerpts of their statements, with their permission. Given various degrees of shyness in the class, we decided not to attach names.

So we asked them about God, Who is God for them? In their words…

God is the creator of life, is the source of life. God is “the invisible healer, and provider in this world. God is a metaphysical presence throughout the world, a hope and an idea. God is the flowers in the park that we see when we are biking to Harvard Sq, the sun shining overhead, keeping us warm and the birds flying out of their baths in the puddle when I bike by. God is near us, and with us, whether we know it or not. I see God as present with me throughout my everyday life. I believe God is always there for us, to help us find the path of life that suits us best. God comforts us through tough times, gives us hope and blesses us with many gifts.” Remember this is just a sampling!
We asked them about Jesus…

“Jesus is God who became human, to teach people about God’s nature. Jesus healed, he helped and he forgave, just like God would. Jesus lived with us, ate with us, walked with us and washed with us while he was here. He was able to break the rules and get punished if it meant helping others. As the story goes, as I’m reminded of each Easter, that after he had been crucified, Jesus came back to us and then ascended to Heaven. However, although it differs from the traditional story, I believe there was a part of him that missed the express train to heaven, part of him that he gave to us, all of us. This part is with us now, as it always has been, loving us like God does. The fact that Jesus was killed and came back to life in three days amazes me and I do believe it is real.”

We asked them about the Holy Spirit.

“I think the Holy Spirit is burrowed in every human being …and ‘causes the sense of love and care’ humans have for each other. The Holy Spirit is in everyone’s heart, and nobody qualifies as a bad person because I believe everyone starts out with a good heart, whether a person does a bad thing or not.”

They spoke eloquently about forgiveness, and grace, about death and eternal life, about peace and justice. And we asked them to be honest about their questions and doubts:

“To me right now, the idea of death is confusing and filled with questions. I think it always will be, because my questions cannot be answered by anyone on earth . In a way I kind of like it, though, there needs to be some questions and uncertainties in the world.” Can he get an Amen? AMEN!
Another said honestly, “The fact that we cannot actually hear or see God or Jesus makes me sometimes wonder what is real and not real. I do believe though, and sometimes life can be rough when loved are hurt. Or even when bad situations happen to ourselves. And I feel that we can communicate with God in our own ways through things that happen in our lives. ….”

We asked them about other faiths: Many spoke about Christianity as one path among several.

One of our students named firmly “I am Congregationalist Christian, however, I respect all religions and therefore would call myself a pluralist.” Another who two years ago attended a summer camp for Christians, Jews and Muslims learned that our different faiths “have some same goals and some different goals, and they all have different histories and beliefs on how to achieve those goals. She said “This is much like a mountain range. The mountains are the different religions and all religions have different paths to get to the tops of the mountains in the range. We can see each other from the tops. We can see the similarities and differences.” Can she get an Amen? Amen! How many of us have heard the trope that all religions lead to the same mountaintop! Don’t you love this nuanced take – a mountain range of religious expression? Beautiful!

We asked them about the church. They said:

“The church is a place where there is peace and no judging of other people.”
Another: “I think it is great to have weekly services that everyone can either just listen, think, and relax or strongly participate in a service. The church stands for a community, freedom and happiness.”
And another: “I believe that a church I can call my home church must share a few basic beliefs with me. For example, the church must be open to all people, any people, regardless of skin color, nationality, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, gender or sexual orientation. I do not believe the church should have the power to tell you who you can love and who you cannot.”
Many spoke personally about their pride in this community: “In our congregation, the community is open… its one of the things I admire most about church. That no matter who you you are….you will be accepted. I was baptized in this church, and I’ve been attending close to every week, probably slightly less ever since I was baptized. I’ve met friends in my church, and I’ve introduced friends to my church. I love the sense of welcome that our congregation gives off. I think it’s a beautiful place, and I feel that for the time being, the First Church in Cambridge is where I belong.”

This feeling of welcome and belonging was echoed throughout the statements. And one final sampling from a poem that a student wrote as part of his statement. I’ll ask him to share the full version on our website, but check out this excerpt:
“I love the church I’ve known,
Where I’ve lived, learned and grown
Am I ready to keep moving on?
I still can’t tell right from wrong.

Now, let me introduce you to a regular Sunday morning of mine,
I wake up, do something, then eat breakfast. After that I whine, and whine, and whine
About going to church, And afterwards, I never once regret
That I was forced to . And just like that, history repeats itself.

Except that every time,
I feel a wonderful experience
From things said by strangers,
Or people I already know.

Church is like a sanctuary And then, after all, it is not.
Because it pops the bubble that encases me.
That encases everybody
And some of us can clearly see,
The troubles that surround us.
especially those far away,
That live in worse off countries today.

I am ready to move on,
Since I have to grow up,
And this is a step,
Towards my days ahead.”

Thanks to be God, all of these students are feeling called, prompted and indeed ready to move on, and to take this next step on their journeys of faith.
Confirmation Sunday
Texts: 2 Timothy 3:14-17

In a few moments, you will be asked “What is your will?” with regards to these confirmands. The answer, should you choose to recite it, is “By God’s grace, they are worthy! Let them be confirmed!” This traditional language of worthiness may seem a little stiff for our purposes, especially when God already knows they are worthy in every way! But I believe the question before us is very much related to and rooted in Paul’s sense of proficiency. Do we believe they are ready, they are equipped, that they have learned how to engage the lasting and living questions and commitments of our faith tradition with sufficient spiritual and religious proficiency, literacy, maturity and fluency? These questions may well lead us to wonder about about our own faith lives and journeys, and if so, more power to them! But for today, the question before you and and the questions before them are ultimately about an affirmation of who we have been, who we are and who we can be together in this community of faith. The ritual of the laying on hands that we are about to participate in literally connects us “in an unbroken line” with generations that go back to the days of Jesus first disciples, and gives new meaning to our common expression handing down of our spiritual and religious heritage as Christ’s followers. It does not mean we have all the answers, far from it, but it is a commitment to share in the ongoing work of faith and formation, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

I’d now like to the confirmation class of 2013 to please join me on the chancel steps, and to make a public affirmation of faith and commitment, names and all.

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