God travels with you. God walks beside you. God will guide you.

IMG_8324 copyPeace be With You.

Among the rituals that have been lost to the pandemic, sharing the peace would be one of those I miss the most. There is something about our practice of sharing this hope with one another on Sunday mornings, hugging or shaking hands, looking in one another’s eyes and giving and receiving a blessing. We can’t do that in the old way right now. It’s a loss to be sure.

But of course, what we are really saying to one another in that moment is this: I hope God travels with you. I hope you feel God beside you. I hope God guides you. That is the peace we are talking about: not passive and limp, but active, even ferocious. We mean that peace you feel when you have resolved to do something brave and good. The peace you feel when an argument has been settled. The peace that washes over us when we find a certainty of understanding where before we were confused. Indeed, this is the wish we have today for our young confirmands, affirming their faith.

Hailie, Mackenzie, Ashlyn, Gabriel, Saige, Emanuel, and Keziah.  We hope God travels with you. We hope you feel God beside you. We hope God guides you.

Now this is not meant to put pressure on you to achieve some perfect version of the gospel. None of the rest of us have done so. It is not meant to set us out on one direct path. God doesn’t guide us all the same. God doesn’t travel with us on the same journey. And Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a reminder of this wonderful freedom we have in our faith to be ourselves. We are reminded – there are varieties of gifts, but there is the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates them in each one of us.  Our community of faith is meant to be diverse: we are meant to share the gospel in different ways; we are designed to be individuals. We are meant to speak in the life language of our choosing.

Religion comes with a lot of dos and don’ts. For a long time in the history of the church, and even today, people can get a little obsessed about those rules – who is following them the right way, and who isn’t. This happens inside the church, and from the outside looking in. I suspect that you confirmands will one day end up in that same debate with someone telling you that religion is about being sheep – the meek and dim kind. I hope you will know what to say: that in fact, your faith is about being powerful and strong in the world. It is about having a Shepherd to turn to for good counsel and for comfort. It is about pursuing your dream and making your own choices, yet always tempered with questions that matter: how am I using my gifts to help others? How am I serving my community? How are my activities acts of justice, kindness, and mercy?

I have known most of you since you were babies. And Pastor Elina and Julie have told me about Gabe and Keziah from St. Peter’s. I know how much you love sports.  I know how supportive you are as a sister.  I know when you first took the stage to tell us the Christmas story. I know the times when some of you had lot to say at the children’s sermon. I know about your interests and your accomplishments. I know when you stood on the communion rail and your mothers got mad. I know when you served coffee to the homeless.  I know how you felt when you had a death in your family.  I know that you like to dance because it makes you feel free.  I know that you will eat just about anything. I know that you respect your elders. I know you love to play soccer even though I am faster and more agile.  I know that you’re smart and loving and kind…but not perfect.

But I do not know you the way God does. And that is the heart of our faith, what you should take from this day. Not the rules, not the roles people think you should have. The heart of your faith is your relationship with God, in knowing that you are loved for who you are, that you are trusted, that you are strong, that your voice is important.  If you remember that, even when you miss those Church Sundays, or those Zoom youth groups – you will have all you need in your faith life. Do not let anyone tell you any differently. If they do, you can always send them to talk to me.

I know the world is stressful and weird and scary right now. It is for all of us. But I also know that each of you has the ability to contribute in wonderful ways. Today, as your families do the laying on of hands, as part of your confirmation, feel that warmth on your head, and hear the prayer that is said for you. That is an earthly version of the warm, gentle love of God. That is God’s peace.

So, this is your faith duty now. Make the most of your gifts. Embrace what makes you unique. Be kind and forgiving to yourself when you mess up. And be the same with everyone around you.

Here’s the funny thing about sharing peace; it is really our way of reminding one another of God’s blessing. Because God already has that handled. God made that promise to you when you were a baby. God makes that promise to you again today, and every day of your life.

Every time you share the peace – every time you need that voice of peace – I hope you hear that translation. Hailie, Mackenzie, Ashlyn, Gabriel, Saige, Emanuel, and Keziah.  God travels with you. God walks beside you. God will guide you.

Congratulations on your confirmation. Amen

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