On Sunday, November 17, the six youth who have completed our year-long confirmation program preached at our 10am worship service.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
When I was told that I was going to have to give a mini sermon on a reading, I knew immediately which one I wanted to do. Years ago, my mom was asked to pick her favorite Bible passage at a church meeting and she asked me later what my answer to that question would have been. Without a second thought, I responded the one with the bread and the lots of people. My mother was surprised that I would pick that story as it wasn’t one of the ones in the shiny gold boxes that I learned about every week in Sunday school, but I had my reasons. You see at the time, I was probably eight or nine, I was reading Harry Potter and one of the principles of magic according to this series was that you cannot conjure food out of thin air. So in my mind the connection was clear, Jesus must have been the most powerful wizard ever.
As I got older I always came back to this story when considering my belief in the Bible. As I began to learn about the world through a scientific lens such as evolution, I tried to figure out how food could have been replicated scientifically. It can’t. Later from a historical standpoint I tried to understand how the story might have been possible or lost in the history of that time. Finally as I entered more advanced English classes I began reluctantly to look at how this story might be a metaphor for what Jesus does for us. I’m not going to explain that metaphor to you, as this story has never really been about the meaning for me, it has always been about blind faith.
When I began conformation I assumed that someone was finally going to let me in on the adult secret of how much of the Bible is true. When I was little I believed that everything happened exactly the way it was written, and it was only recently when someone I trust very much told me there is no way the world was created in seven days that I began to realize that this might not be the case. I began to struggle with how much to believe in what I knew of religion, if Jesus can’t make bread out of thin air how does he possibly accomplish the seemingly impossible task of caring for everyone in the world? How much can I believe in God’s grace and power if the miracles I read about aren’t true? Well ten months done of conformation classes and I must report that I still don’t know.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the conformation classes failed me in any way, no its that they showed me that there isn’t an answer to my question. No one can tell me exactly how much to believe in because nobody actually knows themselves. At first I struggled with this answer. I tried to go back to what I could concretely believe in and work from there, but I kept running into contradictions and road blocks. I believe in my science teacher who taught me about evolution. I believe in my friends, who believe in polytheistic religions or in no religions at all. Even one of the people in my life who I believe in the most doesn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God. How can I believe in God when so many people I believe in don’t?
Furthermore I believe in a God who is good, kind, and forgiving. But I’m living in a world where there is hatred, fear, violence, and climate change. Those two things just don’t add up. How can I believe when the facts that I can see and feel seem to contradict my beliefs?
At this point you are all probably wondering why I am up here giving a sermon about how difficult it is to believe in God because that is not something we generally talk about in church. I did this because I think that this is what becoming an “adult” member of the church really means, that it is okay to not always be sure of your relationship to God. Through questioning myself I have found the one thing that I am sure about, I do believe in God and that he is watching over me. From now on, it is up to me as an adult member of the church to explore what that means to me, how I understand the Bible and its teachings, and what my relationship with my religion is going to be.
So yes, I still do believe that Jesus really fed the five thousand with only five loaves of bread and two fish, and I honestly not quite sold on the whole evolution thing yet. I am excited to continue to explore what I believe in and my relationship with God as that shapes not only who I am as a member of the church but also who I am as a person. So I challenge you all to think about what you believe in and why, because sometimes looking at your doubts can help you to understand your strongest beliefs.
Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, ‘Come!’ And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword.
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!’
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, ‘Come!’ I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’ They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow-servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’
Hello! I’m pretty sure most of you already know me, but if not, my name is Alice. I figured I could start this by explaining why I chose this piece. Father Adam, Gray, and Mrs. Hickey told us last year to choose a passage that means the most to us to write about. I, personally, chose my piece since it could relate to my favorite TB show. I know this probably wasn’t the ideal reason for choosing a piece, but I believe that if I could relate the passage to something I enjoy in my free time, it would make this much easier.
So. The passage. This passage talks about the Lamb setting four horsemen of the apocalypse on the world. The first horseman in this passage has been believed to represent either Conquest or Pestilence. The white horse symbolizes Christ coming back. The second horseman represents War. The red horse represents the blood that will be spilled while war makes his way through the world. The third horseman represents Famine. Famine’s black horse symbolizes the death of the plants and animals throughout the earth. The fourth and final horseman is Death. Death came after all of his brothers to collect the outcome of the work his brothers will do.
The last of the passage talks about the people of earth worrying about where they are going to end up. When the fifth seal is opened, the people who have been killed in God’s name ask to be avenged and to move on. These people are accepted by God and told to rest a bit longer. When the sixth seal is opened, all of God’s creations turn to horrors. The people who try to find a place to hide are the people of this world who feel guilty. These are the people who are well aware of all the sadness and misfortune of others, but don’t do their best to try and stop what is happening. Since they didn’t do all they could, they are scared they will be punished. Now that the four plagues that haunted those who needed help are thrust upon those who didn’t help. People run in fear and terror instead of facing their punishment.
So, my lesson is, which will you be? The people who run in fear and terror, afraid of facing the punishment? Or the people who help, and stand up for what you believe in, and help preach God’s word?
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
As we can see, Jesus is obviously frustrated at the people of the people who had received his miracles and still did not truly commit themselves to the Lord. He puts forward the people who have received his gifts of peace and forgiveness, and also given him something in return. Their repentance, and loyalty to the Lord our father. He promises safety in his forgiveness to the people who choose to follow him.
So why was Jesus denouncing the people now? Because they would not repent. He had not been doing the miracles to meet their physical needs alone. He had not been teaching them about the kingdom to gain political support. He had been ministering among them to bring them to salvation, and that began with their repentance. People like the idea of religion if it gives them what they want, or if it makes them feel comfortable in their lives. But, when it calls for personal sacrifice, people will hesitate to jump into a situation. The human race is quick to analyze, to judge and to question authority. We will always contrast the dark side of the situation heavily if we are unsure of whether to go through with it or not. People in their wisdom cannot find God; it must come by revelation. And people cannot please God without faith.
So it was the Father’s good pleasure to reveal the Son to those who would be willing to receive Him. And what is it that Christ reveals about the Father? Among many things is the central idea of the grace and love of God that provides redemption through the Son. Without the renewal of mind and spirit through redemption people cannot know God, not in the way that brings eternal life. When Jesus instructs the people to “Take my yolk, for my burden is light” he promises them soulful rest in the name of the father.
For the father speaks for the son, and the son does such for the father.
Have you ever been so passionate about something or someone that you would follow along, no matter what it cost you? This is what Jesus was asking the people of these cities to do. To put their full trust on him, knowing that the grace of god would see their repentance and let their spirits flow with heavenly grace. It is hard to trust something that much, but once you do, put everything you have into that one thing, that bond is not easily shattered.
And that is how we should follow the values of forgiveness and peace that Jesus strove to spread in his brief flicker on this earth, and we should see that he was trying to touch us all in a way to see light in others and the things around us. To have compassion and trust in others, and you will be rewarded with that same amount of passion and trust. And to have trust in God, and his son Jesus Christ, and we will be greeted by the company of heaven with open arms.
Thanks be to God.
But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
As I was selecting my Bible passage with help from my mentor, Ann, I thought of a few things that are important to me. For example, family, friends, respect, loyalty, and love. When I went to pick a passage that represented a few important things, I thought back to a confirmation class a few months ago and this clas was made to teach us how to navigate through the Bible. So, an activity that we did was we reached into a bucket and randomly selected a piece of paper which would soon tell us which book we had to find and learn about. So when I chose my piece of paper, I really lucked out because I got one of the shortest books in the Bible, Ruth. But as I have come to learn, it is a book with an amazing message of loyalty, family, and respect. Even though the point of the activity was to find the book and not look too much into it, I intently fell in love with the whole message of the text.
When Naomi does not have any sons to give Ruth and Orpha anymore, she feels like she is a burden to them. She does not want them to take their life and wait for something that she can’t give them.
As Ruth stated, “for where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge, your people should be my people, and your God my God, where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”
Ruth’s response expressed love with no strings attached. It is the expression of deep love for another person, the commitment to be loyal and steadfast until death. Ruth loves Naomi not for what she can gain from her.
Sometimes people don’t realized that they chose the people they want to surround themselves with based on the amount of money they have or what they can get from them. But this is not a reflection of the true value of loyalty and love. But as Ruth was pointing out we don’t need to stay with the people that can give us gifts. She stayed with Naomi because she loved her. Not because of the things she could give her.
Ruth stayed with her when times were good and bad because she was not there because of the gifts she could receive. She was there because she loved her.
To break this down to my life in terms of friendship, I can relate to Ruth’s words. I have a friend who I have known since 4th grade. She is kind, loving, generous, and a good friend. When we were toward the end of 8th grade, she was diagnosed with a chronic illness and when she has a setback she is very sick. When my friend was healthy, there was always something to do, lots of activity and fun. Now there are times when she has very little energy to do anything. No rides in her fancy car, special places to go, or things to do. But it doesn’t matter as our friendship means more to me than that.
I think that the message of the story is to know that what really matters is not what we bought but what we built. Although Naomi had nothing more to give it did not matter to Ruth because they had a strong foundation of friendship and love built. Meaning that you don’t need to give people things in order to build a friendship and that people love you for you and not what material things that you have.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
This past year in confirmation has been a transformative one for me in school, church, and all around. The biggest thing I concluded was that for me to succeed, I need to do what makes me happy. This program got me thinking about that when we talked about how it was our choice and only our choice whether to get confirmed or not. After I started to really think about what I was doing to make myself happy, I realized that many of the things I did in my life were because others wanted me to. It took me weeks to come up with things that I wanted to do, and weeks more to act on it, but once I started to change things like the classes I was taking and programs I was a part of, I discovered that I was more pleased with everything I did. Now, I look back and am curious as to why I didn’t change things sooner. One of the biggest reasons I’ve come up with is that we’re all taught to be happy. Instead of changing your life to make yourself happy, you might change your definition of happiness or tell yourself “it’ll get better eventually” or “I just have to wait and good things will come”, but I found this usually doesn’t happen. Perhaps the biggest excuse I used to convince myself I couldn’t change what I was doing with myself was “I don’t have the time”. If I could go back in time to the moments I said that to myself as an excuse for not being happy, I’d probably slap my past self in the face.