Pastor Steve Molin
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
I hope you can appreciate the dilemma I am in today. It’s Confirmation Day today, and I used to write two sermons on confirmation day; one for the early service, and another for the late service. Then someone asked me after the first service why they couldn’t hear what I wanted to say to the confirmands. So I did that the next year; preached the same sermon, and then somebody came up and said, “Why did you preach to us like we’re the confirmation class?”
Whatever, here goes…One size fits all today.
Confirmands, parents, Godparents, grandparents, friends in Christ; grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make: I am a baby-boomer and I am proud of it! For those too young to know what that means, I am part of that generation of Americans who were born between 1946 and 1964 that caused such grief for a whole generation of parents, politicians, principals, pastors and employers. We were the largest generation ever to come along in the history of this country, and so new schools had to be built to accommodate all of us, and Sunday School classrooms were added when we came to church, and more highways were constructed when we began driving, and more dormitories were necessary when we went to college, and the nation needed more jobs when we grew up. Someone described our generation as being like the snake who ate a rat that became a giant bulge as it moved through that snake’s body.
Well, confirmation class of 2012; you are the rat at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church! With 45 students, you are the largest class in the 154 year history of this church – largest by a long shot. We have built more Sunday School classrooms because of you, found more confirmation small group leaders because you, and bought more white confirmation gowns because you. You dirty rats! All you have done is cost us money!
I know I sound like one of your parents as I say that, because you’ve heard it all your life, right? You’ve heard: Because of you, we had to add a bathroom! Because of you, we’ve needed to buy a third car. Because of you, we can’t retire until we’re 112 years old. But because of you, our lives have been filled with joy, and blessing, and car pools, and dance recitals, and gymnastic meets, and concerts, and ballgames, and laughter, and love. All because of you. Thank you for being you, and all the challenges and all of the wonderful craziness you have brought to our lives. I hope your parents have told you that, because it is all most certainly true.
But let me also tell you some things your parents have never told you. They have never said, for example, “If you want to be a success in this life, sell everything you own…your computer, your hockey skates, your cell phone, your trumpet, your bike and your skinny jeans…sell it all, or give it away.” Have your parents ever said that to you? No, I didn’t think so.
They probably also never said that if you become rich someday, it will be harder for you to get into heaven because your stuff will become so important to you it may cause you to worship your stuff more than you worship God.
And finally, the thing I know you’ve never heard your parents say is this: “You don’t have to do anything to earn the most important things in this life. They will all come to you as a gift, so relax.” You would never hear your parents say those things because they know that from this point on in your life, earning an income, and collecting stuff, and working hard, and accumulating wealth is what Americans are expected to do. There’s even a name for it; “The American Dream.” It includes a big house, two cars, 1.9 children, a vacation home, and big bucks in the bank. That’s what life is all about! And this is not new; it’s always been this way.
A young man walked up to Jesus one day and said, “Master, tell me what I have to do to get into heaven.” The response from Jesus was straightforward. Jesus said, “You know the Ten Commandments; Don’t steal, don’t kill, honor your parents, be faithful to your spouse. If you do this, you’ll be fine.”
But the man persisted, “I’ve done all those things all my life; what else?” And the bible says that Jesus looked at the man in love and said, “Okay, sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and then come follow me.” And the man looked down and walked away very sad, because he was very rich. This was the quarterback of the football team. This was the student with straight “A’s.” He was the kid who had everything: sweet car, wealthy parents, a big house, and a college scholarship; he had it all. But something was missing; what else must he have, what else did he need. Something was driving the question for this man: What must he do to get into heaven? You see, the man was proud of what he had done in his life, and earning his place in heaven was simply one more accomplishment. Jesus essentially said, “Just believe in God.” But still the man wanted to do more, and more, and more. So finally, Jesus accommodates him. “If you want to go to heaven, give yourself to me, and then heaven is a gift. But if you want to earn your way to heaven, then here’s what you must do: Give your stuff away; all of it; every bit of it. Give it away and then come follow me.” And the guy couldn’t do it because he was very rich.
Confirmands, you are growing up in a difficult time. This world is cruel, and competitive, and selfish, and dog-eat-dog. But you already knew that. The world sets the standard for success: You’ve got to be beautiful, and smart, and athletic, and witty, and wealthy, and earn lots of academic degrees, and then the world will call you successful. And yet, when you achieve all of that success, you may wake up one day and discover that you’re still not happy with your life. Many people have. You may wonder what God would have you do. “God, what else do I need to do find meaning? What do I have to do to gain the Kingdom? Are there some more rules to follow, some hoops to jump through, maybe some fee I could pay in order to get into heaven?” And Jesus will say to you what he said to that rich young man in the bible: “Believe in me.” Believe in me. That’s it? That’s all there is? What about all my stuff? And Jesus will say, “I don’t care about your stuff, just so you worship me; just so you love me more than you love your stuff.”
When my daughter graduated from college, I was asked to say the invocation at the beginning of the ceremony, and the benediction at the end. I was seated on the stage next to the speaker for the day, a man named Millard Fuller. When he stood up to speak, he just told these graduates his life’s story, and this is what he said:
“When I was 30 years old, I was already a millionaire. By the time I was 33, I was vice-president of a large U.S. corporation, and making boatloads of money. But I wasn’t happy. I traveled all the time, my marriage was falling apart, I hardly recognized my kids, and I was miserable. Then my wife and I found a bible verse that changed our lives. ‘If anyone wants to be my disciple, let them sell everything they own, give the money to the poor, and follow me.’ So we did that. We moved to Americus Georgia and started a little non-profit organization called Habitat for Humanity.”
The jaws dropped on the faces of those graduates. He had what they wanted, and he gave it all away to gain something greater.
Look; I don’t know if you’re going to have to give away your prized possessions in order to find meaning in life. But what I can tell you is that the most valuable things in my life are things I couldn’t buy, don’t deserve, and wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve got a family that loves me, and so do you. I have friends that respect me, and so do you. A purpose in life that gives me a reason to get up in the morning; so do you. And I have a God who died so that I might have a place in heaven forever. And so do you. So do you.
You’re not dirty rats. You are not dirty rats! You are the precious daughters and sons of a God who loves you very much. And today you say, “Yes” to his invitation to follow him. I think it’s the best decision you’ll ever make. And here’s the promise: Your journey will be blest! A thousand times, your journey will be blest. Thanks be to God. Amen.
©2012 Steven Molin