The Holy and the Common

Biblical Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 25:10, Acts 20:32

The day is Pentecost, which for us is also confirmation day. So the message today has three movements. The first is a mediation on what Pentecost means for us with the focus on the distinction between the Holy and the Common. The second and third movements are a pastoral final blessing to the confirmands in the form of a meditation on their assigned confirmation verses.

I’m sorry about the recording quality. I think my microphone cut out somewhere after the readings. The microphone that was capturing the sounds was the altar mic. I’ve tried to compensate. It is not terrible, but this is why I also post the draft.

Out of the Heart…

Biblical Text: Pentecost – John 7:37-39, Confirmation Verses: Ephesians 3:17-19 and Job 28:28

I love the conjunction of Pentecost with Confirmation Day. I just think so many things converge theologically and it gives you a real live image to point at in the public confession of faith. It is also just one of my favorite days to preach. We are not a large church, so I don’t have massive confirmation classes. And that allows me to craft something for each confirmand. It is something out of my heart. And that phrase in a couple of different ways is the theme of this address – “out of the heart”, what comes out of your heart?

Confirmation Covenant

The church calendar day is Pentecost. In our congregation that is also the day we do confirmation. I think this sermon explains the deep connection these things should have rather well. It also serves as my poor gift for those that have suffered under my tutelage in the faith the last couple of years.

A long time ago Israel received the Law on this day. Still a long time ago the Spirit was poured out on this day. And Pentecost stands on the calendar as exactly what those confirmands stood for today – a chance to renew the covenant of law and spirit that has been given to us.

What does this mean?

Full Text

Having lived in Missouri for a while I can say I was a “show me” state resident. We have that vague “show me” attitude about a lot of things. We naively think that if I see it or experience it I know what it means…I’ve got a fact. But that really is not the case. Two people can sit through the same thing and come away with completely different impressions or interpretations of the event. If my wife and I go to the latest Katherine Heigl film – my wife will probably come out thinking that was sweet. I will probably come out thinking, “wow, I didn’t slash my wrists, it was touch and go there during that one scene”. The opposite could be said of the just passed game 6 of the NBA finals. “Wow, Dallas just beat King James without Dirk playing well. That was a great game.” vs. “I’m going to bed.”

We confirmed four this weekend. They confirmed their baptism through a public confession of the faith. They also received their first Lord’s Supper. What does this mean? My parents want to see this and I’ll get some good brownie points…or…God has acted on me and in me through his Word. From a pastoral point of view – that is the maddening nature of the gospel. It is thrown to the wind like the seeds. Some of it takes root. Other seeds quickly die. And there is little that a pastor can do. You teach, you encourage, you proclaim, you point to the cross, and you pray. But each individual has to answer what does this mean for themselves.

Where have all the good men gone…

If you are of the ’80s generation you have that song in your head, just go ahead and admit it. Now why I used it: this short piece by Heather Wilson who sits on the Rhodes Scholar committee (i.e. selecting them) and has been a US representative. Read Here.

Money quote…

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why.

Unlike many graduate fellowships, the Rhodes seeks leaders who will “fight the world’s fight.” They must be more than mere bookworms. We are looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership. The undergraduate education they are receiving seems less and less suited to that purpose.

Not that she would listen to me, after all I’m just a humble parish pastor, but I can tell you exactly why she doesn’t get the kids she’s thinks she’s longing for (all the good men…). Our education system is not designed to uncover truth except in the narrowest possible way. It doesn’t even aim at truth, and good portions don’t believe in that word. Absent of truth, the only thing to be passionate about is consumption and power.

The students that succeed wildly in our system are those that learn early that the actual questions don’t matter, just that you are on the right side of whatever the question is for the immediate context. And those students get very good at giving the right contextual answers, posing an ironic stance outside of the classroom (again the right context), and never earning either. Reading widely, wondering and having passion are all signals that you don’t actually get it. They are the very activities that our education and merit system weeds out. The student who stumbles, shows some real passion for the wrong side because she read Plato’s cave and saw a flicker of a shadow of reality gets the A minus. The A minus takes her out of the running for valedictorian, etc, etc, etc.

To find the student she is describing the Rhodes would have to change their sort and put their prestige at risk as the Rhodes would look different that everybody else. To find your life, you must lose it.

Just a personal reflection. The confirmation class knows that I have “answers” to the questions I ask. My goal is actually less to get them to that answer then to get them thinking. If I get them thinking they may never be Rhodes Scholars, but they might be those good men and women. But these 6-8th graders have already fully learned the lesson of right answers in the right context; they are just a little more flip in my class because I can’t grade them. One student in particular has taken to “locking in” his answers. Trying to break that ‘learning is a game’ cynical reaction is necessary.

Teaching Virtue

Confirmation instruction will be starting up again. This year is the church doctrine year, and while the doctrine is not all ethics, church doctrine helps us answer the question of how should we live and thrive? This essay is from a Sociology Prof teaching an introductory course that focuses on many of the same questions. These lines caught my eye…

The danger in instrumentalizing virtue is that the young will come to discard a particular virtue if they decide it no longer helps them to reach a desired goal. But behaving virtuously requires both right belief and right practice. Focusing on practice has two big benefits: It’s the language that young adults understand, and it’s a tried-and-true way to accomplish personal change.

As a general rule, American men and women now in their 20s aren’t known for their warm embrace of authority. For a generation that grew up on the Internet, a bureaucratic, top-down method of instruction is a non-starter. Today’s young adults live in a networked society, in which learning is collaborative and personal experience is central. The old-fashioned way to “teach virtue” may have been through church and other institutions of cultural authority, but my students aren’t interested in the bully pulpit…

Living a virtuous life doesn’t mean being boring or preachy. It’s about approaching the rules that we learned as children with a more mature understanding and reapplying them to our adult lives.

Right belief and right practice. Reapplying the rules to our adult lives. The best education creates a space to think about how we live and move and have our being. Confirmands are not adults, but they aren’t elementary kids either. My 4 year old (David), he doesn’t listen all that well, but he gets a lot of law anyway. We direct the 4 year old even over his complaints. Anna, the 7 year old, is getting less direct instruction and more coaching (what do you think, have you seen anything like this before, go try, how did that work). The confirmands (11-14 years olds) get a little more freedom. They also start to bear the responsibility of decisions. The questions get more complex as we get older. We lose our coaches. We have to learn to train ourselves. We all run our own race of faith. Paul, the great apostle of grace alone, instructs everyone to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Finding our way as a church to be a place that teaches the faith includes being that safe space to learn together right practice. Creating that space is a personal goal of mine this year.