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April 24: Claiming Easter Faith for Yourself

Updated: May 4, 2022

Acts 5:27-32

John 20:19-31

One of the great things about Haymarket Church is that we are a church – we are a community – that includes folks from a variety of different religious backgrounds. We are a United Methodist Church – part of the global religious tradition called Methodism – but, fewer than half of the people in our church have any experience with the United Methodist Church before they come to us – and even among those folks, many of you didn't grow up Methodists – you found your way to this version of church called Methodist later in life. We've got folks who prior to being at Haymarket Church were Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, nondenominational – and that's just the tip of the iceberg, I am leaving a bunch of groups out – and we've also got folks for whom this is their first real experience of church, who don't have much of a history doing this church thing before you found your way to Haymarket Church. And, can I say, first of all, that's awesome. I love that about this church. As we like to say, Jesus is the center of our church, and as long as we are all moving towards Jesus, it doesn't matter where we are coming from – some of us may start off more familiar with this Jesus stuff and this church stuff, some of us may find it all much more confusing and foreign to us, you may be coming from way off in that direction and I might be coming from the other direction – but, as long as we are moving towards Jesus, it doesn't matter where we start, we can do this thing called church together.

And, the other thing that's worth saying, is that that's kinda what it means to be a Methodist church. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, envisioned Methodism as a "middle way" – as a religious movement that was passionate about God – that helped people fall deeply in love with Jesus and live lives of faith put into action – and that embraced the "wide middle" of Christian tradition. Basically, Methodists say "do you love Jesus? Do you want to put that love into action in your life and in the world around you? Great. Let's do that together, and we can figure out the details as we go."

There's obviously more to it than that – we embrace essential Christian teachings and we strongly emphasize God's grace – the free gift of love and acceptance that God gives us before we even realize it and whether or not we have done anything to deserve it – so, there are things Methodists care about, for sure, but my point is that who we are here at Haymarket Church is consistent with the Methodist movement at its best – we love God, we love people, and we want to help more people fall in love with God and to put our own love for God into action by serving people. That's who we are.

But, anyway, back to my original point – we at Haymarket Church come from a variety of religious backgrounds, the way we do church here at Haymarket Church is new to lots of us. And that means that sometimes folks ask questions about some of the things we do, some of the patterns and practices of our faith community. And one of the questions I get asked a lot –by folks who are new to our church but also sometimes by people who have been around for a while – one of the questions I'm often asked is: what is confirmation, and why do we do it?

Confirmation. A thing that we are currently doing with a group of our teenagers. What is it? Well, the simple answer is that it's a time when young people – in our church we open it up to students in 7th grade and higher – it's a time when young people dive deeply into the faith and then make faith commitments for themselves. It's a tradition that's common among Christian groups who baptize infants. So, for example, my children were each baptized when they were less than a year old. And, at their baptism, Kim and I, as their parents, made certain promises – certain vows – we professed faith in Jesus Christ, and we committed to resisting evil and putting our faith into action and following Jesus – and we promised to raise our children in the faith. And, our church made similar promises, to help raise our children. It was a different church – I was a pastor in Annandale at the time – but that church made a promise on behalf of the whole church, on behalf of all Christians everywhere, that they – that you – would be part of my children's lives and welcome them into the community of faith.

Anyway, those are promises that Kim and I made on behalf of our children. And, it's important to note, baptism is something God does – when we baptize someone, God is claiming that person, and welcoming that person into this community called church. When my kids were baptized, they became members of the church, they became part of this new family that God is creating, they became my brothers in Christ, my siblings in a new family, one in which water – the water of baptism – is thicker than blood.

Anyway, baptism is something God does – which is why we Methodists baptize children. But, even though baptism is primarily about what God does for us, it also includes human commitments – it includes us promising to respond to God's love for us, to respond to being welcomed into God's family, by living God's way, by making this thing called faith, this community called church, a priority in our lives. And, that's where confirmation comes in. Because, my kids didn't actually have any say in those promises that were made when they were baptized – and, so, when young people are old enough, we invite them to spend some time learning the faith, diving deep into what Christians believe – and, then, they have a chance to make those faith commitments – the ones I made for my kids when they were baptized – we give them a chance to say "Yes, I want to follow Jesus" for themselves. We spend months diving deep into Christian faith, teaching kids the essentials of who we are and what we believe as Christians, so they can confirm, reaffirm, commit to all of it for themselves. It's also an opportunity for kids who weren't baptized when they were little – for whatever reason, and those reasons are OK, because we all come from different places and faith traditions and are figuring this out together – it's an opportunity for those young people to make those commitments and be baptized. Most years, we have a mix of kids who were baptized when they were little and who have never been baptized at all going through confirmation together, and they all learn the same stuff and make the same commitments when Confirmation Sunday rolls around.

To put it differently, Confirmation is a chance to claim faith for yourself – it's a chance to say "I don't just commit to this because someone else made me do it, but I commit to this myself."

So, from now through Confirmation Sunday – which will be the first weekend in June – from now through then, our sermon series is going to be titled "Confirmation for Everyone." Our goal during this series is to help y'all – help the whole church – learn what our Confirmation students are learning, to get the same opportunity to think about the essentials of Christian faith and recommit yourself to following Jesus. We want you to get a sense of some of those Christian essentials, to cover those things that we want our young people to know when they make the commitment to follow Jesus. We want you to get a chance to explore your faith and claim your faith for yourself, kinda like what our confirmation students are doing.

And, for today, here's what I want you to hear: Christian faith begins with the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the center of the story that we Christians tell, it is the event that changes everything, that makes this thing called church possible. Confirmation – diving deep into our faith, claiming faith for ourselves – is a journey that invites us to have faith in, to trust in, the Good News that Jesus Christ, this man who was born in poverty, who ate with outcasts and sinners, who healed the sick and preached words of hope to the poor and raised the dead – that same Jesus who was put to death by an unholy alliance of religious elites and political powerbrokers – that same Jesus Christ who was born in a barn, lived among the outcasts, and died on the cross – that same Jesus Christ is the resurrected Lord, the Lord of all creation – and, because Jesus has died and been raised from the dead, that changes everything, the whole world has been turned upside down. Christian faith is accepting that, learning to trust in that, learning to live as if that story – the story of the resurrection – Christian faith is learning to live as if that story is true.

Our Gospel story this morning is a story that's often described as "the story of doubting Thomas," but I think Thomas gets a bad rap. After all, every previous time in human history, when someone had died they stayed dead. And, on Easter, while the rest of the disciples are hiding, and Thomas is apparently out getting dinner, Jesus shows up, and everyone there realizes that he has been raised from the dead, that God is doing something new, that everything has changed. But, Thomas isn't there. And, so, when the other disciples tell Thomas that they've seen Jesus, that he is no longer dead, but that he's alive and that God is doing a new thing – well, Thomas, understandably, doesn't believe them. They have faith, but he hasn't claimed it for himself yet.

But, notice what doesn't happen. The other disciples don't kick Thomas out because of his lack of faith. They don't say "well, you don't believe, so you aren't welcome here." No, they say, "We love you Thomas, and we want you to believe. Stay with us until you figure it out." You see, that's part of what church is: church is the community that helps us believe when we can't believe on our own. Every week in Confirmation class we say the Apostles' Creed together – the Apostles Creed is about sixteen hundred years old, and its roots go back even further than that, it's a statement of the essentials of Christian faith. During this series we are going to say the Apostles Creed every Sunday in worship, as our way of learning those essentials, like our confirmation students are learning it. Anyway, one of the things I like to say when we say the Apostles' Creed is that you don't have to believe every word of it in order to say it faithfully. Because the Apostles' Creed isn't primarily something that I believe as an individual. It's something we believe together as a church. So, if, for example, this morning you don't have the spiritual strength to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that's OK – the person who is next to you saying the creed can believe that for you today, and, together, we'll figure out how to get it right.

Anyway, my point is, we believe this stuff, we live our faith, together, in community – you can't be a Christian without the support of other Christians, without a community of faith that we call church, which is why we do this thing together. And, so, Thomas, even though he doesn't believe yet, his community, the other disciples, support him and encourage him – and, then, when Jesus shows up again, now Thomas believes, now he's ready to claim the faith for himself – he sees that Jesus is risen, and he claims his own faith – he actually makes one of the strongest statements of faith in the gospels, saying that Jesus is, quote "my Lord and my God."

I would encourage each of us to let Thomas be a model for our faith – we shouldn't criticize him for doubting, instead we should celebrate him as someone who struggled with real questions, and yet stuck around, was on the lookout for Jesus – and, then, when Jesus showed up, accepted it, received it, and went all in. The invitation I offer you, over these next few weeks, is to take this opportunity to learn, or to refamiliarize yourself, with some of the essentials of Christian faith – to see your faith alongside our confirmation students, to learn and grow along with them. This sermon series is a chance to reflect on what we Christians believe, and to recommit yourself to it, to say "Yes, I commit myself to that" – it's a chance to claim Easter faith – faith in the resurrection, faith in who God is and what God is doing – it's a chance to claim that faith for yourself. It's a chance to pay attention to the God who is love and to commit to living God's way of love, to putting God's love into action, every day.

Like Thomas, each of us is invited to claim Easter faith – to claim faith in Jesus Christ, the resurrected one – each of us is invited to claim that faith for ourselves. Like Thomas, we have a community of support – we have this community called church – that is here for us on the journey, welcoming us as we figure it out and struggle and wrestle with it and find our way. Like he did to Thomas, Jesus is reaching out to us, inviting us to believe, to trust, to follow, even when it seems impossible. And, like Thomas, each of us is invited make that leap of faith, to bow down in worship and declare that Jesus is "our Lord and our God."

The Good News of Easter – the Good News that Christ is Risen and that nothing can ever be the same – that Good News changes everything. Will you dive into the deep end and, like Thomas, like our Confirmation students – will you trust in the Good News and commit your whole life to following Jesus?

Jesus loves you no matter what. Jesus welcomes you even when you don't deserve it. Jesus died and rose again even if we don't believe in it. Jesus walks the road of love and invites each of us to follow him. The question we are invited to answer is: how will we respond?

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