Passing On The Flame
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"Passing On The Flame"
Garfield gets up one morning and still half asleep, looks in the mirror. Seeing his face he says, "Boy, do I need a shave." Then you hear the electric razor buzzing and Garfield's frantic thought, "Wait a minute!"
In the final scene, John has this startled look on his face as he sees Garfield with the fur shaved off the bottom half of his face. And with a very perturbed look on HIS face, Garfield says, "I forgot I was a cat, okay?" (1)
Just like Garfield, sometimes we forget who we are. Sometimes we forget that there are other people in our lives and in the world. Our memories malfunction and sometimes we forget how much we need God.
CBS television commentator, Charles Kauralt observes, "There are three kinds of memories--good, bad and convenient."
The Psalmist reminds us that God has a good memory. "God is steadfast and faithful;" "God fulfils God's purpose for us" and "God's love endures forever."
I. NOT OUR OWN:
I hope that today is one of those good memories, that like God, endures forever in the hearts and minds of the young people who have just professed their faith in Christ and joined the Church. But I also hope that it is a memorable day for all of us. Because today we are asking God to empower us and these young people to live the faith we have all proclaimed.
A couple of years ago, Jay Sellers, the Conference Counsel on Youth Ministries President told a story about a crow flying along who saw a turtle sitting on top of a fence post. Curious, the crow flew down and asked the turtle, "How did you get there?" And the turtle said, "Well, obviously not by myself."
Our youth didn't get to this point in their faith development by themselves, either. Parents, grandparents, friends, Bible School and Sunday School teachers and members of the Church have influenced their lives and most especially their faith, to help lead them to this moment in their lives. And all of that guidance came through God. God has walked with each of these young people, helping, guiding, shaping their lives and their decisions. And all of this has lead to today's decision.
Every time an infant, child or adult is baptized, every time someone joins the Church, every time there is an ordination service we are proclaiming and reminding ourselves that we are a peculiar people, a people set aside, a family, God's own children, a people saved by the Son of God. We are the Church.
As the Church we receive and accept God's call to embody and carry out Christ's ministry in the world. We all answer that call, just like these young people. There are also people in the Church who, like Suzy, respond to God's call and offer themselves in leadership as ordained ministers. Just like confirmation, Ordination is a gift from God. In ordination, the Church affirms, authorizes and authenticates people for leadership within the Church. According to the Book of Discipline, "Ordained persons are authorized to preach and teach the Word of God, administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, equip the laity for ministry, exercise pastoral oversight, and administer the Discipline of the Church."
Together, clergy and lay we are God's children, a people set aside. And the work we do is God's work. The truth is that none of us can do it alone.
II. OUR RESPONSIBILITY:
A. We can't and neither can the youth. We need each other. On our own, we can't be the children of God whom God wants us to be. That's why God sent Christ, and that's why Christ sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit dances into our lives, touches our hearts empowers us to carry out the privilege of living our faith purposefully. The Spirit empowers us to live the life of faith in front of each other. So that others can be guided by our actions and our faithfulness. And so that we can be guided by the actions and faithfulness of others.
That's why we perform baptisms and ordination in front of witnesses, so that we can keep each other accountable and rely on each other. You see, none of us can do it on our own. We all need the faithfulness of others to help our faithfulness. And there are none who need your faithfulness more than the ones who stood before you to make their profession of faith a few minutes ago. They need your help, your love and your guidance. They need to see Christ's presence lived out before them.
B. In Ancient Israel, six cities were founded as "cities of refuge." The law of Moses declared that if one person killed another, without malice or premeditation, he/she could flee to one of those cities and live there free without coming to any harm until the death of the high priest. Then that person was free to go to home without any fear.
The rabbis have an interesting tradition about those cities of refuge. Once a year, the roads leading to those cities were repaired and cleaned of any obstacles and stones so that the person fleeing for his/her life would have nothing that would hinder their way to the refuge. And the same is true of the church today. God's plan is that there be a place of refuge for our mistakes, a place of hiding for our sins. Our "city of refuge" is Christ.
Our mission is to clear the roads so that others won't stumble over the trash and litter that we leave. This church and every Church should be a road that points the way and helps folks on to the city of Refuge. In a very real sense it should be a city of refuge for these who will be baptized and confirmed and for everyone who joins its fellowship.
You see, we claim that we are a community of sinners, gathered before God week after week so that God, through the Holy Spirit can work in us and transforms our lives. In this community of sinners becoming saints, one of the sinners is called "pastor" and given the responsibility to keep the community attentive to God and to call the community to keep the road clear for those who are still searching. I pray that we never get in the way of anyone's search for faith or make anyone stumble over our examples while they're looking for Christ.
We've celebrated baptism and been reminded of the cleansing which takes place in our lives through Christ. In a just few minutes we will celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, where we will be fed by the hand of Christ through the hands of our youth. And then we'll come to the holiest moment of all. The moment when God's people, clean and strengthened by the meal provided by the Savior, go out the Church door and into the world to be the Church. You see, we don't go to Church. We ARE the Church.
Together we are called to safeguard the faith. Not by pointing out where others are being faithless, but by living the faith we proclaim, ourselves. We're called to live the covenant which we made, adopted and proclaimed at our baptism or confirmation. And like the baton in a relay race, like the Olympic Torch, we're called to pass it on. Our prayer for those joining the Church, for ourselves, and for Suzy who will be ordained Deacon Tuesday night, is the one found in hymn #605, "WASH, O GOD, OUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS."
Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow.
Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago.
Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light.
Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart's delight. Don't leave these young Christians dangling, struggling and stranded on a fence post. Let's pass on the flame of the faith. Don't forget to live your faith before them. Remember, they can't grow in the faith they are proclaiming today without us and our help.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Garfield by Jim Davis, 11-11-91