Pentecost Sunday & Confirmation
by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have a spirit of adoption.”
Paul writes this to the Christians living in Rome. And today I want to speak specifically about Biblical styled fear and some of my own, and maybe your fears.
Paul, as a Jewish Christian, responds in this Romans reading to slavery from an ancient understanding of Jewish slavery. In the book of Exodus, the Jewish people were enslaved bitterly for generations by the Egyptians. Their freedom from slavery is probably their greatest story as a people and a nation.
As we know the Jewish people of the Exodus escaped Egypt to cross the Red Sea to be led to the wilderness where upon arrival there was no food or water. Immediately the concern from children of Israel was not how do find food or water, but a much more deeply disturbing statement. “We had it better in Egypt as slaves…we would rather go back to the fleshpots of Egypt than starve in the newfound freedom.” We know later that God immediately provides food and water. But the fact that the Jewish people complain and then desire to return to slavery is profoundly disturbing to me now as much as it was to Moses then.
But is it much different in our lives? …let me share a story with you, a personal one.
As many of you know, my mother Carolyn, became suddenly and unexpectedly ill after my second year of seminary. The disease was sudden and even cruel.
In my family’s desperation during this crisis, they contacted me and begged me to quit seminary, leave California immediately and come home and take care of them. Mind you, by this time my academic leave had expired from my teaching post, I had no job awaiting me in Florida, and I was in student debt. This was not good.
When I received this request from my family, it was like a cannonball was shot into my stomach. I was so shocked, I left my seminary apartment and walked around the seminary apt complex twice in the middle of the night.
I called two dear friends, one on the West Coast and one in the Midwest who confirmed my fears and reaction. Suffice it to say, after much discernment and sharing this story with my seminary advisors, my own pastor, my friends, I had to make the hardest decision of my life at that time. I had to say no to my family. I had never really said no to my family. I had really always said yes. But now I was saying yes to a call from God. I was growing up.
With that decision made that day in 2013, I was ultimately brought me to you in 2015 and to now.
I tell you this story not to demonize my family. They were desperate. They wanted me to return home to fix this situation this unfixable situation. However, much like the Jews of the Exodus story, the Jewish people could not return to the fleshpots of Egypt and I could not return to the fleshpots of Panama City, FL.
Please bear in mind, I was not enslaved in Panama City, FL but I was free now to do God’s work in the world. I had grown up and moved on from a previous life that no longer in many ways existed. I could not return to what seemed like easy comforts, easy jobs, and easy roles.
Neither can we as the people of God return to the fleshpots of Egypt.
Confirmands, today is just not a pretty ceremonial rite or a graduation where everyone wears red. It is a public acknowledgment for you and this faith community, First Lutheran Church, that you are beginning your grown-up life as Christians. Yes, you get to make decisions as a fully functioning young adult Christian. And yes, that means in essence from my standpoint that you can decide if you want to come to church or not. However, I am only one part of that discussion and decision. Your family and parents have a bigger part of the discussion around your presence here during your teenage years.
What it also means is that you begin now to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. You have to figure out how you think you are called to follow Jesus, to be his disciples. For some of you, you’ve already named a ministry. I hope by the end of the summer all four of you tell me how you want to serve the Church and God.
Confirmands, you can no longer go back to the nursery down the hallway and be an infant. That’s not where you belong. You have put away childish ways. You are adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God. You do not fall back into fear, you are standing tall, powerful witnesses of the Most High God.
Church, the same lesson is for us. The Pentecost Event we heard in the ACTS lesson was a moment of crystal-clear animation. Everyone at that moment in time understood each other. They understand various tongues, cultures, customs, and for a brief moment we all grew up, moved, and changed. And in the Pentecost event, we became one. We became Church. For one powerful moment, we did not fall back into fear, but into a spirit of God’s adoption of us. And with this adoption by God in Christ, we become heirs of the Kingdom of God. And with becoming heirs to the Kingdom of God, I do not want to return to the fleshpots of Egypt and the spirit of slavery. And I certainly hope you do not. I don’t know anyone who prefers slavery.
That’s a lot to think about. Finally, congrats Confirmands. What extraordinary work you have done as students of the Faith and what dedication your families have done in bringing you to us for Confirmation Classes and to your Christian upbringing. You are the Church of the Future. And as adult Christians, you have a say as to what goes on here. Welcome to freedom, welcome to responsibility, welcome to the first tastes of adult life, and welcome to be inheritors of the Kingdom of God. AMEN