“All in One, and One in All”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
2 June 2019
Confirmation Sunday
Easter 7C
John 17:1-11, 14-16, 20-21

Confirmation class of 2019: although this message applies to every person here this morning, I’m going to address you in particular.  Sometimes in the past, this congregation has invited confirmands to share a personal faith statement with the congregation.  That can feel overwhelming, especially for a very quiet group like yourselves.  There are a lot of adults here who would rather eat soap than stand up and make a personal faith statement in front of the entire congregation, so we’re not going to make you do it, either.

But it turns out that you’re able to express yourselves rather well in writing—and some of you are quite talented writers!  Mrs. Harris has shared with me your statements on why you’ve chosen to be confirmed, and I’m going to share a small part of each of them with the entire congregation.

“I feel that being a member of the church will be a good experience, and I have always felt that the church is my second home.”

 “I feel inclined to be confirmed because I want to grow my relationship with the Lord and become a member of the community. I have learned a lot at confirmation and want to continue my journey with my faith.”

“I want to be able to help others and put them before me.  I believe in Jesus Christ being our savior and accordingly want to join the Christian faith.  I believe in the good that the Christian community does and want to be a part of it.”

“I feel like I have always had a strong connection with God.  I feel as though I can always rely on him when times are tough.  I would like to be confirmed so that I can strengthen this connection with God. … Although I may question my faith at times, I also go back to God.”

 “God has helped me in tough situations where I felt that nothing could ever fix it.  I now rely on God for many of my decisions in life.  I would like to be confirmed so that God knows that I am dedicated to him or her and that I will continue in God’s way.” 

“I feel that once I get confirmed I will 1) be closer to God and feel more a part of this church, and 2) also be able to make an impact on this church. … Being confirmed is the first step in making a difference in this church.”

“Being confirmed means that I’m allowed to explore, question, and celebrate God.  I’m allowed to be angry with God and rejoice with God.  I’m able to help our community grow and help others explore their faith and beliefs.  Being confirmed means that I’m able to grow my relationship with God, our community, and the world.”

One of the things I appreciate about each of your statements is that, not only are you affirming your belief in and relationship with the one true God, who is pure Love.  But every individual one of you recognizes the importance of community: you acknowledge that you are part of something bigger than yourself.  And you understand that you needthat bigger body of faith, and that bigger body needs you.  This is how God intended for it to be.  This is the purpose of God’s good creation: to experienceGod’s love in and through each other and this world; and to shareGod’s love and care with each other and the world.  You showed that you really get that in your personal statement—and also in the Faith Statement you wrote as a class and we’re going to hear more about in a little bit.

We know that our purpose is to know God’s love and to share it with the world, because that is the essence of Jesus’ life and teachings.  The lectionary gospel text for this morning comes from John’s gospel, chapter 17.  The scene is set not long before Jesus was crucified.  In Chapter 16, he was talking to his disciples about the fact that he was about to go back to the one who sent him, so his disciples would no longer see him.  But, he continued, it was to their advantage that he was going away, because unless he left, the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) would not come to them.

In that moment, what Jesus was saying was very confusing to the disciples.  They complained that they couldn’t understand what in the world Jesus was talking about. Today, we know that Jesus was trying to tell the disciples about his death, and about the Pentecost experience that would come when the Holy Spirit came and filled them with the very power that Jesus himself had.  But in that moment, they couldn’t wrap their heads around what he was saying, and they told him so.

Finally, Jesus explains in plain language they can understand at the end of Chapter 16, “God the Father loves you because you love me, and you believe that I have come from him. 28 I came from the Father into the world, but I am leaving the world and returning to the Father.”

And then in our lectionary passage, from Chapter 17, we hear a prayer that he offered for his disciples.  I want you to listen carefully to that prayer now, as if you were sitting right there with Jesus way back then.  Because today, you are saying to God and to the world that you ARE one of his disciples—that if Jesus was here in the flesh today, you’d be sitting with him and confirming, “I want to be more like you, and I’m trying to live my life after your example.”  The thing about Jesus’ words is that they are as true and meaningful for us today as they were in the moment when he first spoke them.  So, this prayer is as much for you and for me as it was for Jesus’ very first disciples.  Here’s what John wrote (CEV):
After Jesus had finished speaking to his disciples, he looked up toward heaven and prayed:Father, the time has come for you to bring glory to your Son, in order that he may bring glory to you. And you gave him power over all people, so that he would give eternal life to everyone you give him. Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent. I have brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you gave me to do. …

You have given me some followers from this world, and I have shown them what you are like. They were yours, but you gave them to me, and they have obeyed you. They know that you gave me everything I have. I told my followers what you told me, and they accepted it. They know that I came from you, and they believe that you are the one who sent me. … My followers belong to you, and I am praying for them. 10 All that I have is yours, and all that you have is mine, and they will bring glory to me.

11 Holy Father, I am no longer in the world. I am coming to you, but my followers are still in the world. So, keep them safe by the power of the name that you have given me. Then they will be one with each other, just as you and I are one.  … 14 I have told them your message. But the people of this world hate them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t.

15 Father, I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world, but keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They don’t belong to this world, and neither do I.

20 I am not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me. 21 I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me. I also want them to be one with us. Then the people of this world will believe that you sent me.

Here’s what I want you to hear—confirmands, and every other believer: Jesus, who prayed this prayer for his disciples more than 2,000 years ago, prays for your safety and security in God’s presence today. . . and every day of your life.

And, Jesus still longs for all of us (his followers) to be one with each other.  Not necessarily to think the same thoughts, or to have the exact same ideas.  That would be impossible, and wouldn’t really respect the amazing diversity that God fashioned this world to express.  But to be united in our commitment to not let our different ideas or opinions get in the way of sharing God’s love and wide-open welcome with every single person, regardless of their background.  To be united in our resolve or determination to care for this world, and for all of its people—even those who might seem scary or threatening because they’re different from what we know and understand.

I know that you’ve already begun to discover that when you live after Jesus’ example, you also experience a deeper satisfaction in life.  That your joy is greater.  That you’re starting to understand the meaning of life, and your unique purpose. Each of you was asked to write a reflection paper on some of the service work you were expected to do as part of your confirmation coursework.  And some of you wrote very moving testimonies about the difference that your service had—not just on those whom you served, but on your own life.  That’s what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand. Here’s what a few of you wrote:

When I first started helping in classes I thought it would be a drag.  But as I continued to help out there, I realized that it wasn’t about helping the teacher it was about helping the students.  I came out of this experience more open to talking to younger kids. … Many times, students would ask me questions that weren’t related to church at all. They simply wanted advice about school or friends. … I believe that I had a very positive impact on these kids. …  I think the most important thing I learned from this was that just about every kid needs someone they feel comfortable talking to.”

One of you helped with a Scout project to clear some walking trails behind the primary school.  You wrote, “When I first started on this project, I felt that it was a waste of time, as soon more trees would fall and we’d be right where we started. Throughout most of this project, this was my mentality, until I talked to the science teacher [who told you how grateful she was that the trails were passable again, and that her students loved it].  When talking to her, I realized that yes, it wouldn’t matter to most of the students, but it would matter and affect each and every student who DID walk on that trail.  It wouldn’t impact everyone but those it did impact would be thankful.”

And finally, one of you helped to clear more than 200 lbs. of trash from Hampton Beach.  By your own testimony, you discovered that there was lots of joy even amidst the work of the day, as you met new friends and worked together on improving the condition of the creation God has entrusted to human beings to help maintain and keep safe.  You wrote, “Our cleanup benefitted a lot of people.  The residents of Hampton had a clean beach for the fall and winter. The town also didn’t have to put in as much effort to clean the beach.  The main people who benefited from us, though, were the scientists.  They were able to collect lots of data from us cleaning up since we wrote down everything we collected.  They reported this data to places like the nuclear power plant so that they can track down where potential waste is leaking out into the ocean.  … I really enjoyed cleaning up the beach because Icare so much about the ocean, being an avid fisherman.  I felt good knowing that what I did would eventually have a positive impact on the fishery.”  I honor your compassion not only for humankind, but also for forms of life that are part of our intricately-connected web of creation and mutual flourishing.

Confirmands, Jesus’ prayer and this congregation’s prayer for you is that you will always know that you belong here.  That you are all members of God’s one great family, and that the One God dwells in each of you—and loves the world through each of you. Remember that you are the only experience of Jesus that some people might ever have.

Also, please believe me and never forget this: God and this congregation want you to know that we need you here.  God has a purpose for you here—we need your voice, your perspective, your talents and presence because each of these is potentially an expression of God’s voice, and perspective and presence in our community.

All in One, and One in all: All of you are important members of Us, and we are all one in Christ: we are God’s beloved family, and different members of Christ’s resurrected Body, living and moving, and at work in this world.

And, the One God—Eternal Love—is in all of us, and will abide with you wherever life brings you.  Hallelujah!  Amen.

© 2020 The Congregational Church of Hollis, UCC