Sunday, April 27, 2008

Conversion 101

Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Acts 17:22-31
at St. John's Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2008

    The Apostle Paul was willing to do whatever it took, within reason, to convert Athenians to Christ. Like Paul, I want to be flexible in my approach today, so I will draw on the metaphor of baseball in this sermon. In particular, I will draw upon Don McKim's article in The Presbyterian Outlook called "The Spiritual Lessons of Baseball." The Apostle Paul teaches "Conversion 101" to extremely religious Athenians. Some of these same truths may be learned by us on a baseball field.

    Baseball is a game of decisions. From the owner to the manager to the team on the field, decisions are made every moment. Victories are often won by the accumulation of small advantages -- good decisions made again and again . As New York Yankee Yogi Berra put it, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it.' He reminds us of he need to decide. We cannot escape making decisions about how we will play the game or live our lives. Paul challenges the Athenians to make a decision for Christ. Christianity in a nutshell is making a decision for Christ. We decide to follow Christ each moment of every day. Decisions must be made.

    Let's imagine the Apostle Paul was up to bat against the Athenians. He had to decide on a strategy for his at bat. Paul begins with the recognition that all people order their lives according to some ultimate loyalty. That was true then and it is true today. Following Paul's pattern, the initial moment in conversion is a person's recognition that they order their lives according to some ultimate loyalty.

    The next step is an admission that God is knowable. The ultimate Biblical argument about God is that God is transcendent yet personal. God is up there and God is down here. God is as light years away from us and God is closer to us that the blood that runs through our veins.

    Paul concludes with a call to repent built on the meaning of Christ's resurrection. This belief is what singles Christians out from people of other religions. Most in Athens are unable to do this, and secular intellectuals today face a similar challenge when they encounter the gospel. They follow some form of ism: Liberalism, Conservatism, Feminism, Consumerism, Scientism , or some other kind of ism. They get so caught up in whatever movement catches their fancy that they lose sight of God. And sometimes we in the church get so caught up in on some "ism" that we lose sight of our call to make disciples and meet human needs.

    There are two channels broadcasting at all times. One channel broadcasts negative thoughts and one channel broadcasts positive thoughts. Whichever of these channels we are tuned into will have a big influence on our attitude toward life. One of the great college coaches of all time, Skip Bertman at LSU, tells a story about one game they were playing on an incredibly hot day. It was so humid that it was hard to take your hat off your head, it felt stuck there. The players were not doing well and were complaining about the heat and humidity. Finally, the coach had enough and called the team together and said, "I'm tired of you making excuses about the weather. The other team has to play in the same weather as we do and I don't hear them complaining about it. The next person I hear complain about the weather I'm going to fine you $1000. That's it!" At the end of the next inning, the pitcher, who had a bad inning, came sulking into the dugout and yelled, "This heat is crazy! It's so hot I can't even think!" Suddenly his eyes met the eyes of the coach and he realized what he had said and quickly added, "And that's just the way I like it!" Coach Bertman knew if he could get his players thinking positive thoughts then positive things would happen on the field. But if they kept thinking negative thoughts then negative things would keep happening on the field. The same principle holds for us in the field of our lives. When we think positive thoughts positive things happen to us and when we think negative thoughts negative things happen to us.

    Concentrate on the basics. That is the message Paul conveyed to the Athenians. The best baseball teams and players over the long haul are those who concentrate on and master the basics of he game -- hitting, fielding, base running. This focus on the key ingredients of play can eventually pay off. In the early 1960s when Yogi Berra was manager of the New York Mets , after a particularly dismal game, Yogi closed the clubhouse to reporters and said to his team: "You guys played lousy today. You were terrible. We're going to go back to basics: This is a ball. This is a bat!" Then from the corner up piped Jesse Gonder , a reserve catcher, who called out: "Slow down, Yogi; you're going to fast." Sometimes in life we go too fast and forget the basics, the things that make life count and worth living. We skip over love, forget to care, or take for granted our friends, family, or the needs of others in society. Religious faith can help us focus on these basics.

    A man of faith had recently recommitted himself to God. This man had struggled all his life to get ahead and finally it had paid off. He had a beautiful family, a soaring career, an expensive car, and a sprawling house in California where he lived. He had recently reconnected to his faith and was looking forward to slowing down and enjoying being at home one evening. He and his wife were going to watch his favorite show, the Grammy Awards. All his life the Grammy Awards had been his favorite show of the year. He dreamed about the day he would write the story for the film of the year. So he and his wife ordered out pizza and sat back to enjoy the Grammies on their big screen TV. Then his little boy stomped into the room and wondered if anyone would throw the baseball with him outside. The man had mercy on his son, and being in the religious frame of mind, thought he would give his son some attention even though it meant missing some of the Grammy Awards show. They went outside and threw the ball some. The man asked his son if they were finished now and his son said, "No, I want you to play with me until bedtime." The man looked at his son, recalled the Grammy Awards he was missing, and something clicked inside him and he said, "OK. Let's play." The man played baseball with his son that night like there was no tomorrow. He really got into it. Suddenly the boy started crying. Tears were streaming down his face. The man asked his son what was wrong and the son said he was crying because he was so happy that his daddy was playing with him. And then it struck the man, all these years, he had spent so many hours at work, had been so consumed by his career and getting ahead financially. He had always told himself that he was doing this for his family. But now he realized that all these years he had been working for himself. His family didn't care if they lived in a great big house or drove a fancy new car. All they wanted was a father who would play with them. And at that moment this man repented and changed the direction in which he was looking for happiness. Baseball reminds us of the need for basics and so does Paul, who has just spoken God's word of conversion to us, stolen home, and scored a run for Christ's kingdom.  

    Conversion 101 is a course in possibilities. Paul faced a tough home town crowd in Athens and he started out behind in the game. Yet, he did not give up. Anyone who believes the story of Christ's resurrection knows that comebacks are possible. As long as there is an at-bat, a chance in the field, another inning, or another game -- comebacks are possible. The errors may stand on the record, or the string of losses, but redemption can happen. The player or team in a rut may put together a hitting streak or a winning street that can turn a season or a team around. In 1914, the Boston Braves were in last place on July 19. but remarkably, they won 60 of their last 76 games and ended up winning the pennant by 10 1/2 games over the New York Giants. The comeback was fantastic! In life too, "comebacks are possible." Religious faiths speak of 'redemption' or "salvation" in which life can become brand new. No matter how "far down" we are, we can be forgiven, restored. The last can "become first." Baseball reminds us of these possibilities and so does the Apostle Paul in his sermon to the Athenians on Conversion 101.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Faith Seeking Understanding

Faith Seeking Understanding

Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 14:1-14

on April 20, 2008 at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston

    On Teacher Appreciation Sunday we celebrate faith seeking understanding. Our teachers give us the courage to ask Jesus questions even as Thomas and Philip question him on our text today. They want to know the way to the place where Jesus is going and so do we. We want to know the way to those mansions Jesus has prepared for us in heaven. It is not easy to find our way today. Our postmodern world presents us with many ways. What was heralded as the way to heaven in our younger days may no longer be under consideration in this time of exponential change. He we are, worshiping God in a Christian church on Sunday morning and studying Eastern religions on Sunday nights. Ours faith seeks understanding.

    My own spiritual journey has never strayed from the Christian path. Even so, it was Autobiography of a Yogi by a Hindu teacher, Paramanhansa Yogananda, that led me to one of the greatest spiritual practices I ever found. In the pages of that book I discovered God leading me toward a practice of meditation. Yogananda practiced meditation from an early age and led a remarkable life as a Hindu teacher who eventually made the journey from India to America. His journey was just the opposite of many young people in the 1960s and 70s who were making a journey from America to India. George Harrison of Beatle's fame picked up a sitar and served as the pied piper that led young people into an interfaith dialogue the Eastern religions. We Americans are still making that journey today.

    My personal search for a meditation practice led to attend a Buddhist study group with a friend. There I was directed to explore a Christian form of meditation called centering prayer. I attended a workshop and started the practice of centering prayer. Thomas Keating started what became known as centering prayer as a response to his own interfaith dialog. Teenagers would stop by his monastery seeking to learn a Christian form of meditation and Keating, who was in charge of the monastery, had no practice to offer them. So Keating entered into an interfaith dialog with a near by Buddhist monastery and learned about their practice of meditation. He took what he learned there and what he knew from the medieval spiritual masters of the Christian religion, St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. He studied the Desert Fathers of the Christian tradition and reclaimed the practice of centering prayer. Centering prayer arose from an interfaith dialog between Christianity and Buddism.

    We are not the first people to seek understanding. The Hindus have been seeking understanding not for centuries but for millenniums. Back in the Middle Ages, when Western Christians still believed the earth was just thousands of years old, Indian astronomers declared life began precisely 1 billion, 955 million, 818 thousand and 501 years ago. The Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Ghita is thousands of years old. Henry David Thoreau said, "One sentence of the Bhagavad Ghita is worth the state of Massachusetts many times over." America is a melting pot nation of religious seekers from every tongue, tribe and nation. Our constitution guarantees us freedom of religion and that is one of the factors that attracts people to move here.

    As Christians, we come from a long line of seekers. The father of Arabs, Jews and Christians -- Abraham -- was a seeker for God. Jewish mystical tradition holds that Father Abraham had access to teachings called Kabbalah, meaning "Receiving." Kaballah teaches that concealment always precedes revelation. A seed is concealed in the ground in order to produce a tree. A baby is concealed in the womb before it is born into our world. Electrical energy must be concealed in a wire to express its power in our lives. The genuine Light of the Creator and the ultimate truths of life are also first concealed before they're revealed. It's up to us to strive to uncover these truths, to restore the Light into the world so that pain and suffering, deceit and hatred are eternally abolished from the landscape of human existence. (Yehuda Berg, The 72 Names of God, p. 133)
    Christian theology teaches we may know God through general revelation and specific revelation. We may experience God through nature as we enjoy beautiful days such as we enjoyed this week in Houston. But nature may also bring destruction as did Hurricane Katrina. General revelation leaves us feeling ambivalent toward God. Specific revelation gives us a clearer view of the nature of God. Christians believe Jesus Christ is the clearest image of God humans will ever see. Jesus himself taught that truth. Jesus' disciple, Philip, challenged Jesus to reveal God. Jesus was not insulted when Philip questioned him. Jesus shows hospitality toward Phililp's question. Jesus told Philip, "I am the way to the Father." Philip didn't understand the incarnation of Jesus was the ultimate revelation of God.  Yet this is what Jesus claimed for himself. It is through Jesus Christ that Christians have access to God. This is what distinguishes Christians from other world religions. We seek understanding of God and find that understanding most completely in Jesus Christ.       
    What makes us unique among religions is our faith in Jesus Christ. We believe Jesus is the unique and sufficient revelation of God. Jesus is Lord and Savior. We believe Jesus Christ is our path to salvation. We do not anticipate or desire a merger between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and any other religion. Our Christian faith in the God revealed in the Bible and our desire to live like Jesus requires us to engage in dialog with people from other religions.
    The interfaith dialogs we have hosted have brought prospective members into our church. This is an outreach opportunity for our church. This program has been attended and supported by a diverse group of church members and people from the community. Join with us in this opportunity for mission and ministry to our community. Jesus welcomed Philip's questions about God and Jesus shows hospitality toward our questions about God. Questions are always appropriate for Christians. Questions are how we grow in our faith. The beginning of wisdom is asking the right questions.
    We are not the first Christians to be in dialog with other religions. The Apostolic Fathers are a small collection of Early Christian authors who lived and wrote in the second half of the 1st century and the first half of the 2nd century. These authors were leaders in the early church. The apostolic fathers include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. The label "Apostolic Fathers" has been used since the 17th century to emphasize that these authors were of the generation that had personal contact with the twelve apostles. The Apostolic Fathers have advice to offer as we seek to live as Christians in a religiously diverse city and nation.
    First, the Apostolic Fathers encourage us to remain humbly and peaceably in Christ's church. Do not get angry and leave the church. Neither should we get so curious about other religions that we leave the church. We are free to seek understanding of other religions but this should not cause us to leave Christ's church. The church is the faith nest from which we venture out into the world and to which we return for nourishment.  
    Second, the Apostolic Fathers would counsel us to look to our Christian faith hoping for our salvation and for the salvation of all Christians. God's salvation is available to us now, during this lifetime on earth. We experience God's realm within us through centering prayer and other spiritual disciplines. We also believe in life after death and we want to spend our next life in heaven rather than in low places. Jesus said, "I will prepare a place for you in heaven." We look to Christ for salvation.
    Third, pray for mercy for all sinners. We are not out just to take care of ourselves. We seek the common good of all people so we pray for God's mercy on all people. As Calvin put it: "We are saved to serve." Our goal is not to save our own hide. Our goal is to serve others in Christ's name. While we believe Christ is the only way to salvation for us and for all Christians, we do not know whether God has made other arrangements for others. Jesus himself said, "I have sheep you know not of." Therefore, we may leave certain matters, such as the eternal salvation of people of other religions, in the very capable hands of Almighty God.
    Finally, and this may be the hardest one, put up with everyone and everything in charity. Kaballah describes love as chesed. Chesed is symbolized by the right arm. We use our right arm to reach out in love to people of all religions. We use our left arm, our might, to hold other religions away from stealing our peace and joy in Jesus. This balance between the discipline of pushing away and drawing closer symbolizes the balance we are to maintain in an interfaith dialog.
    Spiritual teachers are very important people in all religions including our own. Paramanhansa Yogananda, Thomas Keating, Father Abraham and the Apostolic Fathers are all spiritual teachers. We are thankful for all they have taught us. We are especially grateful for the spiritual teachers of this congregation including Abel DeSouza and all the others mentioned this morning. Let's thank our teachers, encourage them, and pray for them. Jesus himself was called "Rabbi" which means "Teacher." Jesus welcomed Philip's questions. Spiritual teachers welcome questions. May God grant us the courage to ask questions and the humility to hear the answers, even when the answers are not the ones we want to hear.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Good Shepherd Blues

The made for televsion series, Frontline, offers a disturbing glimpse into the global trade in human slaves. A woman from Eastern Europe is shown being kidnapped from a city street and forced to serve as a slave in another country where she does not speak the language. She is jailed in an apartment with several other enslaved women who are forced to service a dozen or more men a day. The most poignant moment in the show comes after she has been rescued by her husband and reunited with her young son. We see mother and son in a poignant embrace and we may only imagine what they are feeling. Our country has some experience with human slavery. Human slaves cultivated the South in the days before the Civil War. Although outlawed today, human slavery has moved to the black market and still thrives in Houston and major cities across the world. As Christians, we condemn all forms of human slavery.

Human slavery serves as the backdrop of our text today. 1 Peter chapter 2 provides a code for household slaves. Newly Christian slaves are serving non-Christian masters. They are encouraged to endure suffering and so gain God's approval. The unspoken issue is the text is how should we respond when we are treated unjustly? The answer is we are to act as Jesus acted during his trial before Pilate. Jesus did not retaliate against his accusers. We should not strike back against those who cause us harm.

The power of non resistance has been taken up by various political parties in the past century. Like a shepherd guiding his sheep, Ghandi led the Indian people to a peaceful revolution by means of non violent protest. In the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the African American people in a Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. As a Good Shepherd, Martin Luther King, Jr. led his people toward the green pasture of freedom. He died a young man, shot down by a sniper in Memphis, Tennessee. He was there to organize sanitation workers toward more say and better pay in their work. Like Moses, Martin Luther King did not make it into the promised land with his people.

Beyond Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Christ challenges each one of us to take up our cross and follow the path of suffering our Savior trod. This seems weird to the people of the world. They just don't get it. They think the cross is ridiculous. However, to those whom God has called, the cross explains everything. Paul put it like this: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are called by God, it is the wisdom and power of God on display." It was our pains Christ carried. It was our punishment he took upon himself. The horror of the cross is that it is intended for each one of us. If we want to be saved from ourselves, we need not enlightenment but crucifixion. As Reinhold Niehbur puts it: "The human personality is so structured that it must be possessed to escape the prison of self-possession." (The Nature and Destiny of Man: Vol 2, p. 111) Niebuhr lived in a time of great suffering. He wrote during World War II in a church in England. He heard German bombs exploding in the near distance. Niehbur tried to come to terms with the evil forces of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Regime. He decided Hitler was possessed by dark forces. He is not the only person to reach that conclusion. Hitler had a history of dabbling in black magic. He certainly looks possessed if you have ever seen film clips of him giving a speech. After the speech his sits down calmly and once again looks like a shy, lost soul.

Niehbur, who is considered a theological genius, claims the human soul is so designed we must be possessed by the Holy Spirit to escape imprisonment to our own petty nature. The power to change is not our own. This is a strong statement that comes from the pen of a Protestant genius who was wrestling with the darkest night of the soul the human race has experienced in the past two hundred years. Perhaps we should pause this morning and listen to this strong word. We who are called by God are broken down, crucified, and raised up. We employ the wisdom and power of Christ's cross. We are possessed by Holy Spirit.

The dark nature of evil that we see in human slavery is echoed even in that old warhorse of a Psalm, Psalm 23, where we catch this phrase: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." Jesus the Good Shepherd carries that comforting staff. It is comforting to us because we know if we get lost out in the wilderness of selfish pursuit then Christ will use that staff to bring us back into the righteous path that leads to God our rock and fortress, our stronghold. We are also comforted in the time of our own impending darkness, as we trod the valley of the shadow of death, because we know the shepherd's rod may also be used to fight off and frighten away any wolves that would tear us apart. This is not to say that bad things will never happen to us when we follow Christ. We know sometimes bad things happen to good people.

The Bible teaches the way of the cross . This is a path of transformative suffering. There is nothing here about getting ahead or making more money or finding a more attractive partner. This is the Good Shepherd Blues. The purpose of suffering is to purify us as fire purifies gold. Suffering turns up the heat in our lives. Heat changes things.

Someone sent me a link to an inspirational movie called 213 Degrees from  At 211 degrees water is hot. At 212 degrees it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train. 212 degrees, the extra degress, is the definition of success. "Some men obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous effort than before," said Polybius. The Olympic margin of victory in the Men's Giant Slolom is 0.17 seconds. "Triumph is always nearest when defeat seems inescapable," said B.C. Forbes. The Olympic margin of victory in the Men's 800 Meter race is 0.21 seconds. "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it," said Margaret Thatcher. The Olympic margin of victory in the Women's 1000 Meter Speed Skating is 0.07 seconds. By going the extra degree these champions received results beyond their wildest expectations. The "extra degree" is something we can all apply every day.

Imagine the possibilities ... Add a few "extra degree" hours each month to your professional development. That's an investment in your most valuable assett ... You! Give a few extra hours each month to your church's efforts ... At the end of the year, that a full workweek of added contribution. Make a commitment to give one "extra degree" act of service to a coworker, family member or customer each week ... That's 52 moments of kindness each year. Eliminate 1/2 hour of television each day ... That's 182.5 "extra degree" hours each year to devote to your family. With 212 degree awareness comes responsibility ... a responsibility to act. It's your life ... You are responsible for the results ... Results that can take you beyond your wildest expectations. 212 degrees. The extra degree. It's time to turn up the heat.

What is your one degree of heat that puts you over the top? A perceived injustice? A slight by the person behind the counter in the check out line at the store? When we are near the boiling level, any little thing can put us over the top.  Instead of going negative, what would happen if we went positive? What would happen if we returned evil with good? That is the radical suggestion of our text today. It is not a popular idea. It is a counter cultural call to action. Here is the action of non-violence. Here is the judo of returning evil with good. Here is the challenge of turning the other cheek.

When Jesus was abused, he did not return abuse. When Jesus suffered, he did not threaten. He entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. Jesus sings the Good Shepherd Blues. We hear him singing it. Telling it like it is. We were going astray like sheep. But now we are returning to the shepherd and guardian of our souls. May God possess us with the Holy Spirit. May God free us from the chains of self absorption. May God give use ordinary circumstances in our lives to give us that extra degree of heat that makes us reach 212 degrees. May we receive God's seal of approval. We are beloved children of God. God only wants what is good for us. God is on our side. God is not against us. Let's cooperate with God's work in our lives. Let's live into the freedom Christ provides.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Be What You Are

Jon Burnham preached this sermon from 1 Peter 1:17-23
on April 6, 2008 at St. John's Presbyterian Church

Our confirmands are blessed to be growing up in a church family whose love for them is deep and genuine. Someone said it takes a village to raise a child. We are that village to the youth of St. John's. We have reared these young people in the faith. They know they are loved by their parents and by this congregation. They are holy in God's eyes. God has set them apart for a particular purpose. They are joining our pilgrim band. Our message to the confirmands today is 1 Peter's message to us all: "Be who you are, holy children of God."

God calls us to a love that is deep and genuine. Our English word "love" is burdened with several meanings so let's consider some of them. When our Epistle today speaks of love as deep and genuine it means "not hypocritical" and "not feigned." Buddhists describe love as unselfish interest in others welfare. Similar, but distinct, from love is the Buddhist concept of compassion. Compassion is wanting others to be free from suffering and untouched by cruelty. The Hebrew Bible uses the word chesed which translates as loving kindness. The Hebrew word Chesed is sort of a conjunction of the Buddhist concepts of love and compassion. Chesed is an active verb that implies we will do something for one another beyond thinking good thoughts. We will take action on behalf of one another. This congregation shows chesed when we take care of one another physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Our confirmands are surrounded by the chesed, the loving kindness, of this congregation. They need our support because according to 1 Peter they are holy resident aliens. As the old gospel song puts it, we are poor, wayfaring strangers, traveling through this world of woe. The image of the wandering pilgrim goes all the way back into the deep roots of our faith history, as Abraham says, "My father was a wandering Aramean ..." Father Abraham who journeyed by faith from his home in Ur, modern day Iraq, to Egypt. Along the way he became the father of Isaac, father of the Hebrew people, the people of Israel. He also became the father of Ismael, the father of the Arabic peoples who eventually would follow the Prophet Mohammad. The image of the Christian as an exile, a resident alien, is further developed in the New Testament in 1 Peter and elsewhere. Later, St. Augustine paints a picture of the Christian as pilgrim on a journey in his book, City of God. Augustine describes Christians as pilgrims who live by faith trusting our journey from earth to heaven to the one God.

That image of holy resident aliens may have felt more real to the initial readers of 1 Peter in the generation after Jesus and Paul. They faced trials and tribulations that included physical suffering. If one of their Christian brothers or sisters were to betray them the dire consequences could include death. So their commitment to one another had to be complete and true. In our American history, we see this same sort of commitment to one another in the relationships. As Ben Franklin said to John Hancock when signing the American Declaration of Independence, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." The original readers of 1 Peter had to hang together or they would hang separately. We need to hang together too. Today our confirmands join this single pilgrim band in which we all hang together.

Today our confirmands say "YES" to a pilgrim journey that will take them from earth to heaven. As we travel that journey from earth to heaven, St. Augustine challenges us to live as contemplatives who balance learning with action. Some American universities now prefer prospective students who display a balance between learning and service to the community. Balance is the key in our pilgrim journey. Balance is the vehicle that gets us from here to there. We must balance our physical and spiritual nature, our minds and our bodies, our hearts and our heads. The Christian life is all about balance. Sometimes we get out of balance when we live upright lives but are not willing to take the next step which is to return good for evil and blessing for slander. When we take the extra step the light really shines through and we may draw people to Christ by being Christ-like. God calls our confirmands, and all of us, to live faith filled lives as resident aliens in an unbelieving world. Like Christ, we are to live holy lives in an unholy world. So our challenge to our confirmands today and the challenge each of faces as Christians, may be summed in this phrase: "Be what you are."

God is holy and 1 Peter challenges us to be holy as Christ is holy. To be holy means to be set apart by God for a use in accord with God's will. We are set apart by God not to be better than others but to be servants of all. 1 Peter uses the image of Christ as the Lamb of God to convey the meaning of being holy. The image of Christ as the lamb of God comes from our text today and other Biblical texts all the way back to the book of Leviticus. The Jewish holy code calls for a lamb without spot or blemish to be sacrificed for the people for the forgiveness of their sins. The perfectly sinless lamb symbolically takes on all the sins of the people. Then the lamb is ritually slaughtered to symbolize the termination of the sins of the people. The New Testament transfers the image of the sacrificial lamb to Christ and suggests Christ serves as the sacrificial symbol of the possibility of forgiveness of human sin. In New Testament theology, the sin of you and me and all people is put upon Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, who is ritually put to death on the cross to signify the possibility of our forgiveness before God. We are made holy through Christ the Lamb of God. This is something that has already been achieved for us by God and through Christ. All that remains is for us to claim it, for us to be what we are, which is holy and forgiven creatures of God.

Let's live into this Easter truth. Let's be holy as Christ, the lamb of God, is holy. Let's be courageous as Christ, the Lamb of God, was courageous. Let's be willing to sacrifice for others, as Christ, the Lamb of God, was willing to sacrifice himself for us. Let's demonstrate by our actions the love for others we profess with our mouths. Be what you are. Confirmands, that is all we expect of you. Be what you are. People of God, that is all God expects of any of us. Be what you are. When we set our intention on being holy God will meet us more than halfway and take us the rest of the way. We are pilgrims in this unholy land. We are merely passing through. Blessed are those who realize the transient nature of existence even in their youth, for they are on the holy road to wisdom.