Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
John 14:8-17 [25-27]
After the commotion settled down in Jerusalem, after the apostles spoke in tongues, after Peter preached to the crowd from the Holy Scriptures found in the prophet Joel, after some people in the crowd called the apostles drunks and Peter responded with another sermon, after all these sudden things, some of the crowd asked Peter, “What should we do?” And Peter says to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” That’s not in our reading, but that’s the end of this story: the promise is for you, for your children, for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. The promise is for you, Annemarie and Freddy. It is the promise that you were given in your baptisms. The promise is for you, Tony and Ina and Rhonda and Eric: the promise of God is being lived out in your lives and in your children’s lives right now, the promise of a God that is not far away, waiting in stuffy expectation for a perfect son to appear with shiny shoes and a cravat, but a God who is living and active and present in your lives and your children’s lives with a promise: you are my beloved, and I will be with you, and I will bring you to everlasting life.
And this promise is for you, all our guests and visitors, some of you who have been coming to this building much longer than I have, maybe even longer than I’ve even been around this earth. Young men shall see visions, old men shall dream dreams, your sons and daughters will prophesy—all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. That promise is for you—God has not given up on your lives, but instead has chosen to dwell in them. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is with you. The promise is for you, and for everyone today that I cannot address, everyone who seeks without reward, everyone who toils without accomplishment. New Yorkers, Chicagoans, Parisians, people of Lagos and Frankfurt and Saigon and Dar Es Salaam—the promise is for you. And it is given in baptism, sealed with the Holy Spirit.
It’s actually incorrect to speak of confirmation. Nothing really needs to be confirmed today. God loves you, Annemarie and Freddy, every bit as much as God always has. God loves all of us just as much as he ever has. So, as you know, we speak instead of Affirmation of Baptism—a way to respond to God’s promise. You are not becoming holier today; you are not graduating from anything. There is no test you really have to pass. No one is going to take notes on your dress or your command of Lutheran jokes. That’s not what today is about.
Today is simply a day for you to say yes: Yes, I know that that God loves me, that God has given me the Holy Spirit. Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ died and was raised by the Father to take away my sins and the sins of the world. Yes, I believe that I will continue, somehow, in prayer, study, worship, and service with other people who also say, “Yes. I believe God’s promise.”
Now there’s no way for me to test that yes. But for some of you who wonder why I’m not making Annemarie or Freddy make a statement of their faith or whatever, it’s because I’m loathe to imitate the secular rites of school and work: Freddy and Annemarie aren’t moving up a level, they aren’t changed somehow. They now can vote at congregational meetings! But their status with God is unchanged: they are still beloved, infinitely beloved, and they know that because of the means of grace—through baptism, communion, and the church gathered together here.
And that’s the way it is for all of us. God doesn’t need us to prove anything to him. After all, God is the one who makes himself understandable to others—see this Pentecost reading, in which the apostles speak as they normally do, but everyone hears them in their own native tongue. God has no need of our demonstrations, but we need God to provide us with God’s spirit, so that we can continue to encounter and understand him, in all of his surprises and ways.
Most of all, we need God to bring us to church. I’m not talking about a building or a place. I’m talking about a people, a community. Like all human communities, there are particular things the church does and is that distinguish it from other communities but still make it recognizable as a community. Primarily, the church is a community of sinners, like any other, or perhaps even worse. We differ from other communities, though, because we admit that we’re sinners. If you want a perfect community, you better get moving, because it ain’t here. There are more intentional, more ethical, better-looking, and more financially responsible communities around.
The main difference, though, between this community and the others is that we have heard a promise from God and we believe it. God has promised to give us life and salvation and trust that it is so, and perhaps we can even, from time to time, see how it is happening among us. Jesus says to us today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” These commandments are simply to believe in Jesus and to love one another. This we do not because we are sinless, but because we are sinful, and we find our completion and our freedom in God’s movement among us, our home in God’s dwelling among us.
So, we are a church because God has gathered us here and is present here in Spirit, in truth, and in the body of his Son. And God invites us not into a set of commandments, really, but a way of life: a way of abiding with the Spirit, a way of love for one another, a way of peace, a way of faith.
The only demonstration of this way of life that counts is one that listens to the word, eats at the Lord’s table, repents in baptism, prays with the faithful, and that works for peace and justice throughout the earth. Annemarie, Freddy, and all of you who have gathered here today, that’s the way of life we all are trying to follow today. None of us have done it perfectly—some of us are newer to it than Annemarie and Freddy. But it is a way of life that the Spirit calls us to make, a way of life that is at once disturbing and thrilling, revelatory and confusing. It’s the way of Christ, who with the Father sends us the spirit, and shows us the path we need to walk.
The Reverend John Flack