This past Sunday morning, the teens from our confirmation class did something unusual. They led the service for us: their community of family, friends, and mentors - as a way to express their gratitude for what you have done to make St James Church their home and to understand that they are no longer children.
At their baptisms, the community that surrounded them promised to uphold the children in the church, and to help them on their spiritual journey. Sometimes, the help came in the form of a Sunday School lesson, a smile, a good challenge, or a word of kindness or encouragement. Now these teens are of an age when it is time for them to step forward individually and claim their place in the church by being confirmed. As babies we spoke for them at their baptisms; now they speak with their own voices. The words you will hear come from the hearts of our teens; Emily, CJ, Gabby. Greg, Liam, and Kaitlin. These are their joys, challenges, and questions for God. They have spent months studying together, and with their priests, they have explored why they wish to be confirmed. Liam, Gabby, and Kaitlin will take turns offer the reflections of their entire class:
We realized that it is not okay to just say, “ I am being confirmed because my parents are making me." This is an important decision that we are still in the process of deciding. These past two years we have talked more about the Bible stories and what our faith means to each of us. Reverend Audrey and Reverend Melissa encourage us to ask questions and to think about what we believe and why. In our study together we have struggled with our own theologies and beliefs. We have wrestled with the hard questions of faith. Many times we couldn’t answer these challenges, but we have come to understand that as adult Christians it is very important to ask questions. Here are some of our thoughts:
Since our earliest Sunday School years we have been taught about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We learned about Moses, Abraham and Mary of long ago, and the more modern people – such as Martin Luther King King, Jr - who help us to see God and God at work in the world - sort of Heros of the Faith.
All of these stories can feel like the past that do not involve us in our daily lives. Well, in a way they are part of the present, too. To us, Jesus is the one who assures us that everything will be okay in the end. It doesn’t mean that it’s okay to sin, but if you do, God will forgive you.
When we read the Beatitudes, sometimes we see their truth reflected in the world around us; sometimes we don’t.
For example Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” We find our church to be a place of peace. Beyond St. James’s doors, we see peace in many places.
But sometimes the world outside St. James is not a peaceful or friendly place. We see wars and battlefields, when we believe people should settle their disputes without violence. We see terrible events, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, or the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and the murders in Denmark and at the Charlie Hebdo offices, and the on-going fighting in the Middle East. We see members of Congress fighting with each other instead of doing what is best for our country. Sometimes our homes aren’t as peaceful as we would like.
Sometimes school can be its own battleground. Jesus said, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." That is not always true. Kids can be really mean to each other. Bullying hasn’t stopped, it's just gone underground so that the adults can’t see it.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth." Jesus was born poor or at least wasn’t part of the more wealthy ruling class. He has a human side and he wasn’t perfect. It would be really hard to have Jesus be perfect because we couldn’t learn as much as we can because he wouldn’t be at all like us. He was a really good person and listened to God. We can trust him.
I try to be trustworthy, kind, and friendly. These are important values to me. That is how I try to live my life and I think that Saint James has the same values. That is a community that I think can commit to by being confirmed. We will see.
We spent a lot of time talking about the promises made for us at our Baptism that we will have to make for ourselves at confirmation. One of the promises is that we will continue in the “apostles’ teaching and in fellowship and in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers." We wonder if we can keep these promises.
I will admit that I rarely do pray. I believe that God would suggest that I be more honest with myself about why I don’t. I only pray when I’m really struggling or hopeless, which quite frankly isn’t a lot. Even so, God comes around in our daily lives doing for us things we can’t do for ourselves. I think God can do anything, but God let’s us try for ourselves, even if we only will mess it up in the end.
Prayer should be like talking to your best friend to whom you tell everything. You should always be completely honest because God knows when you lie, and if you lie, you don’t get anywhere with what is on your mind.
Another question in the Baptismal Covenant that led to a lot of discussion and disagreement was this; “Do you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God?”
Jesus is out there. Somewhere. He is a sort of invisible guide and friend through life though he often times is on the periphery of everyday life. He is everybody’s secret BEST FRIEND even though we forget.
I don’t think I believe that Jesus was a God or from God. He was a really good person and I think he is someone I can model myself after. I know I couldn’t possibly be as good as Jesus. But I think Jesus would be okay with me, if I am trying.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." That means that it is important to forgive others and learn to forgive ourselves. That sounds easy, until we realized that God invites everyone to God’s table - including the 10 people we know that we can’t stand to be around. Not only does God invite them but God is just as happy to see them at the table as God is to see me. It made us all wonder if we really want everyone at our table.
When we’re told that those who hunger or thirst for righteousness are blessed, we can envision a brighter future. This beatitude gives hope to all who hunger and thirst for what is right. But we don’t see this when people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Jesus are killed.
So, what do we believe in? That was one of our longest and most complicated class discussions. Well there are a few things that we as a class do agree upon. There is something “out there” that is bigger than we are. You can call this creative power God. We don’t think God is like Santa where you go only to God to ask for something and then you automatically get it. But most of us think that if we trust God, God will make sure that you always have what you need and help you in times of trouble. We also know that what we are given may not be what we asked for of God or what we thought we needed. God is confusing sometimes.
In the Baptismal covenant Christians are asked to promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. We also believe that being a good example means not just talking about being good but putting actions behind our words.We believe it is important to help other people at all times.
We worked hard at two fundraisers to earn money to take a week in June to do home building and repair in Virginia Beach. We have also decided to help with the Hunger campaign that starts this month and finishes in late April with the Empty Bowls event. We really appreciate your support.
We gave a lot of thought to how to proclaim the good news in words. We believe God loves men and women equally, so we asked to make some changes in today's liturgy so that it better reflects what we believe.
In our lessons we learn about different types of discrimination against minorities, such as racism, classism, ageism, and more. It has come to my attention that some, not all, but some prayers within the Bible only refer to God and Jesus in male pronouns. No one can be sure if God was a man. I know the Bible says that God was a man but that is only due to the fact the Bible was written by man and during a time when women were viewed as property in society. Now in the modern era, we now know, or most of society knows, that discrimination against women is inhuman and is considered sexist. This is why I believe it would be the perfect opportunity to change how we view our God as a male and change the pronouns to a more gender neutral form by using societies new viewpoints. So that’s what we have done!
We will conclude with this last Beatitude. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” We believe that people who are pure in heart don’t literally see God, but that they see God in a different way. That’s how we see Saint James, as a home for the pure in heart. A place where we are not perfect, but where we always look for God in one another. Saint James is a church where we are all seen and respected as God’s children! On that we all agree! Thank you for listening to us. May God continue to bless Saint James Church.