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Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Confirmation Love Letter

“Then he opened their minds.” Luke 24:36b – 48
A Confirmation Love Letter – Easter III – April 26, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, New Jersey
(the Rev’d Dr). Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Alex, Anna, Bernie, Christian, Eleanor, James, Jessica, Jean, Madeline, Paul, and Robyn.

Okay, first things first: I am so very proud of you - each and every one of you – that I could just burst. You have worked hard for this moment and you have earned this time to bask in the limelight of attention. Enjoy your day!

I have a few things to say to you today, in light of the gospel and on the occasion of your Confirmation. It may be one of the last times I have you all together in the same place, so I’m going to take advantage and seize the opportunity.

Today’s gospel comes from the Apostle Luke. (no ‘bible races’ to find the verse). It’s one of several post-resurrection stories found in each of the four gospels. It’s pretty clear that the gospel writers want us to be absolutely certain to know that Jesus came back – not as a ghost, but in the flesh.

Last week, we heard the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ who actually put his hands into the wounds of Jesus so that he would believe. Who could fault him, really? The full bodily resurrection is a pretty fantastic idea to get your head wrapped around, isn’t it?

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have.” And, just in case we had any doubt at all, Jesus asks his disciples, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Ghosts don’t get hungry. See? St. Luke, like all the other gospel writers, is very keen to have us know and understand and believe that the resurrection of Jesus is real. Full body: flesh and blood and bones and even an appetite.

Well, I have a little surprise for you. Here’s the one ‘pop quiz’ Tim didn’t tell you about. This is one last hoop for you to jump before you are confirmed. Are you ready?

When you say, “I believe in the resurrection,” what do you mean? Did Jesus return in the flesh or is the Resurrection just a profound symbolic religious metaphor? What do you think? Did Jesus come back in the flesh or not? And, if you answer incorrectly will you still be confirmed this afternoon?

Okay, okay. I’m just playing with you one last time. You can relax. But, it does lead me to say one last thing to you about your faith.

And, it is this: Information and knowledge and intelligence are very important tools for you to have as you make your way in this life, but as important as they are, they are not the only important things in life.

Whoa! Hang on! Did Reverend Elizabeth just say that? I know. Tim and I have spent the better part of the year telling you that to be an Episcopalian means that you don’t have to leave your brain at the door. And, that’s still absolutely true.

But, I want you to hear me say this again clearly: Faith is not so much a matter of the intellect as it is a matter of the heart. You don’t have to understand faith first in order to believe any more than you have to understand a cold before you get one. Neither do you have to understand love before you can love someone.

A great scholar of the church, a man named St. Anselm, once said, “Give your heart in order to understand.”

‘Give your heart in order to understand.’ The challenge you will face is that the cerebral nature of the world – ancient and postmodern – will ask you to do the opposite: to understand before you give your heart.

And, it will take persistence and, as the Prayer Book says, ‘an inquiring and discerning heart’ on your part to move against the dominant cultural paradigm and find the Middle Way – the Via Media of Anglicanism – to follow your heart so that you will understand. And the truth is that this is the only way to understand the Great Mystery that is our God – with a mind that has been opened by the human heart.

The world will insist that you read the bible and ask, “Is this true or not?” The human intellect has always been obsessed with the truth about facts.

Did George Washington cross the Delaware on Christmas Day, 1776 or not? Was Jesus born of a virgin or not? Did he die for or sins or not? Did he come back from the dead and ask for something to eat or not?

Part of the problem with the modern church is that fundamentalism and liberalism have been in a hopeless intellectual logjam over the right answer. Both demand loyalty to one answer or another and, in the process, hundreds of thousands of spiritual pilgrims have walked away and have found themselves as hungry for spiritual nourishment as Jesus was hungry for fish in this morning’s gospel.

Remember our exercise in writing our own Creed? Remember how we searched for words that didn’t dismiss the ancient words of our faith, but rather, had meaning for you? Today? In your life? That’s exactly how I want you to approach all of the elements of your life of faith.

Instead of asking, “Is this true or not?” I want you to ask instead, “What truth is here?”

The first is a very efficient question, but it also slams the door shut to further inquiry. Asking, “What truth is here?” opens the door and invites you to explore deeper meaning.

And the search for meaning – not just knowledge – is at the very heart of the spiritual journey. Meaning deepens the importance of the intellectual exercise of inquiry and discernment.

If you read this morning’s gospel through the lens of meaning rather than a search for the truth of the facts, you will notice a pattern that emerges. Jesus reveals himself first to his disciples, and then reestablishes his relationship with them over a meal.

St. Luke reports a fascinating ‘next’ thing in this post-resurrection visit. He writes, “Then, he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”

So, it is presence, relationship, understanding – that’s how the resurrection works, children. Whether or not the actual facts of the resurrection are known or unknown, proven or dis-proven is not the point.

The deep meaning of the resurrection of Jesus is about presence, relationship and understanding.

Presence – showing up for your life, wounds and all.

Relationship – taking the risk of opening your heart to another - even with your wounds.

Understanding – opening your mind to find meaning in your life.

Your Confirmation this afternoon is meaningless unless you know that it is an invitation to a deeper relationship with God in Christ Jesus. You are being invited to give your heart so that your minds may be opened to understand.

And, when you search with your heart for the truth that is there, your mind will be opened to deeper meaning and a faith that will have relevance in your life.

Well, off you go then. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be to take on the promises of your Baptismal Covenant for yourselves.

My prayer for you is part of the prayer that was said at your Baptism:

“Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage and will to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”



David said...

WOW Elizabeth WOW!
What a precious gift to give your confirmands and those present with them.
What an insightful, gracious meditation on the poetry of our Lord's post-resurrction appearance.
What a gift to all of us too.
Your insightful distinction between 'the truth of' and 'the truth in' particularly reminded me of the writing of our late saint Verna Dozier- particularly of what she'd managed to accomplish of her work on ambiguity, or as I prefer to call it, Divine ambiguity.
And my comparison of this offering to Ms. Dozier is no idle flattery.

Elizabeth you've preached some mighty fine work many times before- but the insights of this one is definately a keeper.

Thank-you again


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, David. A comparison to Ms. Dozier makes me absolutely giddy. I am deeply honored by your words.

FranIAm said...

Oh my - this is brilliant and I am so moved to read this letter.

Presence, relationship and understanding... this will be on my heart in the most wonderful of ways.

Also, as noted by David, how you approach truth is just wonderful and in a voice meant for these kids...and for many adults as well..

KJ said...

Absolutely wonderful, Elizabeth.

I had the great joy of participating in an adult CI class and being confirmed with others from that group. What a relief for all of us to learn that the process and confirmation did not mean the end of questions, but just the beginning.

Share our congratulations with the newly confirmed of St. Paul's!

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, many times over.

I don't yet have the courage of your confirmands, but your advice on how to approach faith is still very relevant for me.

Anonymous said...

Another great job, Elizabeth. Truly inspired and inspiring. All confirmands should be so fortunate as to hear a sermon of this quality.

Br. Christopher Nicholas said...

This is brimming with illuminated goodness, truth and beauty! A sermon my own heart needed to hear.

Br. Christopher Nicholas said...

This is illuminated with goodness, truth and beauty! A powerful sermon my own heart needed to hear. Thank you.