Confirmation & the Apocalypse

jeff0001Joel 2:23-32

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

I always try to be as honest as I can when it comes to speaking with people, especially with young people; so here it goes: I don’t remember much about Confirmation class as a teen. This was a time before cell phones and social media, so it’s a little harder to go back and find much visual evidence. I don’t remember which topics we spoke about. I don’t remember if I presented any particular project. You know what I do remember? I remember MacDonald’s. Yep, that’s right; the golden arches. I remember going to MacDonald’s with my Confirmation mentor, who happened to be my friend’s mother, Mrs. Decker. I remember sitting there, a little awkwardly, and talking about my life with my mentor. That’s it. Somewhere along the line in 1996 (I think; I’m not even sure of this) there were a few pictures taken on Confirmation Sunday. I have a group picture with the other confirmands and myself; the boys in our pleated slacks, and the girls in their floral print dresses. And I have another picture of my youth pastor, Nona, my Confirmation mentor, Mrs. Decker, and myself. That’s it. Do you remember your Confirmation class?

Looking back, I wonder about that day; Confirmation Sunday. I wonder what I was thinking at the time. I wonder if I thought I had it all figured out, or maybe if I have no idea what was going on. I wonder about my pastor Nona, and if she had reservations about that year’s Confirmation class. Were they really ready to become members of the church? And I wonder about Mrs. Decker. What was she thinking about her role in all of this? Did those visits to MacDonald’s pay off? Did she do a good job as a mentor? Was there anything more that she could have done for me as a carefree teen?

…AND LOOK AT ME NOW! Seriously, I was able to keep in touch with Mrs. Decker throughout my teens as I sang with her in the choir, walked my dogs past her house just down the street, and hung out at her house spending time with my friends. I saw less and less of Mrs. Decker as I left home for college, and now I see her barely at all. But even if we don’t remember all of the details of what transpired during that Confirmation class, I remember her being there for me, ushering me along this journey called our Christian walk. Maybe this story does seem more of a ‘success’ that I am now a pastor, but I’ll be honest once again, Mrs. Decker is just as important to me if I were any other career or place in life. Somehow, in that simple act of treating me to some MacDonald’s, Mrs. Decker conveyed to me a future and hope that was perhaps beyond both of our wildest dreams.

I would like for us to meditate on our wildest dreams this morning, as we celebrate the commissioning of this year’s Confirmation class, and as we imagine the future for these young people, ourselves, and this church.

Now, for many of us, the prophet Joel may not be the first person we think of when looking to the Bible to read words of hope and a future. Our minds may quickly go to the prophetic text of Isaiah or Jeremiah, they may go to kingdom imagery of Jesus, or perhaps even to the story in the book of Acts leading to Pentecost. Maybe we should start there; the story of Pentecost.

Acts 2:14-21

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Wait a minute! The prophet Joel was part of one of the very first Christian sermons ever recorded?! Well, maybe there is something to this ‘minor’ prophet after all. In fact, the words of Joel were not only important when they were written around 400BCE, or when Peter used these words to share the Good News of the risen Christ with the world, but they are important to us today as well.

Joel is writing with what some may call apocalyptic imagery. Often we hear the word ‘apocalypse’ and think of zombies, destruction, and the world falling apart. However, there are several writers throughout scripture who use such imagery; for them, like Joel, it is the time when God’s Kingdom will be realized on earth. Even Jesus spoke with apocalyptic imagery as he shared about the coming of God’s Kingdom. Joel will use some fascinating imagery to capture this sentiment, perhaps well suited for a Halloween scene; he will write of blood and fire and columns of smoke; the sun turning to darkness, and the moon to blood.

The first section of our scripture reading this morning is in response to a horrible drought and plague of locusts that decimated Israel. The second section of this text moves us into a new direction as the prophet shares with us words of God’s promise and presence. And in verse 28 we begin to read of Joel’s own apocalyptic prophecy. God speaks:

28Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 

29Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Here, after a very serious natural disaster that left many within Israel in pain and anguish, the prophet shares words of a future and a hope. The words ‘then afterward’ introduce us to a time yet to be realized, but will signify the time of completion. And then we read something pretty radical: the Spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh. The recipients of God’s Spirit will not just be those with the appropriate training or education, the right age, color, or gender. No, God’s Spirit will be received by all. This was also the radical message that Peter shares with those gathered in the Book of Acts as he announces that salvation in Christ is for all.

It’s the next part that strikes a particular personal chord as we read this text:

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 

Here Joel provides an image of all people, of all ages, sharing in God’s vision for this world to come. What a beautiful image as we celebrate Confirmation, as we gather to worship amongst generations together here in this space, and as we continue to imagine a new future for Altavista Presbyterian Church in the days ahead.

 

So what will the future of Altavista Presbyterian Church look like? Perhaps we have felt like we have gone through our own droughts and locust invasion of sorts, leaving us worn out, disheartened, and uncertain of our future. Perhaps we have doubted our own abilities to lead with this church based on our age or social standing. Perhaps we have lost a vision for a brighter future as we come upon the daily news headlines of this political season.

And yet we are called to continue on. We wake up each day, put our shoes on, and head out the door of our homes in the hopes of a better day. We may not have any significant plans to change the world this day, but we continue on nonetheless.

This is what I think about when I look back on my Confirmation experience with Mrs. Decker. Perhaps there were no particular life-changing goals in mind when she accepted the call to take some time out of her life to serve as my mentor. I’m pretty sure as a teenager I didn’t have any particular plans to change the world. And maybe the expectations of the Confirmation class were modest when being discussed and organized by my pastor Nona and the Session.

But somehow those simple acts of faithfulness in the world created a space for God to move in the most amazing ways. Yes, over lunch at MacDonald’s we talked about normal things like school and church. And we also talked about issues that I would reflect on for the rest of my life. Yes, we played games and icebreakers. We also practiced Christian community; a theme that is essential for the life of the Church. Yes, we worked on our faith statements or creeds. And we began to put down onto paper the words and language to help describe the very mystery of our Creator. Yes, these were simple acts, but within these simple acts God moved to shape the very world we live in today, and the Kingdom we envision to come.

This is the Good News this morning: God gives all of us vision for the future.

 

What words may our sons and daughters prophecy today? What dreams might our elders share? What visions shall our young people cast for this congregation, for this community, for the world?

When the world is at its darkest, when our futures seem bleak, when our vision is lacking, God reminds us that the very Spirit that moved upon the waters of Creation are here within us today. The very Spirit that descended upon Jesus in the waters of Baptism is here within us today. The very Spirit that blew as a rushing wind and rested as tongues of fire is here within us today. The prophet Joel reminds us that it is this very Spirit that will continue to remind us of God’s presence for us here today, and it is this very Spirit that will compel us forward to realize God’s Kingdom here on earth as we share in God’s vision for the future.

We may not be victims of national disaster like drought or locusts. We may not be preachers like Peter on Pentecost. But it is the same God who shares with us the gift of vision for the people we are, here, today, in this place. May we be courageous enough to speak to this vision, to live out God’s plans for our future as a beloved community, and to walk in faith through these modest, and spectacular, days of our very lives.

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