Confirmation Sunday 2 Kings 2:1-15; Philippians 4:4-9
In Rochester, New York, just a few years ago, Peter Lovenheim decided to get to know his neighbors. He was living in the neighborhood that he grew up in, after his parents sold him their house and moved into something easier to manage, and Peter realized that even after growing up there and now living there again 25 years later, he did not know his neighbors. He started thinking about how sleepovers created an intimacy with friends as a child that we rarely have again as adults, and so he decided to get to know each of his neighbors well enough that they would let him sleep over and get to now them on a deeper level-- an everyday kind of knowing one another. He told them it was because he was writing a book about neighbors, which he did write, called In the Neighborhood. And there's nothing profound about the book at all. He found out what we probably already knew but sometimes need someone to tell us-- First, that none of his neighbors felt they knew each other very well and all of them were genuinely interested in knowing one another. Second, that all of them were going through their own life stuff- whether aging or cancer or marital issues-- and they all could benefit a lot from knowing their neighbors and being able to rely on each other.
Our mission here at First UMC is to build Christian community. That means we are working on building community in the wider St. Cloud region, right here in Sartell, right here within our church walls, and also within the youth ministry.
Today you who have come to confirm your baptismal vows are joining this community in a new way. You have been a part of this community, of course, for many years— some of you since you were born! But today you take a new role with intention. Members of this church are leaders of this church and today you become leaders of our church. Sometimes we say that children and youth are the church of tomorrow, but that’s ridiculous. You are our church today.
And I want to begin by telling you, that you are not alone. You come from a long line of faithful people. There are the people who brought you to this church, introduced you and helped lead you in faith to get you to this point today. There are the leaders of this church that go back more than 150 years when those first Methodist circuit riders rode up on horseback into St. Cloud and a group of people received them and formed this church. There are your Biblical ancestors that go back not only to the time of Jesus, two thousand years ago, but thousands of years before that.
This morning we have a story about Elijah and Elisha. Both are prophets of Israel. In our Scripture this morning, Elijah recognizes that it is his time to return to God. He seems to want to shield Elisha from this, for at every turn he is telling him to stay. But there are two things at work here. First, Elisha really wants Elijah's blessing. And it takes him many miles of walking to let him know that. But even after Elijah blesses Elisha, Elisha does not leave him, refuses to leave him. Perhaps Elisha knows that Elijah has his own doubts. There have been moments— sometimes lengthy ones— in which Elijah wondered what God was doing and where God was at all. And Elisha doesn’t want Elijah to be left alone in one of the most important times of his life.
That’s what community is all about. We go through times where we feel utterly alone— where we are staring death in the face— and the people of faith who surround us remind us that we are not alone. That God always walks with us.
There are times when we want to rejoice— when we are so thankful. And the people around us rejoice with us.
There are times when we need to be challenged because we’ve gotten really comfortable in our sinful ways that are destroying our lives and the lives of others. And we need people to speak the truth so that we can live as free people in Christ.
Community is so incredibly important. Because you cannot live out your baptismal vows alone. We need each other. And this community is happy to have your help as we seek to live out our baptismal vows, and we will be glad to support and nourish you in your journey of faith as well. You are not alone. We are on this road together.
So I want to end by reading a poem by one of my favorite authors, Jan Richardson. It’s called “Blessing of Elijah.”
Make no mistake. This blessing that comes like hands laid upon your head, a mantle draped across your shoulders: you do not bear it alone.
Think of it as lineage, as litany: an ancient legacy entwining you among the strands that weave through generations and centuries, that spiral with the enduring and determined grace of the story that has seized you, and the One who has claimed and called you.
Take heart that this blessing comes to you singed and scorched, signed by the blazing of wonders you can barely imagine and by trials that have already tested you, or you would not have found your way this far.
Lay it down, and it will be a path for you across terrain you never imagined daring to cross.
Take it up, and know the presence of those who have passed this on to you: who encompass you who enfold you who go with you and release you into the keeping of the road that is your own and the One who has called your name.