Confirmation Sunday, May 15, 2022

“The Spiral Dance” — Rev. Chelsea Page

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles: Now the apostles and the brothers and sisters who were in Judea heard that the gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners, and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the gentiles the change of mind that leads to life.”

Have you ever had a mess of grits? What the heck is a grit, you may ask. A grit is a speck of dried, ground corn, and when you put a bunch of them together, you get a delicious hot cereal that is often eaten in the South. Although apparently, when you take a grit and cook it with a bunch of other grits, what you also get is a mess, since mess is the proper collective noun for grits. It’s called a mess of grits the same way people say a gaggle of geese or a litter of puppies. And since grits are eaten warm, you could even call them a “hot mess,” as people say on reality TV. Mess happens to be the collective noun for iguanas as well, by the way. Don’t ask me how iguanas and grits got put into the same category. The English language is a hot mess.

In our Bible story today, the earliest Christians were also coming together and making a big mess. They were called the People of the Way, but I think we can refer to them by their proper collective noun as a mess of Christians. In confirmation class we looked at a chart showing the timeline of the Christian churches through history, and you can see it hasn’t gotten any less messy since then. So what was this mess of Christians up to? Well, the followers of Jesus in Judea were mad at Peter for including people who did not follow religious laws. Peter was called upon to explain himself, and it turns out that God was the one who was creating this big mess. God sent Peter a vision of animals that were forbidden to eat, basically instructing him to break the religious laws and eat them. And then God send down the Holy Spirit directly upon the outsiders who were eating the wrong things and generally just believing and following the wrong things. Why would God do such a thing? What’s the point of setting up certain religious rules and then breaking them? Well we get a hint about “why” in the last verse, where it says that the believers’ minds were changed. The Judeans stop grumping and start celebrating that the newly included people have had a change of heart and are now following Jesus. But really it’s the Judeans who are having the change of heart. They have listened to Peter’s story and been stunned into silence. Forced to accept his inclusive ministry, they are broadening their understanding of who is “in” and who is “out” in God’s community. Everyone is transformed when God stirs up the pot.

On this holy day of confirmation, I am here to tell you that the life of faith often feels like a mess. It may even seem like a hot mess to those who would like to believe that religion is a simple affair. Many are taught that there are five major religions in the world, everybody gets to pick just one, all the people within a particular religion should believe the same thing, and only one religion is right. Similarly, when we are young we are often sold a particular story about the standard order that our lives should follow, even though most people’s life journeys are actually far less predicable. The story goes like this: you’re born, your parents choose your religion, maybe you get baptized if you’re Christian, you go to school, you become a teenager, you take confirmation classes and decide if you want to stay Christian or choose another religion, you graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, retire, and then die. And if your parents decided to raise you without a religion, you will grow up, study the options available, and make a free choice to pick the best one or reject them all. But faith isn’t like that. What you believe is often more a factor of what happens TO you, the people God puts in your path, the unique and troubling visions that seem to come from beyond as you struggle with a challenge in your life. As those who are being confirmed today mark this rite of passage in your faith journey, we fully expect that you will walk forward from this moment continuing to explore, and that you will change your mind many, many times in your life. There will be times you will feel confused and unconfirmed. I dare say that everyone in this sanctuary has, about something or other. We may be a mess, but at least we’ve finally learned to simply expect the unexpected. It’s one of the things that makes God, God. And change is one of the things that makes faith, faith. Faith is part of life, so if we are growing and evolving beings, so must faith be a living and changing entity.

So what’s the point of confirmation then? If it’s not to bring order out of chaos, then what is it for? In the Christian tradition, we invoke the Holy Spirit’s touch upon confirmands for a simple reason. We want you to know that God blesses change. God blesses your becoming, your growing minds. God blesses whoever you will be and wherever life’s journey will take you. If life ever starts to feel like a mess, and it will, just remember, God can bless this mess. What may look to you like a hopeless knot made up of twists and turns, God sees a beautiful spiral dance. God does not expect to see the rigid order we demand for our lives; God’s perspective is infinitely broader, kinder, and more flexible. Even if it does seem to be God who is stirring up the pot sometimes. But on this day of confirmation, we trust the touch of the Holy Spirit to be loving, and the gaze of Jesus to be gentle. As the Irish poet John O’Donohue wrote, “His gaze is perfect sister to the kindness that dwells in his beautiful hands… His gaze plies the soul with light, laying down a luminous layer beneath our brief and brittle days.” That is what confirmation is for, a blessing to strengthen the soul for the long journey ahead. I commend each of you confirmands for taking this step in your discipleship as a human being. Jesus is not looking for you to follow the rules. He wants you to follow him, wherever he may lead, however much your mind may end up changing in the process. And if you need us, your community will be right there with you, heeding every step of your spiral dance. Amen.