A Homily by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Preached on May 21, 2017, Confirmation Sunday
at First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better seen/heard. Watch this one here.
This week was one of those very full, very sad, very joyful, very beautiful weeks in the life of the church.
On Wednesday night we taught some of our oldest and most vulnerable congregants about the fraud we are all capable of falling prey to. We ate dinner together. We laughed at funny skits. We prayed together, and sang.
Then I went to the calling hours at Miles Funeral Home for Sue Quinn at 9:00 pm, because earlier the line was 3 hours long and approximately one million people were there. I saw half of our congregation still there waiting when I arrived.
Thursday I went to the one hundredth birthday party of one of our beloved congregants, Ken Day, at the Sterling Senior Center. Ken, almost every time I see him, says "can you believe how lucky I am? People like you keep me alive." The truth is, he keeps us alive. His eyes twinkle, and he's in better shape than all of us. He still drives his car around town. He even frequently posts on Facebook! So next time people tell you that social media is only for young people, please remind them that we have 100 year olds on Facebook.
On Thursday afternoon, we laid beautiful Sue Quinn to rest in a service of memory and hope. She was just 50 years old, and there were approximately one million people squeezed into this, the hottest sanctuary in America, fanning themselves with programs and trying to sing through tears. She was the kind of person who collected people because she asked them questions and really listened to the answers. And she was a beloved member of this church. She taught Sunday school and served on the preschool board and raised her children here.
She died of a terrible wretched disease that makes me angry with God because there is no one else to be angry with. But she wasn't angry. She was tough and peaceful and still funny at the end.
She so desperately didn't want to leave her teenaged kids and her adoring and adorable husband. Why she had to makes no goodly or Godly sense to me, I’m just being honest. She didn’t believe in a God who willed her to suffer and die for a reason, so we will never invoke that God in her name. She believed in a God who shows up in people, and in Love, and in the midst of suffering, so it is absolutely no surprise to me how much she loved this place. She was the first person from this generation of parents of teenagers in this church to die, I think, and so all of that crowd was at the reception at Chocksett Inn afterward, crying and hugging, trying to imagine what it must feel like to say goodbye to their children and spouses, loving and supporting one another through the horror.
And then, last night, we raised like one million dollars for the church and its ministries at a celebratory Treasures of the Community auction, put on by volunteers who worked every day for a full year to make this happen.
This morning, we confirm our 10th graders in the love of God, and welcome them into the Church.
Confirmands, you may want to know why I want you to hear all of this. I want you to know that the work and life of the church matters. Going to church matters. Being the church matters. It matters more than virtually anything else that you will ever do. It matters more than your grades. It matters more than soccer games. It matters more than getting asked to the prom. It matters more than the degree you get, the college you go to, the job you get, the stuff you acquire. I’m not saying this because I’m a minister. I’m telling you this because Church contains the full catastrophe; the full beauty; the full reality of life. It will change, transform and orders yours’, if you let it.
I want to tell you this today because too many people treat confirmation like a graduation ceremony. Like after this, “I’m done! I don’t have to go to church again ‘til I get married. Woo hoo! Where’s my diploma?”
Well, kids, this is the opposite of a graduation. This is your welcome into the church. This is the day you make a deeper commitment to the church. This is the day you say, “yes! I will show up…to all of it. From the baby baptisms to the funerals, the turkey suppers to the worship services.” This is your day to remove your bib and put on your apron. This is the day you become a host for those who are hungry for what we have here, which is nothing less than extravagant love. This church needs you. Our hurting world needs you.
You may think that this place, if you’re being honest, is a little boring, or irrelevant. You are wrong. Places like this save lives and mend hearts. So don’t leave. If you leave, don’t leave for long. If you move, find a place like it. Not because your parents want you to. Find a place like this wherever you go for the sake of your own survival. And not the survival of your mortal soul. Please. A God that would send you to some firey pit to suffer because you don’t worship the right way is no God I would worship.
Stay because there are very few places that will move you to awe despite your anger, confusion and depression over the state of the world and God's seeming refusal to fix it. Stay, not because of the strange words we use, or the songs we sing, or the funny rituals we take part in, but because of the people who show up. These will be the people you can count on to show you what God’s face looks like. These will be the people who will show up with casseroles and cards and macabre humor when you need reminders that you will survive because they did, too. They will wipe your tears. They will celebrate your marriage and your babies. They will be there when there’s an illness or an addiction or a divorce and a death. They will offer forgiveness. They will keep you alive.
So, beloved confirmands, welcome to the church. Now show up. Keep other people alive. And when the going gets hard, don’t leave. You’ll miss too much of what life and love and God are all about. You’ll miss being part of the Love Revolution.
May it be so, and amen.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org