“Filled with the Spirit” Colchester Federated Church, May 20, 2018, (Acts 2:1-21) Pentecost and Confirmation Sunday

Today is Pentecost!  The birthday of the Christian Church.  As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit fills his followers and allows them to bear witness to all that they have seen and heard.  We know the story—the disciples are all together and suddenly hear a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind.  It fills the entire house where they’re staying.  And they see what seems to be individual flames alighting on each one of them.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, they begin speaking in other languages as the Spirit gives them ability.  They are not speaking in gibberish that no one can understand.  No, they begin speaking in earthly languages that native speakers from those particular lands can comprehend.  So whether they were saying “Laurel” or “Yanny” (the odd debate that took the internet by storm this week as people argued about an audio clip) people knew for sure what was being said on Pentecost.

A crowd gathered upon hearing the disciples’ testimonies in their own native languages and they’re mystified, surprised, amazed.  Asking one another how it’s possible for the disciples to be declaring the mighty works of God in these diverse languages when they are all Galileans who couldn’t possibly be proficient in so many tongues.  Some folks in the crowd ask what it all means.  Others jeer and say that they are just full of new wine.

It’s Peter who stands up before those gathered and declares, “These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.  Rather this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters shall prophesy.  Your young will see visions.  Your elders will dream dreams.[1]  Peter courageously declares that the Holy Spirit has been poured out as Jesus promised that She would be.  And the Spirit will blow where the Spirit wills.  For there’s no predicting the movements of the Holy Spirit and how people will grow and change when the Spirit fills up their hearts.  Though if we are filled with the Spirit, we will find that we have far more courage than we ever thought possible.

As our congregation welcomes Emery, Samantha, Jakob, Ethan, and Jeremy into full adult membership today through the Rite of Confirmation, we pray that you will feel the unpredictable movements of the Holy Spirit in your own lives.  That we will hear the still small voice of God still speaking in our world.  That we will know that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, making a real difference for others through acts of service.  Though Discipleship Class is just a small part of a person’s faith journey.  Confirmation isn’t graduation so we hope to keep seeing you at church in the future.  Though this day does mark the end of this particular part of your journey, this intensive period of study and experiences.  It also marks the beginning of what you will make of your church membership into the faith and family of Jesus Christ.

Now making a Confirmation Stole is a new practice here at CFC.  This is something that my home church—Trinity UCC in Wadsworth, Ohio—still does when our young people get Confirmed.  Several years ago I Googled “Confirmation Stoles” to see if other churches have this same practice and discovered that people can buy Confirmation Stoles on Amazon.  So it appears to be a tradition at more churches than just my beloved home church.  As opposed to writing another paper, it’s a way to symbolically represent one’s faith by choosing symbols that are meaningful.  Though our beliefs will most likely grow and change as we age, so these stoles are a marker on the path.

To explain the symbolism of any of these stoles marking just part of one’s faith journey—here’s the Confirmation Stole that I made as a high school freshman. (A little discolored from moves to various states though miraculously still intact.)  Here’s the symbols that meant a lot to my fifteen-year-old self.  A simple cross of wood at the top to depict Jesus as the center of the Christian faith.  And that terrific Bible passage about Jesus being the light of the world, so here’s a red candle—red being the color of Confirmation and the candle symbolizing the light of Christ.

God is depicted here by the all-seeing eye of God.  Back then I found this symbol comforting—that God was everywhere and always watching out for us.  And it was so cool that this symbol of the all-seeing eye of God is on the back of the one dollar bill.  Don’t pull out a dollar now!  But later one can see that it’s the symbol at the top of the pyramid.  Though today it reminds me too much of the creepy Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings so I would choose another symbol for God.

To depict the Holy Spirit, here’s the dove coming down in heavenly rays of light.  This reminds us of Jesus’ baptism when God declared Jesus beloved.  The last symbol is some sort of branch.  I have wracked my brain to come up with what this is.  Is it an olive branch to symbolize peace?  Is it a laurel tree branch?  Lauren means “laurel-crowned” (the crown placed on the head of victors in ancient Rome, just saying), and one of my youth leaders gave me a card that’s still in my wallet that explains my name and has a quote from the Psalms.  It could be symbolizing that.  Honestly don’t remember and my parents were no help at all.  This may happen to you as well—you may dig up your Confirmation Stole years down the road and not quite remember what’s what.  That’s alright too.

The point is that we understand some beliefs here and now that are central for us.  Those beliefs that we can cling to when times are good and when times are hard.  Though faith can be active and dynamic and change.  Peter standing up on Pentecost and speaking confidently to the crowds about the Holy Spirit being poured out on all people looks a little different than the Peter we encounter during Holy Week, right?  In Christ we can become who God intends us to be.

Reflecting on Discipleship Class this year or one’s own experience of Confirmation in the past, it’s with the understanding that we always cover a lot of ground.  In our class, we discussed the Christian story and our individual stories.  We learned more about worship as the way we offer praise to God and discussed our two Sacraments: Baptism and Communion.  We learned that people have different understandings of the Bible.  We made a timeline of Christian history from the birth of Jesus through the Schism of Eastern and Western Christianity to the Protestant Reformation to today.  We learned some history and polity of the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ.

We spoke of God creating, seeking, saving, loving, and judging.  Of Jesus as human and divine, crucified and resurrected.  We learned about the Holy Spirit and the Church as the Body of Christ.  We talked about faith and sexuality.  We even learned about World Religions and worshipped at Temple Ahavath Achim, having a discussion with Rabbi Ken about Judaism.  We learned about witness and service and did just that at St. Vincent De Paul in Middletown.  And we wrestled with theological concepts like forgiveness and grace, justice and peace, and even eternal life.  Lord, we need a vacation.

In some ways, Discipleship Class is putting one’s toe in the water of this great and vast tradition we call Christianity.  Do we understand some of these concepts better after spending this time together?  Sure.  Did some of you think when I just listed our lessons—did we learn that, because I must have missed that class!  Sure.  Do some of us still have questions and doubts and Christian concepts that we just don’t get no matter our age or stage of life.  Yes, of course!

In the end, our faith journeys continue.  What we have here at Colchester Federated Church is not necessarily all the answers, but an open-minded and open-hearted community of faith that you will officially become part of today.  And it’s a church family that is here to support people on their own individual faith journeys knowing that our paths aren’t going to look exactly the same.  And that’s not only okay, that’s good!  Because we are here to support one another as we wrestle with our Christian faiths together, as we worship God together, as we serve others in Christ’s name side by side, and as we do our best to be a welcoming community for everyone who walks through our doors.  We are not perfect.  Though we are here with and for each other because being part of a faith community filled with the power of the Spirit is what Jesus encouraged us to do so that we can follow him all the days of our lives.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

[1] Acts 2:15-17, Common English Bible.