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Sun, Mar 17, 2019

Statement of Purpose


Duration:17 mins 27 secs

Our second reading this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, beginning with verse 17 and continuing to chapter 4, verse 1. In this section of his letter to his beloved church, the Apostle warns against those things which might draw us away from the righteousness of a life in Jesus Christ. Redemption has been accomplished as Christ has made us his own and yet still many live as enemies of the cross. Let us hear Paul’s encouragement to the church as we hear this Word of God to us today.

17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

On Wednesday of this past week I traveled to my alma mater, Davidson College, for the college’s first Symposium on Reformed Theology and Christian Ethics. You may know that Davidson was founded by Presbyterians in 1837. Since its founding the college has maintained ties to the Presbyterian or Reformed Tradition, although over the last thirty years or so commitment to this history and identity has been under threat in the increasingly secular world of higher education. This week’s symposium was organized by Presbyterian elders and pastors in part to remind alumni, students, faculty, and the administration of the gifts the Reformed Tradition has bequeathed to Davidson that make it the unique college it is today.

While I have been involved in these debates off and on since my days as a student at Davidson, I was struck this time (perhaps because it is not long before Sarah and I will send our first child off to college) by the way our theological tradition shapes the very purpose of higher education. Not just the ethos and culture of the school, but the very purpose of it. Davidson’s Statement of Purpose puts it this way: “The primary purpose of Davidson College is to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.”

“To develop humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.” Notice what is missing there. No mention of things like ensuring students get a high paying job; or making connections to help them get ahead in life; or cultivating their interests and skills for their own benefit; or even having the best four years of your life. Those seem to be the reasons that students go to college these days. And all of those things might happen at Davidson, but at least according to the college’s Statement of Purpose, those are byproducts of “developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.” The real purpose of going to college is to be of service to the world. Thus, as former Davidson College President John Kuykendall reminded us this week of the charge he gave to more than a dozen graduating classes, encouraging them to ask themselves every day, “What have I done today for the world God loves?”

Yes, the Presbyterian/Reformed Tradition, and thus a college affiliated with it, hopes to open our minds to the ways that God has been, continues to be, and will be at work in this world so that graduates might join in God’s redeeming work with a life of leadership and service.

I lift all of this up for you this morning not just because I am a sinfully proud graduate of Davidson College and want you to know what a unique place it is. And not just as an encouragement for our confirmation students and other youth to consider becoming Wildcats in a few years. No, I share it with you because just as I have been thinking about the purpose of a college, on this special Sunday on which we celebrate our young people making their public profession of faith that Jesus Christ is Lord, I want us to consider the purpose of Confirmation. Why do we do this and what do we hope it achieves?

Because confirmation began seven months ago in August. Brooks, Jim, David, Victoria, and Jordan began meeting almost every week on Sunday afternoons for an hour with Ms. Hannah, me, Pastor Nadine, one of the elders, or a member of the congregation with a particular gift to share with them. They each had another member of our congregation as a mentor and they met with him or her regularly. The students received a notebook that was almost 90 pages long plus a slick magazine about being a Presbyterian kind of Christian. Over the course of the Confirmation Class they completed weekly scripture reading and homework assignments; escaped from an Escape Room in record time during the Confirmation Retreat; had three small projects to complete; participated in service and mission; and finally, each wrote his or her own personal statement of faith (which I hope you will read in the confirmation booklet today because they are inspiring). They even had mid-term and final exams! Hearing all that, those of you who recently joined our congregation as adults may be wiping your brow and thinking, “Wow! Glad I didn’t have to go through all that!”

So, confirmation is a fairly rigorous process which largely focuses on learning with our minds: information and facts, bible, theology, and history. Along the way the students learn a great deal, because there are essential things that you need to know if you are going to declare that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. And I can assure you that our young people have learned these things well.

But still, for what purpose? As those of you who were with us last Sunday might remember, anyone can say “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” Why go through all this?

The reason we do all this is because, as the Apostle Paul puts it in our text for today:

Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Yes, anyone can say, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” That is the one essential thing. And yet, we hope and expect for more than that. Making that declaration should change your life.

Yes, the purpose of confirmation is to help these students, and indeed to help all of us, to recognize and claim what is true. Our citizenship is in heaven. It is from there that we expect a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And in him, and only in him, our lives are transformed by his glory. Not by our work, our desires, our grades, our bellies, or a whole host of other earthly things. In Christ, and only in Christ, our lives are transformed and we become more truly human.

That last phrase might strike you as a bit odd, but I invite you to ponder it for a moment. In Christ we become more truly human. Our confirmation students will remember an important lesson we did about the “incarnation.” God in the flesh. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. Both parts of that phrase are important. Jesus Christ is fully God. Only as God can he save us from our sins through his death on the cross.

But there is more - Jesus Christ is fully human. He is the fulfillment of what a human life is supposed to look like. He gathers up all of our sinful humanity and carries it with him to heaven through his resurrection and ascension. That is why our citizenship is in heaven. That is why we expect a Savior from there who comes to transform our lives with his glory - the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

Yes, confirmation is about a transformed life. It is about what comes next after you make the declaration that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. It is about “developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service” in God’s world. It is about preparing our students to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

That is why we give our students framed letters today. As I told you, it is the same letter I received at my own Confirmation in May 1987. After words of appreciation and love, it sets out expectations and responsibilities:

Today you are no longer a “child of the church.” By virtue of your profession of faith, you are now recognized and welcomed by our Church Session as an active adult member with adult responsibilities. These include:

• Proclaiming the good news
• Taking part in the common life and worship of a particular church
• Praying and studying scripture and the faith of the Christian church
• Supporting the work of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents
• Participating in governing responsibilities of the church
• Demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the church
• Responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others
• Living responsibly in personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life
• Working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment

Notice what is missing there. No mention of things like ensuring students get a high paying job; or making connections to help them get ahead in life; or cultivating their interests and skills for their own benefit; or even having the best four years of your life. No, the purpose, the expectation, is a transformed life of leadership and service in God’s world. Today is not the end of confirmation; it is the beginning of life with Christ and the church.

My friends, that purpose and expectation is not just for our students. It is for all of us until our journey in this earthly life is through. So, I leave us this morning with one version of Saint Patrick’s famous prayer:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us.

Thanks be to God. Amen and Amen.

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