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Today is a great day at the Kirk as we witness baptisms and hear the professions of faith from confirmands who have been on a year long journey of seeking to understand the Christian faith.
I need to correct a few of them on their statements they shared with the Session. Some indicating that they are joining the Kirk. That is true. But it is only a byproduct. What is happening here today is that they are professing faith in Jesus as Lord and savior.. and they are becoming disciples.
Seeing them today takes me back to the ancient of days when I was received a member of the church. (See the language is there even for me!) It wasn’t Confirmation Class… we called it Communicants Class. We called it that because back then you couldn’t take communion until you had made your profession of faith.
My teacher, was not John Calvin… I’m not that old. But our pastor, Dr. Beverly. A great pastor. Back then, most Presbyterian youth went through a 6-8 week class… sitting down with the pastor for a couple of hours a week.
We met in the church parlor. Were asked to learn from the Westminster Catechism. No mission trip, not much creativity. Just sit, listen, go home and read… repeat (and rinse) each week.
But I do remember the day when we professed our faith. We were examined by the Session—I was nervous. We were served hot Krispy Kreme donuts (a sort of sacred symbol to me even to this day) and we received our first communion.
I don’t really remember much about the class and looking back, I can tell you that I don’t think I really new what I was doing or saying. Not really. Certainly, not fully.
I admitted my sinfulness, my need for grace and made my profession of faith in Jesus Christ. But I didn’t know what it meant any more than a bride or groom really understand what marriage is about on the day they say, “I do.” Those of us who have been married for a few years know what I’m talking about.
Still, it was enough for the day. A good first step. For what really happened that day was that I professed a basic decision to know and follow Jesus Christ.
I became a disciple which I have learned is a lifelong journey and commitment. It is not a one and done event. It is not graduation. It is indeed more like a wedding. You don’t profess faith and it is over. You profess and your journey has just begun!
Confirmation is the day we begin the journey of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. We take the first step. It is the day we respond to Jesus’ invitation and call to live out our lives as disciples…
I like the way Rob Bell describes it:
“Jesus called disciples- students of life- to learn from him how to live in God’s world God’s way. Constantly learning and growing and evolving and absorbing. Tomorrow is never simply a repeat of today… Jesus calls disciples in order to teach us how to be and what to be; his intention is for us to be growing progressively in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling and responsibility, so that as these take over our lives (we are participating more and more in the abundant life God desires for us now… today). 
In the context of today’s reading from John, I want to build on that and suggest another definition of a disciple. Try this one on for size. It sounds simple, but the longer you follow Jesus, the harder it gets.
I want to offer one definition of discipleship based on this text:
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
So try this definition of a disciple on for size:
“A disciple is someone who listens for and hears the voice of Jesus above all the other voices that call him or her in the world. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus because they know his voice.”
So… listen up disciples! Jesus is talking!
This sounds easy until you think about it. Some of us even talk as if this were easy sometimes. But the older I get, the longer I live with Jesus, I realize how hard this is.
To many, the voice of Jesus sounds crazy. He sounds like a lunatic to many. And those who listen to his voice, may seem a bit insane themselves.
Frederick Buechner said, “If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter… the world says, ‘Mind your own business, Jesus says, “There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, “Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, “Follow me and be crucified. The world says, “Drive carefully- the life you save may be your own—and Jesus says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says GET and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot and anybody who thinks we can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.”
If that is true, it takes special ears to hear the voice of Jesus, our shepherd. You have to tune in and focus sometimes. He turns everything upside down from the way other voices tell us to live.
He must have sounded that way to those who knew him first. I mean, have you actually heard what he said in the beatitudes? It is crazy talk:
“You have heard it said, You shall not murder… but I tell you anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment”“You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery” but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”You have heard it said, “Eye for an eye, and tooth for an tooth”.. but I tell you to turn the other cheek.You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
I don’t know about you, but that last one has been a very challenging one for me to hear in the last couple of weeks to be honest. Anyone else having that problem? It sounds like crazy talk!
And yet, as a disciple of Jesus, I am called at least to listen. Because a disciple is someone who listens to Jesus… who listens hard to the voice of Jesus amid all other voices that would seek to drown Jesus out.
What voices do you hear that seek to drown out the voice of our good shepherd? What voices speak to you that draw you away from Jesus, rather than closer to Jesus?
On Easter Sunday I heard Tim Keller from the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York interviewed on This Week. He knows what I’m talking about. He ministers to people who work on Wall Street. Talk about the sounds of many voices! Jesus must sound crazy to them.
He talks about the toll of the pressure people feel to do well and make money. He sees it every day. He says that part of the reason for the economic downturn and recession came to some degree because people were listening to the voice of greed. That took a toll. Others hear voices telling them to work harder and harder at the expense of everyone, and everything else… even themselves…and people they love so much so that hard work becomes an idol- an end in itself.
He said, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but when it becomes an end all and be all (when it is the only voice you hear) , then you start to trample on people and it eats you up and… it can’t fulfill your soul… “
What Tim is saying is that the voices of our culture telling us that the purpose in life is to make work hard and make money are voices that will kill us one day.
How different from what the Good shepherd wants for us. Jesus wishes to offer us something different. Life abundant. Life to the full.
That’s why he came… to offer the fullness of life to anyone who would listen and follow. Not an easy life, but a full life. No one can promise you an easy life… if they say they are, they are lying to you.
Rather, what Jesus offers is a way of life so in tune with the living God… that you experience more and more peace and wholeness that the world will never be able to give you… no matter how loud all the other voices scream. A shepherd who would lead us through valleys of darkness to still waters.
My wish for the confirmands this day is very simple: May they may know they are now on a journey with Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd… who knows each one of them by name… who desires that they have a fulfilling and abundant life—maybe not as defined by our society or culture or many of their friends— but who desires that they hear a voice that can give them all they need for a full and fulfilling life. Amen.
P 51 Love Wins