Meditation on John chapter 8: 31-36
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio
Pastor Karen Crawford
Oct. 25, 2020
This year, our Confirmation program was nothing like we’ve ever experienced. And it wasn’t just because of the new Presbyterian Confirmation curriculum.
We kicked off the program in January with a parent/mentor/student meeting after worship. I passed out a syllabus that would end up being changed numerous times, due to circumstances beyond our control. We struggled to come up with a day when everyone was available to meet. We settled on Wednesday nights. Each student chose a mentor from the congregation, and mentors were invited to join us for many of the classes and for pizza in West Lafayette one wintry night. We had guest speakers at every class share personal stories of faith. All of our mentors shared, as did other people in our congregation, our presbytery, and some from the community, such as Susie Stout from Roscoe United Methodist, who shared the gospel through a magic show! Now, that was a tough act to follow!
Sometime in February, I remember saying that I wished I had more time with the kids. I thought we were going too fast, rushing through important concepts. The curriculum was meant for a full school year. Then, a scheduling conflict with sports came up, and we worried that we might lose one of our students. We couldn’t move the class to another night, without losing others. All we could do was pray.
And then, the church and the schools closed because of COVID-19. The kids had plenty of time for the program, but we couldn’t meet in person. We decided to meet via Zoom. We had never done that before!
The Spirit continued to guide, feed and teach us as the weeks passed. I moved away from the curriculum, so we could give more time for sharing struggles, joys, and prayer concerns. Those Zoom meetings helped ease the loneliness and isolation that the students and adults were feeling. I remember sad expressions sometimes as we said goodbye. Pentecost—the day that we were supposed to confirm the students—came and went; the church was still not gathering in person. In mid-July, we began meeting at the church parlor for confirmation, though we still weren’t worshiping in-person. It was a good thing John Addy was there the night a big bat flew into the parlor right before class began. He took care of the bat. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
At our last meeting, the students laid blue sheets on the floor to symbolize the Jordan river and the Israelites crossing to the Land of the Promise in Joshua. I brought stones from my garden, and the students were invited to choose a stone from the river, one by one. As they picked them up, we said, “Remember, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are with you.” I wonder if the students still have their stones to help them remember?
After hearing their faith statements and encouraging them, Session approved the students’ membership last month.
The one thing I have always hoped the children would know by the end of Confirmation is that this is THEIR church, not just the church of their parents and grandparents. And I have always wanted them to know me, not just as a pastor they see leading worship on Sunday morning, but as a person who cares about them. I always hope that Confirmation will be the beginning of our long friendship.
While they study Bible, Confessions, Church History, The Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer, and the polity of the Presbyterian Church, what I want them to know, most of all, is about God’s love, mercy and grace. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven for all our sins!
This is the truth that makes us free!
It was this simple but astounding truth and other promises in God’s Word that spoke to the heart of Reformers of the later Middle Ages. Many brave and bold voices, male and female, spoke against the errors and oppression of the Roman Church, before and after Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door on Oct. 31, 1517.
Battles were fought and lives lost because of these radical ideas about our God, the Bible in the language of the people, and the work of Jesus Christ as sufficient for all sin. The question was and is for all the ages, “How can a person be saved and have eternal life?” The answer: by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our works.
The Reformation of the Church and our transformation by the Spirit continues today with our readings, including John chapter 8, the topic of which is sin. We don’t like to talk about sin—and neither did the people of Jesus’ day.
This chapter begins with the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus bends down and writes with his finger in the sand, before answering the Pharisees’ questions about justice and the law of Moses, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
One by one, they go away, convicted of their own sin.
“Woman, where are they?” Jesus asks. “Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she answers, probably with relief in her voice.
“Neither do I condemn you,” says the gracious Son of our merciful God. “Go your way and sin no more.”
In today’s passage, beginning at verse 31, Jesus speaks to a large group of people who had come to believe in him, but we find out, they aren’t his true disciples. Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” His words are offensive, for he implies that they aren’t already free. Weren’t they descendants of Abraham? They had never been slaves, they said, forgetting about Exodus and their ancestors’ captivity in Egypt.
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
A long, heated debate follows. The crowd turns against Jesus, calling him a Samaritan and saying he has a demon. The chapter closes with Jesus sharing his true identity, as revealed to Moses at the burning bush. “Before Abraham was,” Jesus says, “I Am.”
The crowd picks up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hides and leaves the temple.
Not everyone wants to know the truth, my friends, and be set free from their sin. John 3:19 says, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
On Reformation Sunday, we give thanks to God for the work of the Holy Spirit in and among us, a work that will be complete on the day of Jesus Christ, when our Lord comes again for His Church. We give thanks for the Spirit that has raised up reformers with bold voices over the centuries, when the Church has lost its way. We give thanks for the Spirit that unites us in Christ’s body, strengthens us and gives us faith; the Spirit is still speaking to us through God’s Word today.
And we have another blessing for which to give thanks. We have the pleasure of welcoming our four youth who have completed their confirmation journeys and are ready to make a deeper commitment to Christ and the Church.
I don’t know if I can put into words all that we have learned through Confirmation this year. But I can tell you that much of the learning had nothing to do with the new curriculum. I feel that I have come to know these four students better than I would have if this had been an ordinary Confirmation class in an ordinary year. And I believe these students have come to love and respect one another and their mentors more than they would have if they hadn’t been the COVID Confirmation Class of 2020.
I pray that our congregation will continue to be a blessing to our young people, especially these four who are our newest members. I urge you to pray for them, reach out to them with cards and calls. Say hello when you see them in church. Help them to be confident in the people God has made them to be and feel good about the gifts and talents the Lord has given them to use for God’s glory.
One day soon, I can see these four youth helping to grow the Church. Perhaps they are already reaching out to the next generation. I can see them telling the world about God’s love, mercy and grace: the truth that makes us free!
Let us pray.
Holy One, we thank you for your Spirit and praise you on this Reformation Sunday for the transforming work you are doing in your Church. We ask that you would help us to be faithful to your call on our lives in this difficult time and to be generous with ourselves and resources, seeking to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with you, and help our neighbors in need. Bless our children and youth, O Lord, and their families. Help us to minister to all the generations. Provide for those who are struggling financially and worried about their jobs. Heal the sick. Bring peace and reconciliation. In Christ we pray. Amen.