Sunday, May 20, 2001

The Great Embankment

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 24: 44-55

Beloved: we are on a path together. Together we are taking a journey! Confirmation is not a location but a direction. Confirmation is not a spot but a trajectory. We’re walking the path prepared for us by God’s Grace.


At age twenty, some of us had the golden opportunity to study together in old Castile in the center of Spain. You know some of their traditions, eating dinner, la cena, from 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM, and later the needed tradition of la siesta the next day from two to four in the afternoon. But when the shops closed at 7:00 PM in this and in most communities, the town would gather for what was called el paseo, the walk. Together they would walk and shop and talk and stop for a coffee or other refreshments or a pastry. It was a time of conviviality.

One evening my friend Ed, from an Irish family in Ashtabula, and I stopped with some in the town and they began to sing songs of Segovia. After they finished, they asked if we would each sing a song that told them something about our identity, about our background. Well, I didn’t think Ed was a very good singer, and I knew I wasn’t so we were a little scared. But do you know, Ed, after the quiet, began to sing surprisingly, beautifully, a song about Molly Malone in Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty. And again the quiet came and I realized it was my turn. So I began to sing what came to mind, “Had a mule, her name was Sal, fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.” We translated roughly and our hosts said, “Is this the difference between Ohio and New York? He sings about a woman and you sing about a mule?!!”

Our imagery today is canal imagery--our home turf. Walk with me three steps, if you will, along the towpath. We could imagine ourselves somewhere between Pittsford and Bushnel’s Basin, with the canal on the right and the moorings on the left. We’re following the towpath. Step one as you are confirmed:

I. Believe

Confirmation gives us the grace to believe. To become a Christian this and each day means to believe in a certain way, to believe in almighty God. Whose power is known in the created order. Whose personality is seen in the face and mostly in the voice of Jesus Christ. Whose presence is trusted as our helping, saving spirit, day by day. We believe in a certain, specific way in almighty God. The Bible says: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved”(Rom 10:9). We believe---as the creeds express in a variety of ways. You know there have been creeds from the beginning of the Church. We are not a creedal denomination, but we use them, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The one regularly we use here is taken from the United Church of Canada: “We believe in God, who has created and is creating, who has come in the true person Jesus to reconcile and to make new”. Our Confirmands for this day, have written their own several creeds. You know baseball players, now and then, give off a little bit of wisdom. We remember Yogi Beara saying, it’s a good word for confirmation, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Sachel Page saying, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” But today, perhaps we could remember from thirty-two years ago, Tug McGraw, the great Mets pitcher saying, “You gotta believe, you gotta believe.” To become a Christian in confirmation means to believe.

II. Belong

Take another step with me will you along the canal path. On our left hand there are moorings where the canal boats once were tethered. In our life together, these can be images of sacramental rights, baptism and confirmation, communion, ordination, marriage, forgiveness, memorial--all very important means of grace. Not the center, the path, the journey is the center. But the moorings are still very important helps and provide security. To become a Christian means not only to believe but also to belong, to belong to the body of Christ, the church, The Bible says that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers”. There are no freelance Christians. We need one another! One person sharpens another like iron sharpens iron. And so in this great church we try week by week to summon the finest features of Christianity from every part of the globe and blend them together: Catholic tradition, Anglican sacraments, reformation faith, puritan discipline, pietist feelings. Yes, to be a Methodist (a Methodist is just like everybody else only more so) it’s a blend.

III. To Behave

To become a Christian means to belong to the community of faith and live among God’s people, to be refreshed and restored. But take a third step along the path with me if you will, for to become a Christian also means to behave in a particular way. You know, along the canal path there are the moorings to the left and there is the canal itself to the right. And times of sheer delight come upon us in our life together, so savor them. That moment at summer camp in the evening, that quiet prayer hour when you heard a voice, that crusade in which you were converted for the first or second time, that moment at the communion rail when God’s grace touched your heart deeply.

We are calling our young people, this and every generation, to behave in a certain way. Paul taught the Romans that they should love one another with “mutual affection” and so we say simply to our Confirmands, go to church, love your neighbor, tell the truth, keep your word, save your money, hug your father, kiss your mother, feed the poor, hear the hurt, learn to tithe, respect your body, and so live to the glory of Almighty God. To become a Christian means to behave in a certain set of ways.

The Great Embankment

Now if we go far enough out on the canal we’ll come just toward Bushnel’s Basin and there as we’re arriving we’ll find ourselves on “the great embankment.” You know, in 1822 our forbears, these courageous pioneers, found a way to carry water, canal water, over water, the Irondequoit creek. Fearless they were, and so they put over a mile long and 70 feet in the air this great embankment upon whose path we are walking today (in the mind’s eye).

Christ Jesus is our great embankment, carrying us in the water of faith across the river of life. Christ Jesus is our great embankment carrying us in the water of baptism, through the river of struggle, not only to the left and to the right but especially along that central path which we journey. Maybe this afternoon our young adults and their parents will go out to the Burgandy Basin and walk the canal and sense again the great embankment, but if we do today and every day let us do so especially listening for that one voice, that saving voice so equable, so pure and so serene: You know it well.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world, let your light so shine before others that they may give glory to God in heaven. If someone asks you to go one mile, go two of them as well. If you’re asked for a coat give a cloak as well. You have heard it said love your neighbor, hate your enemy, but I say to you love your enemy. So you will be children of the most high who is kind to the ungrateful and to the selfish.

Store ye not up treasure on earth, where moth and rust doth consume and thieves break in and steal; but store up treasure in heaven where neither moth or rust consume, nor do thieves break in and steal. Judge not, that ye be not judged, for the measure you give will be the measure you get. Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be open. For enter in at the narrow gate, for broad is the gate and wide is the way that leads to perdition and many there be who go thereby; but narrow is the gate and straight is the way that leads to life and few there be who find it. To what shall we compare those who hear this word and heed it? They are like a wise man who built his house upon the rock and the rain fell and the flood came and the winds blew and beat upon that house but it did not fall because it was founded on the rock. To what shall we compare those who hear the word and do not heed it? They are like a man who built his house on the sand and the rain fell and the flood came and the wind blew and beat upon that house and it fell in and great was the fall of it.

Beloved, we are on a path, a journey together. Let us take three steps this and each day to believe, to belong and to behave as we become together in the body of Christ. Happy Confirmation Sunday! Amen.

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