March 3, 2013

The Challenge Before You (Confirmation Sunday)

Preacher:
Series:

During the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of teaching all the Teen Confirmation Classes at Central;  and frankly, this has been a highlight of my work, providing me an opportunity to get to know the young people of our congregation.  There have been large classes with as many as 15 members, and small ones with as few as 3.   The response from the young people, has ranged from enthusiasm, to – ‘I’m here because my parents made me come!’ 

But this year’s class of 5 young people has been very special.  Throughout the 19 weeks of the course, they’ve demonstrated a high level of commitment and maturity.  They’ve also achieved the best attendance record of all the classes I’ve taught

These young people participating here today are a remarkable group of talented and committed teens, whom I am confidence will make a very significant contribution to our world in the years to come.

You may remember in past years, I’ve made a point of saying that my message on Confirmation Sunday was directed primarily to those being confirmed.  This year is no exception.   The rest of you are more than welcome to listen in, but it is really to these 5 young people sitting in front of me that I’m addressing these words.

The text comes from chapter 10 of 1st Corinthians, the passage recommended by the lectionary which we follow each Sunday, and although the lectionary doesn’t recognize this as Confirmation Sunday,  it’s given us a very appropriate passage, given the world into which you young people are poised to enter.

Paul is speaking to a community of Christians who are living in a pagan society.   Consequently, the faith of these new converts was constantly being challenged, and daily they faced with temptations that could easily pull them away from following Jesus Christ.   Thus Paul was attempting to strengthen their faith and keep them on track.

The temptations of the society in which you live and practice your faith are, in many ways, very similar to those in ancient Corinth.  So let’s look at Paul’s message, and see how we can apply it to the situation you’re going to face in the years to come.

Text:  “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful,      and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with this testing he will also provide the way out, so that you may be able to endure it.”  (I Cor. 10:13}

I’d like to begin with a brief story:

A father was trying to explain to his 5 year old daughter just how much computers had changed since the time when he was in university.  Pointing to the family’s brand new laptop he said:  “When I went to university, a computer with the same amount of memory and power as this one would have been the size of a house!”

His daughter looked at him , her eyes wide with wonder, -  and then she replied:  “How big was the mouse?”

We all know that computers have changed a great deal in recent years.  The monster machines of the past have been replaced with portable devices that we can take just about anywhere we go.  And the software that goes with them, allows us to do things today, that people in the past could only dream about.  Even in the relatively short time you’ve been using computers, I’m sure you seen big changes.  And we can only wonder what marvels of technology the future years are going to bring.

There’s no question but that this technology has added a great deal to our way of life.  For example, I’ve never done very well in spelling.  (I still have, thanks to my mother saving them for me, my report cards from grade 1 to 8.  Would you believe, there wasn’t a single year that I got better than a D in spelling!).

But now, thanks to modern software, I don’t have to worry about that anymore, because the minute I mis-spell a word, my computer warns me of the mistake; and then shows me the correct spelling.  And if I want the definition for that word, or perhaps a synonym for it,  that too is only a key stroke away.  Mind you, I still have to a little careful because the spell check in most computers gives us the American spelling of the words, - not the Canadian.  But apart from that, it’s a great relief to know that when I write, the words I’m using are spelled correctly.

Another change brought about by computers is in communication.  Today we are able to keep in almost constant contact with our friends and family.  We can send emails;  talk virtually face-to-face through Skype,  or send Text messages which allow us to communicate instantly, no matter where we are.  Your parents don’t have to experience those long agonizing hours on Friday or Saturday nights, wondering where you are and when you’ll be home; the way parents in previous years had to do.   Now, they simply send you a text message, and within seconds you can reply.

And then of course, there’s the internet.  That too has become a wonderful tool to enhance our lives, bringing as it does all the world’s knowledge to us in an instant.  No matter what topic you’re researching, a few search questions results in copious information on the subject.

It won’t be many years before you’ll be driving, and when you do you will be able to use a GPS systems in your cars to guide you to wherever you’re going, and even to find the nearest restaurant, or coffee shop, or gas station –  along the way.

This coming September my wife and I plan to visit two of my friends in Japan, one of whom, I’ve never met in person.  He was my pen pal when I was in high school.  But thanks to Google ‘Street View’, I’ve already seen my friends’ homes, and have even travelled in virtual reality,  the 50 kms that separates their two homes.

We can only guess what other marvels in computer technology and the internet that lay ahead of you in the years to come. But one thing we do know;  not everything that computers and the internet provides is good!   Along with all these wonderful and useful tools, comes a whole host of temptations and evils.

You’re going to have to learn how to avoid all the sophisticated internet scams that will try to steal your personal identify and rob you of our financial resources.  I’m sure you are already exposed to many of the sophisticated computer games available today.  They can astound us with their elaborate and very life-like graphics; but many of them are also filled with violence.  And if you are exposed to too much of this violence, then there is a very real danger that you could begin to see violence as normal, and an acceptable way of life.

Then there’s also the proliferation of on-line gambling and pornography sites, both of which can easily led you into destructive addictive behaviours that could destroy your life, and the wellbeing of your families.

One of the problems today is, that unlike the temptations of the past, these modern temptations can reach you, even when you are in your own homes.  There’s no place where you are safe from them!

CHRISTIANS ARE NOT IMMUNE TO TEMPTATION

In Paul’s day, the Christians who lived in Corinth had to contend with paganism, moral corruption and sexual promiscuity, because their whole society was permeated by these evils.  But unlike today, those early Christians could escape these temptations, at least for a short time, simply by going home or to their place of worship.

Mind you, having these places of escape; and also because they’d been baptized and become members of the Church, - made some of these early Christians think they were immune to the evils of the world.  I suspect they felt very much like we do when we’ve been vaccinated against the flue.  They thought, because they’d become Christians, they were no longer in danger of being mislead by the corruption of the  society around them.

To point out the foolishness of this way of thinking, Paul tells them about the people of Israel. He points out, that in spite of all the religious rituals these people practiced, and all the sacrifices they performed in their temple, many of the Jews still lived lives that displeased God.  Time after time again, they strayed away from their faith to worship other gods, and commit immoral acts.

And so, speaking to the Corinthians, Paul says:  “You can’t rely on the ceremonies of religion to protect you; because performing rituals isn’t what is important to God.  God is much how concerned about how you live your lives, day by day.”  And then, wanting to make sure they fully understood the things they should avoid, he listed some of the things they should avoid.

When you read this list, you may think Paul is being pretty negative; because he’s listing all the things that they should avoid.  But in reality, there is a positive way to approach these things.  For example, Paul says “Don’t lust after evil things”.   Put in positive terms, his message is – “Learn to desire the things that are really good for you.”

He tells them not to worship idols, but put in positive terms, this means:  “Don’t let anything replace your love and commitment to God.”   He warns against sexual immorality.  A positive way to say this is::  “Let your sexual drives be directed towards love and commitment, rather than self-indulgence.”

But probably the most important message Paul has for you here today, as you prepare to venture out in the world through high school and then university or community college, is: remember, that while you will experience many things that will tempt you to forget that you are a Christian, - God has given you all the resources you need to resist those temptations.  All that’s required of you is a willingness to open your hearts to God, and let the power of His Holy Spirit guide and strengthen you.

As you learned some weeks ago in our course, God has given each of you a mind and body, and  now it’s your responsibility to cherish this gift and do you best to use it for the glory of God and the benefit of humanity.

It was the Apostle Paul who told us about this responsibility when he said, in this same letter to the Corinthians:

“Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.  For God’s temple is   holy, and you are that temple.”    (I Cor. 3:17

My friends, I hope you’ll always remember that by committing  your lives to Jesus Christ, as you are doing today, you’re promising to be a follower of Jesus Christ, for the rest of your life.

May God always be with you.