I grew up in the church. My parents diligently made sure that I put on uncomfortable clothes, and sat through hymns that I didn’t know the words to, and listened to sermons that went on forever almost every Sunday. I was part of the Christmas pageant. I went to youth group. I even sung in the choir for a while and provided special music occasionally.
And when I was in eighth grade—I think it was eighth grade—I went through confirmation. In the church I grew up in, the church gave us bibles as confirmation gifts: New Revised Standard Versions with deli-cut-thin pages and our names embossed right on the red covers.
I got two of them, because the first one—which, as far as I know is still on the shelf in the library of that church in Wisconsin—was bound wrong: the cover was on upside down and backward. That was probably not a sign of anything to come.
I had been a part of that church pretty much since I was born. I had been a member of that community my whole life. But on one spring Sunday that I don’t really remember at all, I became an official member of the church… equal in every way with every other member… a fellow servant in Christ… with a New Revised Standard Version Bible with deli-cut-thin pages and my name embossed right on the red cover… that went dutifully unread.
And today, on this Sunday in the fall of a deeply strange year, we are confirming five young people. They have been a part of our church. They have been part of our community. And, today, they are becoming official members of the church… equal in every way with every other member… fellow servants in Christ.
Today is a new beginning. Every year around this time, we start a new cycle of the lectionary, a new cycle of readings for the coming school-year-or-so. It will take us from now until Pentecost. And it will take us through the story… from the beginning to the end. Kind of. Sort of.
And so we start at the beginning. And, because the people who created the lectionary didn’t want us to have to read too much, we start with selections. But it comes down to this… God loved the world this way:
In the beginning, when there was next to nothing and the earth was bare, God made a creature out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into it. And God planted a garden, and put the creature in the garden, and said to the creature, “Care for the garden. Eat anything in the garden. Just don’t eat from that tree.”
And God thought, “I don’t want this creature to be lonely. I’ll make him a partner and a helper.” And God made sparrows and squirrels and red pandas and black-and-white pandas and giraffes and kites and termites and all sorts of other things. And God showed them to the creature, and the creature named them, but none of them were right.
So God put the creature to sleep, and took a rib, and made the rib into another creature, and now there was a man and a woman. And that worked.
Today is a new beginning. Today, we are confirming five young people. Today, we are asking them to be part of our little consulate of the kingdom of God. Today, we are asking them to join in the work of the church. And today, they are saying, “Yes.”
We were supposed to do this ages ago. We were supposed to do this in the spring or the early summer. We were supposed to read about another garden. Because someday, God will love the world like this:
God will make a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem. And there will be no temple, because God will be the temple, sitting on a throne in the center of the city. And the river of the water of life will flow from the throne of God. And the tree of life will grow around the river, and its leaves will be for the healing of the nations.
God planted a garden where there was life in all of its fullness. God will plant a garden where there will be life in all of its fullness. That is the foundation of the world and the promise of our faith. That whatever else may happen in the in-between, God will lead us back to the garden.
Of course, the in-between is… well… upside-down and backwards, maybe.
You see, there was this serpent who lived in the garden and hung out around the tree that the man and the woman weren’t supposed to eat from. And it asked them, “God said you could eat anything in the garden, right?”
And the woman said, “Just not from that tree. If we eat from it—if we even touch it—we will die.”
And the serpent said, “No. You won’t die. You’ll become wise. You’ll know good and evil and everything in-between.”
And the man and the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and a delight to the eyes, and was to be desired to make one wise. So they took… and they plucked… and they ate. And their eyes were opened… and they weren’t who they were before… and things fell apart. Kind of. Sort of.
God changed the rules. God sent them out of the garden and into the world that was waiting. And God made them some clothes.
And… well… I’m not sure…
You see, God loved the world like this… God loves the world like this:
God calls the world into being again and again. God plants gardens again and again. God fills the world with life again and again. And God gives this life-filled garden of a world as a gift again and again.
And when we mess up—when we break the world—again and again, God lets us take the consequences… and then God says, “I’m not done with you, yet.” Again and again.
Even after God comes into the world as one of us to show us the way. Even after we hang God on a cross and bury God in a tomb. Again and again.
And… well… I’m thinking that God saw this coming. I’m thinking that God sees this coming. I’m thinking that God wasn’t planning on making a creature out of dust and taking the rest of eternity off. I’m thinking that God was planning and is planning and will be planning on being in a relationship with this world and with us: a relationship that has gardens and deserts, laughter and pain, joy and sorrow, sin and repentance. Again and again.
And I’m thinking that God is working us through the upside-down, backwards, in-between… and towards the garden full of life… where we will find rest in God. But not until we’re done.
Today is a new beginning.
It is a new beginning for our confirmands, who are becoming members of this church… equal in every way with every other member… fellow servants in Christ. And so I’ll say this to them:
Let this be a garden for you, full of life. I know that you won’t always be here. I know that you’ll go out into the world. But no matter who you are or who you will be—no matter where you end up on life’s journey through the upside-down, backwards, in-between—you are welcome here. Always. Again and again.
Today is a new beginning.
It is a new beginning for our church—for this little corner or a garden—because we are welcoming these confirmands. Give them the tools to till and keep this garden. Give them the permission to plant new things and prune the overgrowth and pull out the weeds. Welcome them today. Welcome them back tomorrow. Always. Again and again.
Today is a new beginning. Because every day—every moment—is a new beginning. And the God who speaks the worlds into being is calling to us, saying, “I’m not done with you yet. Come see my garden. It’s full of life.”
So let’s go and follow.