Formation

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Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37 – Advent 1, 2017 – Pastor Goede

Both of the confirmation classes have been listening to parents talk about their faith recently. A couple of parents have met with the kids in each of the two classes to talk about their own faith journeys. So far, Dorothy Pytel and Esther Menn have shared, and in some ways, their journeys have been similar. They were both baptized as babies, drifted away from the church as young adults, then came back to eventually build careers and families rooted in faith.

The kids could identify with some of these points on their own spiritual journeys. In the second-year class, we each took a piece of paper and drew what our journeys look like so far. All but one of the kids had been baptized as a baby and grown up in a family that went to church. They put a lot of marks on their timelines that adults might have forgotten about. For instance, some of them remembered being in the Augustana nursery and making handprints that stayed on the wall for years. Erik could remember putting his hand over it when he was older and marveling at how small his hand had been. They had memories of Sunday School, of receiving Spark Bibles when they were in the third grade, of communing with wine instead of grape juice for the first time.

Hearing them reminded me of some long-ago memories, a moment in my home church’s nursery, a book about kids playing church that I loved, the moment when I got to set fire to the church’s mortgage when I was an acolyte. You might think that those kinds of moments are insignificant, but hearing the kids talk about them reminded me that we are formed as Christians, we grow in faith, we don’t just pop up ready to go as people deeply engaged with spirit. As Isaiah puts it, we are like clay formed by the potter, carefully made for something.

You might envy that kind of formation if you feel like you haven’t had much of a spiritual journey. Many people grow up without any kind of organized faith experience, and they feel like they don’t have a spiritual life. They feel they haven’t journeyed anywhere. But everybody has a spiritual life, and everybody has a faith journey.

You might not like what that life and journey has been before, or you might feel that you just need to give your experience some shape and find a way to talk about it. Advent is a great season for making a commitment to yourself and to God to form yourself in a different way. It’s a good time to renew, and start again.

Formation matters. For instance, our gospel talks about the world as we know it ripped apart. Jesus says the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Keep awake, Jesus says, because you don’t know when the master of the house will return.

These can be unsettling words, but for those who are poor and brokenhearted in so many ways, seeing the world as we know it ripped in this way, ripped open to usher in the kingdom of God, is good news. We have hope that God’s kingdom can break into our world, because in Advent, we remember that God has broken into our world before, in the form of the little child, Jesus. This kind of wrenching of the world is good news.

But sometimes it feels like the world as we know it is being ripped apart only to destroy it, by a much different kind of spirit. Sometimes it feels like division and chaos have taken on a life of their own in our world and our country, and that is not good news.

Discerning the difference is part of formation. When people caught up in political discussion talk about “creative destruction,” sometimes they mean challenging and opening up and completely transforming old, unjust systems.

But sometimes, they mean burn it all to the ground, everybody for themselves. Those are very different visions of endtimes and the establishment of a new kingdom. Without an ability to discern, you can be led to hope for your own destruction.

You need to be formed, in secular life by an education that helps you think and weigh and decide, and you need to be formed in your spiritual life, to know how to look at a situation and decide if it is of God, or not.

We can see what happens when people have no ability to discern; they end up listening to voices that tell them that there are no facts, no truth, no right or wrong, no one they can trust. They end up being at the mercy of anyone who wants to prey on them.

Formation gives us enough wisdom to hear the master’s voice, and know when he might be on the verge of breaking through the door and into our lives. Formation makes us strong enough to use our discernment to protect those who are poor and brokenhearted. That all makes for a good and godly way to live.