On Halloween when I was 11, I visited my friend’s Baptist church because they had a hayride. Although many of my friends were there, the real reason is that the seventh grade girl I liked was a member of that church and she would be there. We’ll call her Susan. Mr. Tommy, the youth director, said, “Load up if you want to go on the hayride.” The flatbed trailer was hitched to a truck and they would drive us around the church cemetery where my best friend Joey had buried his great uncle just a few weeks before. I waited in the parking lot to see where Susan would sit. The trailer had a 3 inch layer of hay with iron rails around it and the fall air was cold enough to see your breath. As I stepped on to the trailer, one of my friends pushed me towards where Susan sat. I acted like I had tripped without looking at Susan but at my friend who had pushed me with the stare of “Come on dude” but in reality I appreciated his gesture. There I awkwardly stood in my Atlanta Braves sweatshirt and Black Adidas tennis shoes. I gingery sat down next to Susan. I liked her. Her best friend hinted that she liked me. Mr. Tommy made sure there was a good 2 and half feet between us to make room for the Holy Spirit.
With the smell of exhaust fumes and hay and the sun behind the pine trees, we wound around the 15 acre cemetery. We listened as one of the parents told us the story about a ghost who lurked around the cemetery. Although my memory can’t recall the ghost story itself, I remember feeling a bit of a lump in my throat. And remember I kept sliding closer to Susan and she inched closer to me. We were halfway around the cemetery near the tree line when suddenly a man jumped out of the woods with a chainsaw cranked at full tilt. All of us middle schoolers screamed at once. He was a deacon in the church and quickly pulled up his masks and let us know it was him. The ghost story continued. I looked at Susan and she sort of looked at me. Then Susan’s friend gave me a glare that I couldn’t interpret. Then finally her friend grabbed both Susan and my hand and put them together. For a Baptist hayride, this was a big deal. We held hands and the ghost story went on and I was hoping it would get even scarier and they would decide to take a second lap around the cemetery. And my heart dropped to my stomach. It was the first time I had ever held a girl’s hand. And I thought about converting to the Baptist Church.
Today is confirmation Sunday. All of our confirmands today are in 8th grade. Middle school is about those years when life was starting to become real. Love was not just an idea. It was actually holding a person’s hand. Biology was not just studying books. It was dissecting a frog. The same is true for faith. The Christian faith is not just something your parents, leaders and pastors have taught you. The Christian faith is not just words on a page. Your faith is something you can touch. It’s something real.
In today’s scripture, Jesus appears to the disciples on Easter evening as it was getting dark. They are terrified and think he’s a ghost. I can sympathize with these disciples. They have experienced a traumatic few days. They watched their leader, Jesus, be nailed to a cross. They are fearful for their own lives. Jesus said, “I’m not a ghost. Look at my hands and feet. Touch me. For a ghost does not have flesh and blood as I do.” Jesus is revealing to the disciples that the resurrection is real. You can touch it. This Christian faith we have taught you about is not a ghost. It’s real. Faith is something you can touch.
Confirmation marks the first time a baptized Christian publicly “confirms” their intention to live the vows of the baptismal and membership covenant and so becomes a professing member of the local congregation and The United Methodist Church.
Many of you may have been baptized as infants. At your baptism, God made a promise to you. God made a promise to forgive you and to love you unconditionally. On that day, your parents and church made a promise to raise you in the Christian faith. Over the course of your life, they taught you about the stories in the old and new testaments. They have raised you in the faith.
This last year, you all made a decision to be part of our confirmation class. I’m so proud of you. You could have easily said no because of COVID. I’m proud of Erich and our amazing mentors. You learned about the membership vows of our church. Prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. You all took a spiritual gifts assessment. You learned that you have unique gifts from God. One of you told me recently that your spiritual gift is mercy. I could not think of a more important gift our world needs right now than mercy. Each of you has a gift to share. You learned more about who Jesus is.
You learned Jesus is the savior of the world and wants to be your personal savior.
We’ve been teaching you about faith. Faith is a gift of God to you. Your faith is God’s gift to help you believe what you can’t always see. Jesus Christ loves you.
You also learned that Jesus cared about the vulnerable people of the earth. He cared about the excluded people like the Samaritans. As you grow, you’re going to become aware of poverty in our world, of exclusion of certain types of people. You will learn that poverty is not just an idea. You’ll start to realize there are children in our city living out of cars with their parents.
Your Christian can help you respond as you think about Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” You’ll realize that you can put your faith into action. You can hammer a nail with Habitat for Humanity. You can join a club in your school to help fight poverty. Your faith is something you touch. It’s not just an idea. It’s not just teaching. It’s real.
As I think about Jesus, I think about his ministry. He would touch the eyes of a blind man. He would wash his disciples’ dirty feet. He told a story about samaritan who cleaned the wounds of a man on the side of the road. Jesus wanted to show us that faith is something you can touch. Or think about the Apostle Paul. In Galatians 3:27, He said, “There was no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. For you are one in Christ Jesus.” He called for unity among people and races. We need unity today.
Years ago, I was on a mission trip with a youth group. We traveled to Charleston, South Carolina. We’d been working all week to do hurricane relief work. We visited one of the families who were affected. One of our youth members was Nic, who was in high school. This family we were visiting was an African American family. Their home had been damaged by the hurricane. We were a predominantly white youth group. It was the last day and we stood in their driveway. We laughed and prayed together. This family has this two year old child. She was a beautiful child and she hid behind her mother’s leg. Nic walks over to say hello. This child starts screaming as Nic gets closer. It was like she had seen a ghost. The mother says, “Don’t take it the wrong way. It’s just that she’s not been around a lot of white skin before.” Then the mother says to Nic, “Hold out your arm.” I’ll never forget it. Nic rolls up his sleeve. The mother would bring her daughter over. She takes her arm. She slowly brings it over to Nic’s forearm. She takes the child’s hand and lightly presses it against Nic’s. The mom says, “See, it’s ok. It’s ok. He’s ok.” This young daughter’s eyes look at Nic’s eyes. She laughed hysterically and we all laughed. It was a moment of grace and healing and of a promising future.
The Christian faith is something you can touch. Jesus said to these frightened disciples on that first Easter, “See, I’m not a ghost. Reach out your hands and touch me. For a ghost does not have flesh and blood as I do.” Your faith is something you can touch.