I Know You, I Know Your Heart

Diamond Lake Confirmands - 1979
Diamond Lake Confirmands – 1979

“I Know You.  I Know your Heart”
John 6:24-35
Pastor Todd Buegler
Trinity Lutheran Church
August 1 & 2, 2015

Today’s Gospel lesson is a continuation of last week’s story and takes place almost immediately after the feeding of the 5000.  After the miracle, Jesus had gone to Capernaum to step away from the crowd…to rest.  But the crowds followed him there.

Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord.  Amen.

This past week, Luther Seminary hosted a conference called “Rethinking Confirmation.”  It looked at our methods and ways of doing faith formation with young people and families.  I got to spend a little bit of time at it, and Chris Swanson, our jr. high youth minister and a few of our young people and their parents were a part of a panel discussion on “Best Practices” in confirmation.  So this week, confirmation has been on my mind.  Thinking ahead, certainly, but even more, reflecting on my own experience with confirmation.

I found myself thinking about that beautiful Sunday morning in May of 1979 when 9 of us put on our white robes, pinned on our carnations and processed behind our pastors for what was known in those “old red hymnal days” as the “Rite of Confirmation.”

It is fair to say that the confirmation process at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis was, at the time, largely an intellectual and cognitive exercise.  When the nine of us would gather at 4:30pm every Wednesday afternoon, we would do so in the sanctuary, and would sit in the front pew.  And Pastor Bergin, our senior pastor, would teach to us…from the pulpit. (Like that wasn’t intimidating?)

And together we worked our way through two books:  year one was the 200 page hardcover I Believe in God the Father and in year two it was the riveting sequel:  I Believe in Jesus Christ.  Of course, there was a third book in the series, but ours was only a two year program, so as per usual, the Holy Spirit got the short end of the stick.

And a hefty amount of our time and attention went to memorization.  And I am someone who has always struggled with memorization. I still do. So as a 7th grader, I remember agonizing hours spent with my Mom trying to keep straight the meanings to the petitions.

And at the end of the process, there was the crucible, the one-on-one interview with Pastor Bergin.  Terrifying.  So when Vesla Werket, the Christian education director, called me down the hall and walked me to Pastor Bergin’s office, I was shaking in my Adidas.  I sat down across the desk, and was still running through the meanings of the 2nd article in my mind when he startled me.  First he smiled, there was a light in his eye, and he said  “Well Todd, this is going to be fun. (Fun?) I baptized you.  I’ve spent time with your family and I’ve been to your home for dinner.  I know you, and I know your heart.  Now tell me, how is your grandma doing?”  And we talked for 30 minutes.

I know you, and I know your heart.

36 years later, I cannot speak much to the content of the faith formation process at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church.  But I can say this.  Of the nine of us in that confirmation class, 3 of us went on to full-time ministry.  And I defy you to name another congregation that has a 33% rate of return into full-time Christian public leadership.  No pressure, confirmands!

So what happened at Diamond Lake?  What was it that formed faith in this group?

I know you.  I know your heart.

Confirmation ministry for us wasn’t about the lectures from the pulpit or the memorization or the tests we took or the meanings we recited.

Confirmation ministry for us was a petri dish.  It was a place where the nine of us were mixed together, blended and combined with the wisdom of a couple of good pastors and a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit, and something happened. Something good happened.  Something powerful happened.

For me, it was coming to the understanding that there was someone there who knew me…who knew my heart and that I was a part of something much bigger than myself.  And ultimately, that Pastor Bergin, Pastor Kotzer, Vesla Werket and my 8 friends…they were just the tip of the iceberg.

Those relationships that I formed in that group, and in the whole of the congregation…while I don’t think I could articulate it then…it was in the midst of those relationships where Christ became present and real for me.  Through them, God was at work within me.  Through them, my faith and my vocation were being formed.

In Pastor Bergin’s words that day, I experienced…I tasted the bread of life.

Jesus said:  “I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 

In this text, Jesus says that he is the “true bread.”  (The emphasis here is on the word true.)  He is making it clear that he’s not just speaking symbolically or metaphorically.  He is the bread, the promise, the grace, given for you.  He is the incarnation, come to God’s people to break the bonds of sin and to give life.

At Trinity, when we do a baptism, in our liturgy we claim these promises of God: that we are freed from sin and death, we are joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are reborn children of God and made members of Christ’s church, and that living with Christ and together, we will grow in faith, love and obedience to God.

It is Jesus Christ, the bread of life that makes us whole.  And it is the Holy Spirit that forms our faith.

Today, we are like those 5,000 plus who gathered on the hillside earlier in the story, spiritually broken and hungry until Jesus fed them.

We all experience brokenness.  The phrase we use in our confession is “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  Every single one of us.  And I’ve heard your stories:

  • Broken marriages
  • Broken workplaces
  • Broken relationships
  • Broken health
  • Broken trust
  • Broken promises

You know what I’m talking about.  You know the brokenness that exists within yourself.  You may do your best to keep it hidden…None of us like to let that side of ourselves “show.”  But that doesn’t make our brokenness any less real.

And so we depend (no, that’s not a strong enough word) we cling; we cling to the promises of God in Jesus; the promise that he is indeed the bread of life.  That he knows us, and that he loves us despite what he knows.

And we are not the only ones who need to be reminded of this.  Remember that Jesus proclaims boldly that “I am the bread of life.”  When we hear those words, shouldn’t it motivate us to be the ones who bring the bread to the hungry?  Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Seminary, one of my theological heroes, says that our call is to become “Godbearers”, ones who carry the incarnation to others.  She writes that: “Christ sends us into the world as he was sent: to embody God’s good news as we tell it, to enact the divine plan of salvation in word and deed.”  As Christ is bread of life, we are called to embody that for those we encounter on our journey.

I believe that’s what Pastor Bergin did for me.  For him, ultimately it wasn’t about the memorization, or the “right answers.”  What was it about?

It was about the bread of life.  He said, “Todd, I know you, and I know your heart.”

And when he said this to me, wasn’t he just affirming the promises made to me in my baptism?  The promise that God will know me by name…will know every hair on my head…will love me even when…especially when…I don’t deserve it?  And when we receive that gift, like the disciples, we cannot help but respond by saying “Lord, give us this bread always.”

We experience these promises lived out all of the time.

  • You experienced it first in your baptism.
  • You experienced it when you’ve forgiven someone who wronged you.
  • When someone you have wronged has forgiven you.
  • When someone tells you that they love you
  • When you read the words of promise found in the scriptures.
  • When you reach out your hand, and receive the bread, and then the wine, and you come into physical contact with the Holy.

In these moments, we can hear the echo of Jesus’ words. I AM…the bread of life.

Dr. Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Life can be such a rush…so confusing…so distracting.  It’s so easy to let it slip to the side, this relationship we have with Jesus.  But he reminds us today that he is the bread of life.

We all hunger.  We all are broken.  We all have our journey to the cross.  But we also cling to the promises of God. Every single day, God looks to each of you and says “I know you…I know your heart…I AM the bread of life.  Be fed, and hunger no more.

Amen.

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