“You are a masterpiece in the making.” ArchBishop Tutu said, “I would say this to everyone: You are made for perfection, but you are not perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”
We have three very talented Confirmands who are going to affirm their faith this morning. They have each written faith statements and chosen Bible verses and made stoles with symbols of their faith. Confirmands – Jessica, Joey, Merideth: You are a masterpiece in the making. Of course – they are not the only ones. You all are a masterpiece in the making. You have all received great gifts and talents – but since it is their day to shine, let me tell you a little about our Confirmands.
On top of everything else that they do: Joey plays baseball and basketball; Jessica plays softball and volleyball; Merideth is in theatre and choir. But I’m betting if I asked them if they were able to hit a homerun, spike a volleyball, hit a 3 point basket or act or sing a solo when they the first began – none of them would say that they could do it. All of them have a lot of God-given talent – but they would also acknowledge that they weren’t perfect when they started – and still aren’t perfect – but they have grown in their talents. And it’s because of one simple word: practice.
I can’t help but think of that old joke. The young violinist stops a taxicab and asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The taxicab driver replies: Practice. Practice. Practice.
Practice is a part of sports, theatre, music and… your faith life. Part of practicing involves learning. You probably aren’t going to hit a homerun if you swing the bat like it’s a golf club. And so, at practice, you learn about swinging a bat. Likewise, it would be hard for you to know much about Jesus – because what you can pick up in the culture may not be true. And so, because your parents wanted you to learn, you attended Confirmation class and Sunday school and worship -- you have been learning about God and what God wants for us – and for you.
In our Gospel reading someone tried to test Jesus about what was the greatest commandment. Although there are 613 commandments to pick from, Jesus doesn’t hesitate: Love God. That’s the greatest commandment because God loves you – and wants a relationship with you. But while he was only asked for one, he quickly added the second commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus actually gets a two-fer in this second commandment because you first have to love yourself in order to love your neighbor as yourself.
So how do you practice loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself?
It starts right here: in Christian community. This is where we practice loving God in worship, learning about God and God’s ways. And this is where we can practice loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. But it doesn’t stay here. We begin learning how to love our neighbor here so that we can go outside these walls and love others too. Remember that, for Jesus, “Neighbor” doesn’t just mean those next door or those who look like you or those who agree with you. “Neighbor” means everyone else. We learn to love one another inside the church so that we can love one another outside the church too.
That’s what Paul was urging in his letter to the Philippians in the church in Philipi. There was a big fight going on. Paul doesn’t say what it was. But clearly, two leaders in the congregation –
Eudia (You-O-dea) and Syntyche (Sin-toe-chee) had a disagreement. It’s clearly a big issue - but Paul doesn’t take sides nor does he try to solve the problem. Instead, he calls upon the two leaders to reconcile, to be of the same mind in the Lord.
And then he tells them to “Rejoice.” “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.” And just in case they missed it, he repeats it: Again, I say, “rejoice!”
Now the Philippians may have wondered, “Paul – how can you tell us to rejoice at a time like this?”
There are times – or there will be times when you wonder that too. How can I “rejoice” when innocent people – random concert-goers -- have been murdered in Las Vegas? How can I “rejoice” when people in Puerto Rico are still trying to find enough food and water to survive? How can I “rejoice” when people I know and love are hurting, sick, ill or injured? How can we rejoice?
It’s as if Paul anticipates the question because he tells the Philippians – and us, “The Lord is near.” God is here, with us, in whatever suffering comes our way. Because… God loves us and wants relationship with us…. God is with us – in the midst of our pain and suffering. And for that…we can rejoice.
Paul goes on to say, “Do not worry about anything.” That’s hard too. Don’t worry? About anything? In our world it’s hard NOT to worry. But Paul insists, that rather than worry about it – pray about it. It’s a good practice…
Paul tells us to pray and to remember God’s presence is with us ALWAYS. And yet, Paul is not advocating that we ignore the challenges around us. Instead, he writes, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen”. In other words, keep practicing loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. And loving God and loving your neighbor is anything but passive. But it takes practice. It takes doing it.
Sometimes loving our neighbor means a listening ear. At other times it means delivering a meal. At other times it may mean making a donation. At still others it means simply showing up – you may not realize it but your presence at church for worship may encourage another. Showing up at a Bible study, at the foodshelf or on your neighbors doorstep when it snows with a shovel in hand – all of these, and more -- can be a part of loving our neighbors.
What we do as we seek to fulfill Jesus’ commands to love God and love your neighbor as yourself may be changes depending upon the need. But God’s love for us, for you, never changes.
You are a masterpiece in the making. God has given you gifts and talents and wonderful resilience to help you become the masterpiece that God has created you to be.
As I was thinking of this sense of being “a masterpiece in the making” I was reminded for Michelangelo’s unfinished statues called “the captives.” Parts of them – a hand, a leg, a torso, a head – emerge as if trying to break free of their marble prison. But… as one writer reflected, "When I looked at those partial figures, they stirred up in me a deep longing to be completed -- an ache to be set free … But as with those statues, I cannot liberate myself. For that I need the hand of another."1
You are a masterpiece in the making. You are talented and resilient and strong. And yet, at the same time, you – we- are fragile, mortal and in need of others, of the community and in need of God.
Joey, Merideth and Jessica – and all of you, brothers and sisters in Christ, You are a beloved child of God, a masterpiece in the making – both called to serve and called to receive the hand of Christ … which is often found in the hand of the neighbor. And because of this… we can rejoice! Thanks be to God.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
+Affirmation of Baptism Sunday
1 Theodore Roder