The following three sermons were presented by three of the confirmands on the occasion of the Confirmation of fourteen youth of The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, on Sunday, June 8, 2003.

Running Against the Wind

By Chris Mondiek

You're at the starting line of the 100 m dash warming up. You look around and note some of the toughest competition you've seen. You quickly send up a prayer to beat them.

BANG! The gun blows, you run your hardest. Yet you come in 4th place. Why didn't God answer your prayer?

Maybe…. because if everybody at the starting line prayed to come in first, who would God choose?

Let me share a personal experience with prayer. It was the practice before the last track invitational of the season. I usually ran hurdles & did long jump which I was already scheduled for. However, the coaches needed the guys who usually did high jump for other events. Although I had never even tried high jump before, they asked if I wanted to try it. If I could clear the 4' 6" bar (opening height), we would at least get points. I agreed. I tried & tried that afternoon at practice to clear 4' 6" but could only clear 4' 4". So I prayed about it - not to win but just to clear opening height the next night. At the meet I had three tries to do this. First try - no good. Second try - no good. Third & last try - UP UP AND OVER! I had met my goal! Lucky?? No, I don't think so. I believe God answered my prayer.

Prayer is one of the most powerful tools in the world.

- It's free.

- The line is always open.

- No busy signal or answering machine.

- The computer is never down.

- No instruction manual is needed.

- So simple a child can use it.

But how do we pray?

I believe strongly in prayer & have learned to use it in my everyday life. In fact, the Bible says to pray without ceasing. I believe this means we can talk to God about anything, anywhere and any time.

What should we pray about? Everyone tends to call on God in crisis situations but what about every day concerns? In a true Guideposts story, a mother needs to provide winter coats for her two young daughters but has very little money. When it finally snows, she has to find coats for them. They go shopping & end up at K-Mart. There they find the perfect coats, sky blue and flannel lined, in both the girls' sizes. But, the mother only has money for one coat, not two. They decide to look some other places but find nothing. The mother heads back to K-Mart saying, "It's time we talked to God about this." ABOUT BUYING A COAT? But that's just what they did & went back inside. Just as they stepped through the door, the loudspeaker announced a "blue light special" in the children's department. They hurried over & found that only one rack was on sale & it was the one the two coats were on. "Two coats for the price of one," the clerk said. "Amazing buy!" Amazing indeed.

And then….

Sometimes we don't even have to pray. God knows we're in trouble long before we do.

In another true Guideposts story, a 9 year old boy went to Africa with his family. They were traveling over the mountains to the town of Mombasa. Now, the mountains were a dangerous place to be after dark with all of the snakes, lions and warfare going on. All of a sudden they heard a loud BANG followed by a big THUMP. The left rear tire had gone flat. GREAT!! The boy's father took off the tire & found a HUGE nail sticking out of it. He changed the tire and then headed back to the last town they had passed. At the garage, the mechanic shook his head and said, "You were trying to get to Mombasa THAT way?? That road goes 100 miles out into the mountains and dead ends." They had taken the wrong road. So, if that nail hadn't caused a flat tire, they would have ended up in hostile territory when darkness fell. Only thing was……the people used grass and mud to build houses. NOBODY used nails. So, who left that nail in the road??? Maybe, Someone who knew better than they did where they were headed.

You see ….It seems to me that life without prayer is kind of like running against the wind. Yet, if we use prayer in our lives, it is more like having a tail wind right behind you.

Personally, I'd rather have that tail wind behind me!

Murphy

by Jordan Cole

Last summer, my friend Murphy died very suddenly, I was so shocked by his death that all I could do was cry. All of us who were his friends cried. Crying seemed to be the only way we could react to our friend's loss.

Murphy was the most caring, generous person we knew. Murphy wasn't noted as a great wrestler. He never played much in football games. But he still loved life and people. He did volunteer work even at his young age to help his community. Murphy wasn't like most kids. He didn't care what people thought of him. He could be sitting alone with no one nearby, and he still would smile. He was at peace with himself.

I remember the last time I looked at Murphy as I got into the car to leave our neighborhood pool. He was the last person sitting there on the steps.

I couldn't believe it when I heard shortly afterwards that he had died at that very pool the following day. After he passed away, he was the last person I saw in my mind every night as I fell asleep.

After losing Murphy I didn't doubt God's existence, but I doubted His love. Why would He take someone so close to everybody's heart? I was confused. Murphy had so much to teach this world, so much to give. What was Murphy's purpose there on this earth if his life had to end so soon? I asked myself this for hours on end. One night, in a dream, I dreamt God was in human form here on earth. I got to speak to Him. I somehow knew I could ask Him any question I wanted. My question for him was why people died. He told me, "Because they passed the test."

I don't know if God really came to me in a dream and spoke to me, or if it was because I kept thinking of death before I went to sleep. But this dream had a real impact on me. You see, in the past I've only remembered dreams when I work up in the middle of them. In this case, I decided to have faith and recognize that God either directly or indirectly sent me this message. It was a short but complicated answer.

In the morning I kept thinking, "What test?" But as I thought about it, I realized that that answer was pretty logical. I mean, what if every human being ever sent down to earth came here to pass a test, to pass the test of life and prove to God that you were ready to live in His kingdom forever?

This answered many questions for me. Maybe because Murphy was such a great and honest kid, he passed the test earlier than most other people. So I didn't cry anymore, I realized I should be happy for him. I shouldn't mourn his death. I should celebrate how great a person he must have been to pass this Test of Life in just fourteen years. So whenever I thought of him dying I no longer cried. Instead, I smiled and thought to myself "Good job, Murphy, good job!"

During these months as I have studied for confirmation, I discovered that a life had been saved because of Murphy. Murphy apparently had a fatal medical condition that went undetected. After he died, they discovered his condition and tested all of his relatives. One of his cousins also had the potentially fatal condition and was treated. So maybe Murphy was here to save his cousin's life. I realized that even though something so sad had happened, so many good things came out of it, too.

I learned to cope with death. It drew my friends and me closer to each other. This experience taught me not to take things for granted. As importantly, it kept another family, another group of friends from being confused by an unexpected death in this already perplexing world.

So now every night I try to thank Murphy for helping so many people and teaching me the most important thing I have ever learned. We are here to do good for others so we can pass God's Test of Life. So now whenever anyone dies, I won't cry and wonder why God took that person from me. I'll smile because He gives people like Murphy to us.

Sermon for Confirmation Sunday

by Tom Daniels

Hello, my name is Tom Daniels, and I have worn different colored socks every day since second grade. I'm not exactly sure why I started doing it, but it might have been my desire to not be like everyone else.

Without differences, everyone would be the same, and we would have no personal traits of our own. At school, I see too many people listening to the same kind of music, or wearing the same fashion style. If you take a look deeper into their minds and souls, they are all very different, even if they feel they must follow a crowd. Sometimes, fads and fashions are befitting to the bearer, because it reflects their real personality. The others are overly self-conscious followers, wanting to fit in. No one has to follow. As for me: I have to not follow.

One problem with differences I see too often, is when people don't accept others. To base your belief of-a-person, on the opinions of others is just one more example of following the crowd. I suggest getting to know the person, before judging and rejecting. It doesn't make sense to reject other's differences because if people believe and act the same as you do, you don't have your own identity.

Confirmation was an interesting experience for me, because all thirteen other students recognized me and my socks, even though they may not have understood. Never, have I met a group of kids this large, where all 100% accepted me. For this I commend, and I also thank them.

There comes a problem when you try to be different: It's when people won't accept you. If you choose your own path like I do, you will be criticized.

Let us think for a minute. What would Jesus do? We hear that a lot, but do we ever really think about it? What would Jesus do? I may just be newly confirmed; but I think Jesus would want to try to unite us all. Isn't that what he always wanted? He loves us all including our diversities. For that, Jesus is indeed the ultimate role model.

What humankind needs to figure out, is that we have to accept differences and work toward finding similarities more often. It may be our differences that set us apart, but it is our similarities that can bring us together. This is a diverse world in which we live, with many kinds of people with religions, cultures, and styles. If we don't agree to recognize all of them, then humankind will always be separated.

I wear different colored socks. I hope you choose your own path like I do, and maybe choose your own pair.

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