Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
There are a lot of really great stories in the bible and part of what I like the best about these stories is that they reflect what life is really like.
What life is really like is a difficult thing to convey to 15 year olds. Like the ones who are here this morning as part of Augustana’s confirmation class of 2017. Is it even possible for a 15 year old boy or girl to know what life is going to really be like when they are 25 or 45 or 65? Probably not.
Research shows that the frontal lobes of the brains of young people are not fully developed at this age.
When adolescence hit Frances Jensen’s sons, she often found herself wondering, like all parents of teenagers, “What were you thinking?”
“It’s a resounding mantra of parents and teachers,” says Jensen, who’s a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
Like when son number one, Andrew, turned 16, dyed his hair black with red stripes and went off to school wearing studded leather and platform shoes. And his grades went south.
“I watched my child morph into another being, and yet I knew deep down inside it was the same Andrew,” Jensen says. Suddenly her own children seemed like an alien species.
I’m not suggesting that any of our confirmands are alien species. I can’t speak for their parents though.
But I am suggesting that in addition to their parents and grandparents and other family members, we as the church have an ongoing role to play in the lives of these young men and women who are standing up this morning, in white robes with flowers on, to confess something of great importance.
I’m suggesting that what we do here today matters. It matters in the lives of the 35 young people who are publically confessing faith in Jesus Christ.
It matters because they are still 15. They aren’t 25 or 45 or 65 yet and you all know as well as I do that the lives they will lead in the years to come will be filled with all kinds of challenges and heartaches as well as joys and milestones.
This is part of why I like the Jacob stories in Genesis so much. When we encounter Jacob today in Genesis 28, I’m not so sure that he has a fully developed frontal lobe.
Let me explain. In chapter 27 Jacob lies to his father Isaac while his father Isaac is on his death bed. A bald faced, outright lie. He does it a couple of times actually.
Jacob has to lie because he is breaking the 7th commandment; you shall not steal.
Jacob, with the help of his mother, Isaac’s wife, is stealing the father’s blessings from his older brother Esau. The father’s blessing is a big deal in biblical times.
Keep in mind now, this is the family that is responsible for God’s promise that was first given to Abraham and his wife Sarah that God would make of this family a great nation and this family would be responsible for blessing the earth.
Abraham and Sarah are the grandparents of Jacob and Esau.
If you have ever wondered if your family is more than a little screwed up or conflicted or plain just doesn’t get along with one another then you are actually in pretty good biblical company with the most important family in the book of Genesis.
I find that to be strangely comforting actually.
So Jacob steals the family blessing from his brother Esau, who should have received it. Jacob has to flee the family because when Esau finds out about it he basically wants to kill his brother. Not in the metaphorical sense that you might hear in your own family as in, I’m going to kill my brother for saying that to me. No he actually wants to kill his brother Jacob through whom God’s promise of blessings is supposed to go through so all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
So Jacob does what any person with an undeveloped frontal lobe would do. He flees the family. He runs for his life. This is where it gets interesting now.
As Jacob is running for his life, after stealing his brother’s birthright, his father’s blessing, God shows up once again.
We have this strange notion that God only shows up when life is going along smoothly and everything is good and everyone is getting along and life is predictable and ordered.
I’m not saying that God isn’t present when life is good. On the contrary, that is when it is easiest in my mind to recognize the goodness and the grace of God that is present in our lives.
But what about when life is just the opposite? What about when my family is fighting, not getting along? What about the times when circumstances beyond my control create brokenness or death or any number of things that cause good people of faith to wonder, where is God now?
Life isn’t so good and like Jacob, I’m running for my life out of fear and I don’t really know where I am going or what I will do.
This is where God shows up for Jacob.
He is fleeing the wrath of his brother. He stops at night to rest and using a stone for a pillow, goes to sleep and he has a dream.
And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.
Jacob’s dream tells us there is a heaven and there are Angels. But notice where God is located in the dream. The Lord stood beside Jacob and reminded Jacob of the promise first given to his grandfather, then his father and now to him.
This is one of the promises I want our confirmands to hear and to know. God will stand beside you. Not in a far distant heaven someplace but right beside you. God is not done with Jacob in this story and God is not done with you either. No matter what is going on in your life right now.
The promises don’t stop. God also tells Jacob – 15 know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
As a pastor this might be the most important thing I want our confirmands to know and take away from today. God says to each one of you and to each one of us; know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised.
I’m not naive to what happens to many young people after confirmation and to their families. They feel a sense of now I’m done. There’s no need for the church, my faith or Christian community.
But God’s not done with you or me, ever. The promise always remains. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go – no matter how far away from me that might be – for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised.
God’s not done showing up in our lives. On days like to today with a little pomp and circumstance and family celebrations. Nor on the days when life is dark and there are no celebrations but only doubt and despair.
God’s not done with you or me. The promise to be right at our side. The promise to keep us wherever we go. The promise to bring to completion the work of faith in each of our lives. A saving faith. A faith that opens to door to heaven, now and always.
For the relentless and loving promises of God no matter who we are or what we do we say thanks be to God. Amen
 The Teen Brain: It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet
NPR March 1, 20101