Palm Sunday (A)/Confirmation Day
Saturday, March 19, and Sunday, March 20, 2005
Written with the help of the Confirmation students
God’s in the business of taking seedlings and making them into strong, huge trees. Obviously, God’s got to do this. Even if we plant the tree, water the tree, make sure it has the sun and space it needs, even then, we can’t make the tree grow. God uses us to help in the process, but the seed, the sprout, the first shoots, the first needles, the photosynthesis, the roots drawing water out of the soil, all of that is the marvelous, wondrous, miraculous work of God.
When the Confirmands went away with me for their retreat to help plan this sermon, they read Psalm 92 as one of the options for a sermon text. The image of the Cedars of Lebanon really captured their attention. They liked the picture of a young seedling growing into a strong cedar tree, part of a huge forest of amazing cedars. I don’t think they got excited about this image because they’re destined to be landscapers, horticulturists, or owners of tree nurseries. I think they got excited about this image, because they knew that it was about them, me, and all of you. Seedlings becoming the Cedars of Lebanon.
Look at the cover of your bulletin. There’s a picture of a seedling, just beginning to grow. Then there’s a picture of a cedar forest, full-grown trees stretched out to the sky. The confirmands loved how Psalm 92 celebrates how God works in the world, especially how He works to grow faith in our hearts. He takes us weak, unprotected, small little souls, souls that would be lost if He didn’t watch over us, He takes those small souls and grows us into spectacular trees, takes our souls which didn’t know Him and builds our knowledge and understanding of Him.
When the students understood Psalm 92 was celebrating how God puts faith in our hearts, they knew that that’s what they wanted you to hear today. They want you to believe that you are cedars of Lebanon, that God is growing your faith to the sky.
Perhaps, though, you’re like the confirmands and I were when we first read Psalm 92. Growing like cedars of Lebanon sounds pretty good, but what does it really mean? Why cedar trees? Why in Lebanon? Well, the confirmands, along with our retreat leaders, Beth Groddy, Dawn Horswill, and Penny Schneider, had to do some research to find out.
Probably the easiest way to explain it is with a comparison that one of the students made. The Cedars in Lebanon are kind of like the bald eagle in America. The bald eagle is the symbol in America for our strength and freedom, a national symbol for everything we take pride in. Like that, in Lebanon, the cedar tree is their pride, their strength. On the cover of the bulletin, you’ve got modern day Lebanon’s national flag with a cedar tree right in the middle of it.
Today the cedar forests of Lebanon have largely been destroyed due to overcutting and environmental changes, but in biblical times, that’s what Lebanon was known for. If you wanted to build something that would last a long, long time, if you wanted the building to be beautiful and strong, you’d use the Cedars of Lebanon. That kind of reputation led the Israelites to choose cedars from Lebanon when they built the temple. To build the house of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, to build His temple on earth, there weren’t any better building materials than the cedars of Lebanon.
So it’s no mistake that Psalm 92 gets specific and says that God will make us to be like Cedars of Lebanon. The writer didn’t just choose his favorite tree. He chose a symbol for beauty and strength; he chose the tree used in the construction of the temple. When the psalmist says we’ll be like Cedars of Lebanon, everyone who heard that psalm would know, “Oh, God’s going to make me strong and beautiful. Cedars are the pillars of the temple, and God’s going to make me a pillar in His kingdom, a person who is strong in the faith among His people. Just like how the Cedars were used to build the temple, God will build His kingdom using me.”
When the confirmands figured this out about the Cedars of Lebanon, they quickly realized that that’s what they had been learning in DJs, Disciples of Jesus, our Confirmation program. They’ve been learning how God has made them into faithful people, put faith in their hearts, helped them to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. God’s made them into Cedars of Lebanon, strong and beautiful people of faith, pillars of God’s kingdom.
Today is about these 16 students looking at their lives and realizing that God has made them into Cedars of Lebanon, has given them a strong and beautiful faith. God is going to use you in His kingdom, use you to tell others about Christ, to support God’s kingdom, to share God’s love in so many different ways. Confirmands, it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, because God made you into Cedars of Lebanon.
Even as we celebrate today that God’s got these 16 cedars in the forest, today is also about celebrating and praising God for the cedars that have been around these students. Their parents, grandparents, family, and friends who have taught them about Jesus. The people in this church who make it possible for us to have intensive ways to teach the faith in Sunday School, DJs, RYMS, and worship services. Confirmands, you look up today and look back see how many of the Cedars in this forest have supported you, taught you, helped you to grow, were used by God to teach you about Jesus. Confirmands, it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, because you are surrounded by a forest of cedars, a forest of faithful people.
Yet, today these 16 confirmands want the rest of this forest to know you’re a forest. They want you to know that God has given you a strong and beautiful faith. So the people of God gathered in this place, it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, because God has made you into Cedars of Lebanon.
May this congregation see these students sitting up here, and realize that these students are 16 cedars of this congregation, 16 pillars in God’s temple, 16 young people that God can use in your life to help point you to the hope and forgiveness we have in Jesus. So the people of God gathered in this place, it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, because you are surrounded by a forest of cedars, including these 16 cedars here today.
Now that you’ve all looked down and seen that you are Cedars of Lebanon, now that you’ve looked around you to see that you’re surrounded by Cedars of Lebanon, the confirmands wanted me to tell you a little story to make sure you really understand that you are Cedars, that God is growing you into the best tree, the kind of tree reserved for the temple of God.
The story is called “The Little Cedar That Could.” Perhaps you know the other version, The Little Engine That Could. In The Little Engine, there’s a small train engine that needs to pull some railroad cars up a mountain. He doesn’t think he could ever do it, but he sets his mind on it and says, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and sure enough, he motivates himself right over that mountain.
Well, our version, “The Little Cedar That Could,” is a little different. You’re like the seedling on the front cover, a little cedar tree that barely has roots. You’re told that you need to be a big and strong tree for God, big and strong in your faith. You don’t think you can ever do it, but you try to set your mind on it and say, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” but. . .it doesn’t work. You’re still a small weak seedling needing a lot of help to grow, needing sun and rain and soil and protection.
The Little Engine thought and thought and motivated himself to the top of that mountain, but the more you think about getting a strong faith, the more you seem to realize that you’re sinful, you don’t do what God wants you to do, you don’t always trust Him, you don’t always remember Him. The more you think, the more you realize how far down the mountain you are, how small of a seedling you are. You’re never going to get to be the Big Cedar this way. You’re stuck as the Little Cedar that couldn’t.
The Little Engine might have thought himself up that mountain, but trees don’t grow that way. No amount of thinking is going to make a tree grow, just as no amount of thinking makes people grow from babies to adults. That kind of growth needs God behind it, needs God to provide all of the resources, ingredients, all of the necessary stuff for growth to happen.
So that’s what happens for you, the Little Cedar, the seedling waiting to grow. God provides the seed, the sprout, the first shoots, the first needles, the photosynthesis, the roots drawing water out of the soil, all of that is the marvelous, wondrous, miraculous work of God. You are the Little Cedar that could, but the reason you can grow, the reason that you can go from seedling to big tree isn’t your own ability. It is the gift of God. You are the Little Cedar that could through God alone.
This is exactly what happens for us spiritually. No amount of thinking will give us a strong faith. In fact, no amount of serious thinking would produce faith in us at all. We can’t simply sit and say to ourselves, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can believe in a God who loves me and forgives me no matter what I’m like. I think I can trust that God will save me by His own actions and not just wait for me to save myself. I think I can believe that God will help me to serve Him, but that my relationship with God is based on God’s gift to me.”
You could sit for years and think all of that, but all of your thinking won’t produce faith. You can’t be a big tree on your own; you can’t get up this spiritual mountain by yourself.
You are the Little Cedar that could through Jesus alone. God speaks through His Word to create faith in you. God worked through baptism to create faith in you. God works through the Lord’s Supper to strengthen faith in you. God keeps teaching you and reminding you and telling you and shouting it out to you that Jesus saves you from your sins, and all of that is growing you from seedling to big tree, from small and weak to a Cedar of Lebanon.
You are the Little Cedar that could through God alone. Psalm 92 says, “They will grow like a cedar of Lebanon, planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of God.” You’re not on your own; you’re in the presence of God. You’ll flourish, grow, bear fruit, be fresh and green by being in the courts of God.
I want the confirmands to stand up right where they are. You were seedlings (arms at your side), but now you are Cedars of Lebanon (arms raised like trees). You were seedlings (arms at your side). You were weak, small, didn’t know God, but God has worked in your life to make you grow in faith, grow like Cedars of Lebanon (arms raised like trees).
OK, now I want everyone who’s able to stand up, because today isn’t just about the confirmands. Today the confirmands want you to go home remembering the same thing they know. So, you were seedlings (arms at your side). You were weak, small, didn’t know God, but God has worked in your life to make you grow in faith, grow like Cedars of Lebanon (arms raised like trees).
Go home today, you trees, walk around today and greet people by raising up your arms, and tell them, “God’s made me a Cedar of Lebanon, has put strength and beauty in my soul through faith in Jesus.”