The Rite of Confirmation has been around a long time. Over the years it has been characterized by white and red robes … the examination of confirmands in front of the congregation … lofty talk about becoming “members” of the congregation (even though we have always become members of the church through baptism) … gifts of certificates, Bibles and catechisms … and admission to the Lord’s Supper.
How many here took communion for the first time when you were confirmed … raise your hand. Yup, me, too. Most of these practices associated with the Rite of Confirmation have been tossed aside as being outdated in a modern world along with 8-track tape players, the Maytag repairman, and MC Hammer’s harem pants. Requirements for Confirmation are now more lax … participation is spotty because of sports and family travel commitments on Sundays … and some question whether we should ask young adults to study and memorize anything that a cranky monk from the 16th century once wrote. So what do we do? … is confirmation passé? … is there any value to it?
If you asked some of our young adults being confirmed today, a few might answer “no.” They might say (with a sigh) they are here because someone in their family expects them to be confirmed. Others might feel strongly connected to their faith journey, but not be terribly sure about how the Rite of Confirmation enhances that journey. A few today are hard-core traditionalists already, and are glad to line up with the saints of every time and place a repeat this practice that in some form was present in the first century church as attested to in the Acts of the Apostles. Some others still have questions about their faith, wondering where God is leading them, and whether Lutheranism is the right spiritual home for them.
If you think about it … our confirmands, in fact, are not really all that different from you and me and the rest of the congregation gathered for worship today. Confirmation doesn’t magically make the life a faith easy and understandable. What Confirmation strives to do is invite a young person into the drama of God’s relationship with the people of God in ways that can be comforting … or inspirational … or motivational … and at times uncertain and challenging and confusing. It is Christian life as you and I know it … lived out among the people of God … in this place and in other places in our lives. It is a life that most of us would not trade for anything in the world, even given its mixed bag of blessings and curses. We continue this ancient practice of Confirmation today, in the hope that by inviting our young men and women into this community we call the people of God, so that they too, will experience what we have experienced. And maybe, if we are fortunate … the ways in which our young adults experience God will offer us some new insights and perspectives on our faith … So that we find ourselves shaped into God’s people in new ways that bring us joy and hope and maybe even optimism … as we look at the world through their eyes … though their faith … and through their discipleship.
One of the books I often find myself reading around moments of transition in our lives of faith … like the Rite of Confirmation we celebrate today … is a 1998 book by the late Rev. Herb Brokering, a Nebraska raised boy whose preaching and writing was as rich and nutritious as the Midwest corn that grew around him and which fed him abundantly in his early life. The book is called, Love, Dad: Letters of Faith to My Children. His own words describe it as: a scrapbook from my life of seventy years. They are my history, my passion, my memoirs – my love for you, my children. Hear Brokering’s words from one letter entitled, “People of God.”
How did you grow to who you are? How did you become the person you like being? I often sit in a favorite rocking chair and think about how God grew in me. It began in Nebraska where people loved me. They were hard working farmers, Lutherans, members of our country parish. They spoke German or English. If it was a kind of ghetto, it was also home. God lived there. When I was very little, Mother gave me a picture of a missionary with a great white beard holding hands with a native child of New Guinea. I memorized their names. During the week I kept this tiny picture in a secret drawer so it would not be lost. I began to think of New Guinea, somewhere beyond Nebraska. God liked other countries, too. Once a year we drove to Omaha, slowing down as we passed Boys Town. I knew the name Father Flannigan, and I’d heard the boys there were probably Catholic, that they had been bad and the father helped make them good again. My world grew, and I discovered there were good people other than Lutherans. My father taught me that in Holy Communion, the broken bread gets to be more than bread; it is a whole feast. Father taught us that saints and angels attend the Holy Eucharist. I began to see the church as global. And God grew. A Methodist classmate rode with me to high school. He was kinder than many of my Lutheran school friends, and he knew more songs by heart than I did. My world of music and love increased. God spoke through music and Methodists. At the age of nineteen, I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, and my roommate was an atheist. He looked at my catechism, which I had taken with me. We talked about important things, ate together, laughed, helped each other with statistics. He became a dear friend. My world grew. I no longer thought only of Lutherans and Christians. God knows the language of the secular and sacred. All is sacred with God. Do you sit and rock, or take a slow walk, and think of how your faith grew?
So maybe the reason we continue this ancient rite today, is because we want our young men and women to experience a world that is growing because of the creative power of God pulsing within it. And because we want their faith to grow, as well, with equal potency, so that they know the power of the sacred in their lives, and that they recognize the source of that holy presence that walks among us. We can be optimistic today, in this regard, because each of our confirmands have chosen Confirmation Bible verses to characterize how they see their faith at work in their lives.
Amanda Beck chose a couple of verses from Deuteronomy 11 — The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. Amanda, it is as if you read my mind in terms of my sermon theme today. In your explanation for choosing this verse, you spoke about the hills and valleys in life that challenge us. You also spoke about the faith your parents have planted in your life, and God’s call to you to cultivate that faith in the choices you make. You have always been committed to serving your community, Amanda – that is where Christians are called to serve … that is where God needs us – out in the world, not inside these walls. And so, my prayer for you is that the soil of your spirit will bring the fruits of glory and grace to this world into which God has called you.
Matthew Smith chose this verse from the 29th chapter of Jeremiah – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Matthew, in the short tribute your parents wrote, they identified their hope for you, which is really the hope for every one who calls themselves a child of God. They wrote in your bio: We hope the gifts given to Matthew he can bestow on others as he finds his purpose in life. Life is all about sharing the gifts with which God has blessed us. You are a serious young man, who seems to understand what makes the world a better place. Thus, I have little doubt that you will find ways to positively share your gifts with the world, and honor God with the choices you make for our life. Matt, you play sports … you are a good student … and you are a person of faith. Each of these venues in life offers you the opportunity to share your gifts and make the world a better place. Matt, I pray that you will always sense where God is leading you, and how you can be a strong, stable, and serving disciple in your life.
Anthony Rager chose for his verse, these words from 1 Chronicles 16 — Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Anthony, a person who seeks the face of the Lord, must be a person of strength. You may not realize this, but in the Old Testament, if you saw the face of God … you died. Yeah … there’s that, right? So it takes courage to seek God’s face. We no longer believe we will die if we see God’s face to face … but it takes courage to confront the presence of God in your life. Because you can’t hide from God, right? God knows everything we think and do. So your comments that identify looking to God for help in times of need is both wise and courageous. Anthony, my prayer for you is that you will always be a person of courageous faith, so that no matter the situation or circumstance, you will always seek God’s presence and God’s hope for your life.
Dieter Geib chose this verse from the classic 23rd Psalm — I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me. Dieter, you offer us a wise bit of spiritual advice. The verse you chose offers assurance for us when we feel alone … assurance from God and companionship from friends, you not in your explanation. And yet, you offer this advice as a distance runner – you willingly choose a sport that involves one of the loneliest activities possible – running miles and miles every week, when you are either physically alone as you run, or you are so focused inside your head, that you might as well be alone. Therefore you know whereof you speak, when you say that no matter what, God is with you. No one is better prepared to point to a God who is your companion, no matter what, than a distance runner. And so, Dieter, I pray that whatever calling summons you in life, you will always feel God’s presence in your life.
Jacob Schaefer has also chosen this verse from the prophet Jeremiah, Chapter 29 — For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jake, your words about your verse focused on reassurance, success, and safety. Your words and your choice of this verse remind us all that God desires the best for us and for our lives. The world may be broken and at times too full of sin. But God’s presence in the midst of this brokenness always promises hope and goodness. It is a message the world needs to hear. I don’t really know what you hopes are for your life, but this is the kind of talk that pastor’s are generally fond of … just saying, Jake. You may just have the spirit and voice of a pastor in your understanding of the heart of our faith. That heart of faith is one of hope for the world and our belief that God’s goodness cannot be overcome by anything. Whether you respond to that call of God in ordained or in the ministry of the laity, you can always be a spirit of hope in the world. Jake, I pray that you will always be in touch with this spirit of hope in the world – heaven knows, the world needs some optimism and hope.
Emily Bromirski chose this verse, also from Deuteronomy, but in chapter 31 — Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor for sake you. Emily, you put your finger on one of the core foundations of our faith … trust in God. Trust in God to walk with you … to love you … and to look out for you. Trust is an essential component in any relationship that we are a part of. It binds us in the deepest levels of our soul – as it connects us to those we love, as nothing else can. Emily, you have learned to trust in a family that has modeled strong relationships for you. And you now model this same wise practice in your own life for others to witness and emulate. And so, my prayer for you is that you will always recognize the presence of God around you … that it will enable you to stay faithful in any storm … and that it will open your eyes to our God who will always be at your side.
These are just a few observations about half of this year’s confirmation class. I have had the privilege of seeing most of them weekly throughout this past year. My sense is that they are young men and women who will strive to embrace the spirit of God in their lives, and who want to be a positive presence of God in the world in which they will live. The Gospel of John points us to that holy presence that lives within and among us with these words … I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth. God has never left us alone in our lives. In this lesson from John, as Jesus prepared to leave the world through crucifixion and resurrection, he promised us that we would not be without God’s presence in our lives. The gift of the Holy Spirit, is the gift of God’s presence residing in each and every one of us.
This promise is spoken again today, in our Rite of Confirmation as God promises that our confirmands will not have to fend for themselves, either. Our confirmands have learned the traditional tools that equip us to recognize God in our lives. We study Luther’s Small Catechism, because in knowing the Apostles’ Creed, we always know who God is for us and the world. And in knowing the Ten Commandments, we always know how God expects us to live our lives. And in knowing the Lord’s Prayer, we are always in conversation with God. These are the traditional ways that we come to know the power of the sacred that grows our faith, and grows our appreciation for the world into which God has called us.
But there are a myriad of additional ways in which we encounter the Creator who has made us … the Son who has redeemed us … and the Spirit who sustains us. Each of our thirteen confirmands carries that presence of God within them in ways that will bloom and grow in their lives, through the expression of the talents and passions God has sown into their lives. We celebrate this day with them, not as an ending of life as a confirmand, but as the continuation of a life forged in baptismal waters and sent into a world in need. St. Augustine of Hippo, one of our early church patriarch’s who lived 1600 years ago, wrote these remarkably relevant words about our being sent into the world.
“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
That is our privilege and our calling … as confirmands … and as the people of God. Amen.