Liminality & Confirmation

Craig Ross

Copied here is a combined sermon from traditional worship on May 19, 2019 — Confirmation Sunday. Sections addressing each confirmand from the 8AM and 10:45 services that morning are combined within the sermon structure and theme here.

Robert Fulghum, has written eight best-selling books, although he is most famous for his first best-seller, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, written more than thirty years ago.  He is no longer a household name, and lives quietly out of the public eye for the most part … content to offer an occasional lecture, and to write somewhat regularly on his website.  While most people know his “Kindergarten” bestseller, for good reason – it is both wise and hilarious – one of my favorite Fulghum books is a book he wrote a little over 20 years ago … From Beginning to End: The Rituals of our Lives.  I am drawn to it, primarily because of the way he describes moments of transition … moments in which we find ourselves crossing from one place in life to another … moments like Confirmation – this time of transition which the twelve members of this year’s confirmation class experience this morning.  The image Fulghum uses to describe this “crossing over” is that of a doorway.

Now full disclosure … I have used this reading a couple of times in baccalaureate sermons that I have preached here in Manheim Township over the years … because high school graduation is also a moment of “crossing over” to a new place in life.  Over the years I have intentionally avoided using this reading in any confirmation sermons, because of the fear that confirmands will see their confirmation as a graduation from Sunday School.  But I will risk this possibility today … because I believe that this year’s confirmation class can handle this image.  I believe they are able to consider this image as fuel for the NEXT STEP in their spiritual lives.  Please don’t disappoint me ladies … I’ll be watching.

Here are Fulghum’s words:  The moment when something of importance happens to you, for the first or only time, may not be recognized at the time as a rite of passage or a ritual event. Only much later will you see its crucial moment in the scheme of things.  There is an exact word for this phenomenon: “liminality.”  “Liminality” is the word for the threshold moment, from the Latin root limin, meaning the centerline of the doorway. Liminality is the moment of crossing over. It describes the transitional phase of personal change, wherein one is neither in an old state of being nor a new, and not quite aware of the implications of the event.  All the stages of life include liminality.  Life is nothing but moments of crossing over. 

I love this image of liminality – this image of crossing over.  It describes well where each of you who are confirmed today find yourself in this moment of life.  You pass through a doorway today … you cross a threshold into life as the person who is primarily responsible for your faith journey … you say “yes” to God’s decision to make you his child … in many cases 14 or 15 years ago when you were baptized as a baby … in one or two cases, a few months or a few years ago.  Today you make a promise to God made in the presence of  each person gathered here … a promise to God made in the presence of your spiritual leaders of this congregation … a promise to God made in the presence of your parents and families who have helped to cultivate faith in your life.  Today you make a promise to do your best to maintain a deep and faithful relationship with God.

The secular world will ignore this promise … but you cannot … and this public ritual is in part a public reminder of this promise you make with God.  The good news of this day, is that you are never alone in striving to live out this promise of faith in God.  Your parents and families will continue to help and support you as you cross this threshold.  Your church, and other churches you will attend over the years will take this moment of liminality seriously, and will walk at your side and help you stay connected to God – that is what the Christian community does best.  And God helps too, by equipping you with gifts and charisms that can support and  strengthen your faith.

Emily, your Christian journey has led you to quite a diversity of activities … here in church, at school, and in our broader community.  You’ve been involved in worship and music and education and retreats here at St. Peter’s … you are involved at school in music and sporting venues … and as a Girl Scout you have embodied the  role of a servant in our local community … you’ve even been to a National Lutheran Youth gathering already.  You’ve packed a lot of life into a decade and a half of life already.  But I want to focus on one distinct part of your dossier … you are a goalkeeper for your school lacrosse team.  You willingly choose to stand in front of round, hard projectiles that are rocketing towards you at 40-50 miles an hour.  Of course, when I read your confirmation verse it all made sense, because you chose a verse from Psalm 46 … the psalm from which Martin Luther wrote the great Lutheran hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God.  Emily, you embody God’s strength every time you stand in the goal cage and anchor your team’s defense.  Our belief here, watching you grow up, is that the refuge and strength you find in God will help to strengthen and protect others who come into your life.

Maurielle, God has blessed you ,with many places of strength in your life.  Your parents and family … some of the adults here who feel like you are one of their adopted children … and leaders of ministries in which you have served … many of us here have tried to encourage you in your dedicated faith journey.  But God has also placed a special gift in your life, which connects you to your faith in a unique way … you have been blessed with the gift of music in your life.  The violin … handbells … your voice … each of these “instruments” connect you to God in ways that sometimes reach more deeply into your soul than do spoken or written words.  I was not surprised to see you choose a verse from the 23rd Psalm as your confirmation verse, because the psalms were the songs of the people of God from their earliest days as God’s people.  And your comments about your verse are wise … you wrote “I chose this verse because it proves that God is always present.”  Music has a unique power to reach the depths of our spirit, when other forms of communication fail, and it will always keep you close to God.

Rachel you have show appreciation for being a part of the worshipping community here at St. Peter’s … you were a consistent and positive presence in our confirmation class … you have served as a worship leader for Youth Sunday, and I believe we will be blessed to see you and hear your compelling voice as a lector in our public worship.  You chose a terrific verse from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans … a biblical book that is not easy to digest.  And in your explanation for choosing that verse you intuitively grasped the connection between loving God and the trust that arises from that love  My suspicions are that you are someone who has spent a fair amount of time with your nose buried in books … my guess is that you have learned to love books at home, and that love has come from the strong women in your family.  But what I want to acknowledge, is what I see as the fruits that grow from all that reading … a clarity of message when you speak, and the ability to use the language you have learned to add value to the conversations of which you are a part.  We live in a world filled with people who use language like a weapon, spouting off silliness, engendering bigotry, and threatening violence.  We need people of God who can speak with clarity and love, with purpose and direction. Rachel, I have hope that you will be one of those voices that build people up with your words.

Niamh, you bring a broad balance of experiences to your life, which has been filled with all kinds of activities …many of which are music centered, but not all, as you also touch down in the beautiful arts of dance and photography.  You have been a member of this church since your birth … and your family has always taken their call to faith serious, through a variety of acts of service and stewardship, both within our walls and beyond them.  In like manner, you have followed in their footsteps, serving God in worship, music, education, service, and retreat ministries … giving freely and generously of your time and talents.  And so, I was not surprised to see you choose your confirmation verse from St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians.  Scholars call this letter Paul wrote, “The Epistle of Love”, because of Paul’s deep appreciation for the church in Philippi, and what they did for God and him.  You noted in your reasons for choosing this verse which points to the strength that Jesus shares with us, that through these words, God reminds you that you will always have the strength of God with you.  We need people of strength in our world, especially in these times … we have lots of cowards in our culture who bully people out of their weakness … but God needs people of strength who will lift others up through the strength and trust in God that they possess.  I expect that you will be one of those persons, Niamh.

Katelyn … the last of our group of 10:45 confirmands … but certainly not the least.  Just shy of three months ago, I had the privilege of baptizing you here at church.  As you know, adult and young adult baptisms are somewhat rare in a denomination that practices infant baptism.  So your baptism was special.  We regularly get to celebrate God’s unconditional love in welcoming babies into our faith, but it is a special joy to baptize someone who can hear the promises of God and respond to them herself.  We know that you have always been God’s child … you were raised in a Christian family who taught you about God.  But when I saw your verse from the prophet Jeremiah, I thought it was a perfect picture of this particular stretch of your journey of faith.  Because you did seek out God, through your baptism and your active participation in this year of confirmation ministry.  And as a result you have found God in your life.  I will suggest to you that this is not your first finding of God … because I know your parents well enough to say with certainty, that they have placed you in the presence of God in many ways while you have grown up.  I will also suggest to you that this will not be the last time you find God … for God regularly searches us out when anything or anyone brings distance between us and our creator.  Today is simply one more step in the journey that connects your heart to God’s heart.  And I pray you will find many more connections throughout your life.

Alex, God has also blessed you with many gifts and talents.  You are an athlete … you have helped volunteer in our church children’s ministries … you are active in your high school Interact Club which seeks to extend the service goals of its parent organization, Rotary International … AND … you have been one of my most dedicated and flexible youth leaders for our annual Christmas Eve Children’s Sermon … where you have agreed to be everything from a sheep to a mouse to a bird and even a tree.  But what I want to make special note of this morning is the fact that you are a distance runner.  I was a distance runner in high school as was my son … I’ve run in countless 5K’s and half marathons back when my knees functioned … I know what goes on in the heads of distance runners.  You have to be comfortable in your own heart and your head to be a distance runner, because you spend so much solitary time pounding pavement and grass, with only yourself as company for the journey.  It can help to be a Christian, because then you at least have God as some company inside your skull.  Alex, your comments on your verse from Psalm 34 point to that presence of God inside your head and heart … your words testified to it where you wrote, “I know that God will help me through anything.”  You have faced significant loss in your family life … so you know the truth of these words … they have helped you face your dad’s loss with hope will continue to uphold you throughout your life.  I would suggest that they should also remind you that your dad is with you today as part of the communion of saints that is with us every time we gather in the name of Jesus.

Six young ladies who have embraced the call of God to be in relationship with the one who made them … who called them in faith … and who sustains them in life.  They have grown into their faith with the help of their parents and families … with the help of Christians in this community of faith … and with the presence of God in their lives.  They exemplify what the Rite of Confirmation is all about … celebrating God’s presence in our lives, and making the choice to embrace that Spirit of God in what they say and do and believe.  And so, we celebrate this wonderful day with them … but more importantly, we celebrate the fact that God will walk with them in the weeks, months and years that will comprise the remainder of their lives.  Emily, Maurielle, Rachel, Niamh, and Katelyn, Alex … may God continue to walk with you through every threshold that you face in life … may God stand at your side in every liminal moment that you face in life … and may God be the source of strength and hope and joy in everything that you do, and every challenge that you accept in your lives.  We stand with you today … and we will pray that God is always at your side in everything that you do.   Amen.

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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