Confirmation

Joshua 4:1-9, Luke 2:41-52, May 19, 2013

 I really like to share the gospel reading that Caitlin just read on confirmation. It's the only passage in scripture that shows Jesus between the ages of birth and adulthood. It took place when Jesus was 12, pretty close to the age of our confirmands.

I like to point out that Jesus appears kind of sassy in this passage "Duh, Mom, you and dad should have looked for me here." Which reminds us that Jesus was fully human.

But I also want the confirmation class to hear how the story ends, that Jesus returned home and was obedient!

Today is Pentecost, the day the church celebrates its founding, when the powerful wind of the Holy Spirit blew into the first followers of Jesus and enabled them to speak in languages they had never heard before. It was a miracle and the Holy Spirit working this way pointed to the Christian belief that everyone, everyone, everyone is a child of God, surrounded by and included in God's powerful, amazing, surprising love.

In the years when we have a confirmation class we plan to welcome the class into membership in the church on Pentecost, because we recognize that new people bring new gifts and new life to the church. We can think of Pentecost as the church's "re-birthday" and be filled with joy and hope that young people
are feeling led to join this congregation.

I am proud of the confirmation class. I do not think I have ever said that out loud before, so let me explain why.  As the year of confirmation winds down, the students spend a few weeks writing their personal statements of faith.  A part of each student's statement of faith will be read in the Affirmation of Faith later in this service.  I am proud of the students because each of them put their faith into their own words. They kept their eyes on their own papers, metaphorically, and described what they believe. Each statement of faith is like a milestone. The students and I sign and date them. I make sure the statements are put into a frame, so they will not get lost in a pile of paper and forgotten. My hope is that as theconfirmands grow and change, they will return to their statements of faith andsay things like, "I don't believe that anymore." And "Wow! I really like theway I phrased that when I was 15!" Faith is dynamic. The Holy Spirit—one of the three central ways we encounter God—is dynamic.  People are dynamic. Everyone's faith is going to change. The statements of faith are baselines, or snapshots for our confirmation students. And in all honesty, I wish I had written a statement of faith when I was 15. I can't go back and write one from that vantage point now.

When I think of milestones, I think of what God told the Israelites to do when they finally crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. It took them 40 years, and God told them that each of the 12 tribes should bring a rock—I think of them as boulders—and make a pile of them, to remember the moment when they passed from being Wanderers to being a Nation. The pile of boulders was something they could see again and again, something those who would come after them would see again and again. A reminder of their struggle, and God's faithfulness throughout their struggle. Your statements of faith are like milestones that will help you remember what you felt and how you thought when you were in 9th and 10th grade.

I'm proud of the confirmands because of them described their own faith and drew on their own experience. None of them wrote what they thought I or their parents or the Session wanted to hear. This reminds me of a lesson I learned in seminary, which really gave me a new perspective. I had a professor one morning who talked about why plagiarism was bad. She did not say that plagiarism is stealing and lazy and lying, though that's all true. What she said was that a lot of people were backing us in getting our education. And God gave each student gifts and experiences, perspective and lenses, to use to look at the world. If we did no put our own minds to use in interpreting a Biblical text, and simply used the thinking of someone else, we were cheating the world out of our insights. Imagine that! She told us to recognize and claim and use our own minds, because we have something to contribute! Our scholarship is valid. And our education will simply go to waste if we don't use it.

I am proud of the confirmands because they have the confidence to claim the Christian faith on their own terms, shaped by their own experience.

Confirmands, you should be proud too.

Parents of confirmands, you should be proud too.

But most of all, members of friends of First Presbyterian Church, you should be proud. You have supported the Sunday school program which nurtured these young people. You have watched them grow and fulfilled the promises you made when each of the confirmands was baptized.

Do you promise to guide and nurture this child of God by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging him or her to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?

Today we celebrate that they are now ready for all the responsibilities of church membership.  Officially there are three privileges that members have that non-members do not have: voting in congregational elections—that means you can vote here, even though you can't vote in a government election until you're 18—holding office—if you're elected you can serve as a ruling elder or a deacon. [Some of your parents already are serving in those rolls.] and you can present a child for baptism, although my strong preference is that you do not take advantage of this privilege for at least 10 years!

You are ready—and you have already shown your readiness to serve in Presbyterian style. And, again, I am very proud. Twice this year the confirmation class decided that they wanted to make pancakes.  They did a great job both times.  But let me tell the rest of the story:  One morning when they were busy making pancakes, as man came to the church shortly after worship with an emergency. He and his son were stranded, needed help and were desperate. I left the confirmation class in the kitchen—trusting them with batter and hot oil—and gave my attention to helping this man and his son get assistance. By the time the emergency had been dealt with, there were plates and plate of pancakes for us all to enjoy. I did not plan any of this—the confirmation class took the initiative in making the pancakes, the man and his son dropped in unannounced and yet they not only got the assistance they needed, they also got a warm full plate of Presbyterian hospitality. Everything worked out better than anyone would have planned. But wait there's more...last week the Confirmation Class indicated that they wanted to make pancakes in the future! See Confirmation is not graduation out of the church. It is inclusion into the life of the church.  Confirmands, you have shown us you have strong, personal faith in Jesus Christ and today you are welcomed into the full life of this congregation. And for that we are very proud and thankful.