Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tomorrow in Lund, Sweden, history will be rewritten. 499 years after Martin Luther first posted the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in a little university town named Wittenberg, Lutherans and Roman Catholics will gather together to worship and pray, launching the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Luther himself made his opposition public to the prevailing practice of selling indulgences, and while he never intended to start a new church, political developments eventually divided Western Christianity and sparked conflict, violence and mistrust – even to this day. Anniversaries of the Reformation have often been a source of confrontation between the two confessions. But the 500th anniversary is to be different. So tomorrow, on October 31st, Pope Francis, for the Roman Catholic Church, and Bishop Munib Younan from Palestine and Rev. Dr Martin Junge from Chile, representing the worldwide communion of 145 churches of the Lutheran World Federation, will cohost an ecumenical worship service commemorating the Reformation.
Now in light of such a monumental gathering tomorrow in Sweden, a confirmation worship service here at Lake of the Isles might seem rather provincial and modest. And indeed it is, but that was exactly what was at the heart of the Luther’s Protestant Reformation. Luther believed that the church played a vital role in faith, but it was in the home where the true Christian faith was taught and embraced. Luther wrote his Small Catechism to be a tool for teaching the fundamental convictions of the faith in the home. And ever since, confirmation has been a part of the rite of passage for Lutheran families. And confirmands have wrestled with the phrases, “What does this mean? We are to fear, love and trust God, so that we do not, “ and “This is most certainly true.” Still, it is not always a welcome part of family tradition.
Ethan: When I first heard I had to go to confirmation, I wasn’t very happy. Going to church and reading the Bible for an hour every Wednesday did not seem very fun. After a couple classes I learned that we don’t just read the Bible in confirmation, we learn new things about the history and the different beliefs religions have. I got to learn how to be a good person and help people who are in need. Through the volunteering at a homeless shelter, I learned that helping people is very rewarding. Seeing the smile on people’s faces as we gave them fresh baked lasagna was priceless.
For Lutherans, the journey of faith begins at baptism with the commitment of parents to raise their children in the Christian faith. It is in the waters of baptism where we are given God’s promise that we are his children always. Of course, we may wonder how water can do such great things, and in the Catechism we are taught that is “Clearly not the water that does it, but it is the word of God, which is with and alongside the water and faith.” But that is not always what seems important in growing up- there are other intangible elements.
Stephanie: My family has also influenced my faith with our traditions. For example, during Christmas time, Jesus is the one delivering presents on Christmas Eve. When I was little, I would always look out the window on the way home from church and try to find the Kristkind. Praying at the dinner table and before bed with my family has always been a part of my daily life.
Yes, for the Lutheran Church, faith begins at baptism and is then nurtured in the home. It is the arms of the family that faith is taught and caught. The role of the church is then to equip families to teach the faith. And every once in a while we provide the activities for children to grow as well.
Kate: Lake of The Isles Lutheran Church is a special place for me because my parents were married here. My brothers and I were baptized here. I had my first communion and I will also be confirmed here. Even if I don’t remember church from when I was little, including my baptism, I still think it was very important because my parents wanted to bring me up in a good example of faith.
Of course, there is a structure to confirmation instruction based on Luther’s Small Catechism. The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar known as Holy Communion.
Jorgen: I agree with and believe all the lessons and morals that are interpreted with the bible through Jesus and others. These include the 10 commandments, the idea that we should respect and always try to help others. Some commandments that really resonate with me are honor your mother and father, do not kill, steal, cheat and covet. I find these especially important. My favorite confirmation lesson was the denominations and world religions lesson because it related to history and geography.
The Confirmation students struggled with the Apostles’ Creed. It is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is the confession in which they were baptized, and the confession that which they affirm as their own today. As many generations before them, the have wondered how God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For many, God is most present in creation. It is sometimes, where they feel closest to God.
Stephanie: When we were at the cemetery visiting my grandmother’s grave, 3 or 4 deer came out of the woods and stood a little ways away from us and watched us. We were so close to them without them being scared of us. I think that Jesus sent down my grandma’s spirit in those deer to be with us for a while. Similar to this, I am able to feel God’s presence mostly in nature. This weekend, when I was on a school retreat in Hudson, I sat alone in the woods on a hill overlooking the river. I could hear the water calmly lapping against the shoreline, the birds chirping and the trees rustling. It was the most beautiful experience I have ever had and it gave me an inner peace that I don’t usually have during the hectic weekday. God’s creation is so beautiful and really helps me appreciate the life and faith I have.
Even music has an ability to transform the confirmands and speak to them.
Kate: The only time that I would listen in church, outside of Sunday School, was when the organ was playing. I thought that God would come out of the top of the organ but I didn’t think of him as a person but more of beam of light. Every time it was playing I would look up to see if he was coming. I thought this because people would always talk about how he was in your daily lives and I thought that meant that we could see him and not just talk to him when praying.
What would Jesus do, and what would Jesus like us to do are often the important questions in our confirmation discussions.
Stephanie: Being Christian means to me that Jesus died for all our sins and that we should do our best and carry out his love to others and be a good person. Jesus helps and guides me in little ways. Prayer helps me connect with God and feel closer to him.
The Holy Spirit, however, often baffles confirmands. They know that the Spirit moves in their lives and that they cannot “Believe in Jesus Christ, or come to him” with the work of the Holy Spirit, but they still wonder and question.
Jorgen: Though I have been Lutheran my entire life, I am still trying to find my exact place in the spiritual world.
Or perhaps, more eloquently,
Ethan: After completing 2 years of confirmation, I have come to believe that God isn’t just this one person who has a specific set of beliefs that everyone should listen to, but a person inside of each and every one of us who shows us how to be ourselves.
And this is often a personal God, who has been revealed in a personal relationship.
Ethan: What I’m trying to say is, Christians have one God that is the person they believe in but everyone’s view of him will be different. As long as we live to the fullest and only do good things for people, God will be happy with us.
Yes, there is a growing and maturing faith in each of one of our confirmands, but God’s work is not yet done. He is still calling them to ventures and challenges that they do not know the ending.
In the face of nearly 500 years of Lutheran confirmation, pastors have developed a tough, no non-sense image as a self-defense mechanism. And there’s a good reason for it. Pastors are always the brunt of humor of the confirmands. I am sure it was meant as a compliment, but at confirmation one year I was introduced affectionately and proudly by one of the confirmands to his family with the words. “Our pastor has never bored anyone with a long sermon. He always does it quickly.” I sheepishly walked away. Recently, I noticed another confirmand writing sermon notes furiously. I wasn’t sure I even had anything important or inspiring to say. Then I saw him turn over the page and write on the back side. I was duly impressed by the student and myself. Yes, I felt like I was on the top of the world, until I discovered his paper. It simply read, “Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep.” But every once in while a confirmation class comes along that reminds you why teaching and sharing the Christian faith is wonderful and fulfilling. This is most certainly true. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.