Today I am going to start something new. Instead of preaching from the lectionary, I’ve selected 50 or so words in the Bible, or a part of our faith, that every disciple needs to know. So, every Sunday’s meditation will be on a new word. And, at the beginning of each week, as I shared with the children, the word for the week will be on the WhiteBoard Grace. Together then, we’ll all have an opportunity to create a congregation-wide devotional growing from our unique experiences and reflections on that week’s special word.
Words have power. They shape and form, they identify and clarify. Edward Farley says that some words are “deep and enduring symbols that shape the values of a society and guide the life of faith, morality and action.” Those are the type of words that we will explore in this series.
Since we are celebrating the confirmation and commissioning of new disciples, we start with “Confirmation.”
The dictionary begins its definition: “The act of affirming…” In the faith community confirmation is second part of the first act of discipleship, confirming God’s love and welcome for you. Growing up in our congregation Nicholas, Will and Cameron heard stories. They heard stories of their families and friends, but they also heard stories of Israel, Jesu and the early church. As disciples, these stories have become their stories, a they are our stories.
Will, Nicholas and Cameron were baptized years ago. It was not their choice. And as Will so eloquently noted in his faith statement, it was a car that brought him to church! Parents decided they would be baptized. Parents drove the car and brought them to church. And in the years to come, parents, grandparents and guardians will have more to offer, even decide for them. But today, Confirmation Sunday, they have reached a moment when they, as generations of disciples before them, have an opportunity to decide something for themselves.
Confirmation means affirming what others have done on your behalf. It means taking charge of your discipleship. Others started you on a journey of faith in Jesus Christ. Confirmation is a moment when a disciple affirms the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before them to teach, influence and mentor. It is your own moment to say “yes” to God.
Saying “yes” to God means your life has and will be different. Saying yes to God is saying no to others things. Because it seals you in the covenant of salvation with God, it offers a new way of life. It offers a new way of relationships. Confirming the covenant is different than conforming to the way of the world around us.
Paul in Romans underlines the path a confirmed disciple will travel in life: “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
A few years ago a famous comedian died. After a career that dated back through radio and television. His quick wit and endless supply of jokes guaranteed him a big audience and millions of fans. Yet when he died, his obituary told a darker tale. When not much older than our confirmand class, he had fallen out with his father. Their quarrel had never been reconciled. Then the tragic pattern had repeated itself. One of his sons had fallen out with him and had been cut off.
Think on the consequences of that for a moment. Imagine knowing that there is someone there, only a phone call away, who is one of your closest blood relations… and yet he won’t speak to you. And you don’t want to speak to him, or see him, or have anything to do with him. This goes on for years. Imagine.
Many of us know people like this tragic comedian who live broken, fractured lives who have fallen out with someone close to them. Yet the greater tragedy is the number of people who live like that in relation to God. They have declined to confirm, or they have fallen away, or they never experienced a parent, a covenant partner, who showed them the way to healing and reconciliation in life.
Here Paul is confirming for us the reconciliation to end all reconciliations. At the center of the life of discipleship we have the gift of peace with God. Confirmation is recognizing that all the ancient promises of God come true in each believer’s life. The center of which is a loving, welcoming personal relationship between individuals and God.
This is the point where many today say, “no.” Some folks stand on a pinhead and declare how ridiculous it is to think there could be a God who cares for every single human being. They scorn and laugh as one woman on the radio a while back: “All those millions and millions of people out there, and here he is watching me tie up my shoelace!”
Sure, put like that, of course it sounds absurd. Yet the absurdity lies in trying to picture God as just like us, only a bit bigger and more all-seeing. The God of the Bible, the God of confirmation, the God of Jesus Christ, is more mysterious. God is creator of the world, transcendent over and above creation. And yet…
And yet, God’s very nature is love. The center of our confirmed faith is not that God protects us from all harm. Rather it is that God so loves us that the hurt and brokenness we face in life is also the hurt and brokenness that God feels. So what we confirm is not the certainty of life, but rather the certainty of God’s presence in all the uncertainty of life. Novelist Doris Betts’s assertion is that faith is “not synonymous with certainty…(but) is the decision to keep your eyes open.” A fourth century monk, Abba Bessarion said this about the attentiveness of a life of faith, “A monk should be all eye.”
Yet sometimes we won’t see what is right in front of our faces. A story is told during the London Blitz in World War II. A father holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as soon as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow.
Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, “I can’t see you!”
The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son. “But I can see you, jump!”
The boy jumped because he trusted his father. Confirming faithful discipleship enable us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known and loved.