And so it begins

The chancel on Pentecost-Confirmation Sunday (Faith Ottawa, photo by M.Malina, 2023)

Dear Confirmands,

Confession: Over the past two years of meeting and Confirmation programs, we’ve barely skimmed the surface of what we can know about the Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective:

We’ve just scratched the surface of the biblical story and sacraments. We’ve only dipped our toes into the shallows of the otherwise deep waters.  We’ve said the Lord’s Prayer together and read through the Creed. We’ve talked about the Commandments and affirmed Article Four of the Augsburg Confession—that we are saved by grace alone and nothing we can do or know will ultimately save us.

And maybe that’s the point. Because here we are confirming you today! Despite what from one perspective can be seen as a rather lean program. And yet our action today underscores this fundamental Lutheran belief: We cannot by our own strength and efforts earn God’s favour.

Many of our senior members will be eager to tell your stories of large confirmation classes where they had to sit for hours memorizing scriptures, learning by heart the entire catechism and singing the Reformation hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. And that’s not even describing the anxiety surrounding the final exam before their confirmation.

Another confession: I think we have long passed the day of doing confirmation that way.

And still you are today being confirmed in the faith. Besides affirming we are saved by grace alone, our action today underscores another very important understanding of our faith: Confirmation merely emphasizes you are at the start of a journey today, not the end of it.

Over the last several months groups of Lutheran youth leaders from around the world—specifically from Africa, Europe and the Americas—gathered to set priorities for the church today. These priorities will be part of the deliberations at the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Poland which I will attend in September later this year.

Some of these priorities agreed by Lutheran youth leaders, ages 18-30, were: eco-theology, justice in community, inclusive and accessible churches, youth leadership and mental health.[1] Clearly there is a future for the church because there is so much to be done by you and others your age. And you’ve already started on this journey:

Even though you didn’t memorize anything, or read through every word or explanation in Martin Luther’s catechism, you did feed the hungry and provide clothing to the poor. You did plant a garden. You did, by handing out coffee and slices of pie, put a smile on the faces of homeless people in downtown Ottawa. You ate together, shared laughs and silly stories. You engaged in service projects around the city. You worshipped and prayed together.

But it’s not over. Those activities can and will happen again. The one word we should eradicate from the lexicon and culture of Confirmation Sunday is ‘graduation’. You are not graduating today. You haven’t completed anything, really.

Today is not a graduation. It’s really the start. It’s a journey you are on—we are all on—to grow in faith. That’s why each of you is receiving the gift of a small tree–a white spruce. Because like anything that grows, it will need regular care and nurturing. And it will grow over time.

You may doubt everything we do today. And that’s ok. It’s a journey. You may not be sure of God today and what God promises you. And that’s ok.

It’s ok because what we did accomplish these past couple of years was community. Not perfectly. But we related with one another, and spent time together doing meaningful things. We got to know each other a bit. And when one of us was missing from class, we asked about them—where they were and how they were doing.

And that’s what the church today needs: Forming relationships in faith. And maybe for some of us older ones, re-forming relationships of faith.

Confirmation is an affirmation of faith—a saying yes to everything good. To our baptism. To God’s grace. Saying, even though we may not be 100% sure and even though we don’t know everything, we do know this:

God loves you and God will be with you forever. God loves everyone else and will be with us forever.

[1] Scan recent posts in the Lutheran World Federation Youth Instagram account @lwfyouth

And so it begins”; a sermon for Pentecost-Confirmation Sunday, by Rev. Martin Malina, May 2023

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