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

On St Jean Baptiste Day – a Confirmation

Dear siblings in Christ, 

On this St Jean Baptiste Day—June 24—we heard about John the Baptist from the Gospel (Mark 1:1-8). He was obviously a strange man: He wore clothes with camel hair, and he baptized and preached repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

All of this he did for one reason. The reason he named: “After me comes he who is mightier than I,…I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.“

Again, that’s kind of strange. John’s purpose is to be a forerunner of Jesus Christ. He prepares people for the coming of Jesus.

Preparing, that is what we also do in confirmation classes. Over the last couple of years—indeed your whole life since you were baptized—you have been preparing yourselves for saying yes to Jesus Christ. Yes I am a Christian. Yes I will trust God and continue on the journey of learning about and figuring out for myself the meaning of God and God’s son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

When we think about it, that’s what all of us are doing every year and every time we come together as the church to pray, to worship and serve in Christ’s name.

But isn’t that a bit strange? Is it not enough to prepare just once? In a way, the confirmation service is a conclusion of sorts. But, if we are honest, we all know as Christians we are never finished learning about and growing in faith.

This is what is special about Christianity. You are never finished. You never really graduate and say, “Now I know everything.” The grace of God and the gift of faith accompany you all your life. And the good thing is that God accompanies you all your life, too. So, you are never alone.

The church is a community that is here to support your growth and learn from each other. We offer each other gifts to help us on the way. So, today, we want to give special gifts to our confirmands—we’re calling it the S.O.S. box to help you not only survive but thrive in your life of faith.

So, in your S.O.S. box, you will find:

1) First, a compass.

A compass shows the way. It points you in the right direction and reminds you that there are Christian churches all over the world where God is worshipped and served, and where you can find your spiritual home anywhere on earth. Many of our parents and grandparents came from overseas in Europe over the last few centuries. And now here, 6000km away, we celebrate a service together, in person, for the first time in 15 months. God’s word is proclaimed all over the world, and online. And you are welcome everywhere to be with your siblings in faith. 

2) Then, in your S.O.S. box you will find a flashlight.

A flashlight is handy when the power goes out, or when you are out at night

But apart from nighttime or not being able to see where we are, there are other kinds of ‘darkness’ in our lives. Some people speak of death as a great abyss.

But also moments that make us afraid, situations and changes that we cannot understand, feelings that feel heavy and wrong can become weighty for us.

Despairing thoughts buzz in our head, in our heart, in our soul.

Especially in such times, Jesus wants to be light for us. His love and power wants to give us security and show us a way through the shadows. Sometimes the first step can be the help of friends, a bible verse or a song that gives courage.

The light of Jesus has conquered every confusion, every grief, every fog until now – even death!

When you trust Jesus, then every confusion, every secret and every terrible experience will eventually lose its power and terror. You will feel how his light begins to shine in you and gain strength – until you yourself begin to reflect the light of God’s love again.

3) Third, in your S.O.S. box you will find a key.

Doors usually lock something. The apartment door protects us from burglars, the fire door prevents fire from spreading, the washroom door ensures privacy, soundproof doors dampen loud noises from the other side …

Locked doors all serve their purpose precisely when they are closed. But you can use the key to unlock them when you want to cross the threshold of a door.

There is a Bible verse in which Jesus compares himself to a door, he says:

I am the door; if anyone enters by me, they will be saved, and will go in and out, and find pasture. (John 10,9)

Jesus says he is the door! But he is not a closed door. On the contrary, this door is always open, for all who want to come to God. Through him one can come to the good pasture, that is, to the glory of our loving God.

And we have the key—our relationship with God. In the word of God we can make our way through the door. Here we learn the love that Jesus has for us. Through the stories of the bible we also learn to live our lives out of this love. We learn to love ourselves and to accept Jesus as our best friend, forever! And then this door is open to us—wide open!

In some countries, this key is suppressed by law. But by God’s grace everyone in Canada is free to have this key and use it.

Remember, though, this key is of no use if it is just lying uselessly on the shelf. Only when we have it with us and use it, it can be helpful for us on our journey of faith.

4) We also give you this small tree as a reminder of our growth in faith. This little tree will need a lot of help to grow into its mature fullness. It will need sunshine, water, and likely soon a bigger pot and fresh soil. And, time. 

Like for you, and for us all, our growth in faith will take time, a lifetime. Also, we can’t grow without help. Throughout our lives, we, too, will need the regular nourishment of the holy meal, friendship in faith, support in difficult times and gifts of God in all creation. We can’t force the tree to grow. But we can nurture it. And see what happens!

Take care of the tree. And watch it grow.

5) The last item in your S.O.S. kit, mentioned already, is the Bible.

Of all the other items in your kit, this is the very important. Here we´ll find all the stories of God and his people. Here we can hear God’s promises to us!

Here we read about times of joy and also about times of sorrow. Here we can find our way forward when we have questions about faith. The Bible is the best-selling book in history! Lots of people have read it. For 2000 years it exists in this printed form. Amazing! There is always more to discover, and be surprised about, when we journey with our survival kit.

But we don’t go alone, and we are prepared for whatever comes. That is why we baptize and confirm in Christian churches. That is why we lay hands over your head and bless you.

We baptize not only with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

And your confirmation verses will remind you that throughout your life and through the Holy Spirit, God gives you Jesus (John 3:16) every day in your heart; therefore, we can be courageous because God goes with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9); and, that no matter happens, nothing will separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:28) for you. Amazing promises!


This sermon was written by and in collaboration with the Rev. Judith Kierschke from Martin Luther Church in Ottawa