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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 05/21/2017

Confirmation has become a movable occasion for us; no date is etched in stone on the church calendar so it’s moved around over the past few years.  For many years it was observed on Reformation Sunday.  I’m not really sure of the history behind that but my guess would be that confirmation had been in the spring but it was moved to the fall, away from graduation time to try and avoid the perception of confirmation as graduation from church.

 A few years ago though, Reformation Sunday didn’t work for the young people being confirmed, I think football had something to do with it, so we wound up doing it on Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year.  After that, we moved it back to the spring in part because for me the pause between completing instruction in the spring but not doing confirmation until the end of October just seemed too long.  I also didn’t think confirmation being in the spring was the determining factor in the graduation from church perception; with that, when it happens, there are many other factors involved. 

Since moving back to the spring, Pentecost Sunday has worked some years with Pentecost being a traditional time for confirmation with its focus on the Holy Spirit.  This year though, Pentecost falls on the Sunday we usually do graduation recognition.  The Sunday before that, which is next Sunday, is Memorial Day weekend which didn’t seem like a good time so here we are on the Sixth Sunday of Easter which as it turns out is a pretty good day for confirmation; I’ll get to that in a minute.

Historically though, confirmation has been a big deal in Lutheran churches; the display of class pictures in the fellowship hall witnesses to that and, of course, similar displays are found in many other churches.  Lots of times when people come back to visit, they want to find their picture.  If you think about Reformation history though, the continued Lutheran emphasis on confirmation is a bit surprising.  In the Catholic Church it’s a sacrament as it was in Luther’s time, but it didn’t make the cut as a sacrament with Luther as he instead wrapped confirmation in with baptism.  That’s why it is now known as Affirmation of Baptism even though we all still tend to call it confirmation.

Luther was correct in wrapping confirmation in with baptism because it does refer to the laying on of hands part of baptism; first there’s the water, then the laying on of hands and calling on the Holy Spirit with that followed by anointing with oil.  In Luther’s time, and I think it’s still the same today, in the Catholic church, a priest could do the water part of the baptism but only a bishop could do the laying on of hands.  Back in the day, it could take years for a bishop to come around to every little village and parish, hence the gap between baptism and confirmation.  Luther however, said that a pastor could do the whole thing at the time of baptism which continues to be our practice.  In other words, those who we confirm every year, including Kyra, Morgan and Matthew this year, are already confirmed.

So why did confirmation persist with such emphasis in the Lutheran church?  The short answer to that is because Luther put such an emphasis on education in all areas but especially religious education.  He was appalled by the lack of knowledge among church members.  In his introduction to the Small Catechism Luther says, “The deplorable, wretched deprivation that I recently encountered while I was a visitor has constrained and compelled me to prepare this catechism, or Christian instruction, in such a brief, plain, and simple version.  Dear God, what misery I beheld!  The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows absolutely nothing about the Christian Faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers.”  Tell us how you really feel, Martin. 

Another thing that you all should understand it that this is not your confirmation or my confirmation or your father’s confirmation.  Except for those confirmed in recent years, we remember mostly memorizing and reciting the catechism and what does this mean, perhaps we remember the horror of the public examination.  At one time I guess it worked.  Some of us are still around anyway, and certainly for Luther himself that’s how the catechism would have been approached, as something to be memorized and recited.  There is something to say for memorization, but in terms of helping kids grow in faith, such an approach hasn’t worked for a long time now, over the years leaving way too many kids gritting their teeth just to get through it, anxious to be done with confirmation so they can “graduate from church” and not have to come back. 

There’s the joke about the Catholic priest, the Methodist pastor and the Lutheran pastor talking about how they all had problems with bats in the attic of the church.  The priest and the Methodist minister said they had tried all kinds of things and the bats were still there, nothing worked.  The Lutheran said, “I went up in the attic and confirmed all mine and I haven’t seen any of them since.” 

I’m not entirely joking when I say that my goal these days is to get the kids through confirmation without hating me and the church.  It’s not that content isn’t important; learning the basics of the catechism and knowing the foundational stories of the Bible is important, but at this point in time I would say that a positive relationship with the church and the faith it represents is more important in keeping young people around and active in their faith journey, more important in helping to keep this from being graduation from church.

All in all, we do pretty well.  There are fewer kids, that’s true, not the big classes you see in some of the pictures in the fellowship hall.  But most of those confirmed over the past few years are around and you see them becoming active in the life of the church.  They don’t graduate from church; they don’t disappear like the bats in the attic. 

I said earlier that this is a good day to do confirmation; that’s because we have turned the corner in the Easter season and are now moving toward Pentecost.  Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit which is why it is one of the traditional days for confirmation.  At this point in the Easter season though, the transition toward Pentecost has begun with references to the Holy Spirit.

In the language of John’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Advocate.  In the original Greek the word is paraclete, not parakeet but paraclete, the literal translation being, “one who is called alongside.”  It gets translated variously as helper, comforter, encourager or intercessor, all of which we would call attributes of the Holy Spirit.  What’s notable in John is that the Advocate is quite consistently described as being in opposition to the ways of the world.  It is also portrayed as continuing the earthly work of Jesus.

For any of us, those are things worth thinking about, but to me they seem particularly relevant as we think about what confirmation means these days.  In what some people see as the glory days of the church, 50, 60 years ago when at least twice as many people attended this church and most others, the church was much more a part of the establishment, not at all in opposition to the ways of the world, more of a rubber stamp of those ways.  What is happening now though is that the church is perhaps more like it was in its earliest days when it did represent an alternative way to be in the world, an alternative way that is led by the Spirit. 

Baptism and affirmation of baptism become the entry point into this alternative that isn’t just about me first consumerism and the belief that technology will solve all our problems, that there’s a pill or procedure that will keep us young forever and that more and more weapons will keep us safe.  Confirmation says that you sign on to the way of Jesus which is about trusting in God’s love and forgiveness and embodying the ethic of Jesus which is about love and care for the neighbor and as I often say, for Jesus, the neighborhood is pretty big.  It’s not a holier than thou thing, but it’s belief that worship in word and sacrament is important and does make a difference, providing strength and encouragement to walk the walk of faith in service to others.

By the power of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, we do continue the work of Jesus, we become the body of Christ in the world.  In baptism Kyra, Morgan and Matthew received the gift of the Holy Spirit; it’s already part of who they are.  Like I said, they are already confirmed.  Today though, they acknowledge that gift and we celebrate with them as, in the words of today’s choir anthem, they hear the call to be disciples of Christ, living in his love, walking in his light, doing their part in proclaiming the wonder of his grace.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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