This sermon was specifically aimed at our 8th grade confirmation students who were making their public profession of faith during worship. I stood on the main floor and spoke direction to them. They comprised the “you” in this message.
Scriptures: Psalm 25; Luke 9:28-36
I was in 7th grade when I sat where you’re sitting today. To be honest, I remember more about the time leading up to my confirmation than I do about the actual act of confirmation. In fact, I have zero recollection about the actual event itself – which I hope won’t be your experience 40 years from now. But for me, what I remember the most was my strong desire to become a church member. We had those traditional attendance pads which had a place for someone to make the column which said, “Wish to become a church member.” All year long I would faithfully check that box every week. Wish to become a church member. For me, I just couldn’t wait to be able to check the box which said Member. And that first Sunday after Confirmation was a momentous occasion for me, because I was now a member of my church. I felt like I finally mattered.
Now, looking back, I realize I’d gotten it all wrong. I wish someone had been clearer with us about what Confirmation was really about. Because, contrary to what I thought at the time, it’s not about becoming a church member. And it’s certainly not about finally being someone who matters.
If any of you six eventually sense God calling you to ordained ministry, and you starting working in the church, one of the things you’ll hear again and again is the lament (an expression of grief) that “all the youth in my church view confirmation as a kind of graduation. Once they’re confirmed they stop coming to church. They’ve graduated and moved on. They’re done.” If I had a dime for every time I heard one of my colleagues bemoan this state things, I’d be a wealthy man. And, to be fair, I’ve said it myself. Because there is some truth of the matter, that quite a few youth stop participating in church life after their confirmation.
Here’s why I think this happens. By law, you have to go to school – at least until you’re sixteen years old. There’s no choice in the matter. Even if you don’t like going to school, you still have to go. But, when it comes to being a part of a community of faith, like our own, there is no law. There’s no state law, and there’s no church law. Now, there may be “law” at home – it may be that your parents are the “law,” and they don’t give you the option of not going. But at some point in time, being a part of a church family is something that everyone has to choose for themselves.
My guess is that upon reaching late middle school/high school, many youths exercise this prerogative, and choose not to come. Why? Well, it could be for many different reasons. But one of them just might be because they can. That was my experience when it came to staying up late when I went off to college.
Even though my parents didn’t tell me when to go to bed when I was in high school, there’s was still a new freedom in the matter when I went to college. And so for those first few months I stayed up real late every night – because I could. But eventually, all those late nights and early mornings caught up with me, and I made the choice to get to bed at a decent time.
This is kind of how it is when it comes to being a follower of Jesus Christ. Some of us grew up in the church, and maybe our parents made us go because “it’s just something we do as a family.” That’s the way my family was when I was in 7th grade. But at some point in time I had to make that choice for myself. Not because my parents said I had to do, but because it was something I wanted to do.
This is the way God designed it. He designed it so that there’s no law saying we HAVE to go to church, and that we HAVE to follow Jesus. God designed it so that it’s a choice. Because the truth is, God’s no interested in us being robots are controlled by outside forces – include God himself. No, what he’s interested in are people who choose to follow him. And while there will always be those who choose to exercise their right to stop participating in church after they “graduate” from confirmation, my hope and prayer is that you’ll recognize the truth that confirmation is not the end of the road, but really, the beginning of a long road of faith. Your walk with Jesus doesn’t end today, but continues. The journey ahead will be great, and wonderful, and challenging, and difficult, and confusing, and transforming, and bumpy, and smooth, and straight, and windy. It’s been a journey of faith up until this point in time, and it will continue until the day you take your final breath in this world, after which the journey will take you to another place and dimension where you’ll see Jesus face-to-fact.
But by God’s grace, that day is a long, long way off! You’ve got a heap of living to do in the meantime. So, there are two things I’d like to share with you as you get ready to take your next steps on this journey.
First, and most importantly, Jesus Christ is the way. Certainly, he’s your guide or even your map, but he’s way more than that. He is the way. Not only does he show us the path to follow, but he himself is our pathway. You’ll discover an awful lot in this world that’ll work real hard to convince you to follow a different way. And you may even do that for a time. But God’s grace and love is really, really strong, and through it all he’ll continue to woo you to himself. And because of your baptism, you’ll always be able to hear him. Always. Choose to listen will always be up to you. But you’ll always be able to hear him.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus take three of his disciples with him up on a mountain for a time of prayer. The story goes that at some point, two strangers suddenly appeared on the scene, although somehow they knew innately who they were. The first man was Moses, the man who led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness for forty years, and to the edge of the Promised Land. Moses is the one who gave them the law, and the sacrifices, and showed them how to construct the big Tent where God dwelled. He was the one that all the Jews listened to. If Moses said it, it was law.
The second man was an important prophet from the past. His name was Elijah, and next to Moses Elijah was one of the most important people that the Jews could listen to and obey. So these three followers of Jesus find themselves in the presence of three important people: Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
There’s one line in this story that I want us to focus on and really hear. When Moses and Elijah, two of the most important leaders is all of Judaism up to that point in time, stood there next to Jesus, a voice from the sky—the voice of God we’re to assume—gave them a command that changed their religious orientation for the rest of their lives. The voice simply said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to HIM!” Don’t miss the significance of what just happened. Three important leaders standing together, and God the Father points to Jesus the Son and says, “Of these three people, the one I want you to listen to from now on is Jesus!”
Listen to HIM!
I’m telling you right now that there will be a lot in this world that will try to get you to listen to everything but Jesus, and those voices are convincing. But the voice that I hope and pray you’ll always give preference to is the voice of only one who died to give you life: Jesus Christ. So, the first thing is that Jesus Christ is the only real way for us.
The second thing I want you to know is that that no path beside Jesus will bring you to the place for which we all long. And in this case, I’m not even talking about heaven. I’m still talking about life on this side of heaven. Only Jesus Christ can promise the abundant life. In fact, Jesus once compared himself to everybody and everything else that will try to get us to follow them. He kind of clumps them all into one category, saying, “The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came [to earth] so that you could have life—indeed, so that you could live life to this fullest!” (John 10.10). Other Bible translations have him saying he came to give us an abundant life, a life of overflowing blessings, a life of having everything we need. My point is, this abundant life is only available through a relationship with the one who give it, Jesus Christ.
What lies before you – and all of us for that matter – is the life-long journey of seeking God, and living in relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. Psalm 25 reads in part, “Make you ways known to me, Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, because you’re the God who saves me…. All the Lord’s paths are loving and faithful….Where are the ones who honor the Lord? God will teach them which path to take.
They will live a good life, and their descendants will possess the land” (vv. 4-5, 10a, 12-13),
Psalm 1 says that the person who seeks to know and love God “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in and out of season, and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (v. 3). This doesn’t mean that walking with God insulates us from hardship and grief. But it does mean that over the course of a lifetime, walking with God as best as we can, and making Jesus the one we follow, will result in an truly abundant life. No person or thing in this world can give us that. Every person in here and out there is looking for a full, meaningful life. And I want you to know that Jesus Christ is the author of a full, meaningful life.
Because today is only the beginning of the rest of your journey of faith, please keep one more thing in mind. There’s not a person here, including myself, who’s got it all figured out. Living in relationship with Jesus Christ is really for those who recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and that we need him. There’s a certain humility that’s required of Jesus-followers. And all of us are on this journey of faith, trying to figure it out as best as we can. Confirmation doesn’t mean you have all the answers. And it doesn’t mean you understand it all.
Grace. Sin. Salvations. Death. Communion. Baptism. Sacrament. Love The Bible. Worship. The Holy Spirit. The Church. Who is God? What does it mean to be a Methodist? The Trinity. Prayer. Jesus. Faith.
These are some of the topics we briefly touched on in class, but at no point did you ever hear Chuck or me tell you that you had to understand all these things in the fullest in order to be confirmed. Your confirmation is simply this: it’s you standing where everyone else has stood—before the congregation—and telling us that according to the grace given you by God you will continue on in your journey of faith, trusting God to reveal himself to you in new and exciting ways all along the way. At times you will soar, and at times you will stumble. But at all times you will held in the loving hand of God. And you will be loved and held in the prayers of all these people. Let’s pray.