This Sunday is a special day for our six confirmands. After special classes, trips, and a retreat with Matt Bell, the six preteens will be ready for confirmation.
When I take part in a confirmation service, however, I always have a few questions in my mind about the rest of y’all.
I know that many of you never went through confirmation. If you were raised in a church or tradition which does not “do” confirmation, then you didn’t; instead, you were probably baptized as a young person or adult. Often, I get lots of questions about confirmation — what does it mean, what is its purpose?
Let me briefly explain the Methodist understanding of baptism and confirmation. Baptism is a sacrament of joining, and being joined to, the body of Christ. Therefore, we will baptize any adult who makes a conscious decision to be joined to Christ, or any infant or child whose parents wish to make that decision on his/her behalf.
In the case of an infant, obviously the decision is not the child’s own until such time as he or she makes it personally. Confirmation is the formal process by which the church invites the child to do so. We usually make it an educational and social program, with classes and experiences that help someone learn more about what it means to follow Jesus, so that they can make an informed decision.
When they are confirmed, they are taking responsibility for the baptismal vows that their parents said for them. They are owning it for themselves. They willingly take on the rights and responsibilities that go with following Jesus.
My first question to the rest of you, then, is, “Have you ever owned the faith for yourself? Have you made a conscious decision to follow Christ?” This is an important part of the journey of faith. As I said in a recent sermon, we are not born Christian, we are made into Christians. It is an act of the will, an intention, a choice. Too many people have never made a real choice to follow Jesus, but instead rest on the laurels of their baptism, as if it were a magical ritual that saves them from hell. That’s not the point of it at all, though. Baptism is a joining of our lives to Jesus.
Now, while the intention to follow Christ is an important part of the confirmation ceremony, it’s not the only piece. We believe that baptism is a means of grace for the follower of Jesus. In other words, it’s not so much about what we do, but about what God does on our behalf. We are joined to Christ, not by our own efforts or worth, but by the free gift of God. We are given new birth, a new start in life, by the mercy of God. As the baptismal liturgy reads, “All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”
So my second question to all of you is, “Have you received the grace of God for yourself? Have you found that the power of the Holy Spirit lives in you, and gives you a strength that is not your own?”
If you have never been baptized, then perhaps it’s time to think about making the plunge (pun intended) for yourself. You are invited to a new relationship with God that begins with the forgiveness of sin and a renewal of your spirit in God’s love. I would be happy to talk about baptizing you.
If you have never been confirmed, then it’s up to you to answer the two questions above. Have you accepted the baptismal vows that were made for you, and have you received God’s grace? Perhaps you simply would like to learn more about what the faith journey is all about. I encourage you to join a Sunday School class or a small group, where you will have the opportunity to learn more about the Bible or the specific shape of the Jesus-centered life.
I certainly hope that all of you will be present on Sunday morning, as we listen to the witness of our newest confirmands, and as we celebrate the next steps they are taking on their own journeys.