On Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019, the First Congregational Church in Salem, New Hampshire celebrated Confirmation and welcomed a new member to the church. During the church service the Confirmands each read a Statement of Faith that they had written. I did not preach a traditional sermon but used this text as an explanation of what the service of Confirmation is all about.
I think sometimes, we do things in the Church because we have always done them, but we are not really sure why we do them or what they mean. I used to serve a congregation that began some 80 years before I arrived, and the members of the congregation did not speak English. By the time I came, English was the predominant language although they still sang a few hymns on occasion in their mother tongue of Romanian. They did not know what they were singing, but, they learned these hymns as children, and they had a comfort about them. I recall printing the English translation in the bulletin, and they were amazed at what they were singing.
Today we celebrate not only the Feast of Pentecost or the birthday of the Church, but we rejoice in the fact that these folks gathered here have decided to make a public declaration of their faith through Confirmation or church membership. But what does Confirmation mean?
Last week I met with the Confirmands and told them that Confirmation was their choice, not another’s choice for them. I’m sorry to say that the decision to be confirmed lies solely with the person being confirmed. We do not ask to be confirmed because our older siblings were confirmed or because it is what is expected of us when we reach a certain age.
Confirmation is the affirmation of the promises made for these folks at their baptism. We heard the promises again during the service; do you renounce the powers of evil, do toy profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, do you promise to be God’s disciple, follow the way of savior, be a faithful member of the Church, love and show justice, witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ. Do you promise to grow in the faith, celebrate Christ’s presence, and furthering the mission of the Church in the world. All of these questions are serious and should not be agreed to because someone else wants you to.
In Confirmation, you accept and make a public declaration that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. You give yourself wholeheartedly to God and seek to know God’s will for your life. You have promised to follow the way that Christ has left for us and that you will let the Holy Spirit guide you in all you do. When you were brought for baptism promises were made on your behalf, and today you have made those promises stronger, and God has made a firmer and stronger claim on you.
You have also become a member of this particular congregation, and after the service, you will sign your name to the book that people have been signing since the founding of this Church in the 1700s. You have promised to participate in the life and mission of this congregation and to share regularly in the worship life of the congregation. We can chat later about what “regularly” means but publically stating that this is your spiritual home, at least for now, has to mean something we want you and we need you.
As Reformed Christians, we believe that “while you have confirmed your baptismal vows, God, on God’s part, through the laying on of the hands of the minister, claims and accepts you as God’s own, renews the covenant with you, and assures you of present and future needful grace. Confirmation, the laying on of hands, is God’s act of love to you.” (Heidelberg Catechism)
Many people have walked with you along this journey. They have taught you, prayed for you, and will continue to do so throughout your life. This is no small matter or simple ceremony that we have participated in today. “Now you will be on record before God, your family, your friends, and the members of this congregation that you mean to follow Christ, that you are answering the call to you with an audible yes, that you mean henceforth, as far as you are able, to trust in God, to care for others, to care for yourself, and to seek the realm of God.” (My Confirmation, A Guide for Confirmation Instruction)
Today is not the end of your Christian education; it is just the beginning. My prayer for you this day is that you keep these promises you made today ever in the forefront of your mind and that you will always seek after God’s will for your life. Amen.