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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Reformation-Confirmation 10/27/2013

We’re at the end of the series of Jeremiah readings that started back in August; actually it ended last week but as it turns out the lessons for Reformation Sunday give us a reprise of last week’s text from Jeremiah and I think it provides a good starting point for this Reformation-Confirmation Sunday. 

Remember a couple of weeks ago when Jeremiah told the people their time in exile was going to last awhile, that they should settle in and get on with life, have sons and daughters, then marry them off so they too could have sons and daughters?  Well that’s what happened.  The exile lasted 70 years and during that time children were born, children who grew up and had more children.  For all of them, life in Babylon was the new normal; it was the only life they knew.  The good old days back in the homeland, in Jerusalem, worshiping in the temple weren’t part of their world.  By the end of the exile there would hardly have been anyone left who had real experience or memory of any of that.

As I thought about these young people being confirmed today it made me think that they are kind of like those children born in exile.  For these four as well as for all the kids we have in confirmation and Sunday School, the good old days that some of us remember or think we remember are not part of their experience. 

For example, they’re too young to remember 9/11 except in movies and pictures.  They’re too young to remember that we once had a government that actually worked pretty well despite disagreements.  They’re too young to remember a time when you didn’t have to take your shoes off when you went to the airport.  They’ve never lived during a time when we weren’t at war with someone or when the word terrorist wasn’t part of everyone’s vocabulary.  They also don’t remember a time when churches were full on Sunday mornings and the stores were closed.  Those of us who are old enough see all these ways the world has changed, but for our young people it’s just the world they live in, it’s their normal.

That can be good or it can be bad.  It can be good in that they don’t waste a lot of time longing for the way things used to be; they’re too young to know a time that used to be.  It can be bad if they just become resigned to the fact that this is the way things are, there’s no reason to expect or hope for anything different.

For a couple of months now we’ve had a pretty steady diet of depressing readings from Jeremiah, things like the land is waste and void, the whole land a devastation, the city is in ruins; my joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick and you can imagine the people saying, “Enough is enough; we know all that; stop beating us over the head with it.”  It’s how I feel these days when I watch the TV6 news that seems to start every night with the latest trial or murder or drug bust or criminal sexual misconduct arrest with awful mug shots of creepy looking people.  Enough is enough!  We all know that stuff is happening.  It isn’t really news that affects us so tell us something we don’t know.”

Jeremiah didn’t back off from bad news for a long time; it was important for the people to know how bad things were.  But finally, finally Jeremiah received a more hopeful word from the Lord, a word that said that this depressing new normal wouldn’t last forever; something new was going to happen.  The Lord said,  “I will make a new covenant.  I will be their God and they will be my people.  I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”

Those were important words, words that they needed to hear, especially because this new covenant was all on God.  This wasn’t the people being urged to break the negative cycle themselves, to get their act together and change.  There is a place for that kind of urging and Jeremiah did a lot of it.  But this new covenant that he announced was on God; it was God saying, “You can’t break this cycle yourselves, so I’m going to do it for you.  Something new is possible.”  That folks, is grace. It’s the announcement of something new that hasn’t been earned and isn’t deserved.  It happens only because that’s the nature of the God we worship.  It’s not a God who sugar coats reality; all those chapters of Jeremiah are evidence of that.  But it’s a God of hope who won’t let a reality of doom and gloom have the last say.

God wouldn’t let it have the last say then, and still won’t because what people have always needed is a word of grace, a word of hope that new things are possible, that second chances are given.  That’s the message that comes back time after time throughout the Bible.

Jacob, Noah, Savannah and Hannah are being confirmed here today; they affirm their baptism, saying “Yes” to what their parents and sponsors said quite a few years ago.  Confirmation has changed in case you didn’t know that.  Many of us remember memorizing the catechism, the Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer along with all of Luther’s explanations of “What does this mean?”  Speaking of the good old days, some of you remember the good old days of the public examination, being grilled by the pastor in front of the congregation. I’ve said before that I missed out on that bit of fun because my confirmation pastor was in a car accident so they cancelled the public examination, one of the clearest examples I’ve ever had that prayer works.  It was a win/win thing: the pastor was OK and we were off the hook.

I sometimes feel guilty that my approach to confirmation isn’t as “rigorous” as what we used to do.  We still study the catechism.  If you asked these four about the Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, they would do pretty well.  They wouldn’t be able to quote Luther’s explanations for you but then neither can I and I’ll bet you don’t remember anyway.  But they could tell you in their own words what things mean.

The catechism and the Bible are still the primary textbooks for confirmation, they are the tools that we use, but what I’ve decided kids really need to learn about Jesus and Christianity and the Lutheran Church is the same thing that Martin Luther needed to learn, the same thing the people of Jeremiah’s time needed to learn.  That is, they need to learn about the grace of God.  They need to know about God’s forgiveness.  They need to know about second chances.  They need to know that by grace God can and will do something new and that we’ve been given the ability to imagine the possibilities.  I think imagination is a much undervalued aspect of religious faith. 

We’re not stuck with the world we live in, as normal as it may seem.  We also don’t have to long for the good old days.  God will do something new working through us and events that may sometimes seem like they’re taking us in the wrong direction.  New life out of brokenness by the grace of God is at the center of our faith, for us revealed most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That’s what I think they need to know and imagine because that’s what I think we all need to know and imagine. 

I think learning about grace is way more important than memorizing the catechism because it is at the heart what Jesus life, death and resurrection were about.  Jesus is the ultimate gift of grace.  So while I do sometimes feel a little guilty about how I approach confirmation, it doesn’t last long; I get over it because it’s more important to me that the kids know that church is a place where they are always accepted and always welcome, that it’s a place that they can come to hear a word of hope about God’s grace and love.  I want church to be a place that they want to keep coming to if for no other reason than to help them know that the new normal of the world we live in won’t have the last word.  By the grace of God, new things are possible.

There’s a lot for us to celebrate today; Confirmation, Reformation, the 143rd anniversary of the church.  All of them call for a degree of reflection and looking back, but even more they call for looking forward by the grace of God, to new life and new possibilities in a world and a church that are always experiencing reformation.

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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