Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost - 05/15/2016

Martin Luther had to think twice about what to do with confirmation. Did you know that? This rite that has been such a part of growing up Lutheran might not have made the cut back in the day; all those pictures of grim, serious looking young people on display in the fellowship hall might never have been taken. When Luther did his thing 500 years ago, Confirmation was a sacrament in the Catholic Church of which he was a part and it still is, but Luther had his own ideas on the nature of a sacrament. For him, in addition to being words accompanied by a visible sign, a sacrament also had to have been commanded by Jesus, and based on that, for him there were only two, Baptism and Holy Communion. So, among other questions, Luther had to decide what to do with confirmation?

Confirmation has always been connected to Baptism but in Luther’s time it had become separated from baptism because, while a regular priest could do the water part of the baptism, the only one who could do the laying on of hands part of the service was a bishop (which I think is still true in the Catholic church) but in those days it often took years for a bishop to come around to do it; so there was baptism and then, at some later date when the bishop could get there, confirmation.

Luther however, thought that the local pastor could do the full baptism including the laying on of hands and that became Lutheran practice. What that means is that all of these young people have already been confirmed. So why are they here today wearing lovely white capes with a red carnation? Why are we having this day of celebration today?

I guess the bottom line is that while Luther had questions about the sacramental nature of confirmation, he still thought it was a good idea for young people to go through a period of instruction in the faith as part of a rite of passage. Obviously he didn’t abolish confirmation and it became an important part of Lutheran church culture and heritage.

So confirmation has always been around but it’s not the same as what most of us remember. What I remember, what many of you remember is what you did in confirmation was to dutifully memorize the catechism, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments along with all of Martin Luther’s explanations; “What does this mean?” Mostly it was memorizing and reciting sometimes in the native language of those who founded the church so in some cases you didn’t even know what you were memorizing and reciting. Up here it seems like it’s mostly Finns who remember that but all the ethnic groups did it for awhile. Some of you also remember the terror of the public examination where the pastor would grill you with questions on the catechism and the congregation was invited to come and witness your misery, all of this resulting in lots of people with less than fond memories of confirmation.

For better or for worse, we don’t do so much memorization these days. How we do instruction has changed and it’s an issue that’s been out there for a long time. Going through some things I found an article from 1991, 25 years ago, that acknowledged that confirmation as we remember it just doesn’t work anymore. While there’s a place for memorization and learning about the tradition one is a part of, faith is more than memorizing the right answers. So church leaders in 1991 and probably way before that, were expressing uncertainty about what confirmation represents as well as what to teach and how to teach it.

As a pastor, these are things I have to think about and, to be honest, the answer to those questions changes from year to year, even class to class sometimes. It kind of evolves because, I would say, the Spirit moves in different ways among different groups of students. Those of us who teach have to try and discern the movement of the Spirit and from that discernment, we try to figure out what will best help the kids grow in faith because I think growing in faith or being engaged in the journey of faith is what confirmation is about. It’s always a work in process.

Sometimes what we do works pretty well, sometimes not so well. Sometimes it seems there’s more confusion than clarity, but again, the Spirit moves in mysterious ways. This is Pentecost Sunday after all, where we always get the great story from Acts, chapter 2, where in images of wind and fire the Spirit arrives to empower those gathered, but at the same time the Spirit creates a bit of confusion; maybe that’s part of the process.

Here at Bethany, Luther’s Small Catechism still constitutes the outline that we follow. We still pay attention to Martin Luther. We do pay attention to what he said about the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments but we also recognize that the issues of the mid 1500’s aren’t exactly the same as the issues of the early 2000’s. I’m not that worried about my neighbor coveting my livestock.

So…one of the biggest ways that confirmation instruction has changed is that, in order to get at some of the issues of today and how Christian faith impacts those issues, questions are invited. Another thing that many of us remember from our confirmation experience is that questions were not invited; they were not part of the process. You might have had them, but you didn’t dare ask.

My philosophy is that I want the kids to ask questions because to me, it shows they’re thinking about things, not just going through the motions. I know that sometimes they might just be trying to get me off track, but sometimes off track gets you to where you need to go. I do think that part of Martin Luther’s legacy though, is that he gave us permission to ask questions.

Mark Hanson, the former churchwide bishop of the ELCA, wrote that when he taught confirmation he felt like he had failed if a student was ready to affirm his or her baptism but had no questions. If that’s the criteria, confirmation for this group has been very successful. They do have questions and I hope they keep asking them. When a student asks, “What is salvation?” that is such a good question and it makes the pastor realize that the answer requires more than a recitation of Luther’s Small Catechism.

To encourage the kids to think we watch movies and try to get at some of the theological themes they contain as a way to get at how faith and life intersect. We learn Bible stories that give examples of a gracious God who brings new life out of broken situations, a God always ready to provide new opportunities and second chances. With varying degrees of success we even make movies about these stories. We try to explain salvation not just as forgiveness so “when I die I go to heaven” but about salvation as forgiveness so God accepts and loves each of us right now even though we have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. Forgiveness comes out of God’s grace and grace is something Lutherans young and old should know and experience.

Another thing that gets talked about relative to confirmation is that it shouldn’t be graduation from church but instead that it’s the beginning of greater involvement in the life of the church. We actually do pretty well on that and already with this group, besides serving as acolytes, you’ve seen them active as ushers along with reading the lessons and helping with communion. They’ve actually been quite enthusiastic about getting involved and that is something else that I hope continues as there will continue to be opportunities to serve.

I’m going to end with a story I told thirteen years ago. Some of you were probably here so see if you remember. Ed Johnson died a couple of weeks ago. He was a member of Bethel but a good friend of many people here and as it turned out he and his wife Barb were among the first people Kathy and I met when we arrived here. Somehow the conversation that day wound up on confirmation and Ed said that he always remembered the sermon from the day he was confirmed. Now Ed was about 70 years old at the time so this would have been a memory from close to 60 years before that. I was impressed because I didn’t remember anything about the sermon from the day I was confirmed.

Ed remembered that the pastor said to that class, “What would the church be like if every member was just like you?” I thought, that’s a great question, not just for a group of confirmands, but for anyone. “What would the church be like if every member was just like you?”

I have to say, looking at this group today, they could be the nucleus of a really good church. There might even be a pastor in there. I’m very happy to be part of this celebration today because I think this group is in it for the long haul. The Spirit is moving in their midst. They’re on the journey.

Pastor Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

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

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

Previous Page


Contact Us





Church Life


one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


Website designed and maintained by Superior Book Productions