Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 05/19/2019

About now I know that some of you start longing for Holy Humor Sunday. Today though is Confirmation Sunday and there aren’t a lot of confirmation jokes, in fact I think there’s only one, the one everyone knows, some version of the three pastors who are having problems with some critters in the attic, we’ll say squirrels. When they get together for lunch the Methodist and the Presbyterian say they haven’t had any luck getting rid of them. No matter what they’ve tried the squirrels keep coming back. The Lutheran pastor smiles and says, “I just went up into the attic and confirmed all mine and I haven’t seen any of them since.”

That’s the stereotype right? Confirmation is graduation from church. You know that stereotypes are stereotypes because there’s a degree of truth to them so one can’t deny a degree of truth about this one…but I did some research.

I went down from my office and looked at the pictures out in the fellowship hall. If I counted correctly, including these two today I will have confirmed 67 young people in the years I’ve been here. A few years ago Sue Holmgren showed me her confirmation picture down at Bethel and she might have had 67 people in her class; there was a lot anyway, but that’s another story.

Looking through the pictures though, of the 67 I’ve confirmed, there really aren’t many who never darkened the door again; there’s a few but not many. There are far more who continued to stay at least somewhat involved as long as they lived around here, some who have wound up living away from here but who show up when they’re home. Are there lots of them who might show up occasionally and who would still call this their church but who I wish were around more often? For sure, and I feel bad about that; I wish they were more active. My point though is that on the positive side, there haven’t been that many who disappear like the squirrels in the attic. The stereotype doesn’t exactly hold.

For us, confirmation has become a movable rite. For a long time we did it in October on Reformation Sunday, the goal I think being to move it away from graduation time and the graduation from church perception. A few years ago we moved it back to the spring with Pentecost Sunday kind of being the target date but some years that doesn’t work either especially in a year like this one when Easter was late, thus making Pentecost late as well.

The good thing about the date moving around is that it means that the appointed scripture readings for confirmation Sunday aren’t always the same thus providing the opportunity for different connections to be made. It can turn out to be a bad thing too if finding a connection with confirmation is too much of a stretch. That’s not the case today though. There’s plenty of good material in today’s lessons.

The gospel takes us back to the new commandment of Maundy Thursday, Jesus’ call to love one another; “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” While not part of today’s reading, we remember that the Maundy Thursday gospel includes the first part of this chapter, the verses about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, an example of the kind of love he was talking about. It occurred to me that if I really wanted to make this confirmation Sunday memorable, instead of doing the usual laying on of hands, I could have Ian and Jarin take off their shoes and I would wash their feet. Better still, instead of having family members come up and join in the laying on of hands I could have them come up so Ian and Jarin could wash their feet. Then we could go eat cake.

In all seriousness though, this command to love one another is a good confirmation day text. While everyone still calls what we do here today confirmation, officially it’s Affirmation of Baptism. In the Lutheran Church, confirmation instruction became connected to Luther’s Small Catechism and many of us remember confirmation mostly as memorizing the catechism with all the “What does this mean” explanations.

Connecting what we do here today with baptism though, changes the focus. We still use the catechism in confirmation and after 500 years it is still a useful guide. These days though, what we do is more about relationships, just being with the kids and them being with each other. What that gets to is baptismal identity and what that means. What it means has to do with the last part of the sacrament of Holy Baptism when the name of the baptized is spoken followed by, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

Those are heavy words, heavy words that represent an identity change as in baptism we become children of God. What that means is that we are named, marked and destined for a different way of life, a way that often runs counter to the usual ways of the world. It’s not a stretch to say that central to baptismal identity and that different way of life is the “Love one another” commandment, especially connected as it is to “As I have loved you.” Jesus’ love has to do with grace and forgiveness; it has to do with welcome and care for the neighbor, it has to do with welcome and care for the stranger.

Baptism is a gift of God’s grace; we’ve done nothing to deserve to be called children of God. In faith though, we believe it; we believe that Jesus has done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. But we cheapen the gift if we don’t respond to it in the ways that Jesus calls us to.

It’s a tall order but the Acts reading for today sheds more light on what kind of response is called for. The presenting issue in today’s portion of Acts had to do with who was welcome to be part of the early church, the feeling of some being that to be included it was necessary to follow the ritual and dietary laws of Judaism. The accusation against Peter was that he was eating with those who were not following those laws.

Peter though had a vision. In his vision he saw something like a sheet descend from heaven, a sheet filled with all kinds of four footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles and birds and a voice saying, “Get up, kill and eat.” But Peter was familiar with the laws of Leviticus concerning animals considered to be clean or unclean and he knew that some of the animals in the sheet were unclean so he said “No” to “Get up, kill and eat.” But it happened three times with Peter being told “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” In Peter’s vision, exclusionary barriers were coming down.

The barriers continued to come down as Peter was told to make no distinction between those who followed the ritual and dietary laws and those who didn’t. The gift of the Holy Spirit was given to all of them, that was the bottom line. In other words, other rites and rituals were what Martin Luther wound up calling adiaphora, things that don’t matter. The gift of the Holy Spirit and baptismal identity were what did matter.

Baptismal identity is still what matters although throughout the history of the church there have been plenty of other identities that have seemed to take precedence. These days, across many denominations including the ELCA, sexual and gender identity represent the issue that just won’t go away. We would perhaps come closer to loving one another as Jesus loves us if all the parties involved would let it go for awhile and pay attention to Peter’s vision that in the hot button issue of his day, Jew vs. Gentile, the gift of Holy Spirit was given to both parties; there was no distinction. Baptismal identity as a gift of the Holy Spirit was what mattered.

If you read the fine print of the Affirmation of Baptism service, while it says that it is especially appropriate as part of a process of formation in faith for youth, it also says that it may be used many times in the life of a baptized Christian. On a confirmation Sunday it makes sense then, not just for Jarin and Ian but for all of us to think about what it means to affirm our baptism and in particular what it means to live out our baptismal identity, an identity that calls us to a different way of life.

The gospel reading from John provides food for thought as we think about what it means to love others as Jesus loves us. The reading from Acts calls us to think about what identities we allow to take precedence over our own baptismal identity and the baptismal identity of others, thus creating boundaries of exclusion as we decide that there are some groups not worthy of our love, not worthy of Jesus’ love.

As we think about those things, as Lutherans, it should always cause us to circle back to grace as we remember that none of us is worthy of Jesus’ love, it is only a gift of grace. Yes, we are called to respond to the gift as we live out our baptismal identity, but faith in what Jesus, by grace, has done for us is at the heart of who we are as Lutherans.

Jarin and Ian might not know the catechism as well as you think you did when you were confirmed, but I’ll bet that they know more about grace and being children of God than many of you did. Because of that, while I am going to confirm them here in a few minutes, unlike the squirrels in the attic, I think they’ll be back. They are and you are, children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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