Creator God, we thank you for your steadfast love and grace that sustains and guides us. We are especially grateful today for our young people who are taking their next steps of faith as they confirm their commitment to this path of discipleship. And we thank you for our caring church community that is here to support them along their journey. May all of us gathered here this day listen for your voice and call to us with open hearts. Amen.
Today we have a special opportunity as a community to reflect upon what it means to be the church together. As our confirmands prepare to affirm the baptismal vows that they either made for themselves or that were made on their behalf by their parents when they were younger, we all are invited to think about our own vows, commitments, and call to this life of faith and discipleship.
For some of us, Christianity is the faith we were born into or raised in from a young age. For some, it is the faith that was found later in life. And, for all of us who claim this faith for ourselves, it is the path we now choose. And I do mean choose (in the present tense) not chose (in the past tense). There probably was an important moment in our own lives when we chose this life of faith for ourselves for the first time (perhaps at our own baptism or confirmation, or when we joined a church for the first time), but it is also something we continue to choose daily.
As I have been telling our confirmands for the past two years, faith is a life-long journey. Our relationship with God is something we practice regularly and live into over our lifetime. The same is true of our relationships with our church communities and our fellow spiritual travelers on this journey.
Choosing a life of faith and discipleship is only partly about claiming and proclaiming our beliefs. It’s also about choosing to be in faithful relationships with God and with our neighbors. In fact, Christian faith is primarily about choosing to trust God, choosing to follow in the Way of Jesus to the best of our ability, and choosing to love, serve, and be in community with others.
This is especially good news to those of us who have questions sometimes. We don’t have to have all the answers. We can live with mystery. Our beliefs and ideas may change and grow over time. And all of that is fine. In fact, all of that is good because it demonstrates that our faith is alive – evolving, growing, and deepening.
Over the last couple of years our confirmation class has pondered a lot of big questions! Some of those questions I introduced for our discussion including: Why choose religion? Where do we get our theology – our ideas about God? What are some of the important stories from the Bible that have shaped our faith tradition? What do we learn about Jesus from the Gospels? Why do we worship? How do we pray? What do the various historical creeds and statements of faith have to say to us? What can we learn from the people and events of church history?
And our students brought some really important questions to the table including: How do we understand death and what comes next? Why do some refer to our religion as the right religion? How do we understand and respect other faiths? Throughout history Christians have done a lot of bad stuff in the name of God – what do we do with that? How do people not involved in a church organization take part in faith? What are some ways to adapt the Bible to our daily lives? All excellent questions! All big questions that call for our ongoing reflection and discussion.
Together, we engaged our questions not necessarily in an attempt to find definitive answers. But rather, to grapple with them and think about them, and to engage each other in dialogue. So, together, we might grow deeper and broader in our understanding of faith.
And this is one of the great things about being a part of a community of faith, isn’t it? We can learn and grow together. This is true too for those of us who teach. From Sunday school with our younger kids, to confirmation, to adult education classes, I am always energized and inspired by teaching because I always learn something and I am always blessed by hearing the experiences and perspectives of others.
And by the way, as you probably know, our confirmands did a lot of this learning and growing together over Zoom because of the pandemic. And I thank them for sticking with it even though they were probably pretty tired of Zoom school already. But they stayed engaged, stuck together, and saw this process through.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul used the image of the Body of Christ as a way to explain the profound importance of the community of faith. Even though our relationship with God and our life of faith has individual dimensions, an equally important way we live out our faith is in the context of community.
Community is clearly something Paul was passionate about. His apostolic mission was to reach out to the Gentile communities and plant churches all around the Mediterranean. And then he wrote them letters like the one we heard today to encourage and remind them that they are called to live out their faith together. And when they didn’t always do this so well (which happened sometimes) he offered some advice and course correction.
I’ve always loved the images Paul lifts up in this twelfth chapter of First Corinthians. We have many and varied gifts, but they are all activated, animated, and made possible by the One Spirit of God. Like an ear that hears, a mouth that speaks, or an eye that sees, we each bring our own unique abilities and perspectives into the whole. Though many, we are one. And the Body of Christ is not complete without each and every one of us.
Your contributions to the community of faith are essential. Your acts of service, your unique talents and gifts, your particular perspectives and ideas, your very presence (whether in person or online), and everything that makes you “you” is vital to this congregation and to the broader church, the Body of Christ, in the world. You belong. And we need you.
This is true for you, confirmands, and for all of us.
The concluding assignment for our confirmation class was for our confirmands to write a brief reflection on their faith as they understand it at this point in their lives. One of the top themes that popped up over and over in their responses is the importance of community.
Our confirmands understand the importance of what we do together as church. They understand the importance of fellowship, hospitality, and helping people to feel welcome. They understand that acts of care and service to others (both within and outside of our local church community) are ways we show and share God’s love – that helping people feel supported, seen, and loved is holy work.
Worship is important to them. Music is a creative expression of their faith too, and a way they can offer their gifts (as they are today). Several of them grew up singing in the Children’s Choir and some are still helping with that group.
And many of our confirmands stated that they have found that sense of belonging, welcome, support, and care here in this community. This is especially important and made me proud of you, Bay Shore Church. This communal dimension of our faith is essential. And we all know that there are times in our lives when we especially need the support and care of community to carry on.
Our confirmands also understand that the life of faith really is an ongoing journey. They get the importance of a daily walk with God. Many of them described the ways in which they experience God’s presence, guidance, love, and support in their lives. Prayer is important to them. And several of them noted that they have experienced God’s love in times of need, in moments of stress, in decision-making, in grief.
They also know the importance of continued growth in their faith. Over the course of our conversations, they have demonstrated curiosity, openness, thoughtfulness, and depth. As I already mentioned, they have been asking good questions and digging deeper.
And, really, that is the point of confirmation. It is about this process of making their faith their own and claiming this path, this journey for themselves.
And so, Bay Shore Church, this is our charge and our call as I see it:
As our confirmands confirm their call to discipleship today, we too have an opportunity to affirm and renew our commitment to them – to continue to provide a supportive and loving community where they know that they belong, where they can continue to grow, where they can contribute their gifts and abilities, where they can help and serve others, where they can ask their good questions and share their ideas and perspectives, and where they can challenge us to grow deeper in our own faith. They have a lot to offer and need our ongoing support and encouragement as they continue their journeys of faith.
And confirmands, as you confirm your faith today, I want to encourage you to keep up the good work. Keep listening for God’s call to you. Keep following Jesus. Keep worshiping and praying. Keep sharing your gifts and abilities. Keep serving and caring for others. Keep looking for ways to offer hospitality and extend that wide welcome to others. Keep learning and growing. Keep asking those good questions and wrestling honestly with the big issues of life and faith.
And know that your church community is here to support you and care for you along the way. And as you eventually graduate from high school, head off to college, start a new job, or find your way to a new place in life, know that our prayers and blessings will always go with you. And you will always have a spiritual home here.
And, in all of your life, today and all days, may you know the depth of God’s love for you.
And may you trust that God is with you through it all.