“The gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
We may get a better sense of what Confirmation means in the United Methodist Church if we consider the analogy of the Exodus. As the Journey began with babies being carried, along the way these babies became toddlers and then youth. Soon they were encouraged to join the Journey on their own as they were able. Their parents no longer needed to carry them the whole way; they were strong enough to begin walking and exploring that same Journey on their own – BUT still with parental guidance and the care and watchful eye of the entire community.
The mark of the Covenant with The Lord for the Hebrews was/is circumcision, and this was done to baby boys at the age of eight days – long before the boys could make their own determination. The decision to bring their children into the Covenant and offer them to The Lord was solely that of the parents with the encouragement of the community.
As with our practice of infant baptism, the vows were made by the parents and the community to work together to bring the children up in the Covenant, learn of The Covenant, and grow in faith – all within the community, the congregation of The Lord.
Yet though they are considered “members”, they do not know everything they need to know nor can it be said their faith is really their own. So this important moment for them simply means they begin to take some responsibility for themselves and begin making their own contributions to the building up and the well-being of the entire community.
So it is with Confirmation in the United Methodist Church. These confirmands have done a lot of serious study, work, and preparation for what is a very big moment in their lives and in the life of the Church. Yet as much as they have been taught, I hope they have also affirmed – on their own, with parental guidance and the advice of their teachers and pastor - that there is still much to do. With the help of all these AND the congregation, I hope they are committed to a lifetime of learning in discipleship. Religious studies are at least as important as secular education.
Study is still required because, like the Jews of the Exodus, we all still have a long way to go. In this Journey of Faith, we grow stronger as individuals but within the community of faith. In the United Methodist Church, there is no such thing as “private” faith. We may not always agree with or even understand everything the Church holds and teaches as doctrine, but this only means we must look closer and try harder. We must also appreciate that even the most mature Christian knows he or she does not fully understand everything the Church teaches. The true measure of spiritual maturity is not in deciding we know “enough” to get by; rather it is to understand that as each layer is peeled back, there is always more.
There is also something young confirmands need to know before becoming Professing Members. You will make your own vows as disciples committed to the way of Christ as members of the world-wide United Methodist Church and members of this United Methodist congregation. This means you have some say in the life of this church. It also means this congregation has some say in the way you order your life in discipleship. You not only have an entire community united in the very same Covenant pulling for you, praying for you, and worrying about you; you also have a community of faith willing to jerk a knot in your young tails to put you back on the path of Righteousness!! That is true love!
So we must not understand Confirmation as the “end” but, rather, as yet another “means of grace” leading us to the Glorious End of the Journey toward the Eternal Kingdom. As it must be with us all, reaching the point of Confirmation is a big step in discipleship. From this moment, then, there is even more to do as confirmands begin to explore and understand their strengths and their weaknesses; this to the purpose of discovering what The Lord has gifted each individual to do and strive to become. It is not at all about what we choose to “settle” for.
We are not all gifted to be preachers or even teachers, but we all have some spiritual gift intended, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, for the “building up of the Body of Christ”; that is, the Church. Our spiritual gifts have little to do with what we can gain for ourselves in this life, but everything to do with enhancing the life of the Christian Covenant community. Our individual gifts are meant to help others to get in touch with their own spiritual gifts as we continue to grow together in knowledge, in wisdom, in faith, and in love.
In the early days of the Methodist movement, anyone willing to repent of their sins was welcome to join. To stay in the society, however, there were/are the General Rules which regulate and inform the individual members and the group. As a matter of accountability, one was committed to a) Do no harm, b) do good, and c) attend to the ordinances of God.
Each Rule is important and has its place within a community, but no single Rule can stand on its own. It is not enough, for instance, for a Christian to commit to only refraining from doing harm to someone; one must also be willing and committed to do good for the community, even for an enemy. To build into any of these Rules, then, is the need, the absolute necessity to “attend to the ordinances of God”.
These ordinances are the means of grace established by Scripture to teach us the Way of The Lord, the Law of The Lord, and how we are to live with and for one another. These ordinances also build up our spiritual strength as we are in “constant communion” with The Lord and with one another by regularly participating in the Sacraments of the Church, instilling the discipline to pray alone and with the community, fasting, worship, and studying the Scriptures.
It was understood and established from the very start that one cannot simply “be” a Christian without actually doing Christian stuff with and within the community. I’m not sure where along the line we got the idea that Christianity is nothing more than a series of events rather than a life committed to Christ and His people, but these young men deserve better and it is long past time that we break away from this self-contained bubble of “personal salvation” and start acting like the community we are called to be.
These boys are well on their way to manhood and their teachers have given them a good start toward what it means to be a United Methodist disciple of Christ Jesus, but it takes the entire Christian community to teach these boys what being a “man of God” really means – and it means much more than being only a self-designated “good person”. By The Lord’s own reckoning and according to the vows we will take as a community, we can do no less than to give these young disciples our very best; for the future of the Church – and our immortal souls - depend on it.
“You shall love The Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength”; and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. More than simply biblical phrases to be memorized, this is the life The Lord our God demands of His people; for “loving” The Lord and our neighbors is much more than a state of mind. It is a state of “being” and “doing”. Jesus affirmed it, and the Holy Spirit compels it still. Let us resolve to teach one another what these “great commandments” really mean. By this commitment will we find Life renewed within ourselves and within the Holy Church. By the Grace of Almighty God, we will. Or we will die trying! Amen.