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Confirmation Sunday Reflection

Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Sun, Jun 14

Texts -- Ezekiel 17: 22-24 and Mark: 26-34

I begin this short reflection with a poem that was written last spring, at the end of his eighth grade year, by our own Julian Baxandall:

It’s called As We Graduate From Our Childhood:

In the very beginning
When our private worlds were young
When the days were long,
Lazy,
And full of sun.
When the clouds were cotton
And silk
When our problems flowed by
As sluggish brooks
Meandering away from us
As our family rowed us down the creeks,
We sighed.
No wanton concerns, simply calm.

Now I wait and
Wait
For the tempest to pass
The raging maelstrom of middle school,
Three
Whole
Years
of monsoon season
With it’s brand new experiences,
The directly-off-the-shelf
New car smell
of a novel,
Contemporary
Identity

The kid’s got chops, right? Of course, I may be a little biased. For those who don’t know, Julian’s my son, and he’s not only survived Middle School, and since then most his Freshman year in high school, but he also just came through a year of Confirmation Class with yours truly as one of his teachers.

Whether it’s following that maelstrom of Middle School, or the grind of grad school, or even confabulations of Confirmation Class, this late spring season is a time of culmination for many- and of celebration! Less obvious is that it’s also a time of beginning. Just think of that word – Commencement. We so quickly associate it with that end-point of graduation that it can often lose its original meaning. Commencement, in its truest form, is a beginning!

In Julian’s words, we may wait and wait for one tempest to pass, but a horizon of brand new experience draws near, and with it perhaps even a new identity, a new sense of who we are.

To quote another great poet, Phillip Larkin:

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

In Sarah’s creative retelling of scriptures, we also heard of trees maturing and mustard seeds spreading, all while carrying those annual cycles of growth and grief, and each spring a new beginning, and with it a new chance to discover who we are and how we fit into the world around us! I especially love Larkin’s notion of a tree coming into leaf, like something almost being said!

In the case of the Confirmation Class, this metaphor especially resonates. For most of our year together these young adults held back on laying claim to any convictions. As we do at the beginning of every year, we told them (and their parents) that the decision to be confirmed or not would be theirs and that we would respect them no matter what. Over the course of the year we spoke about creation and evolution, the Bible, grace and forgiveness, and making meaning from death. We spoke of Jesus. They asked great questions along the way, and had a fair share of silliness, but also some genuine and heartfelt sharing. It was our ritual to begin each class with what we call high-point/low-point in which we’d each check in and share the joys and stresses of our weeks.

Before we recognize them, and confirm most of the students in the class, I’d like to share with you a glimpse of how their faith has grown, like trees coming into leaf, like something almost being said! I say “almost” because, like most of us, their faith is more genuinely shared, not as fully formed answers, but as an ongoing wrestling with life’s ever-emerging questions. Their faith comes primarily from an experience— of belonging to something larger— rather than from crystallized notions of belief or beliefs that can still seem remote and outside of them. Here’s a sample from their faith statements…

When it comes to faith, for Caroline, she noted her ideas about God and religion have changed a lot since she was a kid. It’s not as simple as it once was. She still has a ton of questions. She writes of this process: “the easiest thing to do is ignore it, and push it down. But when I pull it back up, it is still a topic that scares and fascinates me.” Can anyone else relate? She went on to say: “Recently, I’ve learned…one can be a part of the church and live the questions they have about religion. This is great because the church isn’t always about the religion itself, it’s about supporting the people around you. I’m glad that people can find a safe place to feel welcome, whether it is this church, or any other religious building.”

Cesar, who will be both baptized and confirmed today, picks up on the same thread. After naming what he thinks about God – that he sees God as one God and that we all come from the same God, and after sharing what he’s learned about Jesus, he moved onto a response to our questions about the church: “I think church means to me that it is a place where everyone is welcome whether they are LGBT, (or even) other religions because it is a place of peace and where you are free to express yourself. I feel that this church is the next generation of churches that will be a place that will always accept anyone. The church's acceptance of anybody offers a strong place for people to come and worship and to know where they are welcomed and will not be judged.” Amen?
 
Julian is choosing not to be confirmed today. For the record, I’m just as proud of him for making that decision. He shared the following: With generosity of spirit, he named what he called the “big positives” about the church – its recognition of human dignity and kindness, the stories of Jesus as metaphors of an ideal way to live and to forgive, and after naming that he loves the community here and hopes to continue to chill with the youth group, he concludes: “For me God is an idea that is worth believing in for some and not others. I think it’s one of the better parts of human nature that we seek purpose and reassurance, and I really do not have anything against this church. I don’t want to be confirmed in this church not because I’m diametrically opposed to its ideas but because I don’t have a need to believe in them.”

And finally, for Maggie, after wrestling with some of the tensions in our faith tradition, and even within her own statement of faith— especially when it comes to different ideas about God— she said the following: “Maybe God is like a patchwork quilt, made up of a little bit of everybody, and growing a little bit as each new child is born into the world. If God is a truly a little bit of everybody then aren’t we all made in God’s image? I don’t think it’s such a ridiculous thing to assume….Going back to science, I know I am created by my parents’ likeness, who are like their parents. But if you trace it back I’m sure you could argue that we are created from God’s likeness, meaning there is a little bit of God in all of us.

Friends, there is much to celebrate as we end another year of our formation programs and of this confirmation class. Not just an ending though, but a new beginning as well, and for some a new identity as full members of this church. Confirmation is a commitment to and a commencement of a life long journey of living the questions of faith within the community of faith.

The celebration is for all of us, for with each new seed and tree planted, our church continues, from generation to generation, this household of grace where people of all ages are welcome no matter where they are on their journey of life or faith. And, now, would our 2015 Confirmation Class please come forward….

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