Confirmation Sunday, October 7, 2018; Year A
Deuteronomy 6.4-9; Psalm 139; Ephesians 3.14-19; Mark 12.28-34
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jon and I recently moved houses this past summer and last week we were going through a number of boxes in our garage. Upon opening one of them I was instantly transported back to when I was 15 years old. On the top of the open box was a photo of my confirmation day. I was in a white robe with a red flower, as were all of my classmates. My first thought was: “Oh my gosh, look how young I look!” My second thought was a jumbled mix of emotion and memory of what occurred to get me to that important day of my life of affirming my faith.
I remember exactly where I was sitting at the table in the church among my classmates trying desperately to memorize the Apostle’s Creed because I didn’t want to mess up in front of the whole congregation. I remember playing games to better help us remember stories in Scripture and having to listen to a recorded song over and over again to help us memorize the order and books of the Bible. We had races to find certain verses and had opportunities to ask our pastor tough questions.
A wave of embarrassment came back to me as I looked at the photo because in one confirmation class I thought I had the right answer to my pastor’s question: “Who was Martin Luther?” I confidently raised my had and talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, the leader of the civil rights movement in America.
I was promptly correct as my classmates laughed (although I didn’t see any of them raise their hands with an answer). My pastor told me that Martin Luther lived 500 years ago, and not 50 like Martin Luther King, and that he unintentionally started the Reformation that eventually led to the formation of the Lutheran Church.
I learned a lot in confirmation, but I learned even more about God, and life, and church, in the years that followed after that important day of affirming my faith when I was 15 years old.
Ian and Lilee have heard me say again and again: Confirmation is not graduation from church. They know that by affirming their faith, they are committing themselves to a life that is more deeply rooted in the community of faith, in attending worship, in reading Scripture, and living out loving God and neighbor.
When we are baptized as an infant like Ian and Lilee were, parents, godparents, and congregation members make promises to their babies. In the rite of baptism pastors ask parents and sponsors and the people gathered there that day, “Do you promise to do the following for your children?”:
“To live with them among God’s faithful people, bring them to the word of God and the holy supper, teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, place in their hands the Holy Scriptures, and nurture them in faith and prayer (ELW, p. 228).”
Everyone says, “I do,” and its then our responsibility to raise Ian and Lilee, and all others baptized into Christ, in the Christian faith.
We do this, not only because we promised God we would, but for a greater purpose, which is named in the baptismal rite. After the pastor says, “…and nurture them in faith and prayer,” it says, “so that! Your children may learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.”
No big deal right?! We know this is a huge responsibility. So today I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that, Ian and Lilee, your parents, sponsors, and this congregation have kept these promises they made to God and to you all those years ago.
Yet even more true, is that God has always remained faithful to God’s promise to you in your baptism: that God continues to claim you as God’s own, that God continues to be with you, and that you have been given eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Now you are old enough to make your own religious commitments: to publically affirm your Christian faith. This is an important and holy day, yes, a day to celebrate and name what God has done for us all. But what about tomorrow? And the day after that, and the one after that?
We have spent all kinds of time over the last few years in confirmation class learning about the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, and what we say we believe in the Creed, and talking about the 10 commandments and how they apply to our lives. There is a reason for this. We are not supposed to learn all of these things so that we can impress people, but because they help us to understand how we are to love God and care for people around us.
In our Gospel reading a scribe, who a person who knows all the commandments and then some, approaches Jesus and asks him: “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus responds to him: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
You heard echoes of what Jesus says to the Scribe from our first reading in Deuteronomy, where the words of the Shema have their origins. Jennifer Obermueller writes in Sundays and Seasons, that “the Shema” is “for people wandering about and scattered in the world who are held together by this promise: for God to be their God and the people to be God’s people no matter where they are (p. 285).”
To remind themselves of God’s word and promise, Jewish people even still today would have Deuteronomy 6 written on a parchment and rolled up in a small decorative container called a Mezuzah. They would then fasten these Mezuzahs above their doorposts all around their home. When they saw it they would be reminded that God loves them and that they are to love their Creator with all their heart, their soul, and their might.
Jesus knows the Shema. His parents, Joseph and Mary, would have taught it to him and he would have recited it often. But when the Scribe asks him the question about the commandments, Jesus takes it a step further and brings in Leviticus 19:18, which says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus makes it clear that the life of a Christian is about loving God and loving neighbor. And most often times, we love God by loving those around us.
At this point in time, perhaps Ian and Lilee are thinking confirmation could have been over a lot quicker had we just summed up all the commandments into one like Jesus did today. But the question still remains … What does it mean to love God and neighbor?
By loving, Jesus doesn’t mean that warm fuzzy feeling in our bellies kind of love. Jesus means the really hard work of loving someone: like forgiving, reconciling, clothing, feeding, and actually listening to another human being.
Perhaps Jesus sums everything into one because he knows it will take our whole lives and focus to get better at loving God and other people, but what Ian and Lilee will be committing to in just a little bit gives us a good framework for how we best do this.
I will soon ask them: Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
To live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
All of these promises are for one purpose and one purpose only: that we all may learn to love God and love our neighbor.
God fashioned and made you and me, knit us together in our mother’s womb. God loves you with a love so fierce, that God came to earth in Jesus, who then, willingly gave up his life for you so that you might know how precious you really are.
But so is the person sitting next to you, and behind you, and in front of you, and across from you.
We affirm our faith with Ian and Lilee today in order that we can continue with a way of life that is centered around loving God and serving those for whom Christ gave up his life. This may be people you may not like or even get a long with. Christ died for them too and it’s supposed to affect how we treat one another.
Jesus does not merely suggest that we love God and neighbor. He commands it of us. Why? Because loving God and loving neighbor is what is abundant life looks like.
So what about tomorrow, and the next day, and the next? Jesus gives us the answer: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”