On June 10, 1990 I stood with a few others, to confirm my baptismal vows and be welcomed into membership at First United Methodist Church of Escondido. My sister has marveled that I remembered the date of my confirmation because she did not. To be honest I don't remember her date but it was life changing for me. I, unlike others in my class, looked forward to every class meeting, enjoyed doing the workbook and counted the days until confirmation, not to be done but to take the next step. I watched in the following years that others did not get more involved after confirmation but less. While in seminary I learned that confirmation was referred to as the last right of the church - meaning it was the last rite that many took before leaving the church.
Now, I know some folks would not be surprised that it was important to me given that I am now a United Methodist pastor. But I think this should be the norm not the exception, if done right. Confirmation is the claiming of baptismal promises that were made when we could not answer for ourselves and receiving this sending forth (Name, the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciples of Jesus Christ). It is sending us out into the world as a disciple of Jesus. I think part of the problem is that we have thought of our place in the church as members and not disciples. This is not unique to confirmation but to our place in the church.
We use the word member for someone who is a part of the church. This is biblical. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12) speaks of us as one in the body of Christ, each with it's own purpose much like a body comprised not just of head & heart but fingers, toes and everything in between. But I am afraid that we don't quite function in this way. We, more often than not, see ourselves as members as in any other organization such as a country club or service organization. But if we take what Paul says seriously we are not just individuals in a group but we are interdependent upon each other as we need eyes & ears, fingers & toes. We fall ill if something is not working properly. I am the person I am because I was raised, encouraged, challenged, loved and rooted in the literal body of Christ of United Methodists in Escondido.
In these times of physical distancing and worshiping together in the building, I am ever more aware of how much I miss each and every person in the church I serve and in churches that I have been a part. As much as the physical building of my home church means to me it is the people of my home congregation that made me who I am. It is the connection to these people: Earl, Kay, Paul, Julie, Jack, Karel, Dick, Sue, Mariam, Lee, Muriel, Mandy, Jason, Emily, Elain, Sue, I could go on and on and on naming the Saints. What would it be like if we reclaimed the idea that we are disciples and not members. What if we were about growing in our faith, each and every day. What if we not just endured but welcomed uncomfortable situations so that can grow. If we saw ourselves as disciples we know that it is a lifetime commitment.
Living as disciples requires us to do the work, not just one day or one season but day in and day out. It means not only extending grace to those around us who may not as mature but encouraging them as they grow. It means stepping out and trying new things - even if we fail. I am reminded of the hymn There Is a Balm in Gilead. The words come from Jeremiah 8:22 and are a traditional Afro-American spiritual:
Refrain: There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sinsick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work's in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. (Refrain)
Don't ever feel discouraged, for Jesus is your friend,
and if you look for knowledge he'll ne'er refuse to lend. (Refrain)
If you can't preach like Peter, if you can't pray like Paul,
just tell the love of Jesus, and say he died for all. (Refrain)
What if churches became places of encouragement? What if we became healing places? On this the 30th anniversary of my confirmation, this understanding of church makes a difference. I continue to live into my confirmation - growing in my discipleship will you join me? Gracious God, call & strengthen us in our discipleship so that we can continue to partner with you in this your world. Amen.