This past week, the Parish Council and I talked about a great number of things, but there were two threads that were tied together in the life of this parish.
I asked each council member one of two questions.
- Why did you choose to join the Church?
- What do you enjoy most about this parish?
I hope that everyone gathered around that table noted the same things as I did as each person took their turn speaking their answers.
When asked why they joined the church responses were along the lines of I joined this church because my parents, or spouse, told/took me, or because I was baptized and confirmed here.
When asked what was most enjoyed about the parish, answers were also along similar lines: This place feels like family – everyone likes to spend time with each other, and it is warm and welcoming. This place is full of opportunity to meet with friends and family, spend time together as a parish and to really make something good together. This place does worship together in a way that is comforting and fills us with joy.
Those are really great things to hear about our parish. I wanted you to hear them.
But more than that, I wanted the confirmation students to hear this too.
So, this past week, the confirmation students and I talked about a great number of things, but there were two threads that were tied together in the life of this parish.
- What does confirmation mean?
- What does it mean to join the church?
I told the confirmation class that the council members had answered the question I listed earlier. And I shared the responses I got back. There were a fair number of heads nodding in that smaller class, and I was happy to discover that many of them feel the same way about the parish. I asked the class if they noticed anything about how the first question was answered. Did you?
First, most answers were along the lines of because someone else told me to or made me. The students had realized that their elders faced many of the same things about church as they do. I told.
Just like at council, I took an opportunity to say this: I asked everyone if that was the answer to the question I asked. I got a number of confused looks, so I said that I asked: “Why did you choose to join the Church?” and almost all of the answers were begun “I chose to join this church…”
The thing I love about conversations like this is that I can see the wheels turning and light bulbs flickering and then glowing in members of this faith community, young or old. It is in those moments that I am reminded of delight in the role of Shepherd. There are many different ways we talk about being a Pastor in a parish setting. One of those ways is to say that we are Shepherds of a flock. It is to help us to remember Christ as the Good Shepherd of all of God’s sheep. Pastors are like young shepherds, and we are tending to God’s sheep. I think that anyone who follows a call to look after and encourage other people in matters of faith are all young shepherds. Because we are also all sheep. We are all invited to live on the edges and in the margins as shepherds, loving, tending, and feeding the sheep of the world – as Peter and the disciples were commissioned by Christ. But we are also all God’s sheep – in need of love, tending, and spiritual food.
So, back in our confirmation class, I asked our young lambs, the young geniuses, why this difference between this church and the Church was such an important one.
This is what I heard from them and what we discovered together: When we say this church, we are speaking about small “c” church. This church building that houses this congregation. When we say the Church we are talking about the whole great big body of Christ-Church. Only thinking and talking about small ‘c’ church means that we are only talking about us inside our building. It’s small and kinda like turning the building into our clubhouse or our fortress. When we talk about big ‘C’ Church, we are reminded that Church is so much more than just us. There are a whole bunch of other churches out there that make up the one Church.
We should be proud of these young geniuses. They teach me so much every time we get together. They have active ears that hear, eyes that see, and mouth that speak the love and truth of God so generously and openly.
These lambs are about to become sheep! And they have already become shepherds in their own way.
What does it mean to join the Church?
It means accepting God’s invitation to love, tend, and feed the world – to be young shepherds following in our Lord and Good Shepherd’s footsteps. It means accepting God’s invitation to become an adult in the community of faith that practices an active ministry to the world. It means that we step into the beginning of the Way of Christ, affirming that we believe in God and want to be a part of what God is doing in the world.
And that is exactly what confirmation is: stepping into the beginning of our adult lives, ready to learn, over and over, as many times as we can, what it means to fear and love God and commit to an active relationship with the Church and the world.
Today, Courtney and Whitney are taking that step. They join me robed in white like those in our Revelation reading – a symbol of the forgiveness and love of God, a gift to all, given no matter what they have been through and without condition. They are affirming the promises made by this community when they were little, and they are stepping into their beginning of their adult lives as both sheep and young shepherds. And we, as their parish community, are standing alongside them to continue to be both sheep and young shepherds in their lives also.
Confirmations are good reminders to each of us about what it means to join the Church. They are a good reminder of what it means to be both a sheep of God’s flock as Christ was, and to work as shepherds in the fields of God’s creation, as Christ did.
May the Holy Spirit continue to fill each of us with all good things that we too may, like Tabitha, overflow with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need: tending, feeding, and loving as we are each called to do.
Let us Pray: Holy Trinity, we give you thanks for the joy of affirming our baptismal promises. We give you thanks that Courtney and Whitney have decided to affirm their baptisms and become adult members of our community of faith. We ask that you would fill them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that their commitment to be both sheep and young shepherds would overflow into our lives as we continue to journey with them. May we all be encouraged to remain lights shining in the darkness, proclaiming the good news of lifelong relationship with you. May we rise each morning ready to affirm our own calls to be sheep in your fold and young shepherds in your fields. Amen.