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14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
14:19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
14:20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
14:21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
On the first day of confirmation class this year, I asked the students who had gathered to close their eyes. Then I said to them, “raise your hand if you are here today because your parents told you that you had to come”.
I then told them to keep their hands up and open their eyes. Every hand in the room was raised.
We all laughed, and I was neither hurt nor surprised. I remember being a middle schooler and the prospect of spending Friday afternoons after school at church with some pastor I barely knew would not have appealed much to me either. But they were there, and they were open and willing to listen, and so I gave them my two rules of confirmation class:
First, while being here in confirmation class may not be up to you, being confirmed is solely your decision.
In other words, if your parents are requiring you to be here, that’s okay. Come to class as they ask, and keep an open mind. But if at the end of this you do not want to be confirmed, that’s okay too, and that’s your choice.
That’s important, I told them, because your parents brought you to the baptismal font before you were old enough make up your mind about your faith. In doing so they brought you into the community of faith, and we affirmed that you were Christ’s own. But now you are older, and you have the chance to make one of the most important decisions of your adult life. In confirmation we “confirm” what has already been promised for us: we confirm that we accept Christ’s love and grace, and that we will continue to grow in this faith.
So, that’s the first rule. The second is this: your confirmation is not a graduation.
I know what the rule is in some families, spoken or unspoken: get confirmed, and you can choose whether or not you come to church after that. But that’s the exact opposite of what it should be. Because by choosing to be confirmed you are saying that you are committing yourself to being an active part of the community of faith. You are not taking a step back from church. You are taking a step into church. You are saying this matters.
Those are the rules. And I set them out and then tell our youth that if they choose not to be confirmed, that is totally okay. I will not be disappointed in them, and this church will not love them or welcome them any less. The rules are not meant to be restrictive or harsh. If anything they are meant to be loving, and to show where the boundaries are.
But even after all of that, six youth have chosen to be confirmed today. And so I want to hold up to them, and to all of us who would live out our faith, the lectionary Scripture for today. In it, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, if you love me, you will follow my rules.
The first question, of course, is which rules?
That’s a question Jesus got asked a lot. In fact, he was once asked, “What is the greatest commandment”, or, what’s the most important rule? And Jesus responded, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In other words, that’s what Jesus wants us to do. In fact, Jesus says that if we really love him we will do those things.
But here’s the thing: those things are not easy. First, love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. In other words, love God so that you are holding nothing back. Give God all of those things first, before you give them to anything or anyone else.
And then, the even harder piece, love your neighbor as yourself. This is a totally foreign concept to most of us. We are taught to love ourselves first, and those like us second. But Jesus wants more than that. Yes, he wants us to love ourselves, and love ourselves just as deeply as he loves us. But he then wants us to love every other person in this world with the same ferocity and depth. And he wants us to act on that love, and to serve our neighbors first.
So, first, we have to love God with everything that is in us. Then, we have to love ourselves, which is sometimes just as hard. And finally, we have to love the world.
Y’all, that’s not easy. In fact, because we are human, it’s actually impossible to do most of the time. And yet, it’s what Jesus says we have to do if we love him.
And so how do we do it? Well, first, we commit ourselves to it, day after day. And second, we do it together. We do it as people who gather together in a community like this one, and who try, week after week, to get it just a little closer to right.
For those who are being confirmed today, this is the path that you are choosing to take. You are saying you want to try to do these things. And this is too holy, and too hard, a calling for you to embark on alone. And so that’s why I gave you those two rules: first, it has to be your choice. And second, this can’t be the end of your journey…you have to be all in.
The good news is you will have help. You have this church. You have the people who sit in the pews every weeks. You have your families. You have your teachers and youth group leaders and a pastor. And you have a mentor who is going to continue to be there for you.
In the past confirmation mentors have been companions to the confirmands during the year before you were confirmed. But this year we are doing something different. This year your mentors are going to be there for you in the year after confirmation. You’ve already met with them, but you are committing to them, and they are committing to you, to keep this relationship going.
They are going to continue to check in with you, and I hope you are going to go to them as well. Together you are going to walk down this road of faith, and you are hopefully going to teach one another a little more about what it means to love God with your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and what it means to be a part of this church.
And this is also where I want to remind this congregation what we are committing to today as well. Upon their confirmation these six youth will become full members of the Congregational Church in Exeter. Their membership does not come with an asterisk next to their name. They are not junior members. Their standing in this church is exactly equal to your own. They now have full voice and vote in all matters of the church.
As one of you reminded me this week, we ask our confirmands to do more to join this church than we do any adult. They prepare for a year, they wrestle with their faith, and they write a faith statement. These youth are not the future of this church. They are the present, and they carry the gift of a perspective that we need. It’s our job to listen to them and take them seriously. We do that because they have taken this process seriously.
And so, as we prepare to confirm them, and as you prepare to be confirmed, hear the rule of life that Christ has given us all: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. This is how Christ himself said that he would know we truly loved him.
We all need one another in this work. The good news is that today we gain six more voices to encourage us along the way.