Rev. Danielle K Bartz May 14, 2023
John 14:15-21 “Advocate”
In a few minutes we are going to confirm into the Christian faith Gaby and Alexis. Confirmation is an ancient tradition in the Christian church, dating back to some of the earliest centuries following the establishment of the faith. Some traditions view confirmation to be the act upon which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are infused in the confirmand. For others, it is the next step after infant baptism – allowing the baptized to make promises in the faith on their own. For some, it is the last step into full inclusion into the Christian faith. And of course, for some it is simply a rite of passage their parents insist they participate in.
There is something else, though, that I think confirmation does. For me, confirmation also means that the confirmand and the congregation into which they are being confirmed say to one another: we are going to do this crazy thing called church together. We are going to ask the big and hard questions about God together. We are going to serve our community together. We are going to learn from one another. We are going to listen to one another. We are going to teach one another. And we are going to do this even though at times it is hard and we usually end up with more questions than answers. But, we are going to do it together as a community of believers with imperfect belief.
Questions have been mostly what Gaby, Alexis and myself have been asking over these last several months. Yes, of course, I have done some teaching. But mostly we have been thinking out loud together. In our first session I asked them what questions they had. Here are just a few: “Is God real and how do we know? Why don’t we experience miracles like they did in the Bible? What happens after we die? And, what do we do about evil in the world?” To the wider congregation: do those questions sound familiar? Are they questions you have asked yourselves, one another, or me? Are they questions you have circled back to, time and again? Thinking maybe you almost have an answer, but not quite? As Alexis, Gaby, and myself wondered aloud about these questions, considering what others have said in answer, what our traditions tell us, and, of course, coming up with more questions in response – there is something I have tried to instill in them, that I want to make sure everyone hears: We find God in the questions.
We experience God when we ask questions about God. For some, yes, God is experienced in the answers provided in doctrine and tradition. I most certainly do not dismiss that. But God doesn’t live there and only there. God exists within the questions themselves – in the prodding to think deeper, in the exploration of ancient and modern traditions, in the wondering aloud with peers and elders, in the answers we give and in the moments when we change our minds.
The Good News, Gaby and Alexis, is that by choosing to confirm into the Christian faith with this community is you never have to ask these questions alone. This community is promising today to listen with you, to wonder with you, and to explore God alongside you. And the even Better News – God provides for all of us a guide in the teachings of Jesus and an Advocate in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in all of our questions, answers, and doubts giving us the fortitude to keep asking, to keep wondering, to keep hoping, and to keep exploring. The Holy Spirit, God’s Advocate for us, stands alongside us at every step, cheering us on, pointing in new directions, and giving us a space for rest when we need it.
The rite of confirmation is a promise to keep asking those questions, and do so trusting in God’s presence, in this community, and in yourselves. Today, Gaby and Alexis, and on behalf of this community, I say welcome and we are so excited to do this with you. Amen.
God of our questions, your presence can often be experienced fully when we are wondering aloud about you in a community of imperfect believers. For this presence that you always give, never expecting that we fully understand, we give you great thanks. It is in this gratitude that we come before you now in prayer.
Today God we give great thanks for the exploration of faith that Gaby and Alexis have done. We also give thanks for the way they inspire all of us to keep asking our own questions and to keep exploring what it means to be your faithful. Help us, God, to never settle for an easy answer. Give us the fortitude to keep asking and exploring.
God, one of the ways we approach you is in prayer. And on this day, we offer our prayers for all of the people who have mothered us in our lives in many different ways. Now, we open ourselves and our spirits to you, turning over to you all the prayers we carry…
Good and great God, your great gift to us is the teachings of Jesus who is our guide along the way, and your Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who is always beside us. We pray all of this and so much more in the name Jesus and now in the way he taught…Our Father…