A Confirmation Homily — Pentecost 1997
One of the favorite verses of my Grandpa Wiberg is from Psalm 103. He would say it often in Swedish. It is also a verse we read in the Service of Holy Baptism.
"The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember his commandments to do them."
In Swedish, the words "children's children" is "barnbarn" meaning "grandchildren." Whenever he spoke these words, I knew he meant me. I was his grandchild. The inheritance of the love, fear, and righteousness of the Lord, which he knew and lived out, was being passed on to me. It was like I had no other choice. I knew I had been chosen.
Now, more than ever, it is a mystery to me how this inheritance of Faith gets passed on. Sometimes it feels like it's in my genes. Last Wednesday evening, at the Confirmation review, Adam said: "It is something in my blood." Often when I am in class with David, listening to him, feeling his passion, I see and hear again his grandfather, Eric, who was my Dean in Seminary. I know, of course, that being a Christian is more than being a Hawkinson or a Stohlberg or a Jenson or a Wiberg. But I often feel an inherited something from my Grandpa erupting in me — "It is something in my blood." I say this only to honor our parents and grandparents who were here before we arrived.
More and more I think, even worry, about how this mystery of faith, this inheritance of being God's people, gets into the next generation. I believe it has something to do with the laying-on of-hands in Baptism and Confirmation. Jim, David, and I still feel the hands of the Church laid on us when we were ordained. This passing on of an inheritance includes our teachers, pastors, other people who truly care about us, and, in large measure, our families, especially our parents and grandparents.
But I propose that when Gretchen, Scott, and Adam look back ten or twenty years from now and reflect on their inheritance of Faith, being God's people, they will think about special moments like today and they will also reflect on the Passover meals we have celebrated together just before Easter. They will remember the beautiful table, the lighting of festive candles, the washing of hands, the dipping of symbolic greens in salt water, the matzo, maror, and haroset, the four cups of wine, the eating of the paschal lamb, the joyful singing, and the Bible discussions. Eating and drinking together, young and old, parents, and grandmas and grandpas, we entered the story of the Exodus and freedom.
I have always been amazed that in the Seder service the young people ask the questions of the older folks, unlike our Confirmation in which the teacher or pastor asks the questions and students are supposed to know the answers. "Why is this night different from all other nights?" "What are the precepts, laws, and observances which God commanded us?" "What is this observance to you?" This is really how young people learn to think about God, about good and evil, and about who they are.
Last Wednesday evening, at the Confirmation review, I thought about this and wondered: What if you as Confirmands were to ask the questions of parents and grandparents, questions like: "What does it mean to be a human being?" "What is salvation?" "Who is Jesus?" "How does one become a Christian?" "What is the Christian hope?" "What does it mean to belong to the Church?" What this says to us as parents and grandparents is that if the Gospel is truly a compelling force with us, a passion that David felt in his Grandpa, Eric, and I in mine, the kids will catch on.
The other amazing thing about the Seder service lies in making that ancient story of the Exodus and freedom our story. It is not: our ancestors were slaves in Egypt and God brought them out. It is: we were slaves and God brought us out. This is our story. "It is because of what God did for me when I went forth from Egypt" — for me. It is like Luther says in the Catechism: "He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, saved me at great cost from sin, death, and the power of the devil — not with silver or gold but with his holy and precious suffering and death."
That's the best way I know of passing on the inheritance and celebrating this meal of bread and wine that comes out of the Passover meal. We are again in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost. If we do not see any tongues of fire on each other's heads, there is nevertheless an electricity that passes from one to another. And if there is no rushing, mighty wind, there is a gentle breeze blowing in our faces and through our hearts.
Eating the bread and drinking the cup, Jesus' story becomes our story. He becomes bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, not as clones either of Jesus or of our parents or grandparents, but only as we are truly and authentically ourselves; honest, asking questions, and struggling to make the larger story our own. I believe that's what our grandparents wanted for us, and it is what we want most of all for you. The inheritance will be carried into the next generation, even if you should say it differently, or feel it differently, or do it differently than your parents or grandparents. After all, "the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting." God's mercy never comes to an end. In this confidence, we put you in God's hands. We love you and trust you and bless you in the name of the Lord.