Nov 2, 2012

Oriana's confirmation

DSC06223 We began the Sunday service by singing “Castillo Fuerte” (“A Mighty Fortress”). Then I explained why I was wearing a red stole and pectoral cross, and why the altar paraments were red.

First, because the Holy Spirit appeared as fire on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3), and also the Scriptures say, “he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire” (Mateo 3:11, Luke 3:16); and “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). So the color of fire symbolizes the force and energy of the Holy Spirit, active among us through the preaching of the pure Word and the administration of the sacraments as our Lord commanded. Since no one can confess Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3), on Reformation Sunday we recognize the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the public confession of the blessed Martin Luther, who stood before the powers of the world and declared his consciences was captive to the Word of God. Thus began the Reformation, which we accept as proof that the Spirit still guides the Church and keeps it in the true doctrine, not by new revelation, but rather by reaffirmation of the faith once delivered to the saints.

Second, red is the color of blood. For us especially, it symbolizes the blood of the holy martyrs, those who confessed Christ at the cost of their own lives. While God does not lay this destiny on all of us, He does demand that all of us offer ourselves as living sacrifices. That is to say, we are to be in every aspect of our lives, witnesses to Christ. The word “martyr” means “witness”, and so, with the martyrs as our examples, we understand every act of public confession to imply the promise that we formally make in the rite of confirmation, to remain faithful to the teachings of Christ to the point of death.

I preached on the appointed Old Testament lesson, 1 Samuel 3:19-21), explaining that in the context of this chapter, Samuel was a small boy, dedicated by his parents to the service of the Lord's temple in Shiloh where he lived and worked as the servant of the high priest, Eli. But Eli and his sons, the priests of Israel, were worldly and corrupt, and there were no true men of God to preach the Word of God to the people, and the people lost sight of God's will and drifted into unbelief.

But the Lord called audibly to Samuel while he slept, and the boy, thinking it was the high priest calling him, interrupted his master's sleep. Understandably irritated, Eli said that he had no called and told the boy to go back to bed. This happened three more times before Eli figured out that perhaps something unusual was taking place, and told Samuel the next time to answer the voice directly and immediately. This Samuel did, and received the first prophetic message that he was to deliver in the name of the Lord: To pronounce a judgment of death against Eli and his sons.

Of course, Samuel was afraid to do this, but since he realized he could not change the Word of the Lord and dare not disobey God's command, he did so anyway. Eli did not punish the boy, but, because of the remnant of faith left in his heart, recognized God s judgment as just and accepted it. The Lord continued to bless Samuel and as he mature, made him into a mighty and faithful prophet.

The application for us today is that as Christ has won for us salvation and eternal life through His death and resurrection, we must live by this truth and confess it publicly, even if it does not win us any popularity contests and even it means risking the loss of our lives. For we must love and obey God rather than men. “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denies me before men shall be denied before the angels of God” (Lucas 12:8-9).

This story of the boy Samuel was especially appropriate as the sermon text, because following the sermon, Luz Maria's granddaughter, Oriana Montoya, came forward for confirmation. At nine years of age, she is the youngest person who has been confirmed as a member of our mission congregation.

Oriana was born and baptized a few months before I arrived in Venezuela in 2003. I suppose that I can say that I have known her all of her life, and that she cannot remember a time when I was not a part of her life and her grandmother's life.

There was no rite of confirmation apart from the sacrament of baptism in the early church. Unlike baptism, confession and absolution of sins, and the sacrament of the altar, “confirmation” was not instituted or commanded by Christ. It emerged as a separate ceremony and eventually was declared a “sacrament” in itself by the western Latin-speaking Church. In Eastern Orthodox churches to this day, both infant children and adult converts are baptized, anointed with the laying on of hands (“chrismation”), and communed on the same occasion, in unbroken succession.

IMG_0996.CR2The Lutheran Reformers decided to retain the rite of confirmation, while denying that it was a divinely appointed means of grace, and against infant communion. This is because while the Scriptures place no reservations on who may receive the blessings of baptism, there are stern warnings against receiving the sacrament of the Lord's Supper “unworthily.” In order to participate in the sacrament of the altar, one must be able to examine his or her conscience and repent of sin (1 Corinthians 11:28), and discern the presence of Christ's body and blood in the sacrament (1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:29). The Reformers accept the western tradition of age 7 as the minimum age at which this level of understanding was possible, and 16th Century Lutheran church orders specify ages 7 to 12 as the optimum range for preparing children for first communion.

Later, in the 17th Century, under the growing influences of Calvinism and rationalism, the typical age of Lutheran confirmation was raised to 14 to 16 years, as confirmation came to be viewed more as a rite of passage into adulthood and the “completion” of a process begun with baptism.

Theologically speaking, however, baptism is the point of entry into the communion of the saints, and it isin baptism that one is covered with the righteousness of Christ, adopted as a child of God and receives the full promise of eternal life. There is no need to “complete” this process. On the other hand, it always has been the Lutheran understanding that catechesis, or instruction in the faith, is something that is a necessary part of sanctification (the Holy Spirit's work of molding us into the people God wants us to be), a process which is not complete until death. Therefore, catechesis should not stop at age 9, 12 or 16, but rather continue throughout adult life.

Therefore, having instructed and examined Oriana, and knowing of her desire to receive first communion with all of her friends and family as witnesses, I welcomed her into communicant membership in our mission.

As we prayed for Oriana and all those who had been baptized and confirmed at La Caramuca Lutheran Mission, I thought of another girl that I had known from birth through confirmation: my niece, Ashley Baltazar. I had stood up as a sponsor at her baptism, but at that moment I was particularly reminded of her confirmation at Zion Lutheran Church in Matteson, Illinois.

It was a congregation of mixed ethnic background in a similarly mixed community, and Ashley was confirmed along with young people of Caucasian, African and Latin American ancestry. Since Ashley's father, Mark, comes from a family that is Portuguese, Irish and Filipino, but mostly Filipino, the confirmation dinner consisted of traditional Filipino food. For me, mixed with the joy of Ashley's confirmation was a vision of what could be, a foreshadowing of Revelation 7, with a great multitude of all nations, all tribes and all races gathered around the throne of the Lamb. And it got me to thinking about the overseas mission field.

So at that moment I prayed for Oriana, for Ashley and for all who had made their vows of faith, that the Lord might keep them always in the true faith, strengthen them and call them back if they might stray. Amen.
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