We don’t affirm our own baptism.
We affirm the baptism of others as they affirm ours!
Christ Lutheran Church. Johnstown, PA. Pentecost Sunday. May 17, 1970. There were thirteen of us, that morning. Fourteen, including Pastor Peterman. We all wore white robes. Were paraded to the front of the congregation. Then, before god and everybody, we were asked, “Do you believe in God the Father?” We said, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth!” Then, Pastor Peterman asked the next question, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” We replied, “We believe in Jesus Christ …” But then, we cracked under the pressure. Pastor Peterman ended up leading us through the rest of the creed. We were still confirmed, given a red hymnal with our name embossed on the cover, and the obligatory box of offering envelopes! We were now, officially, members of the church of Christ.
But back in the day, confirmation was a pretty big deal. It required three years of our life. Every Wednesday, after school. There was reading, homework, memorization, even tests. That day, we gained another check after our names in the parish register. We were no longer “just” baptized and became “confirmed.” Because of that, we earned the right, finally, to walk down the aisle, to kneel at the altar, and to receive the bread and the wine. Before that, when the Supper was served – once a month, back then – the unconfirmed, the merely baptized, had to stay in the pew while their parents, their grandparents, their older sisters and brothers, you know, the real members of the church, were given the bread and wine. We were told, it was in confirmation that we accepted as our own, the promises that were made on our behalf at our baptism. It was our “conversion experience,” if you will. When we were “born again.”
And Then, by the second semester of seminary, I found out it was all wrong. Confirmation – at least, for us Lutherans – wasn’t any of that. You see, as I was learning about the commandments and the creed and the lord’s prayer, while I was being taught about baptism and holy communion, back before my confirmation, Lutherans from across the country – from the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod – they were meeting to try to figure out just what confirmation really, truly was. We didn’t know it, but by the time we were putting on those white robes and walking down the aisle that Sunday morning in May, a report had been written. It was presented. Adopted. And it was decided that confirmation – as we knew it then – had no redeeming value. As a rite of passage, for boys becoming men and girls becoming women – it was fine. As a practice of the Church, though, not so much.
Somehow, between the Ninety-Five Theses and today, we’d forgotten the love, the charity, the grace. We’d forgotten that everything – Including membership in the church – that everything – maybe especially membership in the church – was a gift. Unearned. Undeserved. Unconditional! Given to us not in confirmation, but in baptism! Once! Always! Forever! We forgot! Faith isn’t a choice! It’s not a chore! It’s a response, a reaction, to god’s amazing grace!
Truth is, we can’t learn how to believe, no matter how hard we try. We can’t read about it. We can’t hear about it. It can only be caught! From someone else who’s a carrier. Mom. Dad. Grandma. Grandpa. Husband. Wife. Neighbor. Friend. Pastor. Faith is contagious! It’s infectious! And the only way we can get it is from people who already have it! We brush up against them. We shake their hands. We breathe the same air. And we become contaminated! Affected! Afflicted!
That’s why baptism – especially infant baptism – is so important for us Lutherans. It puts us We are brought into proximity, into vicinity, so that we stand a better chance of catching it! A better chance of being, of becoming infected. For faith, what’s important isn’t separation; it’s inclusion! It’s not quarantine; it’s incorporation! How does the baptism service put it? “Living with Christ, in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.” We catch it! It rubs off on us! And until recently, confirmation just hasn’t worked that way.
For instance, even now, the very first thing that happens in the affirmation of baptism is that a sponsor or another representative of the congregations is supposed to say, “I present [name], who desires to make public affirmation of his/her baptism.” But what struck me, this time through, is that we can’t affirm our own baptism! It’s impossible for us to do it! We didn’t baptize ourselves; we can’t affirm that baptism ourselves. It’s part of that contagion, that epidemic, we call faith! Someone coughs, we cough. Someone sneezes, we sneeze. Someone believes, we believe. Someone loves, we love.
Luther didn’t write the Small Catechism so that Luke could learn to answer our questions correctly. He wrote it – for parents, for pastors – so that we, so that you and I can answer his questions! The Catechism isn’t here for him. It’s here for ours! So that we can make sure he isn’t infected by a mutated, modified gospel!
Luke, you aren’t here, this morning, because you’ve proven to us that you’re worthy of being a part of this church. You aren’t. You can’t. Neither is, neither can, anyone else. You are here, so that we can tell you, up close and personal, that you have been, that you are, and that you will always be, as much a part of this church as any of us. Not because of what’ve done. Not because of what you know. Not, even, because of whom you know. You are a part of this church because god told you – because god told us – that you are! And god keeps god’s promises! You are here because god put you here. You belong here because god said you belong here. That’s all there is to it.
In fact, that’s why we’re here, Sunday morning, after Sunday morning, after Sunday morning. To affirm that same promise god has made to each of us, to all of us! “In the name of the Father, and Son, and Spirit!” That’s confirmation! “The grace of our Lord, the love of God, the communion of the Spirit!” That’s confirmation! “The peace of Christ!” “Given and Shed!” “The Lord blesses and keeps and shines and looks upon and gives!” It’s all confirmation! All affirming baptism! It’s saying, Amen! Saying, Yes! To god’s promise! From start to finish! From beginning to end!
Luke Reinier, child of God, once upon a time, you were sealed by the Spirit and marked with the Christ. And today, we say to you, You are still a child of god! Still sealed! Still marked! And if it is up to god, you always will be …