This coming Sunday is Confirmation Sunday at St. Paul. We have three young men who will stand up and publicly confess the Christian faith and promise to be faithful to Christ and His Church for the duration of their lives and suffer all even death rather than fall away from it. This is a remarkable thing.
To begin with it is remarkable because kids are making a promise that most adults these days would not be able to make. We live in a world where people make their promises a lot like an insurance company. They make their promise to get what they want from you (your money, your respect, sex, etc.) But then, when that promise comes back to cost them something they look for an excuse to get out of it. Not much of a promise, if you ask me. Our teen aged kids are making promises of greater weight and with greater commitment than most of the modern adult world.
While this promise that they will make is truly remarkable, it does not occur in a vacuum. They are not blindly devoting themselves to a lost cause. They are not foolishly committing themselves to a god who may or may not honor their commitment. This is not Islam where the only guarantee of salvation is death in jihad. This is Chrstianity. We make promises to God. But these promises are based upon promises that he has made to us. Promises that he has made and kept.
God does not ask us to promise anything that he has not already promised to us. In fact, each promise that these kids are about to make has a companion promise that God himself has already given and already delivered upon.
Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? ... In Jesus Christ, his only Son? ... the Holy Spirit? They then confess the Apostles Creed. This creed is the baptismal creed, confessed by Christians prior to baptism since the Church first began. And there at baptism God made promises to them. In baptism God promised them forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38 Acts 22:16). God promised them salvation from death (Romans 3:5). God promised them Christ's righteousness (Galatians 3:27). God promised them that they would be rescued from Satan and the world (Colossians 2:11-12). God promised them salvation (Mark 16:16 1 Peter 3:21). God promised them eternal life (Romans 6:4) God promised them the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
These kids will promise to be faithful members of Christ's church and of their congregation, St Paul Chuckery. I think Christians these days tend to take that promise for granted. They think of this promise as a pledge that they will be Christians in a general sort of way and that they will belong or attend some church, although not necessarily this congregation. They make this assumption to their own spiritual detriment.
When Christians come to faith and become believers it is not and has never been a strictly individualist sort of thing. God unites Christians together in a body, a community. (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12ff) God promises Christians that as they are joined to him they are joined to each other for their mutual benefit and building up. "If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored all rejoice together." And so we are able to share with each other the love of God that we have received. When a Christian promises to belong to a congregation they are blessed by God through that community of faith.
The biggest and scariest of the promises that Confirmation students make is the promise to be faithful unto death. Here in the USA we can make that promise without breaking too much of a sweat because it is the rare occasion that we are called upon to keep that promise. Christians are free to practice their religion and faith however they choose without threat. This is guaranteed by our constitution. But it could happen. Regardless, this promise is made in light of a promise that God has made and that God has kept. We promise to sacrifice our life for Christ in light of the promise that he kept to sacrifice his life for us. Jesus died for us. He gave his life as a ransom for ours.
Confirmation is about promises. Promises that kids make to God and these days that is a remarkable thing. Most teenagers are thinking about video games and sports and movies, etc. Not these kids. They are thinking about transcendent and eternal truth. They are staking their lives on it. But their promises are only a response, the second beat of the rhythm initiated by God as he made and kept promises to them.