"Confirmation is Not Conformation!" - Pentecost 12a
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
August 27, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
Romans 12:1-8

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost 12A; August 27, 2017

Romans 12:1-8


Confirmation is not Conformation!


            Confirmation kids, I’m hoping you can help me with the sermon today. What is this raised, flat surface at the front of the worship space? (Wait for answers: “an altar” or “a table”.) Correct! Maybe you’ll remember the answer to this next question. Why isn’t it a “real” altar? (We don’t kill anything here.) That’s right! This altar isn’t like an altar that you’d find in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, altars were used to offer sacrifices to God. If this was an altar like that one, you’d bring a bull, or a billy goat, or birds here from time to time to be slaughtered and burned. (I don’t think we’d be able to keep a custodian here if we did worship that way!) Sacrifices would be made for all sorts of reasons: as a means of making atonement for sin, to “redeem” one’s firstborn child, as a way of giving thanks to God.


            So, if this isn’t a “real” altar, why do we still call it an altar? (Pause) Because here is where something amazing happens. Here, a two-way sacrifice occurs. God’s sacrifice for us, made two thousand years ago on a cross outside Jerusalem, is brought into our time. Jesus and his sacrifice which makes us “at-one” with God is fully present here, at this altar. And at the same time, we offer ourselves here to God. We aren’t killing anything or anyone here, but, in Paul’s words, we bring ourselves to God as living sacrifices. It is is here that we remember that everything we have and everything we are is ultimately God’s. When we offer what is God’s back to God, we receive so much more back from God. We receive not only ourselves back, for service to the world, we receive the gift of God himself.


            Twenty-two years ago, this first verse of our reading from Paul was my confirmation verse. It wasn’t a verse that I chose myself. We certainly had the option of choosing our own confirmation verses, but I (and all the other boys of my class) didn’t, so our pastor chose the verses. And in some way, Pastor K’s choice of this verse for me has been serendipitous. It reminds me that faith is an ongoing thing. Salvation is not a “one-and-done” event, but is lived out. True, we are saved by God’s grace alone, received through faith, but that faith is something living, something that involves the whole body, not just our intellectual capacity.


            Unfortunately, we Lutherans have tended to treat salvation precisely as an intellectual thing. Despite creative confirmation curricula and good teachers, we’ve all too often reduced the faith to an assent to certain principles or ideas. Belief in God? Check. Belief in Jesus as God’s Son? Check. Belief that Jesus saved us from our sins? Check. Something something Holy Spirit? Check. Despite our best efforts (and I’m talking about Lutherans, not just Zion), confirmation has been seen as a means of conformation – conformation to a specific culture, conformation to a particular way of viewing church. What if, instead, we saw confirmation – not just the classes now, but our own confirmations in the church – as a springboard for transformation instead?


            Paul goes on to write, “Do not be conformed to this world (a better translation would be ‘age’), but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What would happen if we looked back at our own time in confirmation classes, the study of Scripture and Catechism, as a training in this sort of discernment? As a way of learning how God works transformation in each one of us? As a step in learning how to be the living sacrifice that God calls us each to be?


            It’s no accident that Paul links the “living sacrifice”, “renewal”, and “transformation” language with language of the body in the next paragraph. And though we’ve heard it a million times before, we’re going to hear it again. God calls each of us to function in the Body of Christ in unique ways. Each of us is given unique gifts with which we can serve not just the Body, but the entire world.


            We may look at ourselves and not think our gifts amount to much. Much less may we think that our particular gifts can impact and serve the world. Part of this is the Lutheran tendency to follow Paul’s words in verse 3 a little too closely. Out of terror that others may think we’re “too big for our britches”, we don’t dare let our light shine too brightly. Humility (or at least its appearance) is a cardinal virtue among Lutherans.


            But learning to let our light shine to the glory of God is at the heart of the Christian life. And it’s a lifelong learning. Confirmation is but a first step on that journey. It is there, when we affirm our baptismal vows, that we also affirm that God has chosen us for a purpose. That God has given us gifts in which we can serve the entire world. That God has made us, who reflect Jesus’ light, the light of the world. And that every time we worship, we bring our entire selves – bodies, souls, spirits, thoughts – to this altar, and offer them up to God. And God offers God’s self back to us again.


            When most of us were confirmed years ago, that wasn’t meant to be a conformation to a specific culture and way of doing church. The same is true for you all in confirmation classes now. The purpose is NOT to “conform” you. The purpose is to begin to show you how God has been acting to transform your actions, your thoughts, your whole lives, and how you are to respond to God’s faithful work in you. As God offers himself to you, you, too, are called to offer yourselves to God – not out of obligation or fear or terror or even boredom – but out of love and faithfulness. And God is faithful, working in you to transform your life, just as Jesus transformed the lives of his disciples, making them fit for the kingdom of God.


            Let us pray.


            Jesus, as you gave yourself for us, help us offer ourselves as living sacrifices to you, letting our light shine through the gifts you’ve given us. Help us remember that confirmation is not about conformation, but about seeing how you are at work to transform us. Amen.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.