Episcopal Diocese of Albany, NY
Business Office: 68 South Swan Street - Albany, NY 12210 - (518) 465-4737
Christ the King Spiritual Life Center: 575 Burton Road - Greenwich, NY 12834 - (518) 692-9550

Sermon preached by Bishop David Bena
on the occasion of the Confirmation Service
held at Diocesan Convention on June 9, 2001

Well this is a great day in the life of the Diocese of Albany. This morning we ordained ten new deacons, five to be vocational deacons and five to be transitional deacons. And now at this service, we will confirm two hundred people! This is amazing! Bishops from Albany, Dominican Republic, Sudan, and Kenya are gathered here to confirm possibly the largest Confirmation class in our diocesan history. These Confirmands are making a big commitment to Jesus Christ, and God is making an even bigger commitment to them. They are inviting Jesus Christ into their lives as Lord and Savior; God is confirming them in a special way as lay ministers. It is truly a great day in the Diocese of Albany.

These persons are also making a commitment to the Church - to attend worship regularly and to support the Church. Now we all know that there are people who don't go to church. But did you know that there are people who also do not wash? Well you are about to hear the "Top Ten Reasons I No Longer Wash:"

10.I was made to wash too much as a child;
9. People who wash are just a bunch of hypocrites;
8. Those who wash think they're cleaner than everyone else;
7. There are so many kinds of soap; who's to know which isthe right one?
6. I used to wash but it was always the same thing so I quit;
5. I still wash at important times like Christmas & Easter;
4. None of my friends wash, why should I?
3. I can't wash on Sunday. It's the only day I get to sleep in;
2. I'm still young. When I get older and dirtier, then I might think about washing.

And the number one reason I no longer wash:
1.The people who make soap are just out to get our money!

That sounds pretty ridiculous when it comes to washing, doesn't it? Well it also sounds pretty ridiculous when it comes to going to church, which is what this top ten list REALLY is. My hope is that the 200 confirmands gathered here will both wash and go to church every Sunday for the rest of their lives.

So let's look at this Sacrament where people are confirmed/received/reaffirmed in their baptismal vows. First of all, what does the word "Confirmation" mean? It comes from the Latin - "firmare" for "strengthen and "con" for "with" - to "strengthen with" the Holy Spirit. Those who come forward for this Sacrament are strengthened with the Holy Spirit for a special ministry in the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. We in the Church believe that God shows up in a special way when we share a Sacrament, and so we believe that as these 200 hundred people come forward and kneel before a bishop for the laying on of hands, God the Holy Spirit will show up and commission them for service in the Church.

But the Sacrament of Confirmation has not always received good press. For many hundreds of years, it was a dignified service of the Church - ran into some confusion at the Protestant Reformation - but it was always looked upon as an important part of the Church until the twentieth Century. Then, as Bishop Dan stated earlier at the rehearsal, some people began to see Confirmation as a "Sacrament in search of a theology." Some said that Baptism is full initiation into the Body of Christ, so what need is there for Confirmation? But if you read the fine print, you will find out that our theologians know its theology and have never stopped believing in a good solid theology for Confirmation. When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was being prepared, the Joint Liturgical Commission and the Theology Committee and Prayer Book Committee of the House of Bishops came up with a statement of understanding of just what Confirmation is. Let me paraphrase their theological understanding of Confirmation:

  1. When people who have been baptized as infants become mature, it is appropriate that they confirm the baptismal vows made for them when they were baptized. This is appropriately done on one's "Confirmation Day."
  2. No one should be forced to be Confirmed; It should be voluntary. BUT it should be held as NORMATIVE in the parish, and all should be encouraged to be confirmed.
  3. The Confirmation should be conducted by a bishop, who represents the diocese and the worldwide Church, in order to show the universality of the faith, and to commission these Christians for ministry.
  4. Opportunity for this laying on of hands should also be given to other persons - those who have been baptized in another Christian denomination and are now becoming Episcopalians, and those who have lapsed from regular church participation and now wish to make a new commitment.

So you see, the theology for Confirmation is intact, is logical, and is not in competition with Baptism. It is this understanding of Confirmation which brings these persons here today.

But what has sometimes been confusing to us in the Diocese of Albany has been whether Confirmation is a graduation or a Commissioning. Sometimes in the past, it looked more like a graduation from Church! Kids twelve years old were brought forward for the Bishop to confirm; then they no longer had to go to Sunday School, and often their parents no longer brought them to church - they "had graduated from church." That was a sin! Confirmation is not a graduation from church; it is a commissioning for Christian service. So we have moved the minimum age of Confirmation to 16. That is the age people begin driving their parents crazy, er, I mean it is the age people begin driving a car, or both! It is a recognized rite of passage - to be able to drive a car. And so we, and many other dioceses of the Episcopal Church as well as the Roman Catholic Churches, have moved the minimum age for Confirmation to the age of maturity - 16. And they are commissioned for mature Christian service. And as you can see today, many of these two hundred gathered here today are much older than 16, and that is very good. It says that people take Confirmation/Reception/Reaffirmation seriously, as a mature act of commitment.

So that is the nature of Confirmation. Now how do we play it out in our daily lives? To find that out, we need to look at today's Scripture lessons. First let's look at Ezekiel 37, the story of the dry bones. Have you ever been in the desert? I had to pull a deployment in the Sahara Desert once when I was an Air Force Chaplain. And I observed two things about the desert. It is very dry there (you can see what an astute observer I am!) and it is very hot there. One day as I was jogging, I came upon some bones - animal bones, not people bones - and seeing them lying there bleached white with no life in them reminded me of the "Valley of the Dry Bones vision" Ezekiel had. In his vision, he was shown dry bones, and God said, "Can these bones live?" The bones represented the people of Israel. Because they had stopped obeying God, they had become spiritually dead. And then God showed Ezekiel how they could be reborn. God said that by following the Word of God, the bones could live again. As Ezekiel watched, the bones began rattling, coming back together with sinews, flesh, and skin, until they were very much alive. I will tell you that that vision is excellent for our spiritual lives. Because of our rebellion against God, our sin, we are spiritually dead, as dead as dry bones. As your parents made promises for you at your Baptism, God initiated you into the Church, the Body of Christ. And today when you publically your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, it is an experience of being born again. That is what is happening to you today, Confirmands. You have studied God's Word; you have invited Jesus in a special way into your lives. Your dry bones are made alive again. And you are made part of the team to help OTHERS come into this same relationship. You become "disciples making disciples."

In the Gospel today, we see how this plays out. Two things here...Jesus says to us, "They who have my Commandments and keep them, they are the ones who love me. And they who love me will be loved by my Father. And I will love them and show myself to them." Obedience is the key; following the Commandments of Jesus to love God, others, and yourself by living lives of integrity. You are called to make a difference in your habitat, your environment - to bring goodness where there is evil; to show forth the love of Christ where there is confusion and often anger and hatred. Your Confirmation says that you want to be on this team.

And the other point from today's Gospel that is germane to this occasion - Jesus says, :"And I will send you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth..."

When you make this commitment at Confirmation, it is impossible to keep your commitment because of sin. But Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for His service. When you are confirmed or received, the bishop prays that the Holy Spirit will baptize you in power, to strengthen you for service. The words used, "Strengthen, O Lord, you servant with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service; and sustain him all the days of his life," speak of this fulfillment, this filling with the powerful Holy Spirit. When you come forward and kneel before the bishop, believe what is true - In this Sacrament, you are being commissioned by the Holy Spirit to be ministers in the Episcopal Church. As you today confirm your faith commitment made for you by others years ago, now God blesses you in a powerful way. Live into that commitment, and join us in ministry.

This last part of my sermon is aimed at you who have come to celebrate this day in the life of your loved one or friend. God loves you very much and has a wonderful plan for your life. Some of you here may not know God in a personal way. This is a great opportunity to live into God's plan for you. Sin hinders us from living fully as God intends, and because we sin, we are not able to reach up to God. So God has reached down to you by assuming human flesh in Jesus. By his death on the cross and his resurrection to defeat death, he has bridged the gap between God and human beings. By his cross, you are forgiven and given the chance to live fully on this earth, and live in heaven after you die. You can repent of your sins today and accept Jesus into your life. And you can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Let us now pray and invite Jesus into our lives so that we can all start a new life, which is renewed, rich, and rejoicing.

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