With all of the World Series hoopla (woo hoo!!!), I neglected to mention that yesterday was Confirmation Sunday at my church. Eighteen 9th graders, their parents, mentors, and baptismal sponsors reaffirmed the covenant made at these young people's baptisms. As part of the lead-up to the weekend, there was a banquet on Friday night for the confirmands and parents. Each year, there's a guest speaker after dinner, and this year they asked me to do the speaking. I thought I'd share my words, along with the pictures that accompanied what I said.
So, without further ado, here goes:
I’m a Boston Red Sox fan.
Always have been, always will be. My parents have a picture that was taken of me when I was about 2 years old with a Red Sox cap on. I didn’t have a chance to get it from them, but here’s a similar picture that I had that my grandma took:
You’ll have to take my word that the hat I’m wearing is a Red Sox hat. Of course it was twice as big as my head, and I probably thought it was just some big thing to chew on, but there I was, wearing it. As I got older, I learned more about baseball. I learned how the game worked, I learned more about the teams, and of course was taught more about MY team, the Red Sox. I even had the chance to go to a couple of games at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox.
This one was taken during my second visit, in 1987. This is the outside of the stadium, and this
is my dad and I inside the stadium with my cousin and uncle. I have one grandmother who’s one of the biggest Sox fans you’ll ever meet. All through junior high and high school, in the days before the internet, she used to send me these big manila envelopes full of newspaper and magazine clippings with stories about the team. She can tell you the starting lineup of just about any Sox team since the 40’s. For Christmas in 1988, when I was in 9th grade, she got me a Red Sox wall hanging (pay special attention to my totally rad 1980's Cliff Huxtable sweater and acid-washed jeans):
Even today, we email back and forth about how “our boys” from Boston are doing. My dad is a Red Sox fan. My mom is a Red Sox fan. All my aunts and uncles are Red Sox fans. I’m raising my son to be a Red Sox fan.
Here we are when he was just over a year old. My grandma had gotten him the warmup suit and hat. He still likes to wear the hat when we watch games on TV. I’ve never lived in Massachusetts, but that’s where my parents grew up, and much of my family still lives in New England, so it was only natural that the professional baseball team from Boston should become my team.
MY team. Are the Red Sox truly MY team? Or are they my family’s team? My mom’s team, my dad’s team, my grandma’s team, and ONLY my team because my family followed them? Well, that’s definitely how it started. I was an inherited fan—it was almost like it was passed down to me. But there came a point in time where I began the process of no longer being a fan just because my family was, and started being a fan because I wanted to.
It was 1986, and I had just started 7th grade. The Red Sox had played the Angels in the playoffs, and had made a miracle comeback to win that series and advance to the World Series. A little history here—the last time the Red Sox won the World Series was in 1918.
There had been times since then where they had come close…1946 1947, 1949, 1967, 1975, 1978, and now, 1986. In game 6, the game had gone into extra innings, but Red Sox were finally just one strike away from winning the whole thing. One strike away. Then disaster struck. A hit here, an error there, and suddenly the game was tied 5-5. Finally, a Mets batter hit a slow roller to first base. All the first baseman had to do was catch the ball, step on first base, and the inning would be over, giving the Red Sox a chance to come back to bat in the next inning, maybe take the lead again.
Instead, the ball rolled through first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs, a runner came around from 2nd base to score, and the game was over. And for the first time in my life, a sporting event made me cry.
There was still one more game to be played in the World Series, but after the way game 6 ended, there wasn’t much doubt as to how game 7 would turn out. The Red Sox had lost their fire. The Mets won game 7 easily, won the World Series, and the drought continued until they finally won the World Series in 2004.
HOWEVER…game 6 of the 1986 World Series is when the Red Sox stopped being my family’s team, and started the process of becoming my team. After the World Series was over, I started saving money, and between that and what I was given for Christmas I went out and bought this coat. (Note: here, I put on the coat that I'm wearing in the above picture with me and Kiddo) I’ve had this coat since January of 1987—and wore it right up until Christmas of 2004 when my wife had finally had enough of her husband going around in this coat from the 80’s and got me a more current Red Sox jacket.
SO…what does this all have to do with Confirmation, and what does this all have to do with you?
I suppose what I’m getting at is this question: when does Christianity move from "our" faith to "my" faith? I’m guessing most of you probably grew up in the Church. You went to services, went to Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, you may have gone to church camp, and now here you are, about to be confirmed. This weekend, when you’re confirmed, you will be publicly saying, “my family’s faith is now becoming my own. The faith that I was raised in is becoming the faith that I believe, not because anyone else told me to, but because it’s what I believe.”
Notice a few things here. I didn’t say that you now have all the answers. I didn’t say that there aren’t things that you question, or are unsure about. In fact, I’d even go far as to say that you probably ought to have some questions about what you believe. Confirmation isn’t the end of a journey (and I know right now some of you are thinking, “oh MAN!!! Then what did I do 60,000 sermon notes for?!?!), it’s a milestone along the way.
In many ways, this weekend is really the first step in making your faith your own.
For me, it wasn’t until AFTER I was confirmed that my faith really, truly was tested—as I got older and went through high school and college. Suddenly, people were asking what it was I believed. Suddenly, people were challenging beliefs I had held my whole life. Suddenly, I was questioning what I believed.
No matter where you may be in your life, whether you’re a high school freshman, or a senior, or in college, or a full grown adult—that process of questioning, of change, of doubt, of wondering, is tough. It all seemed so black and white when I was younger! I went to church, learned what I needed to know in Sunday School, and everything was fine. Now THIS guy wants to know when I was saved. That happened when I was baptized, right? He’s asking me why I think it’s okay for babies to be baptized. THIS person is questioning my choice of clothes and music. Can I really be a Christian and listen to Fergie or T.I.? THIS person is challenging what I think about creation, THIS person is telling me that I have to pray a certain way, and THIS person is trying to convince me that Christianity is all just a big waste of time!!!!
You know, in order to really think about those types of questions, in order to really discuss those types of issues, as a part of all of that, your faith slowly, but surely, becomes your own. It’s almost a trial by fire. Your family may have given you a firm foundation of faith. Your presence here is a testimony to that. They may have helped you learn, grow, and become closer in your walk with God. You’ve hopefully picked up some things along the way in Sunday School and confirmation classes. But to be honest with you, it’s really these next few years that’ll be when the rubber really hits the road. These years are when you stop believing because of what your family believes, and start believing because YOU believe. And what you will be doing this weekend isn’t the end of that journey. In a lot of ways, it’s just the beginning.
You, my friends, are at the beginning of an amazing adventure. You’ve been called! Christ has called you through your baptism to dare to be different. To dare to make a difference in the world, to make a difference in the lives of others. When he said “let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven,” Jesus wasn’t saying we should sit back, relax, and let our faith get us a ticket to heaven. He was calling us, challenging us, inspiring us to get out there and do something.
There are plenty of well-meaning folks out there who tell me that they’re glad that I do what I do because the youth are the future of the church, and we need to nurture that future. The thing is, you’re NOT the future of the church. You’re the church RIGHT NOW. That means you do have the power to make a difference, to change what needs to be changed, to be Jesus’ hands and heart for the people around you.
We Lutherans like to joke about resisting change. How many Lutherans does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Twelve. One to screw in the lightbulb, and eleven to say that they liked the old lightbulb better.
We resist change. We love to say things like “we’ve always done it that way.”
But like this poster says, just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid.
You’re in a unique position. In the process of making your faith your own, in the process of asking the questions and figuring out what this faith of yours has to do with your life, you have the opportunity to be leaders. To sense where the spirit is leading, to show folks my age and older what transformation is about, to help us reclaim our faith even as you struggle to claim your own.
Where is God leading us? What have we “always done” as people of faith that needs to be done differently? Where is Christ calling YOU to serve, to be a light for others? Those are questions I can ask, but that it’s up to you to answer for yourselves. The answers to those questions are going to look different for each of you.
I’m going to leave you with a challenge tonight. The challenge isn’t to have all the answers. It’s not to make sure you’ve got it all together and to be a perfect person. My challenge to you is this: continue to struggle. Continue to wrestle. Continue to stumble toward faith. Continue to be an active part of a community that is committed to struggling and wrestling and stumbling alongside you.
Continue to ask questions, and if you’re not satisfied with the answers, ask some more questions. Continue the process of making this thing called faith your own faith. Don’t let this weekend be the end of that.
Faith is not a “through street.” The process of forming your faith is never through. It’s never finished. It’s never done. In so many ways, you’ve only just begun. Enjoy the ride, and may God bless each and every one of you.