St Stephen Lewisham
20th December 2009
Pictures in a Confirmation
As you all know, next Sunday, which is our Patronal Festival of St Stephen, the First Martyr for Jesus Christ, we are having a Confirmation at which Bishop John Broadhurst will preside and confirm.
There are twelve or more people who are offering themselves for Baptism and/or Confirmation. That is the largest numbers we have had at St Stephen for several years, and so it seemed appropriate that this morning’s Homily should be on the subject of Confirmation. It’s worth reflecting, before we begin, that if twelve people are confirmed every year, in five years our congregation will grow by 50%!
So how we can make sure this happen in the future? A good way of answering that question is to ask ourselves another one: ‘What is Confirmation?’ because unless we know the answer to that, the odds are that it simply won’t happen again!
So let’s follow Jesus’ example of how to learn about heavenly things such as Confirmation. He used parables to help people understand things such things. His parables are word-pictures about earthly things that his hearers did know a lot about (like sowing seeds, and building houses, and catching fish, and finding losing sheep and coins) to teach them about heavenly things (about which they knew very little).
So here are three of Jesus’ word-pictures which describe what happens when we are confirmed. There are dozens of other pictures we could use – so if any these pictures fails to ‘speak’ to you personally, then forget about it – and just think about one of them which really ‘resonates’ in your mind.
Picture One: The Power of God
‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’, said Jesus to his disciples’.
When we have a power-cut, we all know what happens. The lights go out, the trains stop running, the electronic tills in the supermarkets lock-up, and some gas cookers (if they’re like our one at home) won’t light. We can’t even make a cup of tea to cheer ourselves up as we sit and shiver in the darkness!
We’ve become power-less, in other words. We depend upon power in our everyday lives. Not just electric power of course. If you’re in a car and the power fails, then you grind to a halt. If we’re in charge of a sailing ship and the wind drops then we find ourselves drifting with the tide. And people today complain that they feel ‘powerless’ because those ‘men in grey suits from Brussels’ run our lives for us.
Now one of the effects of receiving the Power of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit is that when troubles come, as they’re sure to (sooner or later), we are much less likely to feel powerless about facing them. As Christians we believe that God has a plan for each one of us, and that if, and when, we start to co-operate with Him (by being baptized and confirmed and taking His commandments to us seriously) we start discovering that everything, troubles included, begins to make a good deal more sense to us.
So if we are in the habit of regularly reading the Bible, talking with fellow-Christians, and receiving the Sacraments which God gives us, then we shall find that when things go wrong those feelings of powerlessness and lack of direction affect us less often and less seriously. They won’t go away altogether, of course, because God intends us to ‘live by faith’ in His Son, Jesus Christ, and that faith only comes into play when we begin to feel doubts (about God, our friends or ourselves, for instance).
So just as during a power-cut we turn to candles, in the belief that they will give light, in times of spiritual darkness we should turn to the Bible and see what light God has to give to guide us through it; when our car breaks down, we sensibly call the RAC or AA to come and rescue us: so when we feel threatened with a ‘spiritual breakdown’ the wise thing to do is to talk to a priest or other member of our church who has had the experience of dealing with such things. When the wind drops and we find ourselves drifting helplessly with the tide, then it’s time to hand over to someone else on board who’s had more sailing experience than we – and it would also be a good idea to arrange to have a few more sailing lessons when we get back to land! So whenever our spiritual life is ‘in the doldrums’ it makes sense to go back to the priest who prepared us for Confirmation and take a few more lessons about the Christian life from him.
Picture Two: Receiving a Commission
Most of us have gained a qualification of some sort. Priests are ordained to the Sacred Ministry, nurses become SRNs (State Registered Nurses), non-commissioned soldiers and sailors are promoted to a higher rank, students are awarded a Degree when they’ve successfully completed a course of studies.
Confirmation is like receiving a commission. At Confirmation we are, so to say, ‘ordained to the Laity’. We are given a Certificate, and we take on both the privileges and the responsibilities of grown-up Christians. That commission is the gift which God gives us as His response to our ‘committing’ our life to Him, letting Him forgive us all our sins, and taking us into His ‘service’. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find that once we begin to take that commitment seriously, other people begin to take us seriously.
‘Seriously’ not just by giving us jobs to do in the church. That is all part of it of course, but by no means the principal part. The most important result of us becoming one of God’s ‘faithful soldiers and servants to our life’s end’ is that people, both inside Church and in the world outside, will begin to see the change that has come over us. ‘By their fruits you will know them’, said Jesus of anyone who decides to accept his call to ‘follow me!’ Some people who hear his call remain what the Army calls ‘camp-followers’ – that is, they go through the motions of being religious, but their ‘heart really isn’t in it’ and they simply give-up when troubles come. But those who take His call seriously, not like camp-followers, but real disciples (that means ‘Learners’) find that His Spirit is leading them to do, and to be, things which they never imagined themselves as being or doing.
Picture Three: Opening the Door
You probably know the famous picture The Light of the World by Holman Hunt, which hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral [see below]. It shows Jesus Christ, who said of Himself ‘I am the Light of the World’, standing in a dark forest outside a closed door, with a lantern in His left hand. With his right hand he is knocking on that door. But that door has no handle to it on the outside: so it can only be opened from inside.
That picture was inspired by the verse from the Bible which reads ‘I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me’.
The world outside the house of our life is like that dark forest. Inside our personal house also it’s pretty dark. Confirmation is like ‘opening the door’ to Jesus Christ to allow Him to bring in His lantern. There is only one person that can do that: the person on the inside of that door – and that person is you and I. Our Confirmation Candidates next Sunday have all decided, after serious thought, to ‘open the door of their life’ to Jesus Christ, and let Him shine His light on all the corners of their living-space. It’s a brave step for anyone to take. Once done, there is no going back on it, and goodness knows what His light will show up in the darker corners of our life!
Certainly the light from His lantern will show up a great deal of the rubbish which has been left lying around the inside of our lives over many years, of which we have only been only dimly aware.
But it is equally likely that under all that rubbish, when it’s been removed and put in the bin, Jesus will help us find in ourselves real treasures, of whose very existence we have until then been totally unaware.
So for our twelve or more Confirmation candidates, next Sunday will be the start of making amazing discoveries (or ‘uncoverings’) – not only about themselves but also about Jesus Christ. And in the years to come they too will look back at the moment when they, like us, first discovered that we are not, and never have been, quite so unimportant in God’s eyes as we’d previously imagined ourselves to be!
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