May 3, 1998 - Confirmation Sunday
First Congregational Church, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Revelation 21:1-6 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

"See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away."

5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (NRSV)

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This morning we celebrate the accomplishments of our confirmation class. They have spent a year reading, studying, and discussing the basic practices, beliefs, and stories of our faith. And, this morning, we also want to express thanks to their sponsors, the adult mentors who worked with them and shared not only their insights but also their questions and struggles, and gave generously of their time and attention to the class members.

If I were to try and summarize the point of confirmation in one simple sentence, I would borrow from the work of an author we looked at late in our course of study. We reviewed a video called The Power of Vision and we heard about the life and work of Viktor Frankl, a professor of psychiatry who survived three years in Auschwitz and other concentration camps during Word War II and went on to write the book Man’s Search for Meaning, named one of the ten most influential books in America by the Library of Congress.

Frankl describes meaninglessness as the mass neurotic symptom of our time, and he says there are three paths to meaning: work, love, and suffering.

Well, I think there might have been a little of each of these paths in our confirmation process this year. And that’s the way we want it. We are not trying to help our children memorize answers to questions, but to find meaning in their lives. We are not content to have them become familiar with our beliefs, but we want to connect them to a living tradition - to a story that is rooted in the past, has life in the present, and gives a vision of the future. In short, a context in which to discover, create, and evoke meaning.

We live in a culture where we have taught our children that the main task of the adolescent is finding themselves. We have convinced ourselves as adults that our main task is the pursuit of happiness. Frankl does not deny that either of these goals, finding oneself or finding happiness, are significant. But he warns that pursued for their own sake, both goals become counter-productive and lead to frustration or worse. Both goals, he says, are not direct effects, but side-effects. Both come to us when we are least looking for them. Both come to us when we forget ourselves and give ourselves to a cause to serve or a person to love or are forced, through unavoidable suffering, to challenge ourselves and change ourselves and discover meaning in our suffering.

Frankl tells the story of when he entered Auschwitz. He was hiding, in his coat, the manuscript of his first book - his mental child as he calls it. When that coat was taken away from him, it was as if the purpose of both his past and his future was robbed from him. Then he was given the tattered rags of another man to wear. He writes:

Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of my newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer: Shema Yisrael. How should I have interpreted such a "coincidence" other than as a challenge of live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?

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Here’s the prayer he found: Shema Yisrael Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

In addition to the phrase "search for meaning" that prayer from the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy gives a wonderful description of the confirmation process: Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them.

We live in a world intoxicated with information. With the click of a button we can access data from around the globe. Turn on the TV and see live video of air quality over the Holland Tunnel. We are swept away in a flood of information. But meaning - meaning is still precious and rare and requires the sweat of our brows and the risk of our hearts and the suffering of our souls to mine from the rock and depths of our lives.

Meaning requires context. It must be founded on the past, forged in the present and focused on the future. Meaning requires remembrance, communion, and hope.

It is fitting that on confirmation Sunday we celebrate the sacrament of our Lord’s last supper, for in this meal Jesus seeks to give meaning to the suffering which awaits him and to the separation his disciples will experience in his absence. He does this in the context of a Passover meal, where Jews to this day remember that they were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord brought them out with a mighty hand and led them in the wilderness and delivered them into a land flowing with milk and honey.

The foods of this meal are both bitter and sweet, reminding us that there is meaning in both the joy and the sorrow of life. And then Jesus takes the bread and the cup and sanctifies his coming death as a new moment for all people, a new covenant with God, a new beginning for life and hope.

In his courage, Jesus transforms tragedy into redemption. He teaches us that we are not defined by what happens to us, but by our response - not by conditions, but by decisions.

It’s too bad we can’t all take confirmation class again, for in truth we are all learners sitting around life’s table together. Today we celebrate the accomplishments of our confirmation class and their sponsors, and we do this with a meal which the Lord has prepared for us. This meal consists not of morsels for the stomach, but of meaning for the soul. Today God invites us to remember the sacred story, to find communion in the holy spirit, and to strengthen ourselves with hope as we work together towards the vision of a new heaven and new earth, where the thirsty will be refreshed from the spring of the water of life.


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