Dear confirmands!  The inspiration for today’s sermon comes from you.  Directly from you.  Reading your answers to the confirmation exam questions, it occurred to me that your parents, godparents, sisters, brothers and friends alike would all be proud, if they had the chance to read what you had written. 

I hope, that in researching the exam questions you collaborated with your parents and friends.  That, in fact, was my intent, in having an open book exam you could complete at home.

I am happy to hear that you searched the internet, read the Catechism and the Bible (or at least parts of it), and indeed consulted with your fellow confirmands.

The goal of confirmation classes is not to memorize facts and know the right answer to every question.  The goal is to think independently and inspire you to consider religion and related topics.  The search for faith in one’s life and one’s heart is as relevant as math, chemistry and history in the development of one’s identity.

Dear confirmation day congregation! Following is an overview of the more interesting responses I received from today’s confirmands.  This is their sermon to you.

In the time I have today, I cannot possibly cover all of the questions.  I can, however, reflect on those where the confirmands’ own opinions came through.

For example:

Can you be a Christian if you don’t go to church?

Everyone answered indeed, you can be a Christian if you don’t go to church, but what does this really speak to?  Is it that church does not have the same importance it once had? It is true, we live in a more secular society.  There are other things we could be doing on Sunday mornings.  But, no one indicated that church has lost its relevance.  This is a challenge to our church and to all of its members.  This is the message.  We must find new ways to appeal to those who cannot make it here every Sunday.  What about on-line services on the internet?  What about a facebook page with spiritual support and material?  Why not?  It is natural that each new generation finds a new way of communicating the word of God.

When I was confirmed, I learned that there are five chapters in the Catechism that deal with The ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The sacrament of Holy Baptism, and The Sacrement of the Altar.

In asking you about the Catechism and the Sacraments you responded that the Small Catechism was written in 1529 and that it contains 13 chapters.    I also learned from you that there are two sacraments, the Sacrament of the Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  That Christening or baptism represents cleansing and rebirth of an individual and is usually performed on a child; however, there is neither a specified age for baptism, nor a specified limit to how many baptisms or christenings one can receive. Jesus was baptized or christened by John the Baptist.

Holy Communion is when the body and blood of Christ, represented by wine and bread, are consumed by members of the church. A confirmed individual must take part in Holy Communion as often as possible, with the minimum being at least once per year if not once per month. Confirmed members of the church are allowed to take communion. The first people to take communion were the disciples of Jesus.

Thanks to your responses and considering what I learned once upon a time, I was inspired to see where the idea of 13 chapters came from.  So, I turned to my bookshelves and the internet and learned some interesting facts.  Namely, that Martin Luther’s writings are interpreted differently depending on the edition, the language of translation and also the church.  Indeed, many modern english language editions of the Catechism have reorganized the facts in an attempt to be relevant in today’s world.  And so, the concept of confession has grown in importance, almost equalling the rites of christening and communion.  And that is why some of you told me there are 3 sacraments – Baptism, Eucharist and Penance. 

And, this is not a mistake.  The ability to recognize sin in one’s self, is something our world needs more of.  Penance, the ability to say „I am sorry“  and mean it, and to ask for forgiveness is something only a well functioning adult can have.

I also asked you about The Ten Commandments.  Specifically, how many commandments are there in the Old Testament? Which commandment deals with how we spend our work and free time?  Is Sunday just another day? Which Commandment covers off all the commandments and why?

One response was:  „There are ten commandments in the Old Testament. The Third Commandment deals with work and free time, in insisting that we do not work on Sunday, the Sabbath, so that it will be kept Holy as evidenced by the statement that “on the seventh day you shall rest” (Exodus 23:12). The Commandment which covers all the other Commandments is the First Comandment. In its explanation it is stated that the Lord would show “steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6).“

Another was:  „The most important commandment in my opinion is the first and tenth. The first makes it clear that the only Lord you should worship is the Christian God. The tenth sums up all the rest--no lying, cheating, stealing, or envying anything of your neighbors.

The first Commandment states that you shall have no other gods, and that we are to love, fear, and trust god above all else. It covers off all the commandments because if we love and fear and trust god we will do nothing that is unholy, like murder or adultery and will always love our neighbour. Putting God above everything keeps one following all the commandments.“

Though provoking responses.  But, once again I learned from you.  I knew that on 365 occasions, the Bible encourages us to „ Rejoice!  Fear not!“ but you reminded me that the Old Testament actually contains 613 commandments.  Yes, 613.   It is no wonder that it is referred to as the Old Law.  But, ten commandments were highlighted, according to which generations have tried to live.

Another question that sparked interest is that of Creation: Why were humans created? How do the theory of evolution and the Bible’s version of the story of creation relate to each other?

One confirmand wrote:  „Humans were created because God wanted to have something “in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26) that could have dominion over the Earth. It is possible that creation came first and created everything, then we subsequently evolved from the original creation of God into what we are today (that is, an evolution from previous levels of “human”, such as neandarthals or homo hibilis into our present-day homo sapien).“

Another wrote:  „God created humans for his pleasure. We were made in the image of God so that we would know God and love him. Evolution disputes the bible’s creation stories if they are taken literally, however if interpreted liberally they may coexist together. Evolution explains how we got to this point while offering no explanation of how it all began and creationism offers an explanation for the beginning of it all.“

And then:  „There is no definitive answer to why God created humans, although it is largely accepted that they were created in the likeness of God to rule over earth and all creatures under its’ domain. Perhaps God created a conscious and sentient being so we would become aware of the difference between good and evil and turn to faith and Christianity for deeper meaning in our lives and a greater understanding of the world around us.

Evolution and creationism differ greatly, although they both deal with the creation of living things and the differentiation of species.“'

Did you notice the interesting and well thought-out responses?  The concept of creation is after all essential.  Is our first philosophical question not: „Why am I here“ followed by „who am I“?  Is not a key part of life on Earth the search for our purpose for being?  Our goal should be to offer our young people the tools to conduct that search and to find meaning.  Or, as one confirmand put it:  to cultivate and guard the garden.

The world is the Garden of Eden that God created us to tend.  To care for, not to abuse.  We owe thanks to our host for small and large things alike.  A good host is not wasteful.  During the course of history, religion has encouraged us to preserve our resources of all kinds, to not be destructive.  Tabus and rules, like the 613 commandments in the Old Testament, prevented self destruction.  Over time, understanding took over – understanding of conservation.  Conservation is best achieved through a partnership between religion and knowledge.    Earth to earth, ashes to ashes.  If the produce from your life’s garden does not return to earth, it’s not conservation, it’s wasteful.

And finally, did you know that:

The cross represents the crucifixion.  

The rooster came from the statement that Jesus made fortelling of Peter’s denial when he stated “before the cock crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:34).

The triangle represents the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The ship is a symbol of Christian Life. It is the Church tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution but finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of human souls. This symbol can be seen in Peetri kirik if you look directly to the front--it looks like the front tip of a ship. 

The fish is a secret sign used by the early persecuted Christians to designate themselves as believers in Jesus. The initial letters for the Greek words for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior", spell the Greek word for fish.

How smart your children are!  And what a joy it has been to discuss religion and the meaning of Life.  May the Lord bless you and keep you all.

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