Instead of railing on the youth—who are not fully responsible for the situation—or the parents—who often times feel inadequate in addressing the topics covered in class—I wonder if some biblical perspective shed on the situation might help us to enter into the “classroom” with more grace and understanding for our students and what we are seeking to accomplish through Confirmation. (Lord knows I get discouraged and disheveled often, and could use another look at teaching youth to help renew my call and passion for it.) What if—not to lift ourselves up to a place reserved for Christ—we were to look at our confirmands through the lens of the disciples who followed Jesus. Though they were with him most day and night, it was only for a short while (three years); and Scripture shows us over and again that they, too, struggled to make sense out of everything Jesus was saying and doing—not beginning to grasp who he was until after his death and resurrection. The very disciples for whom we commend for their faithfulness, commemorate throughout the liturgical calendar, and name many of our churches after were, in reality, not that different (perhaps even in age) from our confirmands who find themselves wrestling just as much with what they are hearing about Jesus. Martin Luther reminds us that we are simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner). Similar to this, I find it helpful to think of our youth as being rowdy confirmands and yet faithful disciples along the journey of faith.
Studying with a magnificent teacher (not saying that is me)—while a great gift—does not, therefore, make one an excellent student. Though their rabbi (teacher) was the fully divine fully human God Incarnate, who he was did not automatically wipe away all confusion, disbelief, or selfishness on the part of those who followed him. As the gospels depict, throughout Jesus’ ministry we encounter his disciples as uncertain of their master’s parables and miraculous actions, wrestling with conflicting expectations, and finally demonstrating a lack of trust in the leader who calls them friends. The disciples did not understand every lesson their teacher taught them. For instance, following one of his public teachings—when they are alone—the disciples ask Jesus what was meant by his parable (Mk. 4:10). Even when they did not ask for clarification, many times it is evident that the disciples do not fully comprehend who Jesus is or what he’s talking about, such as when he is foretelling of his impending death and resurrection along the way to Jerusalem—and Peter responds with alarm (Mt. 16:21-23). More times than not—and in ways we, too, would share if it were us—confusion abounds amongst the ragtag group of followers. Other times, the disciples are seized by disbelief and fear. For instance, amidst a storm on the Sea of Galilee the disciples struggle to trust Jesus to calm the storm (Mt. 8:23-27). Peter, the poster child for fear and disbelief, demonstrates it as he, on another occasion, seeks to walk out onto the water to Jesus but begins to sink when he loses focus of Jesus and gives way to fear from the howling winds and raging waves (Mt. 14:22-33). At another point, we encounter two disciples—the brothers, James and John—in their misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission, ask for places of power that are not theirs to hold (Mk. 10:35-40). Like teenagers, this effort to put themselves above the rest causes rumblings among the group—requiring Jesus to reorient all of them to a (his) different way of thinking and living together (10:41-45). In another place, Jesus has to intervene with words of wisdom as they argue amongst themselves regarding who is the greatest (Lk. 22:24-30). The disciples—those whom we often times assume soaked up everything Jesus said and did without error—many times resided somewhere between littleness of faith and hardness of heart (Mt. 6:30; Mk. 6:52). At the Garden of Gethsemane and in the time that follows—leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and death—the disciples sorely demonstrate their lack of faith and understanding to what all their leader taught them in the past three years. When Jesus is arrested, some of his followers jump ready to fight while others flee in fear (Mk. 14:47, 51-52). Peter, given yet another opportunity to respond with courage, gives into despair—publicly denying his leader three times (Lk. 22:54-62). Following Jesus’ death and burial, the disciples overcome by their fear, lock themselves shut behind doors and disbelief of the Risen Christ (Lk. 24:36-49). Even in the time after Jesus’ ascension—as the early church is being formed—the disciples continue to show struggles in understanding, and sharing, who Jesus is with others (Acts 11:1-3). Faithful as they are, the disciples are quite a rowdy bunch—surely challenging Christ’s patience and peace all along the way.
Yet despite their boneheadedness, Jesus hand picks this group of ordinary people to carry his message of God’s transformative love forward in establishing the church—exercising grace and forgiveness with them each step of the journey, even with their constant mistakes and misunderstandings. Perhaps this is why so many of our congregational mission statements speak toward a calling and effort toward discipleship. (Alma Lutheran Church’s: Disciples by grace, growing in faith, living our hope, sharing God’s love.) As members of the body of Christ, we are given gifts by the Holy Spirit to serve and called by Jesus to use them in sharing the love of God with the world around us in word and deed. This discipleship is not bestowed upon Confirmation, but announced at one’s baptism—the beginning of the person’s life of faith. Therefore, our confirmands—as rowdy, rambunctious, and challenging as they may be/are—are disciples alongside all of us, in good company with all the saints of history, including the first disciples of Jesus. I can’t speak for you, but Lord knows I was just as challenging and (yet) cherished at that age as any other confirmand. While I’m sure I drove my pastor to pull his hair out (payback is bad) as a rowdy confirmand, I trust God was working in me—as God continues to work in and through me each and every day—to be yet a faithful disciple. May we all—who are rowdy confirmands in our own right—be made new in Christ to be faithful disciples sharing the love of God with the world around us.