Blind Bartimaeus the Preacher and Confirmation is not what we think it is

GOSPEL: Mark 10:46-52
As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

If we are honest with ourselves, Confirmation is kind of weird. Most of us know what is involved in Confirmation. We think of teenagers sitting in stuffy church board rooms, listening to pastors drone on about the small catechism. Or terrified confirmands having to answer questions from the pastor in front of the whole congregation. Parents dragging reluctant kids with unhelpful lines like, “I suffered through confirmation when I was your age, and you can suffer through it too.”

More recently, we tend imagine a rite of passage provided by caring mentors, families and teachers for youth coming of age in the church. We picture something graduation-esque, complete with corsages and gowns that kind of look like academic robes. 

We can describe all kinds of aspects of and events surrounding confirmation, and yet, I am pretty sure that very few of us, if pressed, could actually describe or say what conformation is. Like what does confirmation mean and what is it actually. We know that baptism is the pouring of water on someone’s head, even if we attach parties, pictures and candles. We know that communion is receiving bread and wine, even if we devise complicated ways to distribute and receive it. 

But with confirmation… often we can only describe the things we attach to it and not the core element of it.  We aren’t quite sure what it actually is and that makes it a bit of an oddity. 

Deep down, we know that confirmation isn’t actually about making teenagers uncomfortable or sweat through very public knowledge tests. It shouldn’t be something to suffer through. But it also isn’t really a right of passage per se, it isn’t graduation from or to something. 

In fact, confirmation is actually something altogether different. 

The story of Jesus that we hear today kind of starts to get at what confirmation is really about, even if in a roundabout way. We begin with blind Bartimaeus begging on the roadside, when he hears that Jesus is coming by. He begins to make a scene, calling out and bothering the people around him. The more folks tell him to be quiet, the more of a scene he makes. Until finally Jesus notices him. 

I am sure we can easily imagine the embarrassment of the moment. We are people who tend to avoid making scenes, we avoid causing or enduring discomfort. 

And yet, making the scene, causing the annoyance and embarrassment is important. Bartimaeus isn’t just asking for help. Bartimaeus is proclaiming the gospel. His sermon is the same at the Kyrie we sing most week, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. He isn’t telling those around him that they need help, he is setting the example by going first, by showing the world what Gospel can for him, by making public the healing and reconciliation that Jesus provides. 

Bartimaeus shows us that on some level, making a scene for Jesus is what Christian faith is about. All these strange things that we do, the hymns and prayers, the baptisms and communion, strange robes and old books, the flowery ancient language and unusual rituals… all of it is so different than what we see on TV or hear in our EarPods or spend time doing when we are out with polite company. Maybe there was a time 60 or 70 years ago when flowery prayers, funny robes, and solemn rituals were a part of service clubs, government meetings, civic observances and even seen often on TV. But not today, Christianity is as foreign to the majority as speaking another language. Openly displaying Christian practices, openly discussing our faith can be embarrassing. Being associated with Christians who have been making other scenes and getting noticed for their misbehaviour during the pandemic is not something we want. 

Yet, living our faith out in the world, sharing our faith with neighbour, passing our faith on to successive generations is something we do want, or least should want to do. 

And in this way, Christian faith is a strange experience of joining together with other people of faith to make a scene for Jesus, to hear and then re-tell the gospel through Word, Water, Bread and Wine, through hymns, prayers and worship. And inviting others into that shared experiences and community. 

Confirmation then is rooted in being  officially welcomed to that scene making community of faith called the church. 

Now technically, confirmation has historically been the laying on of hands by the bishop that follows baptism. As the early church grew, it took Bishops longer and longer to get around to confirm all the baptisms, to lay on hands in blessing and prayer. And so confirmation was combined with catechesis, the intentional teaching of the faith to new Christians who waited for the bishop to come by every few years to confirm all those newly baptized into the faith. As Lutherans we technically include confirmation with baptism, so Katie, you have actually been confirmed for a long time.

But at its core, confirmation tied to baptism is the final blessing that joins us to the Body of Christ, that group of followers that makes a scene for Jesus.

Confirmation is a final sign of our welcome into the body of Christ, into this weird group of faithful folks who do things that are so different than everything else we see in world, that loudly proclaim God’s promises even if it is weird and strange to our ears. 

And like Blind Bartimaeus who called out for mercy until Jesus heard him, being confirmed finally connects to this group of Jesus’s followers who loudly proclaim the good news of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness for all those who would listen, even if it makes a scene and a bother. And again like Blind Bartimaeus who makes this scene, Jesus comes and meets us too. Jesus meets us in the middle of our loud bother and Jesus confirms the good news of our faith, the Good News that God’s love has indeed been given for us. In the Word of Faith, in the waters of new life, in the bread and wine that nourishes our faith, Jesus meets us with love, mercy, and salvation. 

So yeah, confirmation is weird. And even when it is explained, it is still kind of weird. 

And being confirmed is about being joined to a community of faith that does weird things together, often making a scene… but also a community of faith that is inspired together to proclaim the good news to the whole world. 

So welcome into this faith that we all share, even if it is a little bit strange. 

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