I wrote this letter last week to Matthew Handwerk on the occasion of his baptism and confirmation at Christ United Methodist Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Matthew is the 13 year old son of my sister and brother-in-law, Jenny and Derrick Handwerk. Lansdale is the town where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life.
Wow! I can’t believe you are being confirmed this Sunday. It seems like just yesterday that you were born. Even though we don’t seen each other very often, I’ve been watching you from afar and am so proud of who you are and how you are blossoming into a fine young man. Did you know that I taught confirmation classes for the past 25 years? I would love to be present this Sunday, but I have this four day meeting called the West Michigan Annual Conference. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not nearly as important as your confirmation, but I have to be there, so I will be with you in spirit.
You’ve been a part of the confirmation class at Christ UMC since last September. You’ve met every Sunday morning, which means that the entire family made a commitment to support you during this time. You’ve had wonderful teachers and your own mentor. You’ve done homework, have participated in extra projects and have learned a lot in the process.
You’ve gained proficiency in reading and using the Bible. You’ve been taught about Christian history and, specifically, about John and Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement. You understand the basic beliefs which all Christians hold in common. But you also have a sense of the special emphases that set United Methodists apart from other Christians. We believe that it is necessary to have both a vital inner personal faith and an outward-directed faith that cares for the needs of our world. Our Social Principles is unique among Christian denominations.
We believe that without God’s grace already living in us, we would never be able to respond with faith. We believe that we will continue to grow in grace and love throughout our lives. We believe that all human beings have the freedom to choose Jesus as their Savior and that we don’t all have to believe exactly the same thing. In fact, your pastor and confirmation teachers don’t want you simply to imitate their beliefs. Their greatest hope is that you will claim your own faith and share that faith with others.
This Sunday you are going to profess publicly that you desire to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It may be the most important decision you ever make. Please don’t do it for your parents or grandparents, or even me, although you know that as a United Methodist pastor, there is nothing that delights me more than knowing you are being confirmed.
June 3 won’t be the end of your journey, however. You are just beginning a life-long process of growing into the likeness of Christ. John Wesley called it the doctrine of Christian perfection. That journey is going to have its ups and downs. As you enter your teenage years (and for the rest of your life, for that matter), you will be tempted at times to live in a way that does not glorify God. Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t encounter difficulties along the way. I would simply encourage you to keep you eyes focused on Jesus.
Matthew, you have been marked and chosen by a God who has special plans for your life. Because your early years were spent in the Mennonite Church, you are going to be baptized today as well. When your pastor baptizes you with water on Sunday, the power of the Holy Spirit will be unleashed in your life. I do hope that you will not only claim that power but will discover and use the gifts God has given you to make a difference in the world. You are a gifted young man and have incredible potential.
In the end, however, the profession you choose doesn’t matter as much as how you choose to live your life. What matters is not what you do so much as who you are. What matters is not how much you know in your head but how much love you have in your heart. What matters is not how smart you are or how much money you make but how you treat others and demonstrate the fruits of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 5:22. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Matthew, my prayer for you on your confirmation day is that people will always see Christ in you, for you are Christ’s representative. Always remember who you are, a child of God.
Love, Aunt Laurie