Dustin, Katie, and Autumn Schoenbeck are confirmed this Sunday.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
It is an awesome thing to stand before God. Consider Isaiah’s vision in the Old Testament reading. He saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. It’s quite a spectacle. There are six-winged seraphim, shouts of God’s holiness, and smoke of incense, not to mention the shaking of the room. Then comes the hot coal touched to the mouth of Isaiah with these words, Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
Three young people stand before God today desiring more of what the Lord has to offer. A hot coal will not touch their lips, but the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ will pass through their lips. Their guilt is taken away. Their sin is atoned for. This is the moment they have longed to see for almost three years. Nevertheless, for Dustin, Katie, and Autumn, they know less than what they think they know.
Many confirmands fall into that trap. Like those who have sat before this altar before you, you have suffered through the crucible of learning what the Bible says about the Christian faith and the Christian life. You have learned the Ten Commandments and their meanings. The Ten Commandments preach repentance, showing your sin and your lost condition before God. You cannot save yourself. This flies in the face of everything the devil and the world will tell you. The central goal of life is not to be happy and to feel good about yourself. The Ten Commandments do not preach this false “gospel.”
You are lost and condemned creatures because of sin. You deserve eternal separation from God and His goodness. Anything good that comes from you outside of Jesus Christ is garbage. You cannot love yourself into eternal life. You cannot love anyone else into eternal life. You must repent, turn away from sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son, as your Savior from sin, death, and hell. Jesus is your only hope for eternity.
That’s what Nicodemus learned in John chapter three. Jesus says you must be born from above. This birth happens through water and the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Through Baptism, your sin is washed clean. You are united with Christ, grafted into the Vine of Righteousness. Everything Jesus says and does, He says and does it for you. This Truth is summarized in the so-called “Gospel in a nutshell” that Dustin chose as his confirmation verse. This verse is so familiar that most Christians learn it by heart. Jesus explains in John 3:16 that God loved the world in this way: He sent His Son Jesus to us in order that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. When you learn this verse by heart, you learn the Gospel.
Here’s where things start to break down for most confirmands. Once they receive their Bible verse, receive the Lord’s Supper for the first time, open their cards, receive their gifts, get their hugs, kisses, and handshakes, have a big party, and breathe a sigh of relief that Pastor won’t be grilling them anytime soon, most confirmands think they have it made. They learned the Six Chief Parts. They receive the Supper. They have a confirmation certificate. That’s good enough for God because it’s good enough for me. No more pastor, no more books, no more others’ dirty looks! I is now graduated from church! I know everything there is to know about God! God does not need to be particularly involved in my life except when I need Him to resolve a problem!
Wrong answer. Clutching your confirmation certificate as a “get out of hell free card” doesn’t mean a guaranteed admission to eternal life. Your confirmation means you have moved on from the breast milk of the faith to solid food. You have been weaned from the pure spiritual milk of the Word. You desire, even crave, the good stuff. It’s time to sample the USDA Prime Cuts, as it were, of the Christian faith.
Your confirmation confesses to the world that you know the bare minimum of what it means to be saved. A skeleton needs tissue, muscle, blood, and skin, in order to survive whatever life throws at you. Simply holding up your confirmation certificate and saying, “Oh, well, I got my card. I’m in the express lane to Paradise” doesn’t mean a thing unless the Holy Spirit working through the Word and the Sacraments nurtures you. When you cut yourself off from His nourishment, you starve, wither, and rot away. You die. When you stay connected to the Triune God and own the mystery of salvation, you live.
Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Paul is not telling you to quit reading your Bible or to quit coming to Divine Service. He tells you that many things in the Christian faith are a mystery. You will never figure it out, no matter how clever you think you are. However, that doesn’t give you license to walk away from God like a spoiled brat thinking he or she is too clever for the room. The wisdom and knowledge of God far surpasses your brainpower. He chose you to be His precious child. He chose you to receive eternal life. A filthy, rotten sinner like you will live with God forever because He made you His own in His Word of promise. You own that mystery. You can only shake your head and thank God for what He does for you.
The greatest thing God does for you is to give you His Son as your Savior. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is the center of the Christian faith. God gathers you around Him to receive the benefits of His Son’s victory over Satan. You follow in His train in the triumph. His accolades are for you as well, because Jesus shares His spoils with you. God does not lock His treasure chest of forgiveness from you. He opens His chest and lays His treasure on you from head to feet. You are resplendent in His grace, more handsome or attractive than any fancy church clothes you wear. You own that mystery in your Baptism by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
You stand before the Lord again today and gaze into the mystery of faith. Though your lips are unclean and you dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, the Lord Christ has taken away your sin. God sent His Son into the world to save you. He has cleansed you in your Baptism. You stand before Him redeemed, restored, and forgiven. You are free. Eat and drink His true Body and Blood for remission of your sins. What an awesome thing it is to stand before God as a forgiven, baptized sinner who is also a forgiven, baptized saint! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit