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Rite of Confirmation–“Public Confession” (John 16:12-22)

LSB Icon_024Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

For you fifteen young men and women, I hope you’re ready. There is one last test before you, probably the most important test that you will ever take. You have already taken the first part of it a long time ago, when your baptismal sponsors spoke on your behalf. Throughout the years since, you have been preparing to take the final exam. There is only question and only one answer that is appropriate. Here is your question: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” For now I’ll let you think about it.

As we turn to today’s portion of John’s Gospel, the time for Jesus to be betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified is quickly at hand. Jesus is running out of time to tell the disciples everything that He must tell them. Of course, being the disciples, the ones who were most intimate with Jesus, being a part of His inner circle for three years, they didn’t get what He was saying. Unfortunately, this sounds like the everyday thing for the disciples. Just once, you would hope that the disciples would get the message of Jesus, but today is not that day. They are still missing one thing in their disciple arsenal: the full work of the Holy Spirit, for it is by the Holy Spirit that all things regarding Jesus will be revealed.

Throughout John’s Gospel, he frequently describes the work of the Holy Spirit. Here, the Holy Spirit is referenced as the Spirit of truth. The spirit of falsehood, at work in the sinful hearts of humanity, would deceive the disciples. It has been running rampant since the Fall into sin and leaving a wake of destruction in its path. It has lead people to disbelieve, to doubt, to question God and what He does through His Son. Therefore, Jesus sends the Spirit of truth to guide the disciples into all truth. The truth is nothing short of God’s divine plan of salvation that is meant for His creation. The truth is of Jesus Christ, and His salvation of us through His life, death, and resurrection. The work of the Holy Spirit is to create faith in a person. Note that the Spirit does not speak on His own but rather He speaks on behalf of the Father and Jesus and testifies about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. For the Holy Spirit, It has to be all about Jesus because Jesus is the sole means of salvation.

The Holy Spirit comes to glorify Jesus by introducing Him to people as the crucified and risen Christ. That is what He comes to do for the disciples and that is what He comes to do for us. The Holy Spirit comes to introduce us to what the truth is about: Jesus. The disciples weren’t prepared for all Jesus has to say, as He tells them, for they were too worked up over Jesus’ impending departure. But He wasn’t going to leave them empty-handed. He leaves them the Holy Spirit who will testify of Him and what He has done.

Years ago, you received the gift of the Holy Spirit at your Baptism. It was there that God called you to be His beloved child in the faith. And now, for you confirmands, you are about to confirm for yourselves that faith granted to you in your Baptism. However, it won’t be easy to remain faithful to God and His Word, for the world will tempt you in many and various ways.

We aren’t all that different from the disciples. We’re not ready to listen to the true message of Jesus, though we are quick to fill ourselves with the false message that the world brings. Even in the church, we don’t pay attention to the message of the Holy Spirit. We don’t always give attention to the Word of God read and preached in the Divine Service. We go through the motions of the Divine Service, counting down the minutes until it is over so that we can have our Sunday afternoon all to ourselves. We spend little or no time outside of Sunday morning in God’s Word. The world would tell you that that is perfectly fine, because Jesus isn’t going to save you, you’re going to save you by any number of ways, such as by good works and the like.

If there is a single message that we need to hear and take to heart, it is that of Jesus Christ, for that is our sole means of salvation. In this Word, the Holy Spirit introduces us to “the things that are to come.” For the disciples, that would be revealed in the death of Christ, when they would finally understand what Jesus had been preaching and teaching the last three years. Jesus would rise triumphant from the grave and return to the Father, to prepare a heavenly mansion for all those who are in Him.

But even for the disciples, they would face hardships in the days ahead. Tragedy lay ahead for the disciples, great pain and grief at the arrest and execution of Jesus. They would cry and lament while the world would rejoice. The event that would crush their spirits would elate the unbelievers. Even so, their sorrow would not last but be turned to joy.

Here enters the Holy Spirit, to reintroduce us to our Savior, Jesus Christ. In a few hours, Jesus will be arrested, tried, crucified, and will die on a cross. Even as tragic as all that sounds, this will be Jesus’ greatest glory. Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh, the only-begotten Son of the Father, who has come out of love that people might believe and have life. For our joy, we need look no further than the words of Jesus here in our text: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

We will indeed find joy again, just as the disciples did – in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our joy comes in the truth that because Christ was raised from the dead, so we too will be raised from the dead. That’s the joy that Jesus’ death and resurrection bring. That’s why believers to this day remain joyful, no matter what else is going on around them. He who died lives, and because we believe, so we too will live.

By introducing us to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit gives to us that joy, a joy that passes all human understanding, for it is not joy in earthly terms, a joy that will come and pass away. Rather, the joy that we receive from the Holy Spirit is a joy that is centered upon the glories of heaven, of life eternal in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We have the joy of sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit keeps that joy alive by constantly feeding us through Word and Sacrament, forever reintroducing us to our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear confirmands, this is an important day for you, a day that continues all the days of your life. Today is not the end of your journey of faith. St. Paul writes, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. This is the place where God comes to speak to you in His Word. This is the place where God comes to feed you in the bread and wine, the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. You won’t be able to find it anywhere else, though the world will tell you otherwise. For you fifteen young men and women, I have one request for you. Do yourself a favor: continue to come here each week for the rest of your lives. Don’t do it for my sake or for your parent’s sake, but for your sake. You have been given a wonderful gift called faith – a faith given to you at your Baptism and a faith that you are going to confirm in just a few minutes. This is the most wonderful gift that you could be given, a gift that is worth more than anything in this world, for it is by this gift that you have been given the keys of heaven.

There is only one name that you and I must remember: the name of Jesus Christ. We know Him as our crucified and risen Savior, for the Holy Spirit has introduced Him to us in Holy Baptism and continues to declare Him to us in Word and Sacrament. All of this brings joy, a joy that can never be taken away from us, for it is joy in knowing that we have God’s name placed upon us and that we are a part of Him. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Confirmation, Easter, Sermons

 

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Rite of Confirmation–“Confirmed in Christ” (John 10:11-18)

LSB Icon_024Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Confirmands, are you ready? Are you ready to confirm that faith which was granted to you in your Baptism? That is what this is all about. This is not graduation from church but rather the next step in your Christian life.

One of the most familiar pictures the Bible uses to teach us about our relationship to God is that of a shepherd and his sheep. It has its roots deep in the Old Testament. In the most popular psalm, Psalm 23, the author declares, “The Lord is my shepherd.” He describes his Lord as a good shepherd who takes care of His faithful believers who are His sheep. Jesus uses this same picture in our Gospel reading for today when He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

As we read through the New Testament, we see Jesus described in various ways as Prophet, Priest, and King.

When we speak of Christ as being Prophet, Christ preached personally during His life on earth, validating His word with miracles, especially His own resurrection. Jesus says in Mark 1, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Just what exactly was the message that Christ was preaching? His preaching was focused on the salvation that came because of Him. Everything that Jesus did throughout His ministry was for the sake of the people. The problem was that they didn’t know it, yet that what was Jesus came to do. The message of Christ was and has always been that of salvation. As Jesus says, “They will listen to my voice.” That voice of Jesus tells you that while you are a damned and convicted sinner, Christ died for you to forgive you all of your sins.

Again, we ask the question: why? Why did Jesus give His life for mine? Why did Jesus do what He did, suffer the cross for me? He did this out of love for you. He did this out of love for the Father. He did this out of love for all of creation. He did this so that you would have the gift of everlasting life. He does this for you because He is the Good Shepherd.

What does Jesus mean when He calls Himself the Good Shepherd? His listeners knew that a real shepherd is concerned first and foremost with the welfare of his flock. He would provide the flock the necessities of life such as food and drink. When a wild animal attacked, he would risk his life for the sheep. He would put his own life in jeopardy to protect his flock.

Even today, as Prophet, Christ through the preached Gospel still proclaims Himself to be the Son of God and Redeemer of the world. Jesus tells the disciples, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” This Gospel that Jesus comes preaching is nothing short of the promise of forgiveness that has been won for you by Himself on the cross. This Gospel is the one and only thing that can and will save you. Anything other than Jesus Christ cannot and will not save.

My dear confirmands, you will indeed be tempted to fall away, just as everyone is. But you must remain faithful. That is one thing that you will you promise to do, just as every other member here as done. But hear these words of St. John: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That is what our Lord has promised to you.

As our priest, Jesus Christ is the One who fulfilled the Law perfectly for us when we could not. This is most clearly presented in what St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

You and I are under that Law of God. It is a Law that convicts. God’s Law tells us that we are to be holy as God is holy. That means that we are to be without sin. For a brief moment in time, we were. When God created man, we were created in His image of being perfect and without sin. Because of Satan’s temptation, we lost that image of God and became sinners. Because of sin, you and I experience death – both physically and spiritually. We are in desperate need of restoration to God. Through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, we have that means of restoration. He willingly gives His life as a sacrifice in order to redeem us, to buy us back, so that we may live with God in a state of forgiveness.

What Jesus sets out to do is to make the distinction between shepherd and hired servant. Most of the time, it is hard to tell the difference between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand. Both the Good Shepherd and the hired hand lead the sheep to good pasture. They both see to it that the sheep get the water they need. They both attend to the minor cuts and scrapes of the flock. At the end of the day, both see to it that sheep find safe shelter. It is very hard to tell the difference between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand under ordinary circumstances.

The one time that the difference becomes very clear is when the flock is in danger, for example: when a wolf is stalking the flock. When the wolf appears, the hired hand leaves the flock to defend itself. The Good Shepherd goes out to meet the wolf and defend the flock. The hired hand runs away. The Good Shepherd puts His life on the line and gives it up for the flock. The enemy of the flock brings out the difference between the hired hand and the Good Shepherd.

Look at some of the characteristics of the Good Shepherd: He calls His own sheep by name; He leads them out to pasture; the sheep follow Him; He gives His life for the sheep; the sheep are His; He does not flee in the face of danger, but puts Himself between the danger and the sheep; He cares about and knows the sheep. These are just a few of the characteristics of the Good Shepherd, of what Jesus does for us.

Just as a shepherd defends the flock, so does Jesus defend us, His flock. He does so by laying down His life for the sheep, just as He says: “I am the good shepherd….I lay down my life for the sheep.” This He does for you. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus gave up His life to secure that bond and keep His sheep safe. He makes the sacrifice of all sacrifices as Priest, a sacrifice that replaces all sacrifices. He sacrificed Himself for your sins, and His sheep all over the world receive the benefit. That benefit is meant for you. He delivers this gift to you in simple yet powerful means of Word and Sacraments.

Not only is Jesus our Prophet and Priest, He is also our King. He rules with His almighty power over all creation and governs and protects especially His church here on earth. He protects us from all that threatens us: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. He defends us from the wolf that comes to snatch and scatters us. All this He does so that He can finally lead His church to glory in heaven, just as St. Paul writes: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom.”

Because of this love, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ knows who we are and how best to take care of us. He knows that we are feeble from the outset because of our sinful nature. He knows that because of that sinful nature, we will do stupid sheep things like stray from His Word by not hearing it preached and by not studying His Word with the other sheep of His flock. He knows that we will stray from His body and His blood which gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. When we do all of that and even more, our Good Shepherd comes after us, to find us and bring us back into the sheep fold. He does not leave us to the wolves to be devoured; rather, He brings us back to Himself where He can keep an ever watchful eye on His beloved sheep.

For you six young ladies, let me ask one thing of you. Please come back to church next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that, and every Sunday after that until your Lord calls you home, for this is where your Lord has promised to come to you. He comes here to feed you and to forgive you and that is what He wants more than anything. And for everyone else who is here today, the same thing holds true for you, so please come and be fed by your Good Shepherd. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in Current Affairs

 

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Easter 2A (Confirmation version) –“God’s Gift” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

LSB Icon_024Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Confirmands, the day has finally come. This is the day you have been looking forward to for so long. When I say, “so long”, I mean longer than just the last two years. This is the day that you have been looking forward to from the day of your Baptism, where God called you to be His own beloved child. How fitting that the day of your confirmation comes just one week following Easter and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The day which we celebrate Easter has come and gone for another year, but the meaning of Easter goes beyond just a single day. Rather, it lasts for 50 days. The reason why: there is too much joy to keep in just a single day. Our text for today highlights the importance of Easter: resurrection.

Peter writes, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In the opening sentences of his letter, Peter twice calls to mind the election of God’s children from eternity. God has chosen each of us to be His own. The Holy Spirit makes us confident of this through faith in God’s promises. Though our faith makes us “strangers in the world,” yet we have “grace and peace … in abundance,” knowing the love of the Father who chose us, of the Son who died in our place, and of the Spirit who sanctifies us.

One must ask themself this question: Why? Why would God do what He did? Why would God promise to send a Savior, a Savior who would be His only-begotten Son, only to have Him die? Christ’s death brought about His resurrection – not only for Himself but for all believers as well. That translates into a resurrection for you and for me. But we’re still left with the why. Peter tells us it is “according to his great mercy.” It’s is God’s mercy for His beloved creation that He did what He did and that He continues to do what He does. And today, for the fifteen of you, you have that opportunity and privilege of standing before God and these witnesses and confirming that faith given to you at your Baptism, confirming that faith that you have been raised in for these many years and for you to confess yourself, “I believe.”

What God gives to us is a gift. It is a gift like no other gift. This is a gift that you can’t buy at Wal-Mart. This is a gift that you can’t order off of the Internet. It’s a gift that you cannot repay, for it is a gift that is given freely. This is truly a one of a kind gift. This gift brings with it eternal blessings, such as the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation.

God was not content with having His creation die in sin. From the very moment that man fell, He promised a Savior. This was His beloved creation. It was so beloved by God that He declared man to be “very good.” In creating the world, He deemed it only as “good.” But man, on the other hand, created in the image of God, that is holy and perfect and without sin; only man was deemed to be “very good.”

Having been brought to faith, we are different from the way we were before. We have been reborn with the restored image of God. Our Old Adam has to take the back seat. The new man is now at the wheel – with a lot of help from his lifelong driving instructor known as the Holy Spirit. And though the Old Adam is there right behind us, “through faith” we “by God’s power are being guarded.” The Old Adam in the back seat keeps trying to grab the wheel, but our faith is the metal-mesh screen between the front and back seats, as in police cars, preventing him from taking control. And it is the power of God, ours through the means of grace, that makes the screen strong enough to resist even the most savage attacks of the Old Adam. Oh, he may distract us with all his screaming and hollering and thus cause us to swerve occasionally, but he cannot take control unless we ourselves let our guard down. Our “living hope” is that Christ, who has conquered sin and death, has given us the promise of eternal life.

So what are we supposed to do with this wonderful gift given to us? We rejoice! You and I have been given such a wonderful gift by God in the resurrection of Jesus that we should do nothing less than rejoice! We rejoice because our sins have been forgiven. We rejoice because we have been given everlasting life. We rejoice because we have been called children of God. Why wouldn’t we rejoice at that!

But as St. Peter says, our rejoicing is for a little while, because “you have been grieved by various trials.” There are many trials that we face in our lives. Throughout these trials, our faith must be anchored in Jesus Christ, for He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” All of this is done to test the genuineness of your faith. It is the Lord who declares it necessary for us to undergo these trials, compared by Peter to the test used to prove if gold is genuine or not. Peter had tasted the bitterness of failing such a test, but he also knew the sweetness of Christ’s forgiveness and promise of future help. We, too, have God’s promise that no trial will be more than we can bear, for our faith and our eternal salvation are worth far more than perishable gold.

Even you confirmands will face trials. A great trial will be, “What will I do next Sunday?” Right now, you are wearing a robe. This robe marks that you have been covered in Christ’s righteousness and that you have been forgiven all of your sins. But for many, when you wear a robe, you think of one thing: graduation. You will wear a robe when you graduate high school. That robe signifies that you will be leaving high school and moving on to other things. When you graduate college, once again you will wear a robe, signifying that all of your hard work has led up to that day called graduation. But in the church, confirmation is not graduation. Confirmation is surely not a graduation. Look behind you. When you look out in the congregation, what do you see? I see a congregation full of people who, like you, went through confirmation and probably wore a robe on the day they were confirmed. But here they sit, many, many years following their confirmation. Do not think of confirmation as graduation, for there is only one that a person “graduates” from church – that is, when Christ calls us home to be with Him forever. And even then, you only “graduate” from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, but you remain part of the Church.

Just as Jesus tells Thomas in our Gospel reading today, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” Peter makes the same point in our text. He says, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Peter also heard that as blessed as Thomas and the rest were by Christ’s reassuring presence, those who would not see Jesus but would still believe in him would likewise be blessed. We look forward to something we have not seen and which was promised to us by someone whom we have not met. The world calls this foolishness. We call it a miracle.

The fact that you and I have been given faith is indeed a miracle. God chose to love us when we were unlovable in our sin. Through His great love and mercy, He gave to us His only-begotten Son. By the work of Jesus Christ, we have been given the gift of Jesus and His forgiveness, won for us on the cross.

What God has given to us is truly a gift, a gift that is given to us freely, a gift that requires nothing from us. At first glance, it might appear to be a little strange. We feel a bit uncomfortable receiving something without keeping score so that we make certain of returning a similar amount. But if this is truly a gift, that means the recipient has not earned it because the earning aspect would take away the gift aspect. That’s precisely the point! Salvation is given to us without any merit or worthiness on our part – and without our having to prove to anyone that we have earned it. This gift of salvation had been made available for all of us by God.

For you, Zane, Alec, Desire’e, Jonathan, Danielle, Tallie, Caleb, Raelee, Shelby, Jordan, Adam, Kristine, Janie, Marissa, and Chance, today is indeed a day to rejoice. It is not a day to rejoice that confirmation is finally over and that your Wednesday nights are free again. Instead, it is a day of rejoicing because today, you have taken that step in your spiritual maturity where you yourself make that public confession of faith, made for you in your Baptism but which you confirm today. God has given you a gift. He has given you the gift of being called a child of God. For Peter, there is great cause for joy. The cause for joy in our relationship with God is not that we have discovered Him, but the simple realization that He claims us as His own. Being called a child of God with your sins forgiven – there truly is no better gift than that!

In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2011 in Confirmation, Easter, Sermons

 

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