Deuteronomy 32, Philippians 2:5-11, John 12:12-19
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today is confirmation day, and that means we have 23 young people looking to stand up in front of our congregation. They’re looking to grasp their baptismal faith like adults. They’re looking to say words that matter today.
I’ve told some of you this before, but it’s worth repeating. My wedding day was one of the scariest days of my life, but I wasn’t afraid because I doubts about marrying my beautiful bride Laura. I was afraid because I read the vows: “To have and to hold... for better, for worse… for richer, for poorer… in sickness and in health…” I was afraid because I realized there aren’t excuses or exceptions to those vows. I don’t get to opt out of having and holding if I’m having a really bad day, or if Laura is getting on my nerves. I don’t get to opt out of providing for Laura if I lose my job or if I lose my ability to work. I’m taking an oath whether Laura lives out her days in health or they are fraught with sickness.
It’s a promise bigger than I. It was a day when I got to participate in something bigger than myself, and I said words that mattered.
There are very few days in your life when you get to speak words that matter. This is one of them.
We celebrate Confirmation on Palm Sunday, the first day of the holiest week of the Christian’s year. It’s extraordinary. Every year, this week, the church takes over the entire week. It’s the 7 days of Jesus’ life set in slow motion, as we retrace his last days, his final steps, as we listen to his every word. We watch him ride into Jerusalem not as a conquering king on a warhorse but as the rightful ruler, on a donkey. We watch him trash the temple court saying, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer.” We sit with him as he takes his last meal with his disciples. We see him pray in agony, at Gethsemane as Judas betrays him. We know his hours on the cross, his death, and his rest in the tomb.
Our story gets taken over by his story. Today, you get to speak words that matter. Did you read the vows? They start out baptismal. I renounce the devil. I believe in a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in him because he came to earth and made himself a man. I will regularly come to the Lord’s Table. I will be faithful to my vows to my dying day, and I would rather face death than fall away from these vows.
We are asking you, some of you for the first time in your lives, to be an adult.
So then, what does it mean to be an adult? You think about how you get a driver’s license at 16, how you can vote at 18, or drink at 21, or the final milestone, you can drive a rental car at 25. Or you might think about living on your own, making your own rules, starting a career or a long-term relationship. But, what does it mean to grasp your faith as an adult? Three answers for today: first, it means bowing your head to that which matters; second, it means taking up your cross and following Christ; third, it means resting in your baptismal grace.
First, it means bowing your head and bending your knee to that which matters.
A story has been told of a man who loved his boat and liked to make sure it looked good. He waxed it every week. He cleaned off the propeller every time he got it out the water. He made sure the carpet was vacuumed and the cover was put on every winter. But he never changed the oil. It always seemed to work well, so he never thought of it. But one day after waxing it, he went to start it up and… there was nothing. You see, he was making sure it looked good, and he neglected the heart. He was after the little matters, and he missed that which actually mattered.
Waxing and washing, vacuuming and covering – they’re all good and important in their own way, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter. What’s like that in your life? Grasping your faith as an adult is figuring out what matters little and what matters most.
Because the heart of the matter is this: that in the end faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love, and if you want to see the love of God – love more perfect than any other’s, if you want to see the peculiar picture of what it means to love as a Christian – if you want to see how this was made full, look no further than Jesus Christ being made the payment for your sin. Look no further than Jesus who speaks hard truths in love to those who really needed to hear it. Look no further than Jesus sitting down in the dust to forgive those who really screwed up. Look no further than Jesus doing all that Jesus does, and know that every act of God in the Old and New Testaments is an act of love incarnate.
This is makes you weird. This is what makes you peculiar; it’s what makes the Christian a Christian. The heart of your life is a knowledge that Jesus Christ was dead but is now alive, and in the mysterious way of Baptism, because he lives, now you live also. You grasp your faith firmly when you confess this before men. Nothing matters more than Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Today I invite you to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. I invite you to look toward what actually matters. One of my favorite bands put it this way: “You know you are as small as the things you let annoy; you know you are gigantic as the things that you adore.” Or in a better way, hear how Paul says it later in Philippians 4: Whatever is true… Whatever is honorable… whatever is just… whatever is lovely… whatever is commendable… if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
Second, grasping your faith like an adult means picking up your cross and dying. It’s not a mistake that we examine our confirmands a week before Jesus is crucified. It’s not just random that you’re confirmed on Palm Sunday as thousands and hundreds of thousands cried out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” or that you’ll take the Lord’s Supper on the night when Jesus was betrayed. You start your adult life in the faith this week because your faith follows the form of your savior.
And when I think of form, I think of how I just started playing some Thursday night basketball and how bad my shot looks these days, and I remember Rick Riehl my high school basketball coach. He was a fiery kind of guy who’d slam his hand down on chairs and yell Judas Priest whenever we messed up, and I remember one thing he’d say pretty often as we shot hundreds of free throws that we shot at the end of practices: he’d say, “Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent… perfect practice makes perfect.” It doesn’t matter how many thousand free throws you shoot… the only way to improve is to correct your form.
And I tell you that to tell you this: your faith follows the form of your savior.
That’s what “Take up your cross” means – it means that your life is cruciform: you follow a savior who was crucified, died and was buried, and we should expect the same. It means that you follow a savior that was raised to eternal life, and because he lives, so you shall live. It means that suffering comes upon the just and the unjust, and still, blessed be the name of the Lord. It means to embrace the Christian life as a way of suffering, of strangeness, of sin, of leaving yourself open for hurt so that you can show mercy and forgiveness especially to those who don’t deserve it.
Or, like Moses says it in Deuteronomy, close to the last word in a 34 chapter sermon, “He’s the one who kills and makes alive. He’s the one who would and the one who heals. No one can deliver you out of his hand.”
Today, I invite you to remember that the whole process of confirmation revolves around the idea that this week – Holy Week – and Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the most important week of your life. It’s the most important week that’s ever been a week. It’s the week when the fate of the world changed from death to life. It’s a week when God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, did the justice of our sin to his Son, so that Jesus might become sin for us.
Finally, it means resting in your baptismal grace. This week, I had the privilege of being at the bedside of Janice Rux as she passed away. I was there as she breathed her last breaths, with her family all around, with tears streaming down our faces after months wondering when the Lord would take her home. They say in the end that, although you may not be able to respond, many times you can still hear. So, I took her by the hand and spoke to her the same words I’ve spoken many times now, “Jan, you know that your family and your pastor are here with you and we love you. And more than that, we know that your Savior is with you even when you are beyond us.”
Our God promises in your baptism. He promises that he will be your God and you will be his people. He brings you out of darkness into his marvelous light. He nails every single one of your transgressions on his cross. He pays for your sins. He promises that he is your good shepherd and no one can snatch you out of his hand. He promises that your worth is not based on your performance. He promises that he held you in your salvation even before you knew right from left, and he will hold you in his hand even when you are beyond reason.
Our God promises in the Lord’s Supper. He promises that like food and drink make your body strong, so the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper makes your soul strong. He promises that just as food and drink become part of your being, so forgiveness becomes a part of your soul. He shows you that he is the Strong One, and if you want strength, you will find it at his altar.
Today, I don’t invite you to stop being a child. You are a child of your parents, and you’ll always be a child of your parents. In your baptism, you are a child of God, and you’ll always be a child of God. The difference now is, I do invite you to be an adult child that knows you’re resting in the promises you’ve been given.
In conclusion, this day is about grasping your faith as adults. It’s about bowing your head to what really matters. It’s about taking up your cross and following your Savior. It’s about resting in your baptismal grace.
My wedding day was one of the scariest days of my life, yes, but it was also one of the best. On these days when we make promises, we remember that life is about living each day in good times and in bad grasping the enormity of the promises we make to God today, and about resting each night in the sure forgiveness that comes because he is our true father and we are his true children.
May the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb, who claimed you as his own in baptism, and who began this good work in you, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.
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