Confirmation Sunday / April 28, 2019
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Joe Adamek, James Blees, Ryan Britton, Zabrina Bronstad, Cody Cowdin, Addie Davis, Raquel Fischer, Isaiah Gaylord, Kylee Hanks, Kayli Hinze, Hunter Jaeger, Kennedy Jewison, Nick Johnson, Thyme Lang, Cody Lau, Macy Morsching, Dominec Poeppel, Taylor Priem, Christian Rodriguez, Garrett Sobolik, Lily Sonnek, Dakota Westphal, Zoe Zimbrich
Dear Friends in Christ,
The overall theme of our Easter sermon series is the Sound of the Saints, which comes from our theme song, which includes the line, “Hear the sound of the saints as we march on to Zion singing Allelujah amen, singing allelujah, amen. Our sermon series comes out of the Book of Revelation, and we will be seeing pictures that John paints of what heaven will be like, pictures that John will be painting of what it looks like when the faithful are at the feet of the glorified Jesus throwing in a couple of “whoas”, as in “whoa, we sing hallelujah! Whoa we sing amen!” In coming weeks we’ll hear the sound of the saints as we see through John’s eyes the Elders, the next week the Multitude, the next week “New Heavens and New Earth,” the next week the New Jerusalem, and the seventh week “the Tree of Life.
Today, we would see Jesus, as He reveals Himself in full resurrected and glorified and ascended and sitting at the right hand of his father mode, ruling all of heaven and earth on behalf of the holy Christian Church.
When I tell you one of my favorite Easter stories, you’re going to realize one more time how twisted is my mind. This story comes from a statement on the Seattle Police Department blotter 6 years ago. The headline was “Easter egg hunt goes ugly.” An Easter egg hunt went ugly when one woman reportedly pushed a child aside as her own child was scrambling toward some brightly colored eggs. Police say the two mothers began fighting and had to be separated three or four times. The fisticuffs left one woman with a bloody nose.” It seems as though these two ladies had missed the spirit of Easter in that hour. They were having a hard time seeing Jesus.
Two parts to our sermon today. Part #1 is that it’s not always easy to see Jesus, and Part #2 is that when we are able to see Jesus as he wants to be seen, it’s terrifying and comforting at the same time.
Part #1: It’s not always (easy) to see Jesus. Three thoughts for you today about how it’s not always easy to see Jesus.
Thought #1 is that it wasn’t easy for the early Christians to see Jesus. In today’s text, John is writing to seven small and struggling churches in Asia. He greets them with the grace and peace of the Trinity, from the one who is and who was and who is to come. When he writes that the message of Revelation is from the seven Spirits, you should know that the number seven symbolizes God. Seven is the sum of 3 and 4. (You knew that). Three is the number for God and four is the number for creation, as in the four directions or the four corners of the world.
This message is from the holy and the perfect God, and it is from Jesus Christ the faithful witness / Jesus Christ who is the firstborn of the dead / Jesus Christ the ruler of all kings on earth / Jesus Christ the one who has loved us with his very life / Jesus Christ who has freed us from our sins by suffering and dying and rising again.
This God and this Jesus Christ are revealing to the early church that it’s not going to be easy to see Jesus and to stay close to Jesus and to hold on to their faith. Persecution is on the way. Church historians tell us that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313 when Christianity would be declared the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians would experience 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace.
One author writes that persecution was first sanctioned by the government under Nero, an eccentric emperor who blamed the Christians for the fire which ravaged Rome in 64 A.D. He further writes that many Christians were put to death to serve as objects of amusement; some were clad in the hides of beast and torn to death by dogs, others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. After Nero, it became a capital crime to be a Christian.
Thought #1 is that it wasn’t all easy for those early Christians to hold onto their Easter faith, like Thomas in our Gospel lesson for today, they would have their doubts, and they would yearn for a few signs and wonders from heaven to help them see Jesus, to help them stay close to Jesus, to hold onto their Easter faith.
Thought #2 is that it isn’t going to be easy for any of us to see Jesus in any one of our chapters of life. Last week on Easter Sunday, we enjoyed the sweet fragrance of the dozens and dozens of flowers and plants which adorned this sanctuary. It’s pretty easy to see and hear Jesus on the Day of Resurrection. But every one of those flowers and plants represented one or more loved ones we have planted into the cemeteries. A few of these burials are etched into our memories and will not soon be erased.
I can still remember the bronze colored casket of my brother resting out there at Peace Lutheran Cemetery / Barney / 40 yards away from Highway 13. In that moment it was hard to see Jesus who is to come. Etched into my brain is my mom’s casket being lowered into that same cemetery and being late to the meal because a few of us lingered while they lowered and covered her. In that hour, it was hard to see Jesus, who is the firstborn of all the dead. 18 months ago or so, it is etched in my mind while my son in law got down into the hole and placed his son Gabriel’s casket therein. He lived an hour here on earth, and then he died. Not easy to see Jesus who is alive forevermore and inviting us never to be afraid.
For our young folks confirming your faith today, some days it will be easy and other days nearly impossible for you to see Jesus, to stay close to Jesus, and to hold onto your faith. Some days you will succeed wonderfully and others fail miserably. Some days the sun will be shining brightly and others full of rain and slush. Some days you’ll fit right in and other days stick out like a sore thumb. In some chapters of life you’ll be living happily after and other chapters you will be saying to yourself and anybody who will listen, “I can’t take it anymore.”
Here’s the good news. It’s especially on those days when you just can’t take it anymore that Jesus Christ is with you, he comes close to you in his Word and Sacraments, he holds you close, he washes you clean, he invites you not to be afraid, to stand back up, and keep on going. This is the rhythm of our days – constantly we are distracted from seeing Jesus, but always He is fixed on us. Daily we are blinded with the darkness of this sinful world. Daily and richly he forgives our sins and invites us to fix our eyes on him, the author and finisher of our faith.
Part #2: Seeing Jesus is terrifying and comforting (at the same time). This year’s confirmation class is #39 in my ministry, the 29th here at Trinity. It’s been almost entirely a privilege to partner with parents and congregational leaders in catechizing these catechumens with Luther’s Small Catechism and the written Scriptures. In all of these years, we have expected our confirmands to listen to sermons and find examples of both Law and Gospel, and then apply these truths into their lives. Two reasons we ask these young folks to go through catechesis – to help them know the basics of their faith and to mature in that faith.
Every sermon is meant to terrify and then comfort the people of God. Professor Eggold at the Ft. Wayne Seminary used to tell us to preach them right down into hell and then lift them back up into heaven. Scare the you know what out of them with the Law and relieve them with the Gospel. Show them their sin with the Law and show them their Savior with the Gospel. I remember Dr. Eggold saying that when you preach the Gospel, your face ought to light up with all the brightness and radiance you can muster, and if you’re preaching the law, well then your regular face will do just fine.
Seeing Jesus is terrifying and comforting at the same time. In John’s description of the exalted Son of Man, he draws on several sources in the Old Testament. He sees Christ who is now in heavenly glory because he has completed his mission through his death and resurrection.
The kingdom of God is like a confirmation class that swears in the presence of God and all kinds of family to be diligent in the use of the means of grace until the day they die. They take their vows with good intentions mixed up with a fair amount of relief that the confirmation class ordeal is over. On the one hand, as often as they try to live life apart from Christ, they find all kinds of doubts and deadness and darkness rising up and ruling. But on the other hand, as often as they hear the voice of Jesus, as often as they taste the body and blood of Jesus, they find grace and mercy and peace rising up inside and in charge.
The kingdom of God is like a confirmation class that forgets much of what their pastors taught them, but a few things they remember. They remember one short not so young anymore pastor telling them again and again to stop slouching, to sit up straight, and to look him in the eyes when he is trying to teach them something. They remember him hammering away at distinguishing between Law and Gospel. They remember him pleading with them to keep on coming to church, to keep on listening to sermons, to keep on eating and drinking at their Lord’s Supper. And finally they remember him hoping and praying for them to be famous for this one thing….to be famous for this one thing…..to be famous for every day confessing their sins, every day early and often to be famous for admitting their mistakes, being sorry for their sins, crying out for mercy, knowing that even when they took their eyes off Jesus, He was always seeing them. Amen.
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