Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Learning to Point to Jesus - April 9, 2017 - Palm Sunday/Sunday of Passion/Confirm Sunday
Today is Palm Sunday. Today is the Sunday we traditionally celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the last time. Today is the beginning of Holy Week and the beginning of Jesus concluding His time on earth, His giving us the Lord’s Supper from the Passover, His betrayal, trials, suffering, death and resurrection. You may have noticed however that our Gospel reading is now the Passion reading instead of the Palm Sunday reading. This fact is because too many people skip Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, thus missing the passion readings and going straight to Easter, but you cannot have Easter without Jesus’ suffering and death, thus the passion readings for today.
For some, for seven young people, and their parents, family and friends, today is also a special day. These seven young people here in the front row, were brought into the Church (capital “C”) through the waters of Holy Baptism, or as they like to hear brought in, “in the water.” Now, after a time of instruction, as Jesus says, “Baptize and teach” they have reached a milestone in their faith. Personally for me, I am excited for these young people because after serving here in this congregation for almost 15 years, I had the privilege of being God’s instrument in putting water and His name on more than half of them.
For our guests, first and foremost thank you for being here to bear witness of this special occasion. To those uncertain as to the ceremony and rite that is taking place this morning let me briefly define for you what we will be doing. “Confirmation is a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community.” “Prior to admission to the Lord’s Supper, it is necessary to be instructed in the Christian faith (1 Cor. 11:28). The rite of confirmation provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God’s promise given in Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ.”
So, what have these young people learned, that is into what confession of faith are they now making? And for those in the pew who have been confirmed not so long ago and perhaps many years ago, what did you learn? Do you remember? Let us review. First and foremost, I pray, they have learned to always point to Jesus. They have learned that we get it right, we get our faith right when we point to Jesus. It is important to point to Jesus because they have learned that they are sinners, conceived and born in sin and that the Law, in particular, the Ten Commandments shows them their sins. The Law points them to the fact that they cannot save themselves and they truly have no part in their salvation. Just as a drowning person cannot save themself or they would not be drowning and indeed just as a lifeguard will push off a drowning person attempting to help save themself, lest they drown also, they know that they cannot even help in their salvation. No amount of good that they do, no amount of what they might perceive as obedience will save them. Only Jesus will and only Jesus has saved them.
These young people have learned the faith of the Christian Church through the words of the Apostles’ Creed. They have learned of the work of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They have learned how God created all things our of nothing and how He continues to preserve and care for this world. They have learned how Jesus is true God and true man, how He had to be both; how He lived perfectly for us in our place because God’s demands are perfection and we cannot be perfect so Jesus is perfect for us in our place. They learned how Jesus took our sins, suffered, died and rose for us for our forgiveness. And they learned how the Holy Spirit works through the very Word of God, through Holy Baptism, through confession and absolution and through the Lord’s Supper to give, strengthen and keep us in faith.
They have learned the greatest and best prayer, the one Jesus gave us to pray and the one He loves to hear us pray, the Lord’s Prayer. They have learned how this prayer is the greatest prayer and how it covers all our needs.
They have learned how God comes to give us His good gifts and blessings, through the means of Grace beginning with Holy Baptism, which actually corresponds to the Old Testament Sacrament of Circumcision, which happened when a child was eight days old and is what identified one as being a child of God. They learned how at their Baptism God did all the work. Indeed, God, using the hands of the pastor and the mouth of the pastor put water on their head and spoke His name on them and in them, “in the water.” They heard Peter’s words reminding them that “baptism now saves you.” Being born a citizen of this nation and following the ways of the Church since Jesus, all but one were brought to the waters of baptism by their parents as infants and given faith since birth.
They learned how important, gift giving and efficacious is the very Word of God which we constantly need to study. Indeed, as we eat every day so we need to feed on God’s Divine Word every day. With that in mind, they learned how and why our Divine Service liturgy is permeated, filled with the Word of God and how we worship best when we say back to God the very word He has given us to say. They have seen how our Divine Service has its root in the early church as well as in the fulfillment of the ceremonial laws of Leviticus.
They learned how they are given forgiveness of sins through Confession and Absolution. Indeed, as they confess either publicly as we do in the Divine Service, or as they confess privately those sins which are extremely worrisome, that as the pastor speaks God’s Words of forgiveness, it is just as if God Himself has spoken. And as they have been forgiven they indeed forgive others.
And they learned how Jesus as He was celebrating the Passover with His disciples, the Passover first instituted in Egypt, gave us His Holy Supper wherein, as He says, He gives us His real body and real blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. Just as the children of Israel actually ate the sacrificed lamb so that it became a physical part of them, so we eat and drink Jesus actual body and blood so that it becomes a physical part of us so that we are given the benefits of such eating and drinking. They learned how this actually eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood is no symbolic act for indeed how can one symbolically participate or be a part of Jesus symbolically? This participation in Jesus means that His perfect life becomes their perfect life. His perfect suffering and death become their perfect suffering and death. And His perfect resurrection becomes their perfect resurrection.
Now for our confirmands, I would remind them of what confirmation is not. It is not graduation as one never graduates from being a disciple, a learner of Jesus. It is true that the more one learns about God the more one realizes there is so much more to learn. It is also true that the more one grows in their faith it is not that one becomes more and more holy, which would mean that one would need Jesus less and less and thus would be pointing to self more and more, rather the more one grows in faith the more one realize how lost and condemned they are, the more they realize how truly sinful they are and how they need to cling more and more to Jesus, just Jesus.
One final note to the confirmands, let me remind them and reiterate that they have learned that we get it right when we point to Jesus. We can never be certain when we point to ourselves, but we can always be sure when we point to Jesus. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in His work in giving us faith through the waters of Holy Baptism. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in the forgiveness He gives us in Absolution. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in the fact that all of Holy Scripture, indeed even all of History points to Jesus. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in the gifts that He gives in His Holy Supper are the gifts of His very body and blood, given into death, for the forgiveness of sins. We point to Jesus when He is running the show, when He is running the verbs in all our life, our thoughts, our words and our actions.
Now to wrap this up. Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. For the past six weeks we have been spending our time recognizing our part in Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection and that it is because of His great love for us that He was born, lived, suffered, died and rose. This week we have more opportunities to be given the gifts the Lord has to give, through our Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter morning Divine Services, wherein we will celebrate the Lord’s giving us His Holy Supper, the Lord’s suffering and death and most importantly, next Sunday, the Lord’s resurrection.
God loves you so much and He has so many gifts and blessings He desires to pour out on you. My prayer for each one of you and especially for our young confirmands is that the Lord will continue to give to you. As you grow in your faith know that the devil will work even harder on you. Why would he bother working on those he already has? So rejoice in your suffering. I want to leave you with the words of Paul in our Epistle lesson for this morning, words which were thought to be a part of an early Christian creed, or statement of faith as some might call it. Paul says, “5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.