Today is a special day for two of our youth and for their parents, sponsors, God-parents, grandparents, for the whole family. Today these two young people will come forward to do what many of us have done in years past. No, today is not graduation. Let me say that again, today is not graduation. Today is the beginning of their adult church membership. Today is their confirmation day and we will talk some more about what that means in just a bit.
According to our church year calendar, today is Palm Sunday. Today is the day the church traditionally celebrates Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. However, after listening to the text for this morning you might be asking, “What happened to Palm Sunday?” But on closer inspection you might have noticed that the Old Testament reading is a picture of Palm Sunday, “your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” So, we have not completely lost our Palm Sunday Celebration, it is just that is not our main emphasis this morning.
I would suppose that the difficulty in choosing a text for this Sunday comes from the fact that today is also the day we begin Holy Week. Today we begin the last week of Jesus time on this earth as we walk with Him through the moments of His anguish in the Garden, His arrest, His trials and His suffering and dying on the cross. Here I would point you to the page in your bulletin which outlines the Bible readings for each day of this week. Those readings are listed to help you follow along with Jesus during Holy Week.
And this morning we continue our schizophrenia of sorts with the fact that we add to today our celebration of Confirmation. What is a pastor to do? And why does he title his sermon, “Dying?” There really is so much to preach on and so little time. So, for your sake and for mine, I will concentrate on Confirmation, after all, as I said earlier, it is something most of us have been through and it is good to review what promises we made so many years ago.
First, I want to answer the question, “What is confirmation?” And I want to begin by answering that question in the negative, by answering what Confirmation is not. Confirmation is not a sacrament, at least not according to our definition of a sacrament. Remember, our definition of a sacrament is rather narrow. To be a sacrament all of the following criteria must be met: 1) it is a sacred act, and confirmation is a sacred act; 2) it must be instituted, or started by God, and God did not give us confirmation. Confirmation is a man made tradition; 3) it must have a visible element which is connected with God’s Word and 4) it must give forgiveness of sins; and confirmation, although we speak a Bible verse, it does not have a visible element connected with God’s Word and it does not offer forgiveness of sins. Thus, confirmation is not a sacrament.
So, “What is confirmation?” A second thought which is often mistakenly spoken of concerning confirmation is, and you do not have to raise your hand if you think this way, that confirmation is our confirming our baptismal vow. Let me assure you, it is not our confirming our baptismal vow. Think about it, what vow did we make at our baptism? We did not make any vow at baptism. Rather, at our Baptism it was God who did all the work. He made the vow. He put His name on us. He put faith in our hearts. He claimed us as His own.
Well, then, what is confirmation? Confirmation is our public profession of faith. I will state this now and later, “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.” In other words, it is a public confession of faith, a time to say, “I am now responsible for my own Christian faith,” and a lifelong pledge of being faithful to Christ. And this is where we get our sermon title. Confirmation is a pledge to die for Christ, and that pledge is made in response to the fact that we believe that He died for us.
Now, what pledge and what promises did we and do we make at confirmation? If you do not remember, you may open your hymnal. These questions are listed in their completeness on page 272-274 in the front part of the hymnal. We will be asking these questions of the confirmands in just a few minutes, but for now I want to somewhat summarize them as we ask ourselves what pledge and promise we made at our own confirmation. And maybe we might ask ourselves again today, do we still make these promises?
First, we are asked about our faith, the faith into which we were baptized. In essence we are asked, “Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism? Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways? Do you confess faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?” These are not too difficult of questions. They are questions our sponsors and the congregation answered for us at our Baptism and so we are recognizing the faith and gifts God has given to us at our Baptism. Do we believe in God as He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible, or do we believe in some other god, even some god which we might have created in our own image? We might think that is a non-question, but too often we say we believe in the God of the Bible, the whole while believing in a god we have created in our own image.
Second, we are asked about the foundation of our faith. “Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God? Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?” In other words, do we believe the Bible is the Word of God, or that it merely contains the Word of God. The difference here is important. If the Bible merely contains the Word of God then we can believe the parts we want and throw out the parts we do not like. Sounds great does it not. How often we would like to throw out that part about lying or about coveting?! The problem, though, is this, once we throw out one part, we have to throw out the whole part. The other option is that we believe the Bible is the Word of God, which means we have to take all of it, even the parts we do not like. This belief is not as easy at it seems. How often do we find ourselves justifying what we do, because we know that without our bit of justification it might seem that we are disobeying God’s Word. We all do it. I know the Bible tells me to obey those in authority over me, but right now I have to speed to get where I am going. I know the Bible says that adultery is a sin, but what does it hurt to “window shop.” I know God wants me to give myself to Him first, that He wants me to be in Divine Service and Bible Class every Sunday, but how can He expect me to do that when there are so many things in life that I would miss if I actually did put Him first? This second question asks us what do we believe about the Bible?
Third, although this question is not asked explicitly in our new order of confirmation, it is asked implicitly, that is we are asked about our desire to be a member of this church. “Do you desire to be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and of this congregation?” Do we want to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran or not? This question reminds us of something that is quite lacking in our society today, denominational loyalty. I have said this before and I will say it again. Too often people are shopping for a church and not necessarily for a church which teaches what the Bible says. Rather they are searching for a church that teaches what they want to believe about the Bible. I pray that you are a member of this church because you have been as the Bereans and that you will continue to be as the Bereans. Remember the Bereans, they checked out everything that Paul preached to make sure that it was according to the Word of God.
Fourth, we are asked if we promise to be active in our faith and faith life. “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” In this question we are asked if we promise to live active Christian lives. We promise to give ourselves first to the Lord. We promise to give of our first fruits, our time, and our talents in response to all the good gifts and blessings our Lord first gives to us. We are reminded that He gave His life, how are we going to respond?
Fifth, we are asked if we will give our life for our faith. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” Now, many of us have made this promise, but do we live by it? I must admit, I do not know, if my life depended on it, if I would confess my faith or not. If someone said to me, if you admit you are a Christian I will kill you, now tell me, “are you a Christian?” I do not know what I would say. I do not believe any of us can say for certain. However, I do pray, that if and when the time would come, that I would be able to stand firm in my confession of faith. So, these are the questions we were asked and the questions we will ask our confirmands.
Today, then, we come to celebrate. We celebrate what God in Christ has done for us. We celebrate that it is not we who have chosen Jesus, but it is Jesus who has chosen us. We celebrate that because of His great love for us, Jesus gave His life in order to earn forgiveness of sins for us through His death on the cross. We celebrate that He has given us faith through His Word and through Holy Baptism. We celebrate that He continues to strengthen us in faith, and He continues to work to keep us in faith until Christ comes again to take us from this earth to be with Himself in heaven. We celebrate that we cling to God’s promises and work, not our own fallible thoughts, trusting that as God is running the show in our lives we know we can depend on Him to get it right.
Today we come to rejoice. We rejoice in the public profession of faith of these two confirmands. We rejoice with them that by the power of the Holy Spirit working through them they have come to proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. They have come to proclaim that they believe the Bible is the Word of God. They have come to proclaim that they desire to be a part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and this congregation. They have come to proclaim that they intend, with God’s help, to lead faithful lives in the Christian faith and in this congregation. And they have come to proclaim that they will suffer all, even death, rather than deny their faith. And all this they confess with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Today we come to pray. We pray God’s blessings on these two young people, especially as they face the trials and temptations of this world. We must all admit, there are many young people from our own confirmation classes who have fallen away and are no longer a part of the body of Christ. And Satan’s temptations may even increase as they now make this their confession and profession of faith. Indeed, they will be tempted to put their trust in themselves and in human thoughts and reasoning instead of in God and His Word. They will be tempted with the business of the things of this world, with thoughts of power, fame and fortune, even tempted by family and friends as the devil, the father of lies, who hates all things of God will work tirelessly to lure them away from their faith. Thus, we pray that the Lord will strengthen these confirmands in their faith and resolve; that the Lord will help them to live according to their promises; so that finally, when their last hour has come they may stand before the Lord and He will say, “well done though good and faithful servant, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”
My prayer for each one of you gathered here today, whether you are family or friend, whether you are Lutheran or not, whether you have kept your confirmation promises or not, is that the Lord will fill you with His Holy Spirit, so that you might know God’s love for you so much that He gave His life for you so that even if you have not been faithful, with Him there is forgiveness and the opportunity to return to faithfulness; and if you have been weak in your faith and life that He would work in you a renewed spirit so that ultimately you might stand with these young people and with all the saints before the throne of God and declare, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.