Too Much To Believe
Confirmation students almost always complain that there is too much material to memorize. Actually, the amount of material a confirmation student is expected to memorize has gone down over the years. What has not gone down, what has stayed at dizzily high amounts is what we expect our confirmation students to believe. There is not too much to memorize in confirmation, but there is certainly too much to believe.
You don't believe me? We expect you confirmation students to believe what Jesus plainly says in this text, that He knows you. How can that be? There are billions of people in the world. How is it possible that Jesus knows you? Don't all people just blend into a nameless, faceless mass before the Lord Jesus? It seems like they would, but you've been around people who raise cattle and know that while all the cows pretty much look alike to you, the owner knows them all individually. What seems impossible for you is easy for the owner. Likewise, what seems impossible for sheep to imagine is easy for the Good Shepherd.
Of course, no sooner do I feel comforted by the fact that Jesus does indeed know me personally among the billions of people in this world, then I am confronted by the fact that He must know all about me. That's frightening! Jesus knows every move I make, every word I speak, every thought I have. Nothing about me is hidden from Him. This bad thing, that bad word, this bad thought, Jesus knows them all. And He is not surprised by them. He is the One who reveals to us that we are sinful from our mother's wombs. He is the one who says to us that He knew us in our mother's wombs. Yet, still He came into Mary's womb to bear our sinfulness and so redeem us.
You know how some of the girls this year had things written on their hands that were important to them? I'm sure nothing they wrote there disgusted them or even irritated them. Well God says that He has engraved you on the palms of His hands. Where else but on the cross are God's hands engraved? The wounds of Jesus which bled to cover your sins remind God of you. You can be sure God is not disgusted or irritated by them. You can be sure your Lord knows and remembers you fondly when He looks at those wounds.
Jesus knows you, Brigid and Caleb, and knows you in mercy and love. That's too much to believe, but wait there's more. Jesus says that He gives to you eternal life and you will never perish. You are being confirmed in view of your death. We are going to ask you if you "intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?" Then we're going to ask you if you intend to remain true to the Triune God in thought, word and deed "even unto death?"
We ask you these things because we know what Scripture tells us: that death is at work in you because of sin. Sin is what will cause you to grow grey, wrinkled, bald and feeble. Right now you can't wait to grow up. You delight in each new inch. You want to shave, to drive, to be an adult. What you don't realize now is that this is an irreversible process. The changes you delight in now will one day be heralds of dying, decay and death to you. While right now you can't wait to be old, one day, much sooner than you'd ever dream, you will be thinking about what you can do to stay young.
The truth is, there is nothing you can do. You are going to grow old and die. We know that and so we confirm you with a view towards your death. But then Jesus ruins this all by saying, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish." That's just too much to believe. Everything, everyone dies, but here Jesus says to you two, "I give you everlasting life and you will never perish." How can Jesus say this? Because He is life itself. Didn't Jesus say, "I am the way the truth and the LIFE?" Didn't Jesus say, "I came that they might have abundant life?" Didn't Jesus say, "Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave the Son to have life in Himself?" The body and blood of Jesus is life giving says the Scripture. In a few minutes, we are going to give you that body and blood in the Holy Communion.
You will eat and drink life and not only life but eternal salvation as Luther says in the Catechism, and, therefore, you will never perish. O your body will age, decay and die, but that will not be the end of you. When you breathe your last, it won't be the last breath you will ever take. When your heart stops, that will not be the last time it ever beats. When you close your eyes for the last time, that doesn't mean they will never be opened again. 'Bodied and blooded' to Christ through the Holy Communion you are joined with Him so you will go with Him through the grave and on into everlasting life.
Jesus knows Brigid and Caleb. Jesus gives Brigid and Caleb never ending life. That it too much to believe, but there is still more. The Father from all eternity has given you to Jesus, and nothing can snatch you out of His hand. You know Confirmation sermons, even some of my own, often take the tone of exhortations to hang on to Jesus. That of course is a Biblical exhortation, but it is impossible.
Listen to some of the things that Paul mentions in Romans 8 that will try to separate you from Christ Jesus: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, peril, war, angels, and devils. Do you think you can hold fast to Jesus in the tribulations and distresses that are going to come upon you as adults when you go to pieces over things that come upon you as a teenager? Do you think you can hold fast to Jesus when someone is persecuting you with sticks and stones when you are hurt so badly when someone calls you names? Do you really think you will boldly confess Jesus in famine, peril, and war, when you don't in school? Do you think you can hold on to Jesus in the face of deceiving angels and devils when you are so easily led astray by TV, movies, and music?
Brigid and Caleb there is no guarantee you will hold on to Jesus no matter how much I exhort you, how much I encourage you, how much I plead with you. I can make you want to; I can make you try to, but I can't empower you to do it through encouragement or exhortation. If you are to have any certainty of salvation, it can only be in Jesus holding on to you. Jesus held on to you in the face of sin, death and the devil. All He had to do is let you go and He could have come down from that cross. All He had to do is drop you from the top of the temple, and Satan would have tempted Him no more. All He had to do is let you die eternally and death never would have swallowed Him. But He would have none of that. Not even nails through His hands could make Him let go of you. So if sin, death and the devil could not make Jesus drop you, you can rest assured that neither tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, peril, war, or devils can snatch you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
There's just too much to believe here: Jesus knows you. Jesus gives to you eternal life and you will never perish. And Jesus has you in His hand and nothing in all creation can snatch you out of it. But none of these are as hard to believe as the last thing that Jesus promises you. "I and the Father are one."
The Bible speaks of God dwelling in light unapproachable. The Bible speaks of God hiding Himself behind thick clouds. The Bible speaks of God being a consuming fire. People love to talk about this God; this God who is awesome and mighty and powerful and mysterious; this God who hurls lightening bolts; this God who spins off devastating tornadoes; this God who touches the earth with His little finger and it cracks wide open. There is nothing wrong in speaking and thinking of this God. The Scriptures themselves do. But what happens when the lightening bolt hits your house? What happens when the tornados is heading for your loved ones? What happens when the ground beneath your feet is shaking and quaking?
This is when the promise of Jesus that He and the Father are One is so important. You don't have to go to a God who is a consuming fire when lightening is flashing all around you threatening to consume you with fire. You don't have to go to a God who dwells in light unapproachable when the dark clouds of life threaten to engulf you. You don't have to go to the God who wraps Himself in thick clouds when the thick storm clouds of life roll in on you. You can go to Jesus and know that the God who appears so unapproachable and threatening is no different than your Jesus.
The One who gently kissed your head with the forgiving waters of Holy Baptism is the same One who directs the lightening flashes. The One who freely and joyfully sends your sins away from you in Holy Absolution is the same One who sends the storm clouds. The One who gives you His Body in Bread and who gives you His Blood in Wine is the same one who quakes the earth and roils the sea. You will be so tempted in times of crises to look for the God who hides Himself and you will have friends like Job did who will point you to such a God, but you see Jesus who is the very face of God. You, like Job, can be sure your Redeemer lives even when you feel certain you are going to die.
"I and the Father are one," Jesus says to you today Brigid and Caleb. These words will remain true and valid even when you are old and grey. They will remain firm and certain even when you are sick and shaky. Jesus wants you to fix your attention on His nail scarred hands, on His thorn encircled brow, on His wounded side knowing that the God who suffered this for you cannot have anything evil in His hands, in His head, or in His heart towards you.
You are being confirmed on Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel reading speaks of us being Jesus' sheep. The Introit is the 23rd Psalm from which your confirmation verses come. The Church has always gloried in Jesus being the Good Shepherd, but they have also gloried in Jesus being the Lamb of God.
In the Book of Revelation it never shows you God in all of His majesty and glory. Even when Revelation speaks of the throne of God, where you would expect to see Him, it shows you the Lamb before the throne. On top of the ciborium, that this the place where the Bread of Holy Communion is kept, it is traditional to have the figure of a Lamb laying down. This is the symbol for the suffering, burden bearing Jesus. Your God is both your Good Shepherd able to lead you through the valley of the shadow of death and He is the Lamb of God who has borne your sins and burdens. These are the pictures God wishes you to have of Him.
You thought as you were going through confirmation that it was too much to memorize. Really it is too much to believe. It ought to be. If our God only said things that were obvious and expected, He wouldn't be much of a God. But He says things and makes promises that are way beyond what anyone could make up and that only the Holy Spirit could make a person believe. This is why everyone in heaven, as the Epistle reading shows, falls down and worships God: He not only has worked out our salvation, but He has worked faith in our heart in things that are too much to believe. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter IV (5-6-01) John 10: 22-30