Put Up, Shut Up, Give Up, Open Up
The Third Sunday of Easter is a very fitting time to have confirmation. The Collect appointed for today says in part, "Give us the will to show forth in our lives what we profess with our lips." How fitting is that, huh? Well boys you know what that means in plain blunt language? If you don't put up Christ in your lives, then you had better shut up about Him. I ask you: who among us has ever put up Christ sufficiently in our lives? Who has ever shown the Christ we praise with our mouths enough in his life?
Yes if you don't put up in your day to day life the ways and words of Christ Jesus, then you had best cease speaking about Him. But you know boys there is something worse than even this. There is a worse sin then not showing forth with your life the Jesus you profess with your lips. Do you know what it is? I'm sure you do. It's claiming to be without sin. It's claiming that you do adequately show forth in life the Jesus you speak about. This is the sin of self-righteousness and it is the most serious sin you can ever commit because this sin keeps you away from the Lord's House, away from your Baptism, away from hearing the Word, away from the Body and Blood of Jesus that you have spent years of your life preparing to receive.
Run, run, run away from the sin of self-righteousness Adam, Drew, and Nolan. It's true that we parents expect you to be upright young men. We expect you to be kind, helpful, respectful, and useful, but we don't expect that you won't be sinners. Look at what St. John says in the Epistle: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." If ever there comes a Sunday in your lives that you wake up and say to yourself, "I don't need to go to Church today," you are deceiving yourself. Why? Because you're a sinner and sinners need forgiveness and forgiveness is found, where? In Baptism, Absolution and Holy Communion.
It will never be true to think at anytime in your life, "I'm not a sinner." Or, "I've done enough." If you do, you not only show yourself to be a liar but you make Jesus Himself one. That's what St. John says, "If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives." See how big time serious the sin of self-righteousness is? Not putting up a Christian life is sinful, but it is far more sinful to claim you have not sinned because you have put up enough of a Christian life. That's calling Jesus a liar. Jesus says we can live before Him only because of His grace, forgiveness, mercy, not at all because of our Christian life.
You know what your problem is boys? You are conscientious. You never wanted to disappoint me, and you felt bad those times you did. The worse thing I could say to you wasn't, "You have to write," but, "You disappoint me." Now it's good to be conscientious. It's good that you wanted to please your pastor. But if you are ever going to open up and be mouthpieces of Jesus, you must give up. People who have a desire to please others are constantly tempted to believe the only way they can feel good about themselves is if they are pleasing others. The problem with this is that either a) They think they do please others, and therefore God, by what they do and that makes them self-righteous. Or b) They think they can never ever please anyone, God included, and so they despair.
Boys you've heard me say this hundreds of times: Your problem is not that you don't please this or that person or even God; your problem is not that you don't put up enough good works or Christ-like living. Your problem is sin. Not this or that sin that you can easily pluck out of your heart and throw away, but a sinful, fallen heart. Think of it this way. Imagine you have a plot of ground you wish to make into a garden. You dig it up, and find rocks. So you start picking out the rocks, and throwing them out of the way. First you pick the big ones that are obvious, but these become less and less, so you move on to ever smaller ones. Finally, you have picked out all of the rocks in your plot of ground. You stick the shovel in now expecting to find nothing but rock free soil, and instead you hit solid rock. It's not an individual rock but the bedrock that is underneath your entire garden. Bedrock that you'll never, ever be able to move or clean out.
That my boys is an illustration of your problem. The rocks in the garden represent all the sinful things that you can detect about yourself. Since you all are so sincere in your desire to please, you do try to pick up those individual sins and cast them out of your life. Now if you think by doing so you're becoming more and more of a Christian and less and less of a sinner, what you're really becoming is self-righteous. On the other hand, if when you hit the bedrock of sinfulness after trying to pick out all the rocks you conclude it is useless to try and live the Christian life at all, you've fallen into the dark sin of despair. This is serious too.
When it happens one day that your shovel hits the bedrock of sin that lies at the bottom of every fallen heart, I don't want you to despair boys; I want you to give up. Give up thinking you can solve the problem of your sinfulness by throwing the rocks of sin out of your heart. O for a while you may think your gaining ground and getting better. Why look how free of obvious rocks your garden is? But then you'll stick the shovel in and "clank." You can pick stones for a million years and won't even touch this; you can pound and chip away at that solid mass of rock and you won't do a thing to remove it. You may think your sins are manageable, addressable, controllable by you, but your sinfulness, your fallenness is not. That great slab of bedrock is too huge, too heavy and it will certainly drag you to hell.
So give up. All the disciples eventually got to this point. Peter tried and tried to be the best, bravest and most faithful disciple, but he found his sinfulness was too great. He finally admits after Easter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that the determination and love of Jesus that he thinks he knows he has mean nothing. It all depends on what Jesus knows. The rest of the disciples after Good Friday and before Easter did nothing in the way of being disciples. They had given up. They didn't go to the Church of their day to worship and pray. They didn't sit in their house singing hymns of comfort. They were helpless, powerless to be anything but sinners who had deserted their Jesus in His hour of need.
Give up Nolan, Drew, and Adam. Give up thinking that you can ever be anything more than the poor, miserable sinner you confess yourself to be every single Sunday of your life. Give up thinking that there is just this or that stone to throw out of the garden of your Christian life. Give up thinking you have kept any law of God. Give up making promises to God to do better or excuses to God why you haven't. Give up and come to the conclusion that you are an ungodly sinner. Give up saying anything other than what you sing every Sunday in the Kyrie, "Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy."
Jesus was put up on a cross for sinners boys. Not for holy people, not for people who try their best, not for people who have excuses for their sins, but for people who have nothing to plead before God but their sins and His mercy. Stick your shovel into your heart. Hear that "clank" as it hits the bedrock of sin that is underneath all you do, think and say. Hear it but don't despair. Christ Jesus went to the cross not just bearing this or that sin of yours but your sinfulness. On Christ, is where God took out all of His wrath against sins. On Christ, is where God was satisfied that sins were paid for. Look upon Christ crucified and see that your sins and sinfulness were there. Look an see Christ crucified as the answer to that stone slab in your heart that you cannot move, chip, or hide.
You see boys while you will be conscious of that slab of sinfulness all your days and especially on your sick bed, death bed, and in the hard times of life, God your heavenly Father is not. O what wonderful, joyous news that is! While you can feel the weight of that rock, sense it's hardness, and even be certain that it's dragging you relentlessly to hell, God says it's not. In God's eyes that solid slab of rock was placed on Christ, He died for it. His blood gushed out of His veins and covered that rock completely in God's eyes. That's why God the Father could raise Him from the dead. Jesus had finished paying for and covering the bedrock of your sinfulness. He raised Jesus to spread that news.
So it works like this. The fact that we don't put up in our lives the type of life Christ wants us to lead, leads us to shut up about Christ. Try and try as we might we can't put up a sufficiently holy life to feel good about talking about Christ. The only solution is to give up. Give up thinking we could ever purify our hearts or lives enough to please God by them because after all our efforts the huge slab of our sinfulness remains. Give up trying to put up a sufficiently holy life and instead see that Jesus was put up high upon a cross in your place. His blood runs down into your lives covering your sinfulness and leaving you holy, righteous, forgiven of all your sins forever before God.
Drew, Nolan, Adam the more you dwell on what I just said, the more you will open up. Think of the Bible stories. You all know your Bible stories well. All of you know that the disciples were nothing more than a quivering lump of fear. They had not the strength, the willingness, the ability to even follow Jesus faithfully let alone open up and speak about Him. Nothing in the Gospels up to Easter Sunday would give you any indication that the disciples could open up and do anything but sin some more. Yet what do we find? We find them after Pentecost risking life and limb as they opened up and spoke the amazing Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name.
You know all that, but did you notice when Jesus speaks to them on Easter evening about their opening up He states it as a matter of fact? He doesn't command them to do this or that. He doesn't make this an issue of the Law. Jesus merely states to them what will happen. "Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations." Jesus doesn't tell them, "You had better open up and speak," but, "You will open up and speak."
And that's my final word to you 3 as your confirmation instructor. You boys whom Christ Jesus has reached with His Law and raised up with His Gospel will open up in His name as surely as a flower in the bud blossoms. You will open up and show the glories of your Savior by coming to Church, by singing His praises, by receiving His Body and Blood into your body and blood. You boys have learned well the truths of God' Word, and there is no turning back now. He who first claimed you in your Baptism has renewed His claim through His Word, and you are hooked. Like the apostles did in Acts 4 you must confess, "We are not able not to speak about Jesus!" Ah, but I know you 3, you immediately think, "But I will fail to speak sometimes." Of course, you will; you're sinners. But when that happens, you'll return to the font, the pulpit, and the altar, and in doing so you'll be opening up and speaking very loudly about the grace of God that is yours in Jesus. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Easter III (5-3-03), I John 1:1-10; 2:1-2; Luke 24:36-49