What Is This?
What is going on today? O we all know that this is Confirmation Sunday, but what is really going on?
This is a beginning for Daniel Harris, our young confirmand, not a end. To him, as to all confirmands, it can feel like an end. Daniel has been in Confirmation for 3 years. For 3 years he has studied, memorized, tested, and gone to class. For 3 years, he has had to miss basketball, baseball, and soccer practices, games, and tournaments. Now he is through with those weekday classes that were always getting in the way.
But Confirmation is not graduation. When you graduate from something, you have completed a course. You are done with one thing, and you're ready for new and different things. But Confirmation is a starting ceremony not a graduating one. In some places in the early church, when people were confirmed, after they were given Communion, they were given milk to symbolize that they were newborn babies who were to feed on the pure milk of the word. Now they were ready to delve into the wonderful mysteries of the Christian Faith. Now they could really begin to study the Word.
Confirmation marks the beginning of Daniel's full relationship with the Holy Spirit. But don't misunderstand; Confirmation isn't a Sacrament. It's not something instituted by Christ nor is the promise of forgiveness attached to it. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has always been attached to this rite. Something like we say in our service has usually been said to the confirmand, "God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give thee His Holy Spirit." Doesn't Daniel have the Holy Spirit already? Hasn't he had Him since Baptism? How else but by the Holy Spirit could Daniel believe and confess his faith? Yes, Daniel has the Holy Spirit, but so did the disciples in our Gospel reading. Yet, Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem till the Holy Spirit clothed them with power.
Today Daniel gets "more" of the Holy Spirit. Do you know how come? Because today for the first time we give him the Holy Communion. Daniel has had the Holy Spirit since his Baptism. The Holy Spirit has been teaching him through the Word and forgiving his sins through Absolution for 14 years. Daniel's Christian faith was begun and maintained by the Holy Spirit operating through Baptism and the Word. Today, the third leg of the tripod is put in place. Today, the last means by which the Holy Spirit works in his life is available to him. Today, Daniel experiences the Holy Spirit working through not just Water, not just Words, but through Bread and Wine too. Today, the Jesus who covered him in Baptism and forgives him in Absolution gives to him His Body and His Blood.
What a beginning! However, Confirmation becomes an end for many people. For many people Confirmation becomes exactly what we pray against in today's Collect. It becomes something they merely profess with their lips but do not show forth in their lives. Although they professed, as Daniel will, that they would rather die than fall away from this Faith, you rarely see them in Church once they have been confirmed.
Don't be fooled Daniel. Saving faith does not exist apart from the Means of Grace. Saving Faith does not and cannot exist apart from the Holy Spirit working and maintaining it through Baptism, Word, or Holy Communion. Yes, you are professing the faith today with your own lips, but you can only profess what you do because of the Holy Spirit working in you through the Means of Grace. Cut yourself off from them by not attending services and you have cut the cord to your power supply. Daniel you can only be saved by being connected to your Baptism, the Absolution, and Christ's Holy Communion. No matter how much people profess to be Christians without these Means of Grace know that on the Last Day Christ Himself is going to say to them: "Depart from me. I never knew you." Christ only knows His sheep in Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion.
Many if not most people confirmed in the Christian faith fall away from it. "Narrow the gate that leads to salvation, and broad is the path that leads to destruction," says Jesus. He goes on to say that there are more on the broad path than on the narrow one. In the early church, confirmands were anointed with a mixture of olive and balsam oils. Do you know what the olive oil was to remind the confirmand of? An athlete. In ancient times athletes were anointed with olive oil at sporting events. The early church was reminding her newly confirmed that faithfulness is a constant struggle. The devil, the world, and your own sinfulness will always pull you away from the Means of Grace. Daniel, you are going to have to struggle against it your whole life just as an athlete must always train to stay in shape.
What I just said Daniel you know is Law. While it's true struggling is necessary, there is no comfort in this fact. As you know, the comfort can only come from the Gospel. The Gospel says that God's plan, will, and desire is that none of His sheep fall away. The early church conveyed this to Her confirmands too. Not only did they anoint them with olive oil to remind them to struggle and fight to stay in the faith as a good athlete, but they anointed them with balsam oil because that's what brides were anointed with. Balsam oil was to remind the newly confirmed that they were part of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Scripture shows Christ, the Groom, doing everything necessary to save His Bride. He sacrificed His life for her. He washes Her with water and the word. He feeds Her with His body and blood.
Daniel as a member of the Bride of Christ you can depend on Christ to do everything necessary to save you. You can count on the fact that everlasting life is yours completely. Remember how I said that in some churches the newly confirmed were given milk after their first Communion? Well they were also given honey. This was to remind them that the Promise Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, was theirs. Yes, Daniel in the Jesus who clothed you in Baptism, forgives you in Absolution, and comes to you in Communion all of heaven is yours. As Jesus says in Luke 12:32, "Fear not little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Daniel you know how it is when you have a special gift for someone you love. You can't wait to give it to them. You wish their birthday was today just so you can give them your gift. Well that's the way Jesus says your heavenly Father feels towards you. He can't wait to give you the kingdom. He's jumping up and down right now saying, "I can't wait to give Daniel My kingdom." Would someone you can't wait to give a present to have to be afraid that you weren't really going to give it? So little do you have to be afraid that God won't give you His kingdom.
God's only plan is to save you Daniel. You don't have to be afraid of missing out. But sinners do get scared. That's why the Confirmation verse you picked is so fitting. The Lord tells you, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." Look how God systematically takes away your fears. First, He promises to give you strength to stay in the faith. But your heart says, "I can never be made strong enough." So God says, "Okay, then I'll help you Myself." But still your heart says, "I'm afraid I need more than just help." So then God says, "I tell you what. I'm not just going to strengthen you and help you, I'm going to hold you up Myself." Who can knock down what God holds up?
God's plan is to save you for all eternity. In Confirmation, you confess what God has done for you and will continue to do for you, and you profess that you intend to remain faithful till death itself. Does that mean you will never sin, never stumble, never fall? Daniel your knowledge of Bible stories should tell you otherwise. Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul and more should testify to you that all those in Christ do sin, do stumble, and do fall.
Your Lord knows you will too. That's why He sent His apostles out into all the world to preach repentance and forgiveness. Always go to a Church where these two things are clearly preached. You will need to be called to repentance throughout your life because you are going to sin. The Law is going to have to make you terrified because of your sins. But right after you hear the Law the Lord wants you to hear the Gospel. Right after you see your sins the Lord wants you to see your Savior. But don't just go to a Church that shows you both, go to one where the Gospel predominates.
Daniel while the Law curses and condemns the person who sins but once, don't think the Lord of the Law does that. If with God it was 1 strike or 2 or 3 or even 2 and 3 hundred strikes and you were out, He would not have commanded that forgiveness be preached to ALL nations. You cannot out sin the Lord's forgiveness. Christ went to the cross bearing the sins of the world. Christ bled, suffered, and died for the sins of the world; therefore, He has a whole world of forgiveness. If all the sins in the world are not too much for Christ to forgive, then certainly yours will never be.
However, when you do sin it might not seem that way. In fact, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh will make sure that it doesn't look that way to you. These will do to you what they did to Job and Judas. They will magnify your sin and make it seem unforgivable. They will lead you to despair over your sins. But take heart, St. John assures you that you have an Advocate with the Father. You have Somebody who speaks to the Father in your defense - Jesus Christ the Righteous One.
Now what do you suppose Jesus Christ the Righteous One, the One who is the atoning sacrifice for not only your sins but the sins of the whole world says to the Father? Do you think He says, "Daniel will try harder; give him another chance?" Or, "Daniel really didn't do anything all that bad?" That's how the world and human reason think. That's how you and I are always tempted to think. That's why we need Jesus to defend us. He doesn't plead what you might do or have done. Jesus pleads what He has done. He holds up His pierced hands before the Father and says, "See Father, I died for Daniel's sin." Jesus gets grace, forgiveness, and blessings for you Daniel by pleading what He has done. And since what He has done is perfect, the Father cannot deny Him.
Confirmation is a time when you pledge to be faithful to your Lord till death. But you make this pledge based not on what you have done or will do but based on what Jesus did for you and will do for you. He called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. He baptized you. He forgives you. He nourishes you with His Body and Blood. True you believe it, but faith too is a gift. Faith isn't something you do but something God does in you. But not only is faith a gift so is faithfulness. That's why in the Collect for today we pray for God to give us the will to show forth in our lives what we profess with our lips. Unless God gives us the will, we can't have it.
And where does God give us the will? Yup, through Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. Confirmation is that point where all three are working in your life for the first time. Now Daniel you're running on all 3 engines. How far will you go? All the way to heaven itself. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin Texas
Confirmation Sunday, Easter III (5-7-00)