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Lifelong Faithfulness

5/4/08

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There's an old joke that's not funny because it's too true. A church had a problem with mice. The leaders debated what to do. One said, "Poison them." Another said, "Trap them." The pastor said, "Confirm them; that way they won't come back." Jesus told us to expect this. In the parable of the sower, the Gospel doesn't bear fruit in 75% of those who hear it. Being confirmed is relatively easy. Staying faithful unto death is not. So you know what churches do? They try to scare you, challenge you; woo you with pizza, programs, and parties. Let me tell you girls you can be scared, challenged, or schmoozed into a building, but not into faith let alone lifelong faithfulness. It takes a miracle to get that done.

When you're talking miracles you're in God's realm and God has used some disgusting things to work His miracles. He has used spit, mud, a serpent made of bronze, and the crucifixion of His Son. More about that later. For now just see that when God works miracles He uses strange things. For example, He works the miracle of lifelong faithfulness using your anxieties.

You do have them. You will have them. What does the future hold for me? Where will I be? What will I be? Who will you be when you reach that 21st birthday I kept telling you I was teaching you for? And don't think your faith will make you immune to anxiety. Jesus said of faithful Martha that she was "anxious and troubled about many things." Far from faith making you immune, your faith will be one of the prime targets. The Devil, the world, and your sinful nature know only one mode against our believing: attack, attack, attack.

The first instinct when anxieties attack is to do what Martha did. Work harder, deal with it; settle it; solve it; overcome it; positive think your way out of it. What does God say? He says, "Humble yourself." But Mac Davis was right, "It's hard to be humble." No one can make themselves that. God must do it. And He does it by loading you with so many cares, anxieties, and worries that you scream, "Uncle! I give up," and so cast them on Him because He cares for you.

Who is the God who cares for you? Who is the God whose hands you are humbled under? Well, who's the God with hands? He who stretched out His hands to die on the cross. But before doing that He used those hands to keep God's Laws that you never have, can, or will keep perfectly. So when the anxieties of life multiply till you're at your wits end, let them drive you to the God with hands who worked day and night, so your anxious mind could find rest not in your doing, trying, or planning, but in what He did.

It works like this. A man visiting a shepherd notices one sheep is always close to the shepherd and has a limp. He asks the shepherd, "What happened to that sheep?" The shepherd says, "I broke its leg." Stunned, the man said, "Why would you do that?" "Because it liked to wander where I couldn't take care of it. Now it has to stay close." The Good Shepherd works the miracle of keeping us wandering sheep close by the anxieties of life and by the fears.

Today you publicly acknowledge that you belong to Jesus; His enemies are your enemies. That's a fearful thing. Jesus has always known you as His own in your Baptism. Today you announce this to the Devil Himself. The Devil is a fearful foe. In "A Mighty Fortress" we sing, "On earth is not his equal." That means neither you nor I are or ever will be.

The Devil like a roaring lion is on the prowl for your soul. He roars that you really belong to him because after all you are a sinner, have sinned, do sin, and will sin till the day you die. He plants His long fangs into your soul with that fearful question in the dark of night, "How do you know you're saved? How do you know you're going to heaven? Don't your sins prove otherwise?"

Don't answer. Don't make the mistake Eve did and dialogue with the Devil. Let the fears in the dark of night or in the day of despair drive you to the Light. Let the overpowering strength of the Devil drive you to the only Stronghold. Let the Devil's threats of damnation drive you to your only Salvation. The Lord is your Light and Salvation. The Lord is the Stronghold of your life, but He shines, saves, and protects from a cross.

Girls, girls, girls, we look for our Savior to save like Superman does: powerfully, in ways no one could deny. Everyone see His light; everyone see His salvation; everyone see His strength. We look for Superman, but Jesus comes to us as Clark Kent. Jesus is our Light when we see Him hanging on the cross for our sins in darkness. Jesus is our salvation from the Devil when we see Him handed over to the Devil to be crucified to pay for our sins. Jesus is our Stronghold when He hangs without strength dead on the cross. Under those outstretched hands the Devil can't touch you. What Law of God can he say you must keep since Jesus kept them all in your place? What punishment for sin can the Devil say you must suffer since Jesus suffered for them all already?

Lifelong faithfulness can't come from within you. Remember, Peter? He thought he could be faithful unto death and all it took was a question from a girl about your age, and he denied his faith instantly. You won't do any better than he. Your determination, your trying, your proud assertions will crumble in the face of one "boo" from the Devil; one threat from the world; one doubt from your sinful nature. So the Lord keeps you close by breaking your pride, your independence, your will to wander by the anxieties and fears of life. These are too many, too great, and too varied for you to overcome. Overcome by them, you're driven to find shelter, help, and hiding in the One who overcame them all by being overcome on the cross.

You're all bright girls, so you're asking, "What about the rest of that Epistle reading? What about, Resist the Devil, standing firm in the Faith." Ah hah! Now I have you right were I want you. You hear Scripture telling you to stand firm in your believing, to be like the little engine and think you can, but that's not what it says at all. It says, "Resist the Devil (not by believing) but by the Faith." The Faith is not the feeble, small thing going on in your heart. The Faith is the doctrine which has been passed down from generation to generation from the apostles and now to you.

Passing down the Faith, the doctrine, is what these last 3 years have been about, and I now I tell you the super secret part. The marvelous mystery not one of you could figure out, reason out, or prove had not our Lord told you. It's found in the 5 Bible verses I've passed down to you. You know how in a show the mystery is only revealed when all the pieces at last come together. That's how this is. Lifelong faithfulness is locked up in being humbled under God's hands by the anxieties of life; in being afraid of darkness, damnation, and the Devil's strength so that you run to Christ crucified for Light, Salvation, and a Stronghold. But all this comes together in the last verse I pass down to you. In the day of trouble the Lord promises He will keep you safe in His dwelling and hide you in His tabernacle.

Where does the Lord dwell? Where is His tabernacle? Jesus. "All the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Jesus," says Paul. "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us," says John. The super secret thing is this isn't in the past. Don't think that once Jesus ascended into heaven He no longer can be your dwelling or tabernacle on earth. No, He's still here, and I'm not talking about the fact that Jesus is everywhere. That's true, but that's true for all people whether they know it or not. The super secret is that Jesus' Body is still on earth; it's the Holy Christian Church.

You all memorized, "In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers [in Christ]." Right here is the dwelling that will keep you eternally safe in the day of trouble even if that day lasts weeks, months, years. Right here is where Jesus will hide you from sin, death, and the Devil. Right here is shelter not only from the Devil, but from the world and you own sinful nature.

Why? Because this Church is the Body of Christ. Was sin able to carry away the Body of Christ on the cross? Nope. It was there that He carried the sins of the world away. Was Death able to defeat the Body of Christ on the cross? Nope. He defeated Death as we saw on Easter. What about the Devil? Was he able to swallow the Body of Christ on the cross? He tried, but he had to spit Him out. In the Body of Christ, the Church, you are safe.

How do you know you're in the Body of Christ? Don't you dare even think, "Because I believe." The Devil doesn't even have to roar to defeat that one. All he has to do is whisper, "Do you really?" No, you're safe and sheltered in the Body of Christ, you're cared for by the God with hands, and the Lord is your light, salvation, and stronghold because of what He does. He baptized you into Himself; He absolves your sins, and He gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink for life and salvation. Though it was a pastor's hands that baptized you they nonetheless had nail holes. Though it is a pastor's lips absolving you, it is the voice of Jesus you hear forgiving you. And though it's my voice that speaks at the altar, it is Jesus who bodies and bloods you to Himself today.

This is the Faith I confirm you in not for today, not for tomorrow, but for life and for lifelong faithfulness. But it's not a matter of you keeping faith but the Faith keeping you. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Easter VII(20080504); Confirmation Verses