Sunday, May 22, 2011

Now What?

This sermon was preached on the occasion of the confirmation for
six of our children at Bethany.  May their tribe increase!
But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.  My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.   Psalms 31:14 - 15 (KJV)
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  John 14:12 (KJV)
A confirmation student was asked to list the Ten Commandments in any order. He wrote, "3, 6, 1, 8, 4, 5, 9, 2, 10, 7."   (At least he knew there were 10!)
For parents and long-time church members, the graduation of a confirmation class is a reminder of how quickly time passes.  It is also a sobering graphic of how God’s ministry through the church is more like a river than a rock.  Time passes like a flowing river; you can never stand still in it – can never swim upstream.  And the second you pause to survey the movement of a culture, or a generation you are swept away by future shock.
From the view of confirmands, today marks the end of months of study and the beginning of “full” membership.  These young people are moving from the baptized to professing membership of our church.  With full privilege comes full responsibility.  I’d like us to think about that responsibility joyfully today.
This is a Decision of Faith
The whole concept of faith is all about trust.  Faith is a “placement” of oneself in someone else’s care.  It’s like the trust exercise where you fall backwards, trusting someone else to catch you in his arms.  Notice how the Psalm text tells us this:
But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.  My times are in thy hand:
Your decision to profess your faith in God today is a statement that says you are in God’s hand…and you choose that; you want that.  It is a decision of faith!    
There are many aspects to this faith; let me just dwell on two of them.  First, this decision of yours is a decision to have:
Faith in God
This decision involves what we commonly call “being saved”.  It is about life eternal.  The first questions you will be asked in the confirmation liturgy are if you vow to renounce evil, reject sin and confess Christ.  It means you know you’re a sinner and only Jesus Christ can save a sinner like you.  It takes a decision of faith to take that stand – to trust Christ that much!
But this decision also makes a bold choice about how you will invest your life.  Your vow today means you will daily exercise your faith in God in at least these five ways:
Your prayers – praying for God’s wisdom and blessing on your neighbor as yourself
Your presence – Being there for others, and regularly attending worship.
Your gifts – Material support of God’s church and His work in the world.
Your service – Ready to help…serving means you get a little dusty helping others!
Your witness – In short, this means your entire life is a text message, a tweet to the whole world that God is good, and you are his.
That sounds like a tall order – and it really is.  The Christian life isn’t a simple thing; it can be really tough.  That’s why God gave us each other in the church.  You were never intended to do this alone.  Take a look around at all the other people in this building – they will also participate in your vows today.  They will be renewing their own vows with you – remembering their baptism, and that they have a commitment to you and each other to love Christ together, and serve him together – to support each other and keep our faith vital and alive. 
This is the purpose of the church – to be knit together and grow strong together.  We are the body of Christ…each part loves and helps the others.
The second part of this decision of faith, besides faith in God is:
Faith in Good
The goodness of God can make a difference in this world.  God has called us to mission and ministry.  Mission is bringing the Good News of Christ to everyone.  Ministry is reaching-out to others with the love of Christ as you see a need.
There is a lot of evil in our world.  You have grown up hearing about wars around the world, and about people doing unspeakable things to hurt one another.  It’s hard to have faith in good when you see so little of it.  And that’s the hard part of the life you’re vowing-into today; you have to be different than what you’ve seen in the world.  You have to be Christ’s picture of good – turn your back on the evil.  And that’s costly – have your eyes open about that – living the Christian life can mean sacrifice – it WILL mean sacrifice!
At this point in our discussion most people would have a little question on their minds….
How & Why Should I Live Like This?

The Why

…is easy.  God gave us a simple reason – there is brokenness all around us.  In the book of Genesis we read of Adam and Eve’s sin; every person since has had the same problem.  That is the reason Jesus came – to reconcile a sinful world and mankind back to relationship with God.  Our life of faith in Christ is a response to God’s forgiveness – we love because He loved us.
The fact is that we are accountable to God for the life we live.  We are (as we also find in Genesis) our brother’s keeper.  We not only love God with all our heart, mind, soul, strength and life – we love our neighbor too…that’s why we live a life of mission and ministry.

The How

…is a lot more difficult to hold up to the light.  There is something of a mystery about how you live a life of faith.  In our text Jesus said if we believe in Him we would do His work….in short, it is faith that does faith’s work.  Jesus came to love people…that was “His work”.  For us to do the same, we must walk every day by faith.  It’s a matter of waking up every day and asking, Father, where is somebody’s brokenness you want me to love today?
Many people have said young folks like you are the church of tomorrow.  I think that’s wrong; you’re the church of today.  Here’s why:  those of us who are old enough to be your grandparents have more than half or even three-quarters of our life behind us.  Our generation is so very different than your generation.  If your generation is going to know Jesus and come to God in faith, YOU have the best chance to reach them.  You multi-task like them, text like them, do homework while listening to an iPod and watching TV and talking on the phone.  We “old folks” have a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time!
Some people say things are so different now – the church is on the way out.  How can you reach young people when they’re lives revolve around everything but church?  Here is the key – people are still broken.
If I’m a person whose friend or relative just died, I’m broken; someone who will cry with me is much more important to me than a ball game.
If I’ve just struggled through a divorce, I’m broken; a true friend is more precious to me than any job promotion.
If I am new in town and don’t know anyone, someone who will take the time to get to know me will make me forget my video games.
How do you live the life of faith and do the work of faith?  Love people in Jesus’ name.  That’s what these confirmation vows are – you’re being commissioned through this church to love, and help all of us to love.
Father, help us to love like that, and help each other love like that.  We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] The Lutheran online

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