There was a time when I could never preach on Pentecost, per se, because I confirmed the youth of the congregation on Pentecost. The sermons, on that day, were aimed at Confirmation and those who were confirming their Baptismal vows on that day. I know that Pentecost was in May this year, but it has been on my mind as I sit down to write the June newsletter. Besides, I haven't had that sort of Confirmation in about a decade, so what is a week, give or take, in the face of that time span? The last time I had a Confirmation for youth was for two of the grandchildren of our members who had come to spend the summer with their grandparents, and ended up taking an intensive class - six hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks - with me to finally get confirmed. Those were the days.
Confirmation was always something I enjoyed. I looked forward to it each Fall, and looked forward to the end of the season each Spring. I enjoyed the young people. I encouraged questions. I forced them to do memory work, lots of memory work by comparison to many pastors I have talked with about this. I always figured that the more we crammed into their heads now, the more they would remember later. I was fully aware that most of them would quickly forget most of what they heard, and probably most of what they had memorized, so the little they retained (as a percentage of the whole) meant that the whole needed to be as big as possible, so that the percentage carried as much as possible into the future.
Confirmation Instruction was a joy at times, and a pain at others. Wrestling the memory work out of reluctant students whose parents no longer understood why it was important and no longer cared if their children did it was less than fun and often less than rewarding. Getting they young people ready and able to answer questions about their faith, and to recite the Catechism was the joy at the end of the struggle. I knew that once they learned all that stuff, the Holy Spirit could draw it out of them at the moment that they needed it most, whenever that might be. God can work with an empty bucket, and fill it, but He doesn't often choose to do so. Once the bucket has been filled, however, He can and does draw the right memories to the fore, and uses what they have to re-awaken, refresh, guide, and strengthen His children at the moments of their greatest need.
I miss those classes. I miss the young people. All the pain and frustration of those classes and those years are sweet and nostalgic in memory. Substitute teaching has allowed me to be among the youth, although I cannot share with them what I most enjoy teaching because I work in the public schools, and I must be careful to respect the church / state divide. All of those I have trained are now adults, some may even be young grandparents by now. I don't know how well what I taught endured or served them. I can only pray for them and for their blessing, and that they may have the faith they need at the time they have need of it.
All of this nostalgia is leading to the remembering of the day of Confirmation, and specifically to the vows that our young people spoke at their own Confirmation Service. Do you remember yours? I never up-dated my Confirmation service over the years with the new hymnals that came out. I avoided that because sharing the same old wording of those vows with our parents and grandparents seemed to me to re-enforce the continuity of the faith and of the church with young and old alike. We made the same promises as they did, for generations. We confessed the same faith and the same Lord, and we used the same words so that as they listened to us professing our faith and vowing our fidelity, they could remember when they did the same thing, and be refreshed in their promises.
I always reminded them that they were not really "being confirmed". They were, themselves, confirming the promises spoken for them by their parents and their sponsors at their Baptism. That was the first question I asked them in the service: Do you this day, in the presence of God and of this Christian congregation, confirm the solemn covenant which at your Baptism you made with the Triune God? There was the whole thing! Everything else I would ask them would simply rehearse the content of that covenant, piece by piece, and then invite them to deliberately announce their desire to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church and, of course, their home congregation.
Do you, then, renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?
Do you believe in God the Father?
Do you believe in God the Son?
Do you believe in God the Holy Ghost?
Those last three questions were answered with the words of the Apostles Creed, of course.
Do you desire to be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and of this congregation? I never had a student say "no" out loud, but many said so with their actions shortly after they pledged their everlasting faithfulness.
Do you hold all the canonical books of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, and the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Bible, as you have learned to know it from Luther's Small Catechism, to be the true and correct one? Sadly, I have watched many, some pastors included, deny this vow explicitly later in their lives, and counted this unfaithfulness as insignificant.
Having answered these questions so far, the Confirmand comes to the most significant vow of the service, after confirming their Baptismal vows: Do you also, as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than to fall away from it? What a piercing question! Most people seem to blow right by it as though it has no meaning. I always want to remind people that these vows are explicitly made before God. Many people seem unwilling to suffer High School without abandoning their confession. Then comes college, and job, and marriage, each offering another hurdle. The prescribed answer is, "I do so intend, with the help of God." When they fail, I am sure that the failure was not on the divine end.
Usually they seem to fail because they first forget the last vow, Finally, do you intend faithfully to conform all your life to the rule of the divine Word, to be diligent in the use of the means of grace, to walk as it becometh the Gospel of Christ, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to the Triune God, even unto death? They answered, "I do so intend, by the grace of God". Their original intention may have been sincere, but the performance of the vow failed. I suspect that it is often because the ones taking the vows did not pay attention to the details, and forgot the "diligent" use of the means of grace, while facing a promise that they acknowledged could only be kept by the aid of the grace of God.
Let me be quick to say that I have not kept this vow perfectly either. My sin accuses me with the first promise in this vow: to conform my entire life to the rule of the divine Word. Frankly, there have been moments when I did not even try to discipline my behavior, although I am not particularly proud of that fact. That is why being diligent in the use of the means of grace is so important. Part of my confession of faith is to acknowledge the truth of the Law. I am a sinner. I don't even deserve the grace of God or any good thing. But I also confess the grace of God, that is, His forgiveness, and His choice of me as His child, demonstrated in that He has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me by His grace, just as He does the entire Christian Church on earth. The means of grace, both the Word and the Sacraments, are the portal to the grace of God and to it being applied to me. I hear about my forgiveness in the Word, and I received it each week in the Sacrament.
God brings to memory the promises spoken before His altar, and refreshes in me the sincere intention to do what only He can truly make happen. But some do not avail themselves of the opportunities presented to them to come to that "portal" and receive those gifts. In some cases it is foolishness and youthful optimism, you know, that idea that the young are somehow shielded from danger, "bullet-proof" as it were. They take faith and grace and blessing for granted, ignore it for a while, and without realizing it, they lose all three. Someone should have warned them while they were endangering themselves, but to whom would they have listened?
In other cases, the example of their parents led them to the unconscious (or unconsidered) attitude that church is not all that important, or that their church (the Lutheran Church) is not all that distinct or unique, or significant. That attitude is voiced so often by parents whose children have abandoned the confession of their youth for an Arminian confession (no sacraments, no baptism) or a community church that thrives on a sense of religion without having any commitment to any particular confession of faith. So many parents of such former Lutherans like to say, "Well, at least they are going to church!" Sometimes they will even add the explicit comment, "Where they go doesn't make any difference. After all, we are all trying to get to the same place."
Sadly, these parents often made the same vows, "to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than to fall away from it". Obviously, they did not pay any mind to that vow either. Where one attends "church" is vitally significant. Not everything that calls itself a Christian church is. Let's face it, not everything that calls itself "Lutheran" is Lutheran. There are "Lutheran" churches that will not pray the Lord's Prayer, will not speak the Apostles Creed - or the Nicene, some will not confess their sins and seek to hear the absolution. Some will not speak the absolution! There are even "LINO's" (Lutheran in name only) that will not confess Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the only name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved! How much worse might it be if the "church" will not take God at His Word and Baptize for the remission of sins, or trust the words of Christ and serve the Lord's Supper and clearly confess that it is the body and the blood of our Lord? And if they have departed that far from God's Word, what else might they be teaching in place of the Gospel, or mixed in so that the Gospel is no longer really the Gospel in their midst?
Where that much unbelief reigns, you will often find other error as well. Such churches seek "justice" on earth but not the grace of God. Some deny the life to come in favor of their equality agenda in this life. Some are seeking just to feel good about themselves here and now, and marketing that as "gospel". The message of such churches boils down to this: "It Doesn't Matter". Whether the pastor is a man or a woman, it doesn't matter. Whether the preacher is gay or straight, it doesn't matter. Whether the church preaches pure truth or mixes in human opinion and even the teachings of other, non-Christian religions, it doesn't matter. Whether the church teaches or merely 'motivates' or 'entertains', it doesn't matter.
But it does matter. If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Where you worship and what you believe really does matter. You each said so when you became a Lutheran, and spoke your vows, even if they were not the old version out of the TLH Agenda. You said that the teachings (doctrine) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church were the very truth of the Word of God. You promised that you would stand firm in them against all pressure and even in the face of death. God said that they that believe the truth and are baptized shall be saved, and those who do not believe (baptized or not) will be condemned.
So. How are you doing with those vows? Not perfect, I am sure. I am guessing that some of you haven't even thought about them in a while. My goal was not to make you feel guilty or uncomfortable. I preach Christ and grace and forgiveness. My goal is simply to get you to think about them again. Remember your confirmation, and your Baptism, and rejoice, and re-dedicate yourself to the pursuit of your faithfulness to those vows. I know that none of us will arrive there (perfection) until Christ brings us to eternal glory in His heaven, but faithfulness is that to which God calls us (Rev. 2:10), and where we pray His grace will lead us!
Yours in the Lord,
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