Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Churches, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Pentecost Day (Confirmation Sunday) + May 20, 2018
Text: John 14:23-31
It’s a beautiful thing to witness young men and women on Confirmation Day confess their faith publicly. The flowers are beautiful, they look handsome in their best duds, but the really wonderful thing, the true miracle of the day is seen in response to the words of Jesus: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
What’s not so beautiful is the statistic that half of confirmands leave the Lutheran confession for box churches, or leave the Christian church entirely. Many congregations see the effect of this and wonder where all the middle-aged and younger people are. Studies are proposed, blame is assigned, and surveys are conducted all to figure out what happened.
Worrying that we will lose our confirmands amounts to idolatry of self. Yes, really. If only we were clever enough to come up with an attractive youth program, if only we had one of those praise bands that people say the kids like (but secretly it’s them who are bored with liturgy and hymnody), if only our pastor were a miracle worker who could use a shepherd’s crook to draw in more people (and of course the kind of people we think God’s church needs).
You hear the common thread with all these suggestions? It’s our work that we’re worrying about. Now it’s possible that curmudgeonly Christians could drive people away by being overly judgmental and cold toward people they view as outsiders. It’s possible that the young woman who makes a bad decision and gets pregnant, is shunned by people who claimed to be her church family. But assuming we’re a sincere Christian congregation that endeavors to love everyone, there’s another place to look for keeping confirmands in the true faith.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
For the past two years, these young men have read, learned, and inwardly digested God’s Word. They have regularly and faithfully given up their Sunday afternoons and been immersed in the Word of God. But that’s just two years of their life. Once they’re free from their parents telling them to go to Junior Confirmation, they might decide sleeping in is preferable, or hanging out with their friends who aren’t burdened by religion and have the whole weekend to themselves. The same goes for when they move out after they graduate. If they go away to school, their parents have no control whether they keep going to church or not.
If this is your worry, repent. Though we were to drag someone to church or scream into their ear, we could not make one single convert to Christ. That task is beyond the ability of parents, pastors, or any Christian. It is a divine work: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
This is where those beloved words of the Small Catechism come to bear: “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” (Creed, 3rd Article)
These young men are here today because of the work of the Holy Spirit (and yes their parents brought them), but the day is come for us to rely on God the Holy Spirit. Recall that at one time, many of you were in the same position, and here you are today. Others never were, and yet here we are today.
Our Lord teaches us in John 3, “8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8) Even though on Pentecost, the disciples were given a vision of the Holy Spirit’s work, now we simply see His working much the same way we see the trees blow in the breeze. We now hear His voice (the Word of God) and we see men born again, confess faith in the one-and-only Savior, and remain true to Him. We see boldness and sacrifice when these men and women put their faith above other things in life. We feel a peace which the world does not give, because we have a God who rules over the heavens and has secured our eternal home. We do not see this, the way the world sees, but we know and confess that it is the Holy Spirit who does all this.
It’s a reminder and comfort for all of us, when we worry about the state of the Christian church in this place, other parts of the country and world. We long for the days when churches were packed and out the door, but I can almost guarantee you that was not just the Holy Spirit at work. It was social pressure, it was the fact that there was nothing on TV and the stores were closed. But in the midst of social pressure and so many distractions, the Holy Spirit’s work comes into better focus.
Our Lord promised, “On this rock [the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God], I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). That promise remains true no matter what year it is, no matter what ideas are popular today, or who you meet on the street. The Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit, and what He creates is more powerful than anything in this passing life.
So, our hope is in the Lord who works all of this. No need to worry, no need to devise plans, only pray and believe the promise in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Amen. This is most certainly true.