Sunday after the Ascension (John 15:26—16:4)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Sunday after the Ascension + June 2, 2019

Confirmation Sunday

Text: John 15:26—16:4

In the Creed, why do we confess “I believe”?  In the original Nicene Creed, it said, “We believe in one God,” because it was the confession of the 318 bishops gathered at the Council of Nicaea.  It was the shared faith of all those gathered, and the believers they came to represent. 

But today, we say, “I believe” because no one can believe for another.  We all must stand before God with our own faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how this happens.  “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”  The Helper, the Holy Spirit is the one responsible for creating that faith in each hearer, and keeps us in that faith day in and day out.

Before that ever happened for us today, the Apostles did bear witness, and their witness has been Spirit-breathed and written in the New Testament.  They’ve fulfilled their role, as Jesus said, “You also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

But when it comes down to it, each person must believe for himself.  Pastors do their part by faithfully and thoroughly preaching and teaching.  Parents, though, have a bigger role because their part begins earlier in life and continues throughout the week.  They do their part to impart the faith to their children—yes, by bringing them to church but that’s just a fraction of the week.  They also set an example by how they make the Word of God a priority, they talk about these things throughout the week, leading their family in prayers at meals and before bed.  This is what the Lord describes in Deuteronomy 6: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (vv. 6-7).

Even so, each one of us must receive this faith for himself.  This is what confirmation is.

And the time of testing is coming, and has come.  The vows you will take in confirmation are all the more serious, because they are harder than ever to keep.  Unless you’re especially blessed with an unusually strong Christian family, being in the Word is second fiddle to all the other activities of life.  Many of your friends come from families which have never had God at the center, much less even at the edge of their lives.  When you go to them for advice down the road about marriage, for instance, they might just tell you it’s better to cheat or divorce than to stick through it and work through problems with your spouse.  The generations today are seeing unprecedented anti-Christian “religious” fervor against the sanctity of life, moral decency, and the value of family (to name a few).

So today as we are witness and brothers and sisters who stand with these young women, I think it’s good to consider what vows we take as confirmed Christians:

P  Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God?

R  I do.

Many church bodies that talk about how important the Bible is, but only in theory.  In practice they will run rough-shod over what that Word of God says when it conflicts with what we or the loudest crowd wants.  The difference with their vow is subtle: “Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ…?”[1]  Notice the difference?  We believe, teach, and confess that the Old and New Testaments are in their entirety the inspired, inerrant Word of God, that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” and “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16).  We believe this not because it’s the die-hard conservative view, but because that’s what God says about His Scriptures.

P  Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?

R  I do.

Many of us are familiar with scam calls—claiming to be from the IRS, or Microsoft, or some legal entity.  But every month they get sneakier and harder to distinguish from legitimate calls.  One recent one simply says, “Can you hear me?” and if you say “Yes,” they use that recording to authorize transactions with your stolen information.

Well, it’s not getting any easier to tell legitimate churches from counterfeit.  There’s of course the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but then part of them rebranded as Community of Christ.  The old traditional divisions of church bodies are no longer a sure indicator. There are Reformed churches that teach decision theology, and Baptists who believe in the real, bodily presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

You can’t even depend on the name Lutheran anymore.  The vow concerning the doctrine of the “Evangelical Lutheran Church” confuses people because there’s a group called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA. Even though they’re called Lutheran they make the hair-splitting distinction that the Bible contains God’s Word and it shows in several practices.[2]  When Reformers of the 16th century were forced to go separate ways with the Papists, they needed to identify.  Since “Catholic” was already inextricably linked with “Roman,” they chose “Evangelical” or the church that preaches the Gospel of the Bible.  But, as is typical, Evangelical in the 21st century means something different—usually a non-sacramental, Reformed-leaning Bible church.  “Lutheran” was a title first applied by Luther’s opponents, but since we needed some distinction from Zwingli, Calvin, and others, the name stuck because Martin Luther and the first Evangelicals did confess the unadulterated faith of the Bible.

All that the “Evangelical Lutheran Church” believes, teaches, and confesses from Scripture is written down in the Book of Concord for anyone to read (www.bookofconcord.org). It gives a faithful explanation of God’s Word and painstakingly sticks to Scripture alone as the only authoritative rule for faith and life.  But as far as most Christians are concerned, Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism to explain the most important aspects of the Christian faith, so that “the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.”

The next three vows are promises we make to live out the calling to follow Christ in whatever place He puts us:

P  Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?

R  I do, by the grace of God.

“Do I have to go to church?” is usually the way you hear it phrased, as if it were an unbearable burden to get out of bed, wrangle the kids, and turn off your distractions and chores for an hour and fifteen minutes (or longer if you come to Sunday School).

But if you have this faith in God, believe what He says about your need, and trust the invitation, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,”[3] then you would do whatever it takes to get to the Divine Service and try to rectify it whenever something kept you away from this Sabbath rest.

P  Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?

R  I do, by the grace of God.

As often as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name,” we are asking for this to happen in our lives, and the lives of our brothers and sisters here and scattered through the world.  We are pledging ourselves and asking God to help us be His children inside and out, in public and in private, on Sunday and the rest of the week.  And we’re not just signing a 5-year contract with God, we’re pledging ourselves until death.

P  Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?

R  I do, by the grace of God.

Finally, there’s a vow to remain true to God, even under spiritual attack, the sloth of our sinful flesh, and the hatred of the world.  Basically, will you continue to be a Christian even when the road is long and hard, when it comes to pass that “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:36-37)  This is no joke.  You are vowing that you are willing to leave everything for “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Phil. 3:8-10)

But when over half of all husbands and wives can hardly keep their vows to live with each other, how can we take such bold vows?  “I do, by the grace of God.”  Yes, by the grace of God, because it is His will to keep you in this faith.  “I have said these things to keep you from falling away” our Lord says, and His apostle Paul writes to us, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13)

How was it possible for the martyrs of old to remain true to the Lord even when threatened with loss of property and life?  It wasn’t simply a human determination; it was the Lord Himself.  The Lord has done His part, and that’s no small thing—He fulfilled the Scriptures, offered up His life, rose from the dead, and continually sends His Holy Spirit.  All of this keeps you from falling away.  You have a strong help, so by God’s grace use it.  It’s not just your parents, or your pastor, or the brothers and sisters gathered here today that make it possible to keep Jesus as your own Lord and Savior.

Will you always be a bold confessor? Will you have doubts?  Will your sinful laziness keep you scrolling Facebook when you could be doing a quick devotion, or in bed when you should be out the door to church?  Quite likely.  But the God who called you is faithful to the good work He has begun in you.  He will surely bring it to fulfillment on the day of Jesus Christ, and God help His people to always cling to His promises. Amen.


[1] United Methodist Church Rite of Ordination, emphasis mine https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/2017-2020_Ordinal-FINAL.pdf p. 20 (5/30/19)

[2] https://www.elca.org/Faith/ELCA-Teaching/Scripture-Creeds-Confessions

[3] Matthew 11:28

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