Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Confirmation of Landon Carter & Gwendolyn Zorko

Readings: Genesis 50:15–21 | Romans 8:18–23 | Luke 6:36–42

Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15

St. Peter’s first epistle to the Church is beautifully appropriate and informative for the Church today.  It was first written to the Christians who were scattered after persecution grew more severe, and it was clear just how at-odds the Christian Gospel was with, not just the Jews, but the world in which they lived.

In our day, we are still recovering from the generations when it was okay to be a Christian in public, and actually meant that you were a respectable member of society.  Sometimes today, it feels like being a confessing Christian is swimming upstream against a waterfall.  Holding a biblical worldview is increasingly rare.  It’s a rare thing to belong to a Church body that publicly confesses God’s supernatural work in six days of creation, the God-given sanctity of human life, the good creation and distinction between male and female.  How uncommon it is to see people live out this Psalm verse: “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.” (Ps. 119:46-47)  We hold to these truths not because we are traditionalists, but because we belong to the true God.

This Epistle in particular comforts us by teaching that the suffering and rejection that we experience in the world is actually not surprising.  After addressing matters of how a child of God will find themselves living as strangers in society, how those who are married are to live together, St. Peter turns to every Christian—how appropriate on a day where two young Christians are confirming the faith God has given them!

They are nervous because today is being treated differently from other days.  But please allow me to take the spotlight off of them, and shine it on all of us equally:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

Alienation is not something that stops after you graduate from high school.  For Christians, our alienation begins at our Baptism: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:3, 6)  There in the waters of Baptism, we receive a new birth that marks us as different, set apart, “holy to the Lord.” [Exod. 39:30]  And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lord would just take us home, or at the very least, give us a nice colony where we could be around just other believers?  But that isn’t how it works.  He leaves us as we are in the world, with this birth from above and the vestiges of our unspiritual flesh.  We don’t fit in with the world—we can’t fit in—but we still have our flesh that wants to fit in and does what the rest of the world does.

Our birth from above gives us the light and power to walk in the Spirit, and not follow after the way of the flesh.  The way of God’s child is to have unity of mind, not division by earthly distinctions—skin color, ethnicity, language, social group, or wealth.  The way of God’s child is to sympathize with one another, not close our hearts to cancel others and say I’ve got one less problem without you.  The way of God’s child is love for our brothers, not a thin tolerance that gives each other only the bare minimum.  The heart of God’s child is the work of God Himself: Compassion and humility—both qualities our Lord Jesus Himself displayed: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless” and “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” (Matt. 9:36, 11:29)  He has a heart that is vulnerable for others.  Compassion means to be moved in your guts—to grieve with those who grieve, rejoice with those who rejoice, and share the burdens of those in need.  Lowly means to abase yourself, choosing to consider the needs of others before your own.  It’s no easy task when the messages around us encourage us to take care of ourselves first, and isolate from those who are different or cause us pain.  Rather than “everyone for himself,” our lives as God’s children are for the purpose of blessing others.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” [cited from Psalm 34:12-16]

These are not empty human words, a motivational speech to spur us into better living.  This is God with us, who has given us the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)  God is with us as we walk through this world, bringing His blessing to our friends and enemies alike.

But, as God well knows, His blessing often not well-received:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

Blessing those who curse us, but in that suffering, we are actually blessed by God.  Fear is removed, because we do not live by the acceptance of others; we live by the acceptance of God through His Son.  Our identity in Baptism—where God knew us before we were born and here in time named us with His own Name, bestowing faith, peace, and an eternal future on us—is firmer than the fickle favor of society.  It endures even when the closest of family ties are strained.  The bond we have in the Spirit is closer than we have with even our friends who we’ve known the longest and the most.  This is the rock upon which your life is founded—your ground of being.

Christ the Lord is holy to us, even as He has set us apart to be holy to Him.  He is our highest good here in time and there in eternity, because He has loved us and blessed us with the gifts of forgiveness, joy, peace, and hope that outlast this world and its trouble.

Christ our Lord desires this life for every human.  People not a discardable entity, an accident, a hot mess, or a dumpster fire; each person is a sacred creation of God the Father, whom He values so much that He shed the blood of His own Son to save from the devil, rebellion, and eternal destruction.  He blesses our fellow human creatures by putting His Word on our lips.

So, I’d like to come back to what we’re doing today with this rite of Confirmation.  In the words echoing from Luther’s Small Catechism, “Was ist das?” / or as we know it, “What does this mean?”

There are several misunderstandings about Confirmation that should be cleared up first.  In case you didn’t know, Confirmation as a rite was never specifically commanded by the Lord.  The result of confirmation certainly happened: Peter and the other apostles were beaten for preaching Jesus, but they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41)  Paul suffered for the sake of Christ’s Name, nevertheless “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities… purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech… through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise…10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:4-10) (Acts 9:16).  And Timothy, who “fought to food fight of the faith, [taking] hold of the eternal life to which [he] was called and about which [he] made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Tim. 6:12)

But in practice Confirmation often takes its cues from our own imagination.  For some, it’s nothing more than a coming-of-age ceremony, since it happens usually in middle or high school.  Then it becomes little more than a reason to have cake and receive unexpected gifts, and now you’re free to either come to church or forget everything and live like everyone else.  This is the rationalist side of it, that just sees the outward, the material.  This is also where the graduation analogy haunts pastors and members of the congregation, as they see these confirmands today, but rarely ever again, as if the pews and parish hall were as inappropriate to revisit as your high school once you had diploma in hand.

Confirmation can also be misunderstood in the other direction: That it gives you some additional grace which you did not previously have.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “By Conformation, Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit…By this anointing the confirmand receives the ‘mark,’ the seal of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1295).  But to this, I ask, where is the Scripture which backs this up?  Where does Scripture teach a specific grace given beyond what is already bestowed in Baptism, besides the various gifts of the Spirit which manifest themselves as we serve God and our neighbor?

It also might be misunderstood that after today, these two young people become “full” members of the congregation, where before they were some kind of 2nd class passengers, because today they are welcomed to the Lord’s altar.  It’s understandable, if we see the Lord’s Supper as a privilege we earn by our studies.  I’ll save this topic for another sermon, but suffice to say now, confirmation is not a prerequisite for beneficially receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the fellowship of this altar. But more on that another day.

But what is confirmation to be?  It is the point where you have been called by the Gospel in your Baptism, matured in your own faith and study, and are able to articulate your faith and understand why you are a Christian and why you make this confession.  Confirmation is where you assume the responsibility of being a public Christian.  And how great this responsibility is in these last days!

For such a great task, we need, first of all the Holy Spirit’s grace, who our Lord promises to send in our need: “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.” (John 14:26) and “Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

You need support in the Body of Christ, because from here on it will only get more complicated and difficult.  “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness.  Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and subordinate to their own husbands” (Titus 2:2-5)   This congregation is not a club, but one piece of the Body of Christ here in Lebanon, and if we are to endure the blessed sufferings of belonging to Christ, we need to do so together, caring about and caring for one another.

And finally, we continually need to pray for one another.  We already do, every time we beseech our Father as His Son taught us. But I would urge you to pause in your praying of the Our Father, and put a name to your brothers and sisters that they would hallow God’s Name in their lives, or that His Kingdom would come to more people in this world, or for whatever trials we bear that God’s will is done, that He forgive us when we sin, that He aid each other against temptation, and when His purpose is fulfilled for each of us, that He take us to Himself in eternity.

Landon and Gwen, and all the saints gathered here, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thess. 5:23-24) In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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