Posted on May 19th, 2013
At our last Catechesis session, we had a terrific discussion about who runs the verbs, who is the subject of the verbs in the Divine Service, and who is the object.
Of first importance, God is the subject, we the object. So we don’t come to church to worship. The sentence “Carter worships God” sounds pious, and correct at first hearing. But it makes Carter the actor, Carter the doer, not God. If you want to understand the Bible, remember that God is the first subject, not you. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God makes man. God gives gifts to man. Jesus dies for sins. The Holy Spirit rebirths us, the Holy Spirit regenerates us. God runs the verbs.
So it is with confirmation. We can see confirmation as Carter, Benjamin, and Jesse confirming their faith. And in a few minutes we will ask them to give a confession of the faith, namely, the Apostles’ Creed.
But something more is happening today. God is affirming, God is confirming His promise, the promise that He made to these three young men, and to each of you, in your Baptism. That’s what happens whenever we gather for the liturgy, whenever we hear or read the Word of God, whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, whenever we cry out in distress or trouble, Kyrie eleison! Lord, have mercy!
Today, God confirms your faith – for the confirmands, and for each of you.
So when I pick out the Bible verses for the confirmands, I always think about the subjects and the verbs. The legalist in me gravitates toward the commands, the ones that admonish you to do something. And then I try to avoid them. Mostly. Jesse is getting one. I think he can handle it; his father, Chaplain Muehler, will keep him straight.
Let’s look at the three Bible passages—one for each confirmand—as a collection. In these three passages is a summary of the message of Pentecost, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, ten days after He ascended above the heavens. These are the Scripture texts that will be given to the confirmands: Gen. 43:9, “I will be a pledge of his safety”; Jn. 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”; and Eph. 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
After Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, had been sold by his own brothers as a slave into Egypt, he was, through a series of astounding events, elevated to a high position in the kingdom. And then, the brothers who had sold Joseph as a slave came begging bread when famine swept the land from Egypt through Palestine. When they had to go a second time, they needed to bring their littlest brother Benjamin with them. Jacob their father refuses to allow Benjamin to go, fearing his death. Judah steps forward and offers his life if any harm comes to Benjamin: “I will be a pledge of his safety,” Judah says to their father. “From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring [Benjamin] back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.”
Your parents, Benjamin, have rightly told you that you have a calling to care for your younger siblings Joshua and Heidi. That’s what big brothers do. That’s what it is to be a man: protect those under your care.
And this, my friend Benjamin, is what your Lord Jesus did for you. When He became man, He made Himself your elder brother. This is why we kneel or bow at those beautiful words in the Nicene Creed, “and was made man.” There at the incarnation, your Lord became man, became your elder brother. Why? So He could be a pledge of your safety. Did you know that Jesus was a descendant, according to the flesh, of Judah? Holy Scripture even calls Him the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Taking on flesh, becoming our elder brother, Jesus becomes the pledge of our safety, and there on the cross He identifies with all of us little brothers, all of us sinners and says, “Let Me bear the blame forever.”
What is hidden in a mystery in that verse from Genesis about Judah and Benjamin is made plain by St. John in his Gospel. Right after the well-known John 3:16, we get a further declaration of the Gospel: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
So many people think of Christianity as a religion ever ready to pounce and condemn. Perhaps you’ve heard of the sad tale of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist convicted last week of murder and assorted other crimes. After the verdict, a few seemed overly delighted, and eager for Gosnell to receive the death penalty. Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic, has turned away from the killing of human beings and become a Christian. She wrote a piece this week entitled, Do I Deserve the Death Penalty for Abortion? In it, she writes about her own confirmation as an adult. Now she’s Roman Catholic, and they understand confirmation a little differently, but she’s our sister in Christ and we can learn something from what she says:
When I was confirmed … I chose Mary Magdalene as my confirmation saint. I felt an immediate connection to her. She had sinned so much…and was forgiven in even greater amounts. She knew she didn’t deserve forgiveness…but she received it anyway. And because of this, she clung to Christ. She knew she was nothing without Him.
I have also done my fair share of sinning. And I have also been forgiven much more than I deserve.
The truth is, we all deserve the death penalty. And that’s what crucifixion is: the death penalty. Jesus takes it for you. He doesn’t come to condemn you, but to save you. He doesn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. An important part of confirmation is us as a congregation praying for these young men. We pray as fathers and mothers, older brothers and sisters to them, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and keep them far from danger to body and soul. But if you do go astray, remember in the darkest hour that the Church is always open to you, the Church is always your home, the Church is always your mother, as God is your Father, and there will not be condemnation when you come through the door, but joy at your homecoming. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
And now today, you are finally welcomed as children to the Lord’s table. This Meal is your life. As we need the sun to give us warmth, and air to fill our lungs, so this bread and wine, this Body and Blood of Jesus, is your warmth, your air, your life. Here is forgiveness. Here is salvation.
In this way must you understand the third verse, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” Your strength as a Christian, which is to say your strength as a human being – your strength is not in yourself but in the Lord. Your strength is not in your muscles or your charm or your intellect or your cunning or the money at your disposal. Your strength is in the Lord, your power in His might.
That was the culmination of St. Peter’s sermon on the great Day of Pentecost. Your deeds damn you. Your works lead to your death. But “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The Spirit’s message to you confirmands this day, and the Spirit’s message to every one of you, is nothing other than what we heard the crucified Jesus saying in the Gospel for Pentecost: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.” That’s the message we need when we worry about our family members going astray. That’s the message we need when we worry about the future of our school, budgets and building programs. That’s the message we need when it comes to the end of the day, the end of our life, the end of the world: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.”
So cling to Christ. That’s what Peter preached at Pentecost. Christ is the pledge of your safety. He does not condemn you. In Him is your strength.