Monthly Archives: October 2012

Confirmation Sermon 10.30.2012

John 8:31-36 • October 28, 2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

There was a time in many of our lives, water was poured into basin like this and then poured on our head or our entire body. The words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” were spoken as water flowed. A sign of the cross was placed on our foreheads. In our Lutheran tradition we say, “You are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.” Not just for that day. Not just for the good days of our life. Forever. On that day and in that saving act of God’s love for us, we are claimed as God’s child forever. Often we are clothed in white at our baptism as a sign of being cleansed from sin and made pure in our new life in Christ. God comes to us in baptism and says, “I love you. You are my child, forever.”

Today, in your confirmation, you will stand before this congregation and make promises to God that you will continue to celebrate and live your life in Christ. New life that began in your baptism many years ago and will continue to grow and deepen in ways that extend way beyond your life on earth.

The white robe that you wear today is not a sign of your graduation from church. The white robe that you wear today is a sign of the promises that you make today. And a reminder of the promises that God made to you in your baptism, and that God makes with you today in your confirmation. A promise that God will be with you always. You don’t graduate from church today, your life in Christ doesn’t end today. Actually – it never ends.

I’ve enjoyed spending some time over the past couple of months with these fine young men and women who are being confirmed today. I don’t know if we ever asked each other directly what confirmation is, but we did talk about what it means to live our life in Christ beyond our confirmation day. In fact, many of them have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting upon what their life in Christ is after confirmation.

One part of our time together was viewing a film called Soul Searching: A Movie about Teenagers and God. It’s a film that is part of an ongoing study called the National Study of Youth and Religion sponsored by the University of South Carolina and the University of Notre Dame. This study seeks to understand better how God connects to the lives of American teenagers. In the film, they follow several teens from across the United States and try to understand how God fits into their lives. These are Jewish, conservative Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, mainline Protestants like Lutherans and Presbyterians, and even a radical atheist to round out the group.

Overwhelmingly, this research is discovering that much of religion in America today looks and feels like something that is significantly different from what historic religions, like Christianity, have represented for several thousand years.

The leaders of this study call the new religion that is appearing in places like the United States, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism says five things about God and God’s relationship to us – first, God did create the world and everything in it, but after creating everything, God has gotten out of the way and is now simply watching over everything from some golden throne in the sky; second, God wants people to be good; third, the goal of life is to be happy; fourth, God will solve your problems when you call on him; and finally, good people get to go to heaven when they die.

Maybe the most troubling part of this as a Lutheran Christian pastor is that I don’t think this view of God is something we see only in teenagers. In fact, this view of God and our relationship to God is probably very similar to what the majority of us who are gathered here for worship today believe.

What’s significant about seeing God in the way of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is this – in this view of our relationship with God, God in essence becomes a combination of divine butler and supreme cosmic therapist. God will swoop down from heaven and take care of your problems and only get involved in your life when you call on him, he’ll help you work out your difficulties, and will never ever get too intimately involved in your life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the God who first makes promises to us in baptism and claims us as his child is not our butler or therapist. The God who meets us in our baptism is not hiding in heaven waiting for you to call on him when you need help or want a front row parking spot at the mall. The God who meets you and I in our baptism is not interested in the bad days of life while being ignored every other day. The God who meets you and I in our baptism makes a promise us. A promise to be with us always – in good and bad, happy and sad, when we think we need God in our lives and when we could care less if God is there. God is not just a super-hero in the sky that we can call upon when we need help.

Brothers and sisters in Christ who are about to be confirmed – God was not the only one making promises when you were baptized. Promises were also made by parents and family, sponsors and godparents, and a Christian community of faith. These promises freed you to experience God through other people who care deeply for you and the world that God makes, freed you to experience God during times of worship and opportunities to serve your neighbor, and freed you to experience God in weekly confirmation classes where you were taught significant aspects of Christian faith and life like the importance of a lifetime commitment to reading and study of holy scripture and a deeper understanding of elements that are central to Christian faith like the Lord’s Prayer, the creed, and the ten commandments.

So, comfirmands, today is your day. Today, in confirmation, is your day of promise. Your day of promising to continue your life in Christ that began in your baptism. Your day of promising that you will give thanks for everyone who has helped you get to this day. Your day of promises that have little to do with a theory called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Today, you promise to pray for God’s world and ask for God’s presence in your life, to worship among God’s faithful people and be nourished in the Lord’s Supper, to read and study the word of God, to share the good news of God in Jesus Christ in all that you say and do, and to give of yourself in all ways and at all times for peace, justice, and the care of fellow brothers and sisters in this world.

It’s a blessing to be with you today as one of your pastors and to walk with you in these promises that you make to God in confirmation. My prayer for each of you today is this – that you feel the incredible blessing from God that this day is. That you always remember you never walk alone in your faith. And that each and every day you experience the unending love and grace of God in your life in Christ. Amen.

“Everything? Truly I Tell You, Everything” Sermon 10.14.2012

Mark 10:17-31 • 10/14/2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

A shepherd was tending his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new Cadillac Escalade appeared out of a dust cloud, raced toward him and came to a stop right in front of him as the tires screeched to a halt. The driver was a well-groomed and well-dressed young man wearing all the latest in fashion. His suit alone was worth more money than the shepherd had seen in his entire life. This Cadillac driving, designer suit-wearing man leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

The shepherd looked at the young man, then at his peacefully grazing flock, and calmly answered, “Sure.”

The young man parked the Escalade, whipped out his Macbook Pro computer, connected it to his iPhone, surfed over to a NASA website where he called up a GPS satellite navigation system and scanned the area in which the flock of sheep were grazing. He then opened up a database and created a few spreadsheets with complex formulas.

Finally – he printed out a 150 page report on his miniaturized wireless printer, turned around to the shepherd and said, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep in your flock!”

“Amazing! That’s correct!” said the shepherd. “Like I agreed, you can take one of my sheep.”

The shepherd watched the man make a selection and bundle it into his Escalade. When he was finished the shepherd said, “If I can tell you exactly what you do for a living, where you’re from and who you work for, will you give me my sheep back?”

“OK, why not,” answered the young man.

“You work for an agricultural consulting firm from Palm Beach and you have never actually worked in agriculture in any way, shape, or form outside of a corporate board room,” said the shepherd.

“Wow! I guess that’s correct,” said the young man. “How did you ever know that?”

“Easy,” answered the shepherd. “Nobody called you, but you showed up here anyway. You want to be paid for providing a solution to a question I already knew the answer to. And you clearly don’t know squat about agriculture, especially shepherding sheep. Now…can I have my dog back?”

Have you ever tried to be a consultant for God? Showed up out of the blue and asked God a list of questions concerning things that you want or need – or at least think you need. You expect answers from God, of course, even though you have already formulated the answers you are planning to hear long before you even bothered to ask the question?

Or does something like this sound familiar, “OK God, just get me out of this jam that I’m in and I’ll be in church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”

I think the rich man in our gospel reading today is being genuine when he approaches Jesus. He kneels before Jesus after all as he asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He is a successful person in the community. And a large measure of his success has probably been because he’s had complete control in most of the decisions he’s made. I don’t think the intent of his question is to trap Jesus like the Pharisees do when they ask him questions. I think this man is genuinely interested in his relationship with God. I think he really is seeking to become a follower of Jesus. He wants to know what he has to do. By doing something though, he remains in control – not only of his stuff, but also of his eternal life. After all, he seems to have maintained pretty good control when it came to keeping the law – why can’t he do the same with eternal life? But Jesus knows there is something in the way. You and I and the rich man have things like wealth that constantly get in the way of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells the man to go and sell everything he owns. The point Jesus is making is that you can’t do something to inherit eternal life. You can only receive.

Author and Pastor Max Lucado once put it this way as he envisioned what Jesus might say to the rich man. I think his thoughts speak to you and me today too. Lucado wrote, “What you want costs far more than what you can pay. You don’t need a system, you need a Savior. You don’t need a resume, you need a Redeemer…God does not save us because of what we’ve done. Only a puny god could be bought with tithes. Only an egotistical god would be impressed with our pain. Only a temperamental god could be satisfied by sacrifices. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidders. And only a great God does for his children what they can’t do for themselves.”

The rich man’s wealth, and your wealth and my wealth too, can’t buy anything in God’s kingdom. All we can do as children of God is receive.

We have all probably heard the saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” It’s a thought that I see limiting our life in Christ in a very negative way. It simplifies our life in Christ to only be about a final journey to heaven. Heaven is some place “out there” or “up there” out of our reach or experience. And if we live good lives and are not bad little boys and girls, when we die, we will go to heaven.

Theologian Frederick Buechner said, “We think of eternal life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends.” Buechner says this instead, “We would do better to think of it (eternal life) as what happens when life begins.” [Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, Frederick Buechner, pg. 25-26]

Jesus was never controlled by possessions, as the rich man was, or as you and I often are, as our churches seem to be at times. The rich man in today’s gospel held so tightly to his stuff that his stuff had completely taken over who he was or would ever be. He couldn’t let go in order to simply receive what Jesus was offering.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take note of what Jesus does in verse 21 of today’s gospel reading. Even though the rich man can’t let go of his stuff, Jesus looks at him and loves him. Jesus wasn’t adding to his burdens or wealth or possessions, he was offering him a loving and gracious invitation to begin life.

What’s possessing you today? Your wealth? Your job? The stuff in your garage? Needing to feel like you are in control of everything that happens? Jesus doesn’t want you to add more things to your life that burden and possess you. He simply wants you and everything that makes you, you – including the things that keep you from God, in order for you to live. And you know what – Jesus looks at you too. And loves you, simply for being you. Amen.