Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trinity 1 and Confirmation Sunday

25 May 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 16:19-31 (Gen 15:1-6, 1 John 4:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There’s a funny old story that’s not so funny after Hurricane Katrina, but it does make a good point. It goes like this: A guy is in the middle of a flood, and he prays for God to save him. A neighbor comes by in a boat, but the man refuses, saying that God is going to save him. As the water rises, a rescue worker comes by on another boat and offers to save him. Again, the man says that God will save him. Finally, he’s on his roof, and a national guardsman flies over with a helicopter and lowers a rope. The man refuses again. And so, he drowns. He meets God and is angry. He asks: “Why didn’t you save me?” God replies: “What are you talking about? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

Jesus tells us a very similar story, known as “Lazarus and the Rich Man.” In this tale, both the Rich Man and the poor beggar Lazarus die. Lazarus is in heaven, and the Rich Man is in hell. In his suffering, the Rich Man pleads to the patriarch Abraham to ease his suffering. But he cannot. It is too late. The Rich Man chose to worship the false god of wealth. His time to repent is over. The Rich Man pleads for messengers to warn his wicked brothers to repent. Abraham says that the Rich Man’s brothers already have messengers – the words of the Bible. Finally, the Rich Man asks Abraham to send a messenger from the dead to warn them, maybe like the ghosts who brought Ebenezer Scrooge to have a change in heart in A Christmas Carol. But the answer is no. And here, Jesus, the storyteller, gives the punch line: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

Dear confirmands, Jesus is giving all of us – especially you – a great warning. You and your parents need to keep in mind that you are either in, or headed to, high school. You will soon be driving, working, heading to college, perhaps even getting engaged and married. You will soon be confronted with overwhelming pressure regarding drinking, drugs, sexuality, and fitting in with your friends in a culture that no longer respects Christianity.

And like the Rich Man in Jesus’s lesson, the easy thing to do is to put our faith on the back burner and serve some other god: maybe wealth, popularity, cheap thrills, or even illegal activities. But as a pastor, take my word on this: “Stuff happens.” I guarantee you that you will all deal with very serious things that will hit you out of nowhere: family members will get sick or die, you will have hardships and sadness, you will watch your friends make stupid choices and get into trouble, you will be affected by accidents, illnesses, crime, peer pressure, and even death itself.

And even if you make overwhelmingly good choices, you aren’t perfect. You will make mistakes. You will fall into sin. And whether it’s your fault or not, one way or another, you will die. You will be in the same position as Lazarus and the Rich Man. You may have no idea when you will die. Every sermon you hear may be your very last warning to repent and believe the Gospel. Each time you come to this rail to take the Lord’s body and blood may be your last. Each conversation you have with your parents may be the final one.

I will say it again: “Stuff happens.”

One of the most frustrating things for pastors is how often we confirm young people, give them the holy sacrament, and that’s the last time we see them. Some might make it for Christmas or Easter once in a while, but like the Rich Man, there is always something more “important” than coming to church to hear the Gospel and take the Holy Sacrament: whether work, education, sports, entertainment, or just sleeping in.

And you parents, keep in mind, you set the example. I can teach, preach, lecture, quiz, scribble on a blackboard, and wear my Bible out teaching your kids for two years of confirmation classes. But if you’re never in church, you’re telling them this stuff isn’t important. You’re teaching them to be like the Rich Man in our Lord’s parable. If this Christian faith is important to you, we will all see you confirmands and your parents in this church regularly hearing the Gospel and receiving the Sacrament. God is here in this place giving out eternal life and salvation, pouring His love upon you, week in and week out. And if you can’t make it on Sunday mornings, we have the Divine Service on Wednesday nights. And if you’re shut in your home, I will bring the Gospel to you.

We need to hold you accountable, just as you need to hold us accountable. We are a community, a family of believers, brothers and sisters in the Lord. We’re a little flock with a common enemy, and a mutual Savior. We’re all in this together.

And when stuff happens, when you’re in the hospital, when you’re depressed, when a family member is sick, you need to understand that God has sent you two boats and a helicopter. He has given you Christian brothers and sisters to help you, and a pastor to bring the Word of God and the Sacrament to you. One of the first things that you should do in such times is to call me, so that I can strengthen you with the consolation of the Gospel and the “medicine of immortality” that is the Lord’s Supper.

Last Sunday, I asked each of you confirmands the following question: “Does the Lord’s Supper strengthen your faith in Jesus?” Each of you answered “yes.” Each of you also explained to me that in the Holy Supper, the Lord Jesus is miraculously physically present, and that in this sacrament, your sins are forgiven.

This, dear friends, is why Lazarus was in Paradise with Abraham, and why the Rich Man was begging for a drop of water in hell.

If you really believe what you say you believe, you will do whatever it takes to get to this place where the Gospel is preached and the body and blood of Jesus are given out. Being a beggar who believes the Gospel is better than being a rich person who doesn’t. And you have all told me where and how your faith in Jesus is strengthened.

Consider yourself warned. Not just by me, but by Moses, and the prophets, and even by the One who came back from the dead! For that One, the resurrected One, did not come to condemn you, dear friends, but to save you. For as St. John says in our epistle: “We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him,” and “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” This torment is what the Rich Man experienced in hell. He was tormented. He was fearful. Just as all people are fearful when “stuff happens.”

But notice what conquers fear: love. And God is love. This is why you answered “yes” when I asked you if the Lord’s Supper strengthens your faith. God’s love is made physical for you, taken into your very body when you eat the very body and drink the very blood of Christ.

For the promise of God was given to you at your baptism, and is being confirmed today in your witness before this congregation, in the vows you will make, and in the communion you will share with God and with us. And that promise is the same promise given to Abraham, who “believed in the Lord” and this belief was “accounted… to him for righteousness.”

The beggar Lazarus was also a sinner. He was not worthy to enter paradise. And yet, he did. For he called upon the name of the Lord. He believed, and he too was credited with the righteousness of his Savior. The Rich Man was not credited with righteousness, for his god was his wealth.

And this is the Good News! Your eternal life is completely free. You can’t earn it, and it isn’t for sale. You parents can’t provide it for your children, and you confirmands can’t download it off the internet. You cannot achieve this righteousness through works. It is given to you as a free gift. And that gift is poured out upon you here, in this sanctuary, and in Divine Services all over the world where Jesus is present in His Word proclaimed by a called and ordained servant with the authority to forgive sins. The gift of the very same salvation given to Lazarus is offered to you, dear confirmands, and all of you in this congregation, week in and week out, in the form of a meal, a holy meal, a miraculous meal, that will strengthen your faith and give you something to hold onto when the inevitable “stuff happens.”

And when “stuff happens,” when the floods of life rise and threaten to engulf you, keep in mind that the Lord provides for you. We have been warned not to shun the boat of the Gospel, not to spurn the helicopter of the Lord’s Supper. But along with this warning, He also gives us a glorious promise:

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as He is, so are we in this world.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

2 comments:

BADOO YA said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thursday's Child said...

Excellent sermon! I hope they got as much from it as I did.