Monday, June 3, 2013

Proper 4 of Series C (Galatians 1:1-12)--Confirmation Day

“As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you have received, let him be accursed.” Former confirmands, future confirmands, present confirmands: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this confirmation day comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia. Dear friends in Christ: confirmation is just the beginning, not the end. Perhaps every preacher who has stood in a pulpit on confirmation day has said something like, “Confirmation is NOT graduation!” Saint Paul was no different; he had been among the Galatians for years, teaching them the Gospel, but when he needed to depart, his message is my message to you today: You aren’t done, you haven’t really completed anything, your life as a Christian is just beginning. Confirmation is a mile marker, a time to confess before God and the world the faith God gave to you at the font, the same faith taught to you by your pastor in confirmation class. It is a day to make solemn oaths, oaths which are not to be taken lightly, oaths which are to govern your life from this day forward. Confirmation is a day to confess Jesus, who has delivered you from sin, death, and the devil. Nothing ends on confirmation day; you don’t stop learning, you don’t stop growing, you don’t stop needing what Christ gives. Satan doesn’t stop attacking; if anything, he has just begun to fight.

He certainly doesn’t waste any time. You have been taught the Gospel, you have made or you will make solemn oaths, but as soon as you walk out these doors, that Gospel will be attacked. Paul had spent an enormous amount of time and energy laying a foundation in Galatia, painstakingly teaching the truth, not simply to fill heads with knowledge and facts, but to create and strengthen faith. Then he moved on to preach the Gospel elsewhere, and immediately the foundation crumbled. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to another gospel.” Our world is so corrupted and sinful that the work done by faithful laborers over the course of years can be destroyed almost immediately. Just ask the pastors who confirm youth only to never see them again. Just ask the parents whose children abandon the faith at the first opportunity. It’s no secret that the Christian Church loses the majority of the children that it baptizes and confirms. Why? Because so many listen to another gospel; they replace the true Gospel with something else.

Satan calls it a ‘gospel;’ he peddles his lies and poison as good news. And there are plenty of other gospels out there to listen to; you don’t even need to leave Christianity to hear them. Other gospels ring out in sanctuaries all around the world, gospels that promise health and healing, money and power, gospels that promise prosperity and an end to suffering. The true Gospel is a message that seems weak; it doesn’t give you any glory, wealth, or power; in fact, all it delivers to you is scorn. The true Gospel is hated by the world; these other gospels receive the praise of men. But these ‘gospels’ are no gospel at all, as Paul clearly understands: “Not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Each of these gospels is a perversion of the truth, a perversion intended to appeal to our itching ears, to tell us what we want to hear. One gospel tells you that Jesus never wanted you to suffer; if you only pray hard enough, you will have health and wealth beyond anything you can imagine. Another gospel says that the Scriptures don’t really mean what we think they mean; that Jesus really didn’t consider Himself the only way to heaven, that the Scriptures don’t really condemn homosexuality or abortion. Paul fought against a gospel which declared that you pleased God by what you did for Him, rather than solely on what He has done for you. That gospel has never gone away, but is pervasive even today; ever heard someone say that they are going to heaven because they ‘lived a good life’? Each of these gospels, and the many others that are floating about in the Church, all take the spotlight away from Christ and put it squarely on you, exactly where your sinful nature wants it.

But other gospels within the church are only the tip of the iceberg. This present evil age preaches other gospels to you, and you hear them constantly. They call it good news, because for our sinful natures, it’s the best news of all. The gospel of individualism, that you should only look out for yourself, and satisfy your own desires above all else in every arena. Closely connected are the gospels of bodily autonomy and sexual freedom. The gospel of materialism, that accumulating more wealth, that having more things, should be the focus of your life, the center of your identity. This is simply the outgrowth of the gospels of evolution and secularism. Another gospel is especially growing today: the gospel of ‘spiritual but not religious.’ This one declares that you can worship God without going to church, that you can have faith without doctrine, spirituality without Christ, that it’s good to believe in something, as long as you don’t believe too strongly. These gospels preached outside the church have the same goal as those preached within: to take your focus away from Christ and toward yourself. And they will entice you, past, future, and present confirmands; perhaps they have already enticed you, perhaps they have you in their grasp. If so, today is a tender call from Saint Paul to repent; he would see you leave all these other gospels behind and embrace the true Gospel of Christ crucified for you sins. But for the false teachers, he has no tenderness, and neither do I, only venom: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you have received, let him be accursed.”

At first glance, it seems that Paul is speaking only empty words. The preachers of these other gospels are persuasive, they are powerful; they have enticed millions, and they will seek to entice you. The Gospel that he preaches, on the other hand, appears weak and powerless; Paul himself was hated for it, and he bore on his body the scars of beatings and persecution. If the Gospel he preaches, the Gospel you hear preached and taught in this church, were simply one gospel among many, it would be considered the weakest message in all of history; and in fact, that is how the world has judged it. But the Gospel Paul preaches has a much stronger pedigree. “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

This Gospel has a power that none of these other gospels have, even the power to call down curses upon those who preach them, because this Gospel has its origin in God Himself. This Gospel preaches Jesus Christ, who has overcome Satan, the peddler of poison, the speaker of a thousand lies, the one who proclaims every gospel except one. His gospels promise much: happiness, satisfaction, freedom, but they cannot deliver, for they have no power over your enemies. This present evil age is an age under the power of sin, under the threat of death, and there is nothing that any of their gospels can do about it. But Christ has, as Paul boldly declares: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen.” Do not fear the power of these other gospels: Christ has delivered you from them, He has torn you from their grasp, and He has delivered you from all that they are unable to. Jesus died, and you are free from sin. Jesus rose, and you will live forever. His Gospel endures, despite every attack, for only His Gospel brings victory over man’s enemies. His Gospel endures because His Gospel saves, and it saves you.

So Paul doesn’t care if the world likes his message or not; it is the truth, and he is compelled to preach it, for only this Gospel has the power to save. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” You can endure all that the world throws at you because you have been given victory over the world by Christ’s death and resurrection. You don’t care if the world likes you or not, if they approve of your faith or not; you cling to Christ, because Christ has saved you. Even death cannot separate you from Christ, because you have conquered death in Christ. His resurrection is yours! So, past, future, and present confirmands, stand firm in that faith, stand firm in Christ. Flee from false teachers, flee from all other gospels, for they turn you away from Christ and toward yourself. They cannot deliver from death, and so all they have for you is death. This world will hate you, it will persecute you, it may even kill you, but you have overcome death. How else could you make this promise, this oath in the confirmation rite: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? I do, by the grace of God.” Believe in this Gospel with conviction, so strongly that you are willing to die rather than deny it. While confessing it may mean temporal death, to deny it means eternal death, for Christ has robbed death of its power, it is now simply the gateway to life.

You go forth from this place into a world that has launched an all-out attack on your faith, even to the point of taking your life. Satan wants you, and he is willing to use every other gospel that this present evil age offers to get you. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. He will rescue you from this present evil age, for He has destroyed its power through the cross and empty tomb. These other gospels will not endure, and those who preach them will be overcome. Paul is a pastor; he calls down curses because he cannot stand to see his flock threatened by these false teachers. And as I look at these confirmands today, past, future, and present, I join my voice with Saint Paul. All false teachers, and yes, the chief false teacher Satan himself, hear these words: “If anyone is preaching to [these saints] a gospel contrary to the one [they] have received, let him be accursed!” In the Name of Jesus, who overcame all false gospels with the power of His true Gospel, Amen.

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