Thursday, May 29, 2014

Easter 6 of Series A (1 Peter 3:13-22)

“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.” 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 third chapter of Peter’s first letter. Dear friends in Christ, the world hates confirmation. What we are doing today, what many of you did on your confirmation day or will do one day in the future, is completely antithetical to how the world treats religion. The world tells you that your faith is a personal and private thing, something to keep to yourself; today you trumpet that faith boldly, clearly, and publically, for all the world to hear. And more than that, you aren’t simply confessing that you are a Christian, you are being even more specific; you are confessing that you are a Lutheran. The world tells us to keep faith as vague as possible, it speaks the lie that there is little difference between denominations or even between religions. But today you are saying that one branch of the Christian Church, the Lutheran confession, is your confession. You are pledging allegiance to specific teachings associated with a specific church body, not just some vague faith that is only your own. You are telling the world that you aren’t buying what it is selling, that you will hold this faith no matter what it does to you. Confirmation, if we take it seriously, is a declaration of war, it is the bold confession that you will stand against the world and will confess this faith even unto death.

There have been times in history when confirmation did mean a death sentence, and even today confirmands still promise to hold the faith they confess no matter what the world tries to do to them. Confirmands who keep their faith to themselves, or who quickly forget their vows to be faithful in hearing God’s Word, are little threat to the world; they can live quite comfortably within it. Confirmands who, on the other hand, take their confirmation vows seriously are an offense to the world, and the world will attempt to stomp them out. But do not be afraid. “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” Do not fear the world; fear Christ, trust in Him more than the threatenings of your enemies. Do not keep silent through fear of the world. So many Christians are cowed into silence through the hostility that they face; within the four walls of a church they speak of Christ, but out in the world, they keep their mouths shut, afraid of the consequences.

You are not called to such a spirit of fear. Peter calls on all Christians to fear Christ, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Confirmation is just the beginning, only a start. Christians are to be always prepared to make a defense. You are to be prepared at all times, constantly looking for the opportunity to speak of Christ, to defend your faith against opposition or simply to answer questions of unbelievers. The opportunities come sporadically, but you are to be always ready to meet them with a clear confession. You are to be prepared, that is, well versed in the Scriptures; confirmation instruction has given you a foundation, but it takes a lifetime of study to be prepared to answer the questions of the world, to make that bold confession in different situations. If you treat confirmation as graduation, then the world is going to chew you up and spit you back out again. Unbelievers aren’t going to throw you softballs—in fact, the world gives out harder questions than me or any other pastor could ever give you.

The world is going to call on you to confess the faith from hostility or curiosity, and you must be ready to speak. But how we speak is almost as important as what we speak. There are plenty of Christians out there who are speaking with great boldness to and against the world; I wish that every person here today had such courage that we see in some parts of the Christian Church! But their witness so often is ruined by arrogance and anger. They speak the truth from a position of smug superiority, which only turns others off. The focus ends up being on themselves, not upon Christ. I am convinced that one of the greatest threats to Christianity is out of control Christians, who say things that, while they may be true, they are said in a way that will only drive away the unbeliever.

Only those who fear the world think they have to fight hatred with hatred, anger with anger; that when the world reviles, they must revile in return. But Christians are not called upon to fear the world, we are called upon to fear Christ, making our confession “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Those who follow the humble Savior are called upon to be humble themselves. You confess the faith when the world calls on you to confess; not to make yourself look better, but to proclaim Christ. The focus is always on Him. You speak in humility, not to win an argument, but to call a fellow sinner to repentance and faith. You speak the Law as one who also must hear the Law; you speak the Gospel as a beggar telling another beggar where you have found bread. And how you live your life matters! How many non-believers have been turned off from the faith and scandalized by the openly sinful lives of supposed ‘Christians?’

You can only have true humility when you do not fear the world. When you are secure in Christ, then you can stand boldly, but humbly, against the world, giving a defense of the hope within you, no matter what this world does to you. And such security only comes through Baptism. Confirmation turns you back to your Baptism; you confess the faith you were baptized into; you ‘confirm’ that this is the faith that you will take out into this world. Confirmation is a coming of age, a declaration of spiritual maturity, with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with adulthood. But you always remain a child of Baptism. “Baptism…now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him.”

Confirmation is not graduation from Baptism because we never leave our Baptism behind. How can we, when it is Baptism that links us to Christ’s death and resurrection? Peter calls on us to fear Christ and not the world because Christ has overcome the world. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” His death on Calvary’s cross destroyed sin, death, and the devil; His resurrection three days later confirmed that victory, declaring throughout the world that the one who had died bearing the sin of the world had triumphed, conquering death. Our enemies have already been defeated, crushed by our mighty Savior. That is what our Baptism gives us: victory in the place of defeat, life in the place of death, and courage in place of fear. Your enemies are conquered; they can rage all they want, but they can do nothing to rob you of eternal salvation; the victory remains with Christ. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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