10/28/2018 Reformation Sunday The text is John 8:31-36.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is one of those days in which I breathe a sigh of relief, as today, six of our youth will be affirming their faith and making promises before God and this congregation about their intention to assume adult responsibility in the church and to continue to worship and praise God. Today, I applaud these young brothers and sisters in Christ, and I pray that they will keep the vows they make on this day. Today, I applaud them and their parents and mentors for getting them through the process. And more importantly, I give thanks to God for God has gotten me through one more confirmation class with some sanity intact and a little energy left in reserve to begin again anew with another group of teenagers.
The confirmation process can be challenging for everyone involved. Driving in distances to get children to class and then pushing them to get their work done on time. But then the confirmation process should be challenging – for confirmation is no small step in the life of a Christian. All of us who have gone through the process have stories to tell – stories about standing before a congregation for public examination, or gathering together for a last supper as a class at a confirmation banquet, or making up baskets for shut-ins, or playing ping pong or pool when the pastor happens to leave the room. Some of the stories will remain with us and will be held up as badges of courage when our children complain about confirmation classes, and others will make us smile as we relive bygone days.
I can hear it all now – “Oh, if you only knew – when I was in confirmation class, I had to pass a test on the Old Testament that was so hard that it took me 6 tries to do it! Oh, if you only knew – when I was in confirmation class, I had to memorize Luther’s Small Catechism and all the names of the books of the Bible in order, too! And not only that! I had to go to church, do service projects and fill out sermon reports. Boy, do you have it easy now!
But if we take the words found in the Gospel of St John seriously, then making the confirmation process easy is the last thing we would ever want to do – for through confirmation, we are preparing our youth to assume an ongoing role in the church. As Jesus points out to the Jews who believed in him, “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Confirmation is a process in which the young people who are part of the body of Christ, his church, are prepared to continue in the faith all the days of their lives. The truth which they have been taught is affirmed and that truth becomes part of them. And with this truth, they are made free.
Continuation in the church after confirmation is a privilege. It is an exercise of the freedom that Christ gives to us. For God demands nothing from us. We don’t have to take what God offers us. We can reject his love, his care, his grace, his compassion. God doesn’t force us to accept his peace and forgiveness. We are always free in this regard. But when Jesus speaks about being made free by the truth, being made free through his life, death and resurrection, he is not talking about a freedom that enables us to disregard God. He is speaking about a freedom that allows us to come close to our Lord – a freedom and privilege that we cannot manufacture or earn. It is only made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.
The freedom that Jesus offers us breaks down barriers. It breaks the barrier between us and God, and the barrier between each of us who is riddled with sin and at the same time blessed by God’s grace. If the Son of God breaks down these walls and frees us, then we are truly free. That means that you are free to live your life unshackled from the world’s standards of success, the demand of others that pressure you to conform in order to fit in, and the fear of being ridiculed for choosing to go to church instead of sleeping in on a Sunday morning. You are free to share your faith and your hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow. You are free to go out into the world and do the best you can, knowing that, even if you fail, you are loved with a love that cannot be taken from you. You are free to serve those in need. You are free to take the steps to improve the created world. You are free to be all that you were created to be through God’s grace and forgiveness and the power of the resurrection.
But don’t be fooled by the latest freedom fashion of this world that calls for self-expression, doing your own thing, and being in charge of your own life. There is nothing more pathetic in this world than a person who has taken charge of his or her own life. For as James Michener wrote in his novel, Texas, “You know, Lad, men are often imprisoned by chains of their own forging.”
So don’t be fooled into looking for freedom anyplace else than with God. Live free in the truth found in Jesus Christ. Live the unhampered life of faith and continue in God’s word. Trust in Christ for he who gave his life for you will not let you down. And remember that freedom, true freedom, can never be earned. It is the gift of God, a gift to hang on to and never let go. For, the price of our freedom has been paid by the one man, on Lord and Savior of us all, wo died so that we might live.
Stand firm in faith. Believe the words of the creed which will be spoken this day and renew your commitment to God. Promote his will, not your own whims and fancies. And strive for a deeper relationship with God and his people. When you do this, you will walk the walk of freedom – and God will be with you always.
May each of us take the time on this day to think about what it means to be part of the church, what it means to have a grace-filled Lord who washes away our sins and opens the gates of his kingdom to us, and what it means to be a disciple, continuing in the truth. Then, thank the Lord for the blessings of freedom and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.