The Feast of Holy Trinity – Historic Lectionary – John 3:1-15 – June 11, 2017
The Rite of Confirmation – 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Of all the practices and rites of the Christian Church, there is not one more confusing or subject to all kinds of problems and failures than that of Confirmation.
The word, confirmation, originates from the early Church, as it is found within the Church’s liturgy of Holy Baptism.
When brand new Christians exited the baptismal font, having been washed into the name of the Triune God, they were first clothed in a white robe, symbolizing the innocence of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the very way in which the Lord now judged them; as pure and righteous.
Having been clothed in white, they were then anointed with oil, in a rite known as chrismation, or literally, the ‘sealing’ or ‘confirming’ of Holy Baptism.
This confirmation was given as a picture of Baptism, echoing St. Peter’s epistle where he writes, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
For the Early Church, to be baptized, is to be brought into the priesthood of God’s people.
For it is the priesthood that lives always in front of two realities, both as priests standing before the face of the Lord, receiving His life, and also before the face of the world, showing and sharing that life. This at least, was, the confirmation of the baptized.
Later in the Church’s history, the anointing of confirmation would be separated from the liturgy of Baptism.
This once fragrant and striking picture of what the Lord Himself was doing through Holy Baptism, would become a sacrament and a thing all to itself.
That simple anointing, would rise above even the importance of teaching and the confessing the faith, and become by itself, the end-all-be-all gateway to the Lord’s Supper.
And so, by the time of the Reformation, it should not surprise us then, that Luther has no use for such a sacrament of confirmation.
In fact, Luther even refers to it as ‘mumbo-jumbo’, as ‘monkey-business’, and the pope’s pack of lies.
He throws it out as a sacrament, and instead gives to the Church the Small Catechism.
So in the Reformation, the gateway to the Lord’s Supper is not a man-made tradition of anointing with oil, but a hearing and confessing of the Word of Christ. To be worthy and well-prepared, is to have faith in these words, “Given and shed for you.” (The Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, 5th part)
Luther does not do or present anything new by restoring teaching and hearing to the life of baptized. Rather he confesses with Christ Himself and with the Holy Scriptures, that the kingdom of God is received by faith, and faith through the Word of Christ.
This is the Lord’s Work, it is His teaching, His forming and catechizing, it is His promise fulfilled to grant us His Holy Spirit, and lead us into all truth.
Luther does nothing new in the Reformation, but his catechism and our confession does restore the focus of our lives lived in this Kingdom, that is, upon the Lord and His mercy alone.
And so today we have reason to rejoice, for we see the Kingdom of God at work, the Holy Spirit given in the waters of Baptism to Doris, Eric, Odile, Kathryn, Bryce, and Thai Lily who has continued His faithful work to teach them all things, and so bring them into Christ Himself.
For this rejoice, but nonetheless the wild the wacky history of confirmation still continues; the teaching of the faith has been restored, and yet teaching is also now abused and distorted like never before.
In 500 years following the Reformation, the human heart has time and time again, reinvented this gift of the Lord Himself teaching His faith and instead made it into a work to be achieved, a task to be accomplished, a graduation from the parenting of the church in which to simply to get over and done with.
In one sense, we might be given to think this way, simply because this is how teaching and learning works in every other aspect of life, especially middle school and high school.
You study for a test to get it over and done with. You take a class so you can earn the credit and move on. Everything is about getting further and further away from the start. Achieving, being rewarded, and moving on.
But in another sense, our problem is much deeper than simply trying to model the church after a college entrance exam.
Confirmation may have a confusing and problematic history, but human reason has a far more troubling one.
For it is in fact, impossible for our reason to ever comprehend that salvation, that the kingdom of God, that the life of the baptized cannot be achieved by works, and neither can we enter it on our own terms.
Even this truth itself offends us. For we desperately want to be able to do something, to have some part, some responsibility, indeed some work that we can do on our own time, and by our own design.
Such is the struggle of Nicodemus as He comes to Jesus in the cover of darkness.
Our Lord presents the Pharisee with the truth of God’s Kingdom, with the adoption as the Father’s children given by Water and the Spirit, with the salvation of the world accomplished not by what man has to offer, but how the Father offers His only Son, and through that death, how the Spirit comes to breathe life, create faith and keep in this Kingdom. (John 3:1-16)
In other words, you cannot do this, you must be given it, and given it by faith. For nothing else will do.
The Kingdom of God is received only by faith, it is received by nothing else, not by works, not by man’s reason, or his well-meaning priorities, or his solid reputation, or his willingness to suffer, or his ever-changing heart, none of these receive the peace of God in faith, they are constantly at war.
Such is the struggle of the Christian life.
And such is the kingdom of God.
In a few short minutes, you will rise from the pew and stand before the Lord’s altar, to say back to Him what He has first given to you, that is faith, the confession of who He is, what He has done and what He promises to keep on doing.
It will be a clear, orthodox and faithful confession, as found on the lips of Jesus Himself, the glory of the Father, the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of the Holy Christian Church.
And you will open your mouths to form this confession, because you know what it means.
That it is no mere test to be passed, not even of rite of passage to be congratulated for, but rather the truth of God’s mercy, the battle cry of His peace, the fighting and preserving of the Christian faith, created by God, sustained by God, and defended by the Lord Himself.
We are bold to confess the faith, precisely because we know our own hearts, we are bold to confess, precisely because we know that we cannot do this, it must be given to us.
For by the Word of Christ, you have been made sober and watchful.
You know that this confession will be attacked not only by the devil himself, but the world which hates you, and even more subtle than that, by your own reason, by your own sinful heart, and your own stubborn pride.
You make this confession, not as a test, nor as an accomplishment, but as a prayer, and a crying out for mercy.
For the kingdom of God is received only by faith, nothing else will do.
If the baptized life is only a matter of the intellect, then you would seek only to learn your facts, pass the test and move on.
If the kingdom of God is only a matter of the Law, and our obsession with morality, then you would certainly conclude that the Divine Service is only needed when you mess up, if you mess up, but your life looks ok, so perhaps you’re good to go.
If the confession of the faith is only matter of the heart, if it is merely concerned with feeling good about yourself, then the gathering of the saints found in the church will quickly depress you.
For here, we gather as the lost and the afraid, those confessing our need, and those filled not merely with happiness, but a true peace and a renewed conscience.
Faith must receive the Kingdom of God, nothing else will do.
Today, much like the baptismal liturgy of the Early Church, you are found as a kingdom of priests.
You are found in precisely what the Lord has already worked when He adopted you as His children, gave you new life by water and spirit, and placed in you in, the very Kingdom of God, the Crucified Christ, His death that is your life, His body that is the Church, and His blood that covers now and always.
In the confirmation you will face not the congregation but the altar, and so you will live as priests, before the face of God Himself, receiving from Him this confession, His mercy and His faithful work.
And you will also turn and go back to the pew, for you are kingdom of priests, the body of Christ, and you live facing the world, the pride of your hearts, the stubbornness of human reason, and the devil’s attacks.
But have no fear. The Lord is faithful, He has brought this far, He has placed His faith into your mouths and upon your hearts. He keeps you in His kingdom. It is not a test, It is not a thing to be passed or left behind.
This confession is where you remain. In the Kingdom of God, the Crucified Christ, to see the love of the Father, the work of His Spirit, and the body lifted up, given, shed, preached and washed, keeping you now and forevermore.
Our life is troublesome, but the Lord is faithful still.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.