A note about sermon transcripts:
Our sermons are written in order to be preached orally so that they may be heard. However, we provide a transcript for the hearing impaired as well as for those who wish to engage in a deeper study of God’s word along with our sermons. Please keep this in mind when reading the transcript, and when at all possible, we encourage you to listen to the sermon as well.
As is our custom here at Faith on Confirmation Sunday, this sermon is a letter written to our catechumens, but preached to all. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Dear Simeon, Brice, Annie and Delanie, Stephan, Aden and Joshua. I'll begin this letter with a poem called, “I didn't go to church today”. I didn't go to church today. I trust the lord to understand. The surf was swirling blue and white. The children swirling on the sand. He knows He knows how brief my stay. How brief the spell of summer weather. He knows when I am said and done we’ll have plenty of time together.
So why on earth would you ever darken the door of a church? When the surf is swirling white and blue right now?
Why go to church, when you could just roll over and worship at St. Mattress? Why go to church when you could take the cup of salvation from our savior Starbucks?
You might be saying, “That's so true pastor, I don't have to be at church to be with God. Isn't God present everywhere, even on a Sunday morning? Isn't Jesus with me on my surfboard? Isn't Jesus with me as I scroll through Facebook in my pajamas? Isn't Jesus with me at my soccer game?”
Well, yes. Jesus is lots of places He doesn't want to be.
But that's beside the point. The point is, nowhere does Jesus say, “Meet me at the beach. Meet me at Starbucks. Meet me at the sports field. In fact, why don't you just meet me wherever you want to meet me and we'll do whatever you want to do? And I’ll be whatever kind of Jesus you want me to be.” No, Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am.” When He says, “gathered in my name”, that's His way of saying “church”. Of course Jesus is present everywhere. But Jesus is not present everywhere preaching His cross and his resurrection into your ears; cleansing your heart with His forgiveness; gathering you together with His saints as one family, redeemed by His blood. You can only get that where two or three are gathered in His name. Here, Jesus makes himself present in a unique and special way.
And Jesus also says this. He says that he has come, “Not to be served, but to serve”.
When some Christians think that church is all about serving Jesus and worshipping Jesus and what I do for Jesus, they sort of miss that thing that Jesus said. And if you ever find yourself in a church that's more about what you do for Jesus than what Jesus has done for you, well, you might just be better off with Pastor Pillow and Vicar Sheetz. Jesus comes not to be served but to serve. We Lutherans don't call church “Divine Service” because we think, “Well, non-denominational service that's pretty good and Roman Catholic service, that's great, but Lutheran service?! It’s divine! Hardly. We call it “Divine Service” for a very different reason. A very radical reason and a very biblical reason. We believe what Jesus says. Where two or three are gathered, there He is and He is there not to be served but to serve. Jesus himself present, in our midst, serving us. Divine Service.
Jesus himself, in our midst, preaching His Word into your ears. His law and His gospel. His cross and His resurrection. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
He also serves us by baptizing us. And by reminding you that, in baptism, He has given you His own name and made you a member of his own family.
How easy it is in this world to forget who we are. By bringing to mind your baptism, Jesus not only reminds you of who you are, but of who’s you are. God has forever written His name upon you. It's something He has done. And no matter what things you have done, or how un-Christian you've become, nothing can change His promise to you in baptism. “I have put my name on you”, He says. “You are mine”.
Jesus also serves you here, by absolving you, forgiving you, releasing you, from your sin and guilt. With nothing but His Word, He brought forth light from darkness and made this world from nothing. With the same Word, He absolves and forgives you, and makes you completely new again.
He also invites you to His table, so that He might serve you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, as He says. He puts the cup of salvation to your sin parched lips, cleansing you with his blood and filling you with His life. For His life is in the blood. In the poem that I mentioned at the beginning of this letter we’re given the impression that God understands how beautiful and fun His world is and He totally gets it if you would rather play at the beach without him instead of spending time in some stuffy church with him. That, at least, is far more honest than pretending that God is actually present for you at the beach in the same way that He's present for you here at church. May as well say it how it is. Confess it, “I prefer to be at the beach or wherever else without God, than be in church with Him.” At least that's honest. But that's not who we’re called to be. Nor is it who we are as Christians. So when your parents tell you it's ok to miss church yet again because of some game, you can tell them, “No, I'd rather be with God in church, than without Him at my game.” Or if your coach tells you that you'll be off the team, out of the club, no longer part of the squad, if you can't do Sunday mornings, you can tell your coach that you love God more than you love any stupid sport or hobby or pastime. We are God's people. Not people of this world.
Lots of people hate Church. Probably, most of them are Christians.
They hate church and so they're constantly trying to change church into something they don't hate. Rather, something they like. People these days like concerts and comedians, and Ted Talks, and YouTube. And so they try to make church look like things they like.
Probably they hate church because no one ever taught them what church really is. Or, if they were taught, they hate it because of their own unbelief. Church is the place where we gather in Jesus’ name, and Jesus himself is present in a special way. To serve His people.
It's not an imaginary friend a kind of Jesus. Nor is it the kind of Jesus that most people want Him to be. But He knows His own, and His own know Him. As He once knelt and washed the grime from his disciples’ feet, He now stoops down to wash the filth of our sin from our souls. As he once had mercy on an adulteress caught in the act, He now draws His cross over your forehead and wipes away your tears with his nail-scarred hands. This is the mystery and the reality. Hidden in, with, and under this thing we call, “Church”. A mystery and a reality accessible only to faith. Because God has hidden it under the weakest and lowliest of things. A pastor’s sinful voice, a little tap water, some inexpensive bread and wine. Hidden it under these things so that it might be accessible only by faith. Only by those who hear His word and believe. The more of life you live, the more you'll see just how twisted things really are. How things aren't right in your own life. How things aren't right in other people's lives. How things are right even in how you think and how you feel.
You'll see that the world is full of beauty but also full of pain. There are profound joys and sorrows that you can't yet imagine.
God's present in all of that. And the devil is too. Sometimes it's impossible to tell them apart.
But in church, God is present in a very different way. He's here. For people who have a twisted and messed up life. He's here for people who have sins and shame. He's here for hurting people. And searching people. And even for people who have pretty much screwed it up over and over again.
Some people think that the church is full of losers. And in that insult, there's a grain of truth. All of us have lost something. And a rather strange God has gathered us in. Gathered us around him. Not the high and the mighty, but the weak and the lowly. A bunch of smoldering wicks and bruised reeds. But a broken heart and a contrite spirit He does not despise. He is the one who laid down His own life for wandering sheep. So that He can be your Good Shepherd, your good Pastor, and be merciful to you over and over again. “You are forgiven, You are mine”, He says. His grace and mercy toward you never change. But you might change. And so his salvation remains ever the same. “You are forgiven. You are still mine”.
It's not cheap grace with Him and never is. It's completely free. Because it's grace that He has paid the ultimate price for. Grace that He has purchased on the cross with His own precious blood. We pray that you would always come to church. But if at some point in your life, you stop from coming, I hope you find this letter tucked away in your confirmation stuff. Or more likely, I hope you hear Jesus’ voice. hidden beneath your parents' voices. Jesus’ voice hidden beneath the voice of your siblings. The voice of your friends but Jesus’ voice all the same. Calling you back to him. When a pastor pleads with his people to come to church, it's not with attendance book in one hand and Moses’ stone tablets in the other. It's because He wants the absolute best for you. And the absolute best for you is Jesus. Jesus real and Jesus present. Just as He promises to be.
This Palm Sunday, this day The Church confirms you, we find ourselves saying with those first century Greeks, “We wish to see Jesus”.
With the eyes of faith we can see Him already. Wherever His word is rightly preached and His sacraments are rightly given, He is there too. And soon enough, we shall see him, not merely with the eyes of faith, but with our eyes of flesh as well. For we know that our Redeemer lives. And at the last He will stand upon the earth, and after our flesh has been destroyed, yet in our flesh we shall see God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.