I have been so excited! This is a ministry first for me. I've never confirmed anywhere near 17 youth all in one day. With a couple of baptisms to boot, this is one happy pastor today! I thought instead of a sermon, I would read a brief letter to the confirmands and their congregation, a kind of baccalaureate address, I guess. Here goes:
This morning our children are going to act out the Christ hymn as I trace out the scenes of Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, the events of this week tell the story of Jesus emptying himself as he arrives in Jerusalem. He comes prepared to give up everything, including his life on earth, so that we can have life with God.
I’ve always wished that I could have a long, unhurried conversation with each of our high school graduates before they go off to college or work or whatever. But they are so busy these days. I hardly get the chance to ask them what they are thinking of majoring in when what I really want to do is ask them what they are going to be believing in. Since they probably don’t want to have that conversation with me, I’ve decided to write them a letter, even if they never take the time to read it. Perhaps their parents will and possibly it will make them feel better about letting go. I know it will make me feel better. So, here it is:
So why does Paul say that we have to “work out our salvation”? Didn't Martin Luther say that our works won't earn us salvation? Isn't that the main point of the Protestant Reformation? Our own experience tells us that our works can't save us, but God's work in us can. The way it works is that God's grace pulls our lives into alignment with Christ's life. Gradually, God gives us the same mind that was in Christ and puts us on the same path with Christ. The path we're talking about here is the path of humility.
It's a good thing that grace is as pervasive as gravity, because we're going to need it. Sometimes we'll try and fail to be the person or the church God wants us to be. If we keep reaching for the power of the resurrection, there is no end to the life we can live, no limit to the love we can experience, no telling what joy we’ll come to know as we get to know Christ.
When we think of how hard it is to let go of the things that make us feel significant and safe in this world, we don't want to hear that we have to give it all up in order to gain Christ. But look at the Apostle Paul and take heart. He doesn't have to renounce these things beforehand. Christ met him on the road to Damascus. He was going there with all his credentials in order to persecute Christians. Christ met him anyway. It was only after meeting Christ that Paul discovered that the things that used to make him feel good about himself could no longer do so. When Christ showed him how utterly unimportant all those things were, he didn't need them anymore. No longer relying on his own righteousness, he was saved by God's righteousness through his faith in Jesus Christ.