Confirmation Sunday Sermon

Text: “25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:25-30 ESV)

 

Samantha, Caleb, Nick, Jacob, Brady, Chloee, Owen, Bailey, and Jacob. You are about to make a public profession of faith. You are about to make very serious and binding promises. No longer will it be your parents’ faith or your pastor’s faith or your church’s faith. It will now be your faith to nurture and care for or to allow to wither and die. And so it is fitting that we heed our Lord’s words from today’s tex as He warns us to count the cost before seeking to follow Him. And so let’s do that. Let’s count the cost.  As you begin to build the tower of your life, what will the foundation be?

The 80 or so questions that you were asked last night were not the real test. You knew that test was coming.  You had been told what the right answers were.  You were surrounded by people who were “rooting” for you to get the answers right.  The real test will come when you’re not expecting it. You will be surrounded by people who are trying to get you to deny what you believe, to deny who you are. And, in some cases, even I won’t be able to tell you what the right answer is.

The promises that you’re about to make area easily spoken, especially here surrounded by people who have come to celebrate them with you. But there is a price you’ll have to pay for them. What does Jesus say the cost will be? “26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

The cost can certainly be high. And that’s something we all need to hear. We are the products of a “cost-less” culture. We want weight loss without effort. We want taste without calories. We want fame without years of effort.

That’s even spilled over into our faith. We’ve redefined religion in our day and turned it into ‘spirituality’ instead. In some some sense I suppose that might be helpful. But often what it means in practice is that what I believe is disconnected from what I live. Unlike the faith that Jesus preaches, it is a faith without any cost. It is a matter of private belief and personal conviction and no one is allowed to question or challenge those convictions and beliefs—not even God.

            That’s not the faith that Jesus teaches. Jesus teaches a faith with flesh and blood on it. A faith that has consequences. A faith that might even cost you your relationships with those closest to you—even your family itself. That’s right. As your parents, by bringing you here, we’re telling you that, your love for God should be greater than even your love for us.

The cost can be steep. It means taking up your cross and following Him—daily taking up the cross of repentance for the sins you’ve committed through the things you’ve done and the things you’ve failed to do for others. The cross of repentance for the thoughts and desires that go against God’s will for you, that go against the truth of who God is.

The faith that you are pledging yourself to is mystical, mysterious and unseen. It is a matter of the heart and mind, of beliefs and convictions.

It is, at the very same time, powerfully physical and tangible. The New Testament says that faith is completed by what we say and do (James 2:22). Faith is not a matter of private belief and personal conviction. It’s action. It’s effort. It’s what you say with your mouths and what you grasp with your hands and where your feet take you. We can say we believe in anything. But what we truly believe is shown by what you do, what you say, how you look at yourself, how you treat yourself and others.

A man named Chad Bird made this point very powerfully in an article he wrote recently reflecting upon a little church that he had once been a part of.

Hallelujahs and Amens were ordinary parts of the Sunday morning service in the tiny country church. So was the swish of a flushing toilet. It seems the wall between the restroom and the sanctuary was too thin to arrest the noise. And gastronomical urges had sworn no allegiance to the liturgy’s timetable. You gotta go when you gotta go.

The high and holy worship.

The low and common flush.

Two ends of humanity’s spectrum.

Sharing a common roof.

They used to get under my skin—these everyday disturbances that elbow their way into sacred time. A nursing baby [screaming to be fed]. A cell phone beeping. A man jostling coins in his pocket. A toilet flushing during the [pastor’s sermon].

I’ve grown to appreciate them for what they are: random reminders that we haul all our humanity into the Lord’s house. For all our (very true) talk of the heavenly nature of the Sunday service, [that, as we gather, God Himself comes to serve us,] the sanctuary is full of earthiness, too. Hungry babies, full bladders, over-stressed mothers, daydreaming teens, old [men with bad breath]. All of us dying in one form or fashion. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, CEOs and farmers eventually democratized by the grave.

“What should I wear to church?” a friend asked me. Truth is, [no matter how well we dress up,] we all wear our worst. The liar wears his pants on fire. The cynic wears his shirt proclaiming, “[Stuff] happens.” [We come, still sporting t]he shoes we use to trample a neighbor’s reputation. The underwear …stripped off in the back seat.

But not only that. Our clothes cover bones wearied by working three jobs to barely scrape by. [They cover h]earts shattered by dead-end relationships. [They hang from s]houlders drooping under the load of shameful secrets we lug everywhere we go.

Burdened within and without, we cross the threshold into church. We don’t leave behind our earthiness, our tragedies, our white-knuckled grip on the last vestige of dignity in our sad lives. It’s all more than we could ever stuff into a trash can. Or flush down a toilet.

 

The way Jesus describes it, the cost seems exorbitant—far too much for any of us to even be asked to pay. It’s much easier to wimp out and say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” which is another way of saying, “I don’t have to please God. God’s happy with me no matter what.”[1] No. God’s not ok with you or me the way we are. That’s not Grace. Jesus never watered down the Ten Commandments. He doesn’t lower the bar and tells us just to overlook sin. That’s not forgiveness. Jesus actually raises the bar! “You think you know what murder is? You think you’re righteous because you haven’t ended any lives? I tell you that hate is murder.” He never lowered the bar, He raised it. He reminded us exactly how guilty we are.

It’s never the people who carry guilt over their sins that Jesus takes issue with, but the people who water down God’s Law and twist it into a façade of self-righteousness. If the Law doesn’t lead to repentance—constant, daily repentance—then there can be no saving faith—“whoever does not take up his cross and follow me can not be my disciple.”

The cost seems exorbitant. But what, exactly, is He asking us to give up? We are born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. And we are powerless to change that. God’s not ok with us the way we are. No parent is ok with their child dying. You and I are stained, we’re burdened, we’re black and blue. We are broken, we are sinners, we are ashes to ashes and dust to dust. That is what each of us—each of you—brings here. The humanity we haul into the Lord’s house.

But that’s why we’re here, in the Lord’s four walls. He throws wide the door and calls us in to supper. Come on in, all of you. Bring your black eyes and bruised hearts. Bring your …soiled pasts and public shame. Bring your same sex attraction [and every kind of] sinful lust[. Bring your] internet history and hidden sins. Jesus isn’t afraid of your sin or your righteousness. His cross is big enough for us all. So is His house.

So [you] come to this …holy worship with [your] low and earthly lives. And [here you] meet [God--] the God who has sat in the gutter with the worst, as well as …at the right hand of the best. [Who] baptizes the [screaming] baby, dabs away the tears of the grieving, feeds the famished soul, and tells us all that we can never outrun or out-sin His love.

Whatever [you] wear to church, He takes it off and slips over [your] heads a robe white as light, bleached in the blood of the Lamb. We arrive all stained in different ways. We all leave resplendent in the same grace. It’s the grace of a God who mounted the cross to draw [you] to Himself. And in Him [you] discover a heavenly life that fills our earthly lives with meaning, dignity, and hope that outlasts the grave.[2]

 

Come and follow Him.

That’s what it will cost. He asks for everything. He asks for all of you—body and soul, thoughts, words, and actions—which all turns out to be nothing, so that He can give you eternity, purchased for you—not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. He takes your dust and ashes and gives you the riches of heaven, purchased with His death. Come and follow Him.

Come and die. As you step forward to make your promises, bring all your humanity, all the burdens that you carry, all the worst that you wear. Everything you wish you could stuff into a trash can or flush down a toilet, but can’t. Bring all of it and come and die. Bring all of it because He has taken it from you and carried it with Him and nailed it to the cross. It won’t fit down a toilet, but it will go into the baptismal font and be joined to Christ in His death so that you can live a new life. As one song puts it:

He sets a path before my own two feet.

And I keep reachin’ but our arms don’t seem to meet.

He calls me, “Come to die.”

 

And when I’m weak, He’s made strong

And I can’t follow, but He pulls me right along.

He calls me, “Come to die.”

 

And I keep trying, but then I fall.

But He never gives me up, He just gives His all.

He calls me, “Come to die.”

 

I ate His body, I drank His blood.

It may sound crazy, but it really fills me up.

He calls me, “Come to die.”

 

Yes, come and die. Come and eat, come and drink. Bind yourself to Him with bonds even stronger than any promise that you or I could offer—His promise: “Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood. Given and shed for you.” Bind yourself to His promise and come away resplendent in His grace, filled with heavenly life of meaning, dignity, and hope that outlasts the grave.

[10:30 only] I’ve spent the last two years teaching you. Others have been teaching you for years before that. Your parents have been teaching you from the moment you were born. And it seems like such a long process. Just the last two years of classes seemed endless at times, I’m sure. The list of stuff that you were expected to know seemed endless. Even though this is not goodbye, even though you will continue to need to learn and grow throughout your life, our classes together are done. My opportunity to pound things into your heads is done. And yet there is so much more to say. To encourage you for the times you’ll be tested. To warn you about certain people you’ll meet.

I hope and pray that you’ve actually picked up on everything you’ll need for those times. I think I speak for all of your parents when I say that I hope that you’ve learned what’s right and true. Treasure that always. Hold firmly to what is true. There is no other foundation. But, if we’ve done our job, everything we’ve taught you points to one thing above all else, one word above and beyond everything that’s been said: Grace.

My last word to you as your teacher, as your confirmation instructor, as a “father in the faith” (as Paul puts it), before I now begin addressing you simply as brothers and sisters in Christ—although I will always remain your pastor—is this word from the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  - Micah 6:8

In His Name. Amen.

 

[1] Fisk, Rev. Jonathan. From interview on Issues, Etc., “Christianity & Pop Culture: A Culture of Apocalypses.” (approximately 23:30 into podcast of interview posted at www.issuesetc.org) May 3, 2016.

[2] Bird, Chad. “Church and the Toilet Flush,” April 19, 2016 at www.1517legacy.com.