This weekend at St. Peter Lutheran Church, we celebrated confirmation for four of our 9th graders, baptism for another, and commemorated the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. For more about the Reformation, see my November newsletter column.

We celebrated confirmation at the 8:30 service, so my sermon was a bit different for that one. The sermon below is a mashup of both versions! Texts for this week are Psalm 46, Jeremiah 31:31-34, and Luke 19:1-10. I also used 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 & 11-12 as a benediction. 

For the children’s message, I taught this song, because how can we talk about Zacchaeus without it?

Our wee little dog, Zacchaeus, trying to climb a tree!
Our wee little dog, Zacchaeus, trying to climb a tree!

This story of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus is one of my favorites. Partly because of that song, but partly because Christin and I named our dog after it. If you’ve haven’t met our dog, he’s a mix, we think, between a Labrador and a Bassett hound.

Picture a full size lab head, on a long, short Basset hound body. When we were trying to think of a name, something Biblical for the new pastor’s dog, we went with Zacchaeus, the short guy from the Bible.

The great thing about this story is that Zacchaeus (the tax collector, not the dog) has this curiosity about Jesus. He’s not yet a follower, but he’s interested. He wants to see for himself, even if no one wants to help him by giving him a spot to see.

As he’s sitting up in this tree, Jesus sees him, and he invites himself over for dinner. Not just for dinner, for the night. This maybe isn’t the best example of good manners to follow, but it works for Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t wait for Zacchaeus to invite him in. Instead, he invites himself into Zacchaeus’s life. That’s such a great picture of how God works. Jesus isn’t looking down at us hoping we’ll notice him and invite him in; he’s picking us out of a crowd and asking us to follow, to change our lives. God comes to us.

A few chapters before this story of Zacchaeus, we heard about a rich man who came to Jesus and asked what he should do. Jesus’ answer was that he should give his possessions to the poor. The man went away disappointed. He couldn’t bring himself to let go of his stuff. Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The disciples understandably ask, “Who then can be saved?” Do you remember Jesus’ answer? “What is impossible for people is possible for God.”

Zacchaeus is another rich guy, so we might assume he’s in a similar tough spot, addicted to his wealth, separated from God. And yet, this encounter goes very differently, because Jesus does the impossible. He comes to Zacchaeus.

I love that we’re celebrating confirmation in the fall, for two reasons. First, many churches celebrate confirmation in the spring, and it often feels like a graduation, like you’ve finished confirmation classes, you’ve done all your worship notes, you’ve written your faith statement, and now you’re done!

How many of you did confirmation classes? Raise your hand. Now, keep your hands up if you’re happy to be done.

That’s what I figured. For the five of you who are celebrating today, I want to make something clear. You’ve finished two years of classes, but what we’re celebrating today is graduation into something, not graduation from something.

You’re moving into a new stage of church membership as an adult member in the church. We as the congregation are confirming you as part of this body. Now you get to keep learning, keep helping in worship, keep living out your Christian faith. We’re celebrating an entrance, not a graduation.

The second reason I love that we celebrate confirmation on this day is that today is already a holiday in the Lutheran Church. It’s reformation day! Four hundred and ninety-nine years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther posted 95 theses, 95 points for debate, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s goal of an academic debate led to far more than he ever imagined, including wars that killed millions, and a huge split in the Church called the Protestant Reformation.

As Lutheran Christians, this history is important to us, and it’s worth paying attention to. We’re going to be touching on the history of Luther and the Reformation all year, as we approach next year’s 500th anniversary.

Reformation 500 Book Fair
Our Reformation 500 book fair!

The books in the fellowship hall are part of this commemoration, as well as the bulletin insert about Luther. We’ll have a bulletin insert each month, as we learn about this history leading up to the 500th anniversary.

The key to the Reformation, and the reason it’s an appropriate day to celebrate confirmation, is that much of the Reformation is all about faith in God. It’s about the relationship between faith and works, about whether we need to work hard to get to God, or whether God comes to us. Martin Luther called the church back to focusing on what God has done for us, on Jesus’ death on the cross, on the grace of a loving God.

Today’s color is red, the color of fire, because fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and we’re celebrating the ways the Holy Spirit is at work in the church.

The other name for confirmation is affirmation of baptism. As I said last week, the reason we can baptize babies is because baptism is a sign of God coming to us, something God does, not something we do.

God chooses you; you don’t choose God. It’s the Holy Spirit’s work, not ours. When we lay hands on people at baptism, and at confirmation recalling their baptism, we’re praying for the Holy Spirit to stir in them, to make a difference in their lives and in our world.

Read that last verse of the Gospel reading with me, out loud. Luke 19:10. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” That verse is a summary of Jesus’ entire mission. Jesus has come, God has come in the flesh, to seek out and to save the lost.

The entire Bible is the story of a God who loves the people, yet the people continually turn away. The passage from Jeremiah talks about God’s plan to make a new covenant with God’s people, since the people had been unfaithful and broken the previous covenant. That new covenant is Jesus, the one inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’s house. The one claiming us, inviting himself into our lives, inviting us to receive him.

Today, you get the opportunity to affirm what God has done. God claims us in baptism; in confirmation, we get to affirm that this makes a difference in our lives.

Teryn, you chose as your verse Luke 23:43, “Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” That’s a beautiful promise, and if you look at who Jesus is talking to, it’s even better.

Jesus is hanging on the cross, about to die, and one of the two criminals being crucified next to him says to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus offers him these words of assurance, that today he’ll be with him in paradise. That promise is for us, too.

Even though we mess up, even though we sin, even though our sins mean we deserve to die like this thief, Jesus forgives us and dies in our place. Hold on to that promise that we will be with Jesus in paradise.

Because we have that promise, we have hope, even in times of darkness. Ivee, your verse is John 8:12 – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’” Without the hope of Jesus, it’s like we’re stuck in darkness.

We’re stuck trying to do the best we can, and that’s never good enough. The light we have, the hope we have comes from Jesus. Our job as Christians is to share that light with other people.

JC, your verse tells us how we should do that. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

There are plenty of reasons in our world to be afraid, even terrified. Look at the news from Syria, at tragedies like car accidents here at home, and in so much more we could name. In the midst of all the suffering in the world and in our own lives, this verse sums up the promise God makes with us.

“The Lord your God goes with you and will never leave you or forsake you.” That doesn’t mean life is somehow easier as a Christian, but it is the promise we hold on to. In baptism, God claims us as beloved children, and promises to stay with us, to carry us through the tough times.

And God carrying us through the hard times is good. Rainy, your verse, Jeremiah 29:11, says “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

God’s plans for us are good. When stuff goes wrong, when people let you down, or when junk happens in your life and you’re wondering if it’s God’s plan, hold on to this verse. God can take all kinds of junk, all kinds of the garbage we face in this life, and God can bring good out of it.

This doesn’t mean that God has every step of your life laid out, or that God planned whatever any of you might be going through. That’s not the kind of plans we’re talking about. This promise is that God intends good for you, and intends for you to do good.

confirmation-2016
Pre-worship confirmation photo

Finally, Miles, your verse tells us in a few simple – yet incredibly powerful – words, how God plans for us to live. Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That sounds great, right?

And yet, it’s so hard to do, especially when you look at what Jesus is talking about right around this verse. This is in the middle of a section where Jesus is telling us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” If someone steals from you, don’t stop them. What good does it do to love those who love you? Instead, love your enemies.

These are powerful commands, and they’re worth continuing to explore, because following these commands will change the world.

As we celebrate your confirmation today, as you affirm your baptism and the promises your parents made on your behalf, or that you’ll make today, hold on to God’s promises for you.

As you say yes to God today, remember that God’s yes to you is so much more important than anything you say or do.

In Jesus, God has come to be with us, bringing us into God’s light, showing us a new, radical way to live loving our enemies, giving us hope and a future, giving us the courage to face life, and finally promising us a place with God in paradise.

Jesus is God’s yes to you. It’s only with God’s help that the promises you’ll make in a couple minutes mean anything, because you can’t do it on your own. May we all hold on to God’s promises.
Amen.

Sermon: Zacchaeus, Reformation, and Confirmation
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