April 8 & 9, 2017 Confirmation
Haggai 2: 1-5
On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’”
Dear friends in Christ Jesus, but especially you our confirmands,
Gazing into my crystal ball, I see a possible future, not one I expect to see, but possible. It’s the year 2047. I see the pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in his office. It’s early on a Tuesday morning, and he gets a phone call (or whatever they’re using 30 years from now). A guy says, “Hi, pastor, uh, you don’t know me. My name is Joe _____________. My dad, ___________, is a member of your church.” Oh?” the pastor says. “I don’t think I know anybody by that name.” “Yeah, I guess maybe it’s been a few years since he’s been there.” The pastor searches the chip in his head containing all the congregation’s records, and says, “OK, I see it now; your dad was confirmed back in 2017. It says he attended off and on for the next few years, but then we lost track of him completely.”
Joe says, “Well, you know, my dad went to school and started a family and a career, and he’s just been really busy; he’s involved with a lot of things. You know how it goes; I’m sure he meant to get back to church some time. Anyway, he was in an accident last night and is in critical condition. Would you maybe go see him?”
The pastor says, “Of course,” praying that it’s not too late to have a good conversation with Joe’s dad. I do not think that future is likely. Possible? Yes. We’ve seen similar things happen to others who stood up here on their Confirmation Day and made these professions and promises. “I do believe this!” they said. “I do believe in my Savior, Jesus! I do believe what God’s Word teaches!” Then they said, “I will be faithful to the Triune God all the way to death. I will continue to go to church and communion. By his grace, I will stay close to him and serve him with a life that brings him glory!”
Many have made those promises; not all have kept them. Look at the pictures of confirmands in the fellowship hall. How many are no longer attending church? Every Christian knows the anti-God forces we face: the devil, unbelieving world and sinful self. We know the pressures, worries, disappointments, the joys and pleasures and fears that can derail a life meant to be devoted to God. But you know what it all comes down to? The real question, one you and I answer many times every day, is: “Will I live a life that’s dedicated to ME or to GOD?”
That was the question in Jerusalem five centuries before Christ. Yes, that was a long, long time ago, but the people back then had the same challenges we have today. You remember the history. The exiles came back from Babylon to a devastated land, a city in ruins, the temple a pile of charred stones. But they bent their backs, got to work and started rebuilding the walls, the city and, most importantly, God’s house.
It was hard work, expensive, time-consuming and exhausting. Poor crops, enemies disrupting the project, government interference and threats occurred. And soon the work ground to a halt. The real problem, though, wasn’t any or all those difficulties. The LORD sent Haggai to point out what the real issue was. In Chapter 1 we read: The LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’” Their thinking was, “This just isn’t a good time. The cost, the difficulties, all this opposition, and it’s hard enough making a living these days! Clearly, it would make sense to put this off till later. There’ll be a better time then, someday...it’s just not now.”
To that, the LORD said, “Is it a time for you to be living in your paneled houses, while my house remains a ruin?” Obviously, their priority was making their houses nice, and they didn’t care about his house. But it was deeper than that. The LORD stared into their hearts and saw the heart of the problem. They’d chosen to live lives dedicated to themselves rather than to God.
Every time we confirm someone, youth or adult, it’s a reminder that this is what it’s all about. This is the question for every believer, one that you and I must answer many times every day: Will I live a life that’s dedicated to ME or dedicated to GOD?
The goal of life is to live devoted to God. That is the first commandment, putting God first. But think how often we put ourselves first. My wants, my rest, my needs are more important that doing what God wants. And so we lash out at others, we are infrequent in our worship, we live with the tunnel vision looking only at our lives, oblivious to the needs of others around. Think of how often what we do, say and think must disgust our God. Why shouldn’t he throw us straight into hell? That we deserve. But look at what God has done to save you from your sins. Look at how he totally devoted himself to you. He sent his Son to die on the cross and pay for your sins. Jesus, to save you, lived his life 100% devoted to God and that life now counts as yours! Jesus suffered 100% of the hell you deserve to take that away from you. Jesus, by his blood, purchased you to belong to God forever, and now! Our response is to live a life that is devoted to God.
However, when you’re 14 years old and heading off to high school, or 18 and college-bound, when you’re 24 and getting started on a career, maybe marriage and family, when you’re 34, 44, 54, 64—at any stage of life, there are forces that can push or pull or even scare you away from a life devoted to God. Our spiritual enemies are powerful. The pull of temptations, all the “good things” out there, is strong. These confirmands will face all these things, just as you and I have and will. Is it possible that they’ll get derailed into living a life devoted to themselves? Is that a possibility for any of us that we live a life dedicated to me rather than to the LORD?
Could we ever be the ones thinking, “Now is not the time”? I don’t really need to go to church this Sunday; there’s always next Sunday… or next month… or next year… or maybe when I’m older and married and have kids. Yeah, then it’ll be important, or maybe when I’m dying. I know I should clean up my lifestyle a lot, but now’s the time to have some fun, right? When I’m older, yeah, then I’ll try to act more like a Christian.” Not now, maybe later. Dear redeemed, that’s the road that leads to hell.
A life dedicated to me rather than my Savior? Possible, yes, but it doesn’t have to happen. Our gracious, powerful God is standing by to make sure that it doesn’t. For a great example of that, let’s drop back in on those people in Jerusalem. You know what happened after they heard what the LORD had to say? Still in Ch. 1, it says, “The people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God. And the people feared the LORD.” And then, guess what, they came back and went to work on God’s house, the place for his Name and his glory.
What a change of heart! They repented and the Lord forgave. Now it was God’s glory first, his priorities above theirs, spiritual things before material things. Now it was hearts and lives devoted to him once again. But the work was still hard, really hard, and the results were more than a bit disappointing. So the LORD spoke to them again.
He had three commands for his people and we find them in our sermon text. Here are the first two: “Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the LORD, “and work.” They were to stand up and stand strong, shoulder-to-shoulder, against all obstacles and enemies. They were to get on with the work. The immediate task was building the LORD’s house, but again, that’s not the deeper issue. The real goal was lives devoted to God. In whatever they were doing, to honor his Name and bring him glory. Wherever they were, to love, serve and obey the LORD their God.
Those commands don’t stand alone; he also attached this: “For I am with you,” declares the LORD Almighty. How often do we read that in the Bible? How often did the LORD say that to one or to many? “I am with you.” These are words that give strength and courage to do whatever it takes. Isn’t that what the Jesus promises us? “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” he tells us. With that assurance, Kimmie, Aaron, Adam, Laramie and Breanna and every one of us can, at every stage of life, indeed be strong and work hard at a life devoted to our Savior-God. The third command is also meant for you and me: “Do not fear,” he said to them. “Don’t be afraid,” our God says to us, “Don’t be afraid as you devote your life to me, because I am with you! I will be your helper, forgiver and friend. I will be there for you.”
What matters is not what happened “then,” in our past, not if the “now” is divorced from it! The fact that I was baptized, that I was confirmed, that I used to go to church, that I used to receive the Lord’s Supper, used to read my Bible, used to serve my Lord – none of it will matter if I’ve gotten derailed and left it all behind me, back “then.” What matters is NOW – the “now” of today, then the “now” of tomorrow, then the “now” of every day after that. To enable us to face every “now,” our Lord gives us the same guarantee he gave them: “I am with you … and my Spirit remains in you.” As the confirmands say their vows, let us all recall the vows we have said at our confirmation. The Lord promises his faithfulness to us, to not forsake us ever. Don’t you go and forsake him. Stay with the Lord and his worship and know the wonderful blessings he has to give.
Looking into my crystal ball I see another future which is the one I pray will be the real one. I see these five confirmands and every one of us living lives dedicated not to ourselves but to our Savior-God. That’s the life that brings glory to him now and blessings to us. That’s the life that will continue with him in the glory of heaven then! Amen.