October 19, 2014
This letter is based on Isaiah 45 verse 5. “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me, there is no god.”
I wanted to write this letter to you on the day you are being confirmed. I wanted to spend a little while letting you know what you are doing today and how important it is. When I was your age, I didn’t think confirmation was all that big a deal. It was something we Lutherans did–like the Catholics and others, but I personally didn’t see much significance in it. It was one more hoop I was supposed to jump through to be an adult member of the church. And that is exactly what you will be after today, but the focus of confirmation isn’t just about this. It’s much, much more.
For today hearkens back to the day you were baptized. You were much smaller than you are now. You couldn’t make any decisions at all. You didn’t ask to be baptized. You didn’t ask to be a Christian. You didn’t even know God or Jesus. Yet, your parents wanted you to be a Christian. They wanted you to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. They wanted you to follow Him throughout your life. They promised to raise you to become a Christian. It was their promise; not yours.
Today, that changes; however. Today you are going to stand before this congregation and say, “Today, I affirm what my parents did years ago. It’s no longer their promise which holds me to the church–it is my own promise. I now want to follow and serve Jesus Christ. He is my Lord and Savior.” This is a very important stand you are taking–a very important stand. You may not quite understand this now–in fact you might not have thought about what I am going to tell you at all. It’s okay, though. It’s only been recently that I have really come to start understanding just what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus. It’s only recently that I really and truly understood what the Gospel meant. It’s only recently that I have come to see just how different the Christian faith works in this world.
You see, for the longest time, I wanted to be important. I wanted to be valued. I wanted what I said and what I did to count. I wanted people to tell me what a good job I was doing. I wanted people to like me. And I wanted to make a name for myself. As a pastor, you get this one of two ways: either by growing a church bigger and bigger and bigger to the point where people can’t help but see what you do or you toe the party line and suck up to the power structure so that they will bring you up through the ranks. I’m not one to suck up to people in power and authority. I never have done well with that, so the other alternative was to make a church grow–and grow big. Do you know what this caused me?
It ended up causing me a lot of grief. For you see, when things were going good at church and people were joining the congregation, I was happy. When everyone was getting along and our pews were full of people, I was all smiles. Everything was wonderful. But, you know, things do not always work out in the way we want them too. Our church hasn’t grown as fast as I wanted it to. There were some people who left the church for various reasons, and it hurt me. It hurt me a lot. I thought I had to make everyone stay because my value and my worth came from whether or not this church grew and grew and grew. And when it didn’t grow and grow and grow, I became angry and tired and frustrated. It was my own fault really. I was simply doing what the world had taught me to do. I was following a lot of false gods.
You see, the world teaches us from the time we are born that our value; our worth; and our happiness comes from what we do. You all know this very well by now; so well you probably think this is how everything works in life. You know this very well as you go through school. If you want a good grade, then you have to study and prepare and do your homework and school work. You know that if you want to participate in athletics or cheerleading or any extra-curricular activity, then you have to keep your grades up. You also know that in order to fit in with a particular group at school, then you have to dress a certain way or act a certain way. If you don’t do those things, you will not be accepted. You have also reached that age where designer labels matter. It’s not enough to buy a pair of blue jeans; they have to have the right label so that no one will judge you or laugh at you. You also know that your value in sports and in activities is directly linked to how well you can perform. If you can hit a baseball well, you will be in the starting line up. This is just how the world works.
And it won’t change much as you grow. More and more you will find things telling you that if you want value; if you want happiness; if you want some sort of worth, then you will need to do certain things. If you want a good job, then you will have to get an education. If you want to be happy, you will need to buy a certain type of car. If you want to experience peace, then you will have to give up money to travel to a certain vacation spot. If you want your children to be happy, if you are blessed with children, then you will have to buy them a particular toy. Over and over and over again, you will be told this. Just about everything in the world operates this way.
And if you believe this; if your mind and heart is captured by this, then you will find yourself just like I was: tired, worn out, angry and burned out. You will find yourself wondering if you really have worth and value. You will wonder if you will ever find true happiness and joy. And whether you know it or not, it will be your fault because you will have spent a lifetime pursuing a lot of false gods instead of the One True God–the God who says in our first lesson this morning–there is no other God, except Him.
Now, this might sound a little bit arrogant. I mean, aren’t there a lot of people who worship in other religions? Aren’t they sincere in their faith? Don’t they try to be devout people who do good things? Why in the world should we say that the God we worship is the only True God and that they are not worshiping our God? Shouldn’t we be respectful instead of thinking that we are better than them?
Here is the thing, if you are worshiping the One True God, then you will be respectful and humble. You will care for people who you disagree with. You will give people freedom to go their own way, and you will still love them even if you know that way is headed down the wrong path. If you worship the One True God, then you will recognize that other people can be good and moral and nice–sometimes even being better and nicer and kinder and more loving than you. But you will still realize that they are pursuing false gods. You will still be able to recognize that the way of the One True God is vastly different than the way of every other god and especially the way of the world.
I will try to show you how. You see, last November, I went to visit my grandfather. He’s 95 now, so he has a world of accumulated wisdom. My grandfather was a pastor, and he and I talked a lot when we visited. He talked a lot about the things he did as a pastor. As he talked, I learned a lot. He never served a large congregation. He was a country pastor. He never worked his way up into the higher offices of the church. You could say that he never really advanced very far in his career if you wanted. He never wrote a book or became a famous theologian. He knew this, and he was more than okay with it. I know this because as he talked to me, he said something that hit me to the very core. He said, “You know, I didn’t accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on very good terms.”
That stopped me dead in my tracks because up until that time I realized what I was trying to do. I realized I was trying to accomplish a lot in the eyes of the world. I was trying to get my value and worth and happiness from my accomplishments. I was buying into what the world said, “Do this, and you will be loved and appreciated.” But our Christian faith does not say this. Our Christian faith says something completely and utterly different. Our Christian faith says being on good terms with the Lord is the most important thing, and that does not come about from anything we do.
And this is the most important point that I want you to hear this morning as you confirm your faith. This is the central thing I want you to grasp and hold onto. The world says, “Do this and you will be accepted.” All other religions say, “Do this and God will love you.” Christianity says the exact opposite. Christianity says, “God accepts you; God loves you; now live into that freedom.”
The world and every religion wants you to earn your own way. The world and every other religion wants you to justify yourself–justify your value; justify your work; obtain your own happiness. Christianity says Jesus gives you love and acceptance and value and true happiness without any work on your part. It is the exact opposite of the world.
And Jesus gives this all to you despite the fact that you are imperfect–despite the fact that you are a broken piece of this broken world. I know I don’t have to tell you this too much. I remember very well what it was like in school. There were kids who used to pick on me all the time and highlight my imperfections. You probably have that happen to you as well. And the way I used to make myself feel better was to pick on others and highlight their imperfections. I didn’t know any other way, but I do now. I accept my flaws. I accept my brokenness, and I ask Jesus to change me. He’s got a lot of work ahead of Him in that regard, but He willingly works on me. And on you. And on everyone who calls upon His name. Why?
Because He loves us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.”
Christianity is the only religion or philosophy in the world that teaches that God dies on behalf of the world. It’s the only religion that says you are accepted before it ask you to do anything. It is the only religion in the world that gives you value even when you really don’t deserve it. And when someone gives you something you know you don’t deserve, you do not become arrogant. You become humble. You become thankful. You become respectful of others, and you want them to know that God has done the same for them that He has done for you.
It is my sincere hope for you today that as you confirm your faith, you realize just how rebellious you are being. You are turning your back on a world and on all the false gods who want you to earn your value and worth and to justify yourselves. You are saying to them, “I wish to follow a different path. I wish to follow the One who has already loved me; already given me value; and already given me joy. I renounce all you false gods, and I place my trust in the One True God. The God who died for me. I put my trust in Jesus.” May we all have the courage to do just that.
Pastor Kevin Haug