Propers: Whitsun (Pentecost), A.D. 2018 B
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Holy Spirit takes Jesus—all that He has, all that He is, all that He does—and puts Him into you.
Think about Christmas. Think about Easter. Think about how scandalous it is to say that in Mary’s womb, the finite contained the infinite, the Creation birthed the Creator. Now think about Pentecost and realize how much crazier it sounds to confess that not only did God become Man, but that God now makes all of us into Him.
And He does this by breathing His Spirit into us, pouring out the Life and Breath and Blood of God into our mortal bodies, that we might all, as one, become His Body, knit together in the Church, bound inextricably in flesh and blood, nerve and bone, to Christ who is our head—a Risen Body housing a deathless Flame, so that Christ Himself still walks this earth to heal the sick and speak the truth and feed the poor and raise the dead—only now He does this in and with and through and even in spite of us.
We are the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. And Christ is nothing other than God and Man made one, His Spirit binding us together in flesh and blood and mind and soul. That’s what all of this means! That’s why we gather here every Sunday, so that we might be Christ for the world! And yes, we are broken. And yes, we are sinful. And yes, we often get it wrong. We get darn near everything wrong. But Christ meets us here, every Sunday, to cleanse us of our sins, to raise us to new life, and to make us one in Him in the Body and Blood of our Lord at His Table.
It’s easy to keep Christmas private. It’s easy to keep Easter private. But we cannot for the life of us keep Pentecost private. Because it’s our turn now, our time to step up. We are the only way that people can know the living Christ, His goodness and truth and beauty, we and our baptized brothers and sisters throughout this benighted sphere. We are the hands of Christ now. We are the voice of forgiveness. We are the dead who have risen from our graves. We sainted sinners are now God’s Body in this world.
And maybe we wish He would save the world in some other way. Maybe we’d wish for something more spiritual, more private. Less intrusive, less offensive. But God sent His Holy Spirit out into this world and the first thing He did was burrow deep into your soul and make of your body His Temple. And believe me, once He’s in there, He ain’t ever coming out. You are a Christian, whether you like it or not, to the end of the line. Because God does not break promises.
Confirmands: for three years now, we have read and studied and prayed together. You, your pastor, your parents and guardians, have worked through the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Catechism of our church. You have faithfully attended worship and participated in the liturgy attentively through a full three-year cycle of our lectionary. And I pray to God that this has changed you, deepened your faith, and brought it more fully into your homes.
The faith that matters is the faith at home. And I know that can be hard, what with all the directions in which we find ourselves pulled, all the subjects demanding our attention. But it doesn’t take much. A few verses here and there. A few prayers offered up in sincerity or desperation or duty. Luther liked to say that husband and wife are the bishop and bishopess of the house, and the house itself like unto a monastery of the Lord, with the everyday made holy and prayers for each hour of the day or of the night.
Our Sunday worship is a pattern of gathering and sending, breathing in, breathing out, like the steady beat of a living heart. We come together to be fed and forgiven, nourished on the Word and the Sacraments, sent out to be Jesus for the world. And this is all to support the faith of the home, to support the family and the community whom Christ has come to save, not in the abstract, but in the messiness and struggles of everyday life.
That’s why our gifts to you might seem unusual. We used to give to our confirmands tokens of remembrance, small crosses, necklaces. And those were all well and good. But now we give out hymnals—which at first might strike us strange. But these hymnals have always been intended for home use. They have within them the Catechism for instruction in the faith. They contain a cycle of prayers and Scripture readings, both day and night, for every day of the week and every season of the year, all in harmony with the Sunday lectionary.
And of course our hymnals contain songs. Songs of joy and lamentation. Songs of life and songs of death. Songs from throughout the many centuries and cultures of Christ’s Church. Wedding songs, funeral songs, healing songs, grieving songs. Ever since the microphone, we don’t sing the way we used to. Most people don’t seem to think they can. But God still wants to hear your voice, the voice of His beloved child. And you’d best get used to it, for I have it on good authority that Heaven is full of song.
You’ve got your Bible, your hymnal, and your prayers. You’ve got the love and support of this community and the entire Body of Christ. You have been prepared the best that we know how—prepared to begin your own journey and life of faith. Confirmation’s not the end. It’s just your ABC’s. In Christ there will be no end of struggles, of comforts, of discoveries, of revelations. We welcome you today no longer as children but as fellow pilgrims and fellow-soldiers in Christ.
Which is why we slap you, by the way. Gently, I promise, but I thought I should give fair warning. You are anointed this day with Oil of Confirmation, blessed at the bishop’s own Chrism Mass, as a sign of our unity in Christ and of God’s Spirit within you. And then you are slapped in the face, symbolically, as a reminder to be brave, my dear Christians. Be strong and loving and fearless. For the Lord your God is with you wheresoever you may go.
And that goes double for our graduates. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. Today we have the bittersweet honor of sending you out into the wide and wild world, embarking on adulthood, no longer a child. And you will find, if you haven’t already, that as we grow stronger, the world tends to get tougher. Life has a funny way of keeping things balanced.
Perhaps you’re off to college. If so, I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did. (Maybe a little less. I enjoyed perhaps a bit too much.) But as you shoulder new freedoms and new responsibilities—a tad cliché, I know—I would warn you to keep the first things first in life. You will find, as did Pascal, that the world is full of divertissement. That is, diversions, distractions. Neat things to do, neat things to buy. Things that are fun or risky or addictive or diverting. And certainly some of them are harmless enough.
But we’ve reached the stage in our society where we can, if we wish, keep ourselves diverted for life. We can push off the big questions of meaning and value, of religion and death. We can keep ourselves so busy that we never truly grow up. Don’t get distracted. You don’t have much time. I know it feels like you do, but as every old person you’ve ever met has surely told you, it goes quickly, like sand between your fingers. Keep your eye on what’s important, what really matters in life, what kind of person you want to be. What is it really that you want on your tombstone?
The world is full of people floating aimlessly about from one pleasure to the next, one more distraction unto death. Don’t be one of them. Read. Give. Pray. Don’t waste even one more day not putting others before yourselves. You were confirmed here. You were baptized. You were bought with a price. And you inherited with all those promises the duties of a Christian: to be Christ in the world; to love, to forgive, to sacrifice, to strive. And we are with you in this life together. You will always have a home here.
Sooner or later everything ends up in the grave. Everything ends up as ashes and dirt. The only things that really matter are the things that rise back up, that outlive death. And you’re not going to find those at the bottom of a bottle or on a credit card statement.
In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams … Then everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.
Let’s do this, brothers and sisters. Together.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.