O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on the Gradual for Pentecost – Romans 10:10
Preached on May 24, 2015
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Text is from the Gradual this morning: With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:10)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The court went completely silent. The hush was nearly deafening, and the young man began his approach to the stand. Every footstep echoed throughout the massive space. Eyes were locked on him. Ears were honed towards him. Minds were bent after him. He had been called to testify in court. He didn't have a choice. His life and the lives of countless others depended on what he would say – and he had to say something. There was no situation where he could run away, or stay silent, or wait it out. The whole world was watching, waiting, witnessing what would come from his mouth. (pause) What would he say? What would he confess?
My dear confirmands, though it may not look like it, though your eyes cannot perceive the hosts of heaven that surround us this morning, though He and His heavenly throne are hidden from your sight, today is your day on the stand. Moments from now you too will begin your approach before the judgment seat of Christ while all of heaven is watching, waiting, witnessing what will come from your mouths. You have studied the Scriptures and the Small Catechism for three years, and what you confess this day is as good as spoken before the whole world on the Last Day. Your public confession of Christ will start this day and sound every day until - and even beyond the end of days. What will you say? What will you confess?
Beautiful Savior, Christ's Church here in St. Vital, you too have studied the Scriptures and the Small Catechism. You have made the confession you are about to witness, and you continue to make it every day, every week, especially when we gather and confess the creeds here in the Divine Service. You take your confession seriously, because you have constituted this congregation upon the Lutheran Confessions, and you require your called pastors to subscribe to, believe, teach and confess the teachings found within because they are in accord with the Word of God. So likewise, you require these confirmands to confess the teachings of the Small Catechism in order to commune at this altar and be a member of this fellowship.
It all sounds so stiff. So rigid. Hardly the sort of position that people are looking to take these days. Your confession gets you in trouble. The world hates you for it. Hates you for making it. For even presuming to have a confession of faith that would rule out others. But didn't we just hear Jesus warn us about that last week? "If the world hates you, know that it hated me first," He said. It isn't you they hate – it is the Jesus you confess. It is His own confession of Himself – His own Word, which we merely repeat. Don't be surprised when they hate Him. For the world has always hated Him, even as He died for them. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Even as they spit on Him and mocked Him and tortured Him and nailed Him into the rugged wood of the cross. He prayed for them.
Jesus also prayed for you, His Church. He said, "I have given them your word, Father, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." The Evil One is behind the attack on your confession – just as he was behind the attack on Jesus, and Paul, and Luther, and every confessor of the true saving faith through all of history right up to this very moment as I preach it to you again, and his voice tells you to reject it. And yet the prayer of Jesus remains, "Sanctify them in the truth, Father. Your Word is truth."
But why would we do it? Why would we make a confession that gets us into trouble? Why would we make a confession that gathers us together but divides us from those who believe differently? The answer will surprise you. For it is not because a group of scholars wanted to define who God is and what He is like. It is not because the disciples had to figure out how to do this thing called church. It is not because someone needed to formalize how to run a liturgy and a worship service. No, the reason you and me and every person in all of history is forced to confess what they believe is because Jesus asked that question. "Who do people say that I am?" Yeah, "but who do you say I am?"
Jesus is the One who creates confession. He is the One making creeds and confessions in His Church – drawing the truth of the faith from the mouths of His own people. Confirmands, the words your lips will speak, and the truth that you will confess this morning is not of human origin. Flesh and blood has not revealed Christ to be your Saviour, but your Father who is in heaven, Jesus says. No one can say, "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit, Paul writes. And as the Small Catechism which you have studied says "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, nor come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel – and in like manner He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth. In every generation. In every language, tribe and people. This is God's doing, and it is marvelous in our sight.
No man can escape giving an answer to this question Jesus asks. And our Lutheran Confessions, and the Small Catechism which is a part of it - seek to be nothing more than an answer to that same question.
Who do people say that I am? The answers people give determines where they will gather. Christ creates confession in His Church in order to gather and to separate. In order to gather His people around the truth, and to exclude error from His people. We see this clearest in the New Testament.
The Church of the apostles first gathered around the confession "Jesus is the Christ" which separated them from the Jews and the synagogue. Then the congregations of Paul made it even more clear saying, "Jesus is LORD." This not only massacred any connection to the Jewish synagogues by identifying Jesus as the God of the Old Testament, but was a direct affront to the pagan mystery religions of Greece and Rome who called their gods lords. Finally, it was the apostle of love, John, who confessed that Jesus has come in the flesh in order to separate the Church from false teachers – that is, Christian preachers, who truly believed in Jesus, but were trying to give Him greater honour by denying the fleshly reality of His body. John dared to designate them as false prophets, yes, as antichrists, and even denied his Christians the right to bid them Godspeed in their preaching. The Lord of the Church has always used these great doctrinal confessions to gather His true Church and separate her from error, in the ancient Church, at the time of Luther and the Reformation, and even today.
But as Lutherans, we have better opportunity than any to note a clear confession in what has been called the most beautiful sentence in the German language, Luther's answer to Christ's question: who do you say that I am? And you know it. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord; who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from me all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
Confirmands, this is what you are about to stand up and say, not just to me, not just to your family and friends here, but to the One who has done all of this for you. To your Lord. Yes, it is a matter of life and death, for a confessor is constantly standing in the boundary between time and eternity, between eternal life and eternal death. But you know it is the Holy Spirit who has put this confession on your lips. It is the Holy Spirit who has given you this faith by the Gospel. And it is the One who came here to die and rise for you that calls you to speak it boldly now.
So let us all confess our faith with renewed joy and vigor, as did those who came before us. Let us not be ashamed to be a Confessing Church. And let us not forfeit the great heritage of our fathers for the ever-changing winds of modern culture, but apply to ourselves this truth: Stand by the Word, then you will stand where the Word stands, no matter where your footsteps may echo.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr