A CONFIRMAND'S PRAYER: HELP ME...
Dear friends in Christ, especially our confirmands,
The rite of Confirmation began during the Middle Ages. Thomas Aquinas, one of the Catholic Church's most influential theologians and philosophers, considered Confirmation something bigger than it is. He called “confirmation the second sacrament.” Martin Luther strongly opposed the Roman Catholic understanding of confirmation as a sacrament. He rejected confirmation as a sacrament because he could find “no word of divine promise connected to it.” There is a good reason. Confirmation is not found in the Bible.
When we talk about a sacrament, it meets four criteria: 1) It is divinely instituted; 2) There is an earthly element that is used with it; 3) It has a divine word that is spoken with it. 4) It conveys and promises the forgiveness of sins. That’s the great blessing of a sacrament, the forgiveness of sins. In the end Baptism and Lord’s Supper meet that criterial, not confirmation.
Confirmation is a product of Christian freedom. If anything serves a good and godly purpose for your spiritual welfare then use it. If fasting is good for you spiritually, then use it. This is the definition we in the Lutheran Church would use and be comfortable with: “Confirmation is a church rite in which a congregation gives its catechumens who have been instructed in Christian doctrine according to the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions an opportunity to confess their faith before the church, prays for the children with the laying on of hands, and invites them as such who have sufficient spiritual maturity to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
These are the significant points to confirmation: 1) Today is not nearly as important as what has taken place on Sundays from 8:30 to 10 AM for the past two years. There was instruction in God’s Word. 2) Today in this service our catechumens are being given the opportunity to make a public confession that they learned something and that what they learned they believe; 3) As a congregation we are praying specifically for them to remain faithful and promise to encourage them; 4) They are invited to come to the Lord’s Supper. They have been instructed regarding preparations and blessings received.
Today’s sermon is “The Prayer of the Confirmand,” 1) Help me fear you, Lord; 2) Help me believe you, Lord. 3) Help me serve you, Lord.
We go back to the year King Uzziah died. It was 740 BC. Many say when King Uzziah died, it marked the beginning of the end of Judah. Two great superpowers were on the horizon. First was Assyria, then came Babylon. They would influence God’s people, Israel, for the next couple of hundred years.
God’s people were spiraling downward. It is so much like our own nation. The generation of people who fought in World War II and lived during the War and prior are called the Greatest Generation. Statistically their generation loves the Lord. The depression and WWII brought them humbly to the church pews, but each generation since has been less faithful and more arrogant. That was the way of God’s people at Isaiah’s time.
But God didn’t give up on them. He doesn’t give up on us either. He sent and sends his prophets and spokesmen to rebuke and correct and forgive. Isaiah was one of them. These words are his calling.
His calling was most unusual. Isaiah got to see what precious few see in this life. He was taken into heaven itself. “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
This was an overwhelming scene. Isaiah saw the Lord in his majesty. He saw the Lord in his temple sitting on his splendid throne. He is the ruler of the world and his Church at the same time. He rules the world for the Church. The train of his robe filled the temple. Nothing can contain him. He is everywhere. Yes, he is even here.
All in heaven worship and praise him, even the seraphim. What are the seraphim? It is noteworthy that this word is used only here in the Bible. They are angels. There are cherubim and seraphim. The seraphim had six wings, “With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” Why did they cover their faces and cover their feet? Do you remember the Bible story when Moses met God at the burning bush? “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Moses was meeting God. He knew it. Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Why? Moses was a sinner, the Lord is not. God is holy. Isaiah was meeting the Lord. The Lord was holy, Isaiah was not.
I am sure that most of us here, if not all of us, have thought it would be a lot easier to believe in the Lord if we could see him. Be careful what you wish for. When Moses stood in the presence of God, he hid his face. Isaiah fell on his knees and confessed, “Woe is me for I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah knew he was a sinner. God is not.
Even the holy angels, who are perfect, knew they stood in the presence of someone far greater than themselves. They stood before their Maker. They sang out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” The Lord is sinless, sinless, sinless. The Lord is perfect, perfect, perfect. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons but one God, has the characteristics that only God can have. There is only one thing we can do. It is time to show love and reverence and awe. It is time to show godly fear and respect.
Jesus once said that people need to demonstrate a child-like faith in him, as a child trusts his parents. Yet there is another aspect of faith that needs to be mature. The Bible says that we must proceed from the elementary to the mature. Children like things to be fun to hold their attention. But as one gets older, you see that life gets pretty serious. A mature Christian faith needs to be in place to be able to handle life. Life is not always fun. We need faith through sickness and setbacks and doubts and death. We need faith that holds on to the Lord through thick and through thin. A cocky and half-interested faith will never do. We need a faith that respects and fears the Lord. We need a faith that comes before the Lord that is humble. We come before the Lord as beggars.
We who are beggars needing forgiveness. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” When standing before our perfect God, Isaiah he didn’t protest that God was somehow unfair. He didn’t protest for even a millisecond. I am a man of unclean lips.
Did you see the television anchor in Atlanta this week go on TV to confess she is an alcoholic. She has had three DUI’s. One of them resulted in a car accident. While she admitted that she was an alcoholic, she denied it was her fault. She said she was depressed and genetically predisposed to alcoholism. No, ma’am, the bourbon passed through your lips. You decided to get behind the wheel and you hit the car and hurt the driver.
Isaiah had a problem with his lips too. It wasn’t alcohol. His problem was the words he said. He used language the Lord would never use. He used language violated the second and eighth commandments and every one in between. He probably cursed and asked God to damn people to hell. He did not speak the truth in love. “I am a man of unclean lips, but I also live among a people of unclean lips.”
What was true of Isaiah was true of the rest of Judah. Hey, what was true of Isaiah and Judah is true of us. Compare your words to the Ten Commandments. Do all my words come from a heart of love? Do my words praise God and seek to build up those around me or do my words tear them down? Are they kind or are they critical? Are they the kind of words that would come out of the mouth of Jesus?
Forgiveness needed. Forgiveness supplied. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” This is a head scratcher. An angel of the Lord took a live coal from the altar and placed it into the mouth of Isaiah and said his sins were taken away. It seems this act would have burned the tongue and not heal it. But we don’t hear Isaiah protest. When the hot coal was placed on his lips he doesn’t scream for icy cold water. He was assured of the forgiveness of sins. How can that be?
Remember this was written in Old Testament times. Sacrifices were burned on the altar outside the temple. The hot coals were taken from that altar of sacrifice where the sheep and the lambs were brought to atone for sin. This was a picture of the sacrifice, the once for all sacrifice that Jesus would endure to take the sin of the world away.
Martin Luther made a most interesting comment on these verses. He said that God included a very tangible act that conveyed forgiveness of sins to Isaiah, a hot coal. He could see it. He could feel it. He does the same with Baptism. He does the same with Lord’s Supper by which he conveys forgiveness to us. In Baptism the tangible item is water that washes our sin away. In the Lord’s Supper it is bread and wine with his body and blood which was given and shed for you. Each sacrament is a tangible, touchable, and in the case of the Lord’s Supper, a tasteable way to pass along forgiveness of sins to the participant. The sacraments are an answer to the prayer, “Help me believe in you, Lord.” He forgives us in a personal and tangible way.
“Help me serve you” is the third part of the confirmand’s prayer! ‘“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!’” Isaiah and his potty-mouth was cleansed. Now it was time to use his tongue for a better purpose. The Lord asked the question, ‘“Whom shall I send” And who will go for us?”’ In excitement Isaiah wanted the Lord to send him. He knew he was cleansed from his sins. He wanted to serve.
A faith which matures is a faith that serves. Martin Luther once said something that is so down to earth. Service for the Lord is not contrived or forced or achieved by making people feel guilty. He said, “Serving the Lord is done the same way pear produces pears. You don’t have to tell a pear tree to bear pears. You don’t have to stand over it with a whip to force it bear pears. You don’t have to promise it all kinds of rewards to bear pears. It just does it. That’s the way a Christian serves too. He just does it when a heart is filled with the love from Jesus and for Jesus. We have been redeemed fully and freely. So comes service! Let the fruits of faith in the forgiveness of sins come forth.
Confirmation Class of 2016, don’t throw obstacles in the way of letting God work in you. Don’t step away or push away the Word of God and his sacraments. Treasure them. Don’t let your Bibles and catechisms collect dust. That’s good for all of us.
Dear Lord, help these young people respect and fear you Lord; let these young people believe in you; Let these young people serve you.