Teaching is Life
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity| (Confirmation)| June 19, 2016| St. Luke 6:36-42
“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” St. Luke 6:36-42
The rite of Confirmation is not a sacrament. It is neither commanded nor forbidden by God. God does command that parents teach their children his holy word. God does tell the ministers of his church to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and to teach the baptized to hold onto everything Jesus commanded. We practice confirmation to give Christians the opportunity publicly to confess their Christian faith. That’s a good custom.
When you are confirmed you say what you believe. You confess that the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as you have learned to know it from Luther’s Small Catechism is true. The Catechism is the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, the Keys and Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Luther’s Small Catechism explains each of these six chief parts in clear, simple, language that is taken from the Holy Scriptures. The confirmand is asked a number of questions. One of them is:
Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?
The confirmand answers: “I do.” The confirmand is also asked:
Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
The confirmand answers: “I do, by the grace of God.” But is it right to ask a thirteen year old to promise to suffer all, even death, rather than to change her mind about what she confesses to be the truth? After all, who can really know what is true, permanently true, true today, tomorrow, and forever? And isn’t the living of a good and decent Christian life more important than confessing that this teaching is the true teaching?
This has long been a popular attitude to take. A hundred years ago the slogan was “deeds, not creeds.” This is the creed of people who think that their deeds are more important than God’s teaching. They say we shouldn’t be so concerned about pure doctrine. We should be more concerned about pure living. Some one hundred and fifty years ago, C. F. W. Walther, one of the founders of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and the greatest Lutheran theologian in America during the 19th century, had this to say about that:
From what has been said you can gather how foolish it is, yea, what an awful delusion has taken hold upon so many men’s minds who ridicule the pure doctrine and say to us: “Ah, do cease clamoring, Pure doctrine! Pure doctrine! That can only land you in dead orthodoxism. Pay more attention to pure life, and you will raise a growth of genuine Christianity.” That is exactly like saying to a farmer: “Do not worry forever about good seed; worry about good fruits.” Is not a farmer properly concerned about good fruit when he is solicitous about getting good seed? Just so a concern about pure doctrine is the proper concern about genuine Christianity and a sincere Christian life. False doctrine is noxious seed, sown by the enemy to produce a progeny of wickedness. The pure doctrine is wheat-seed; from it spring the children of the Kingdom, who even in the present life belong in the kingdom of Jesus Christ and in the life to come will be received into the Kingdom of Glory. May God even now implant in your hearts a great fear, yea, a real abhorrence, of false doctrine! May He graciously give you a holy desire for the pure, saving truth, revealed by God Himself!
Pure teaching is the foundation for the Christian life. Jesus teaches us this when he says, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” The mercy we show we show because we have received mercy from God. Every Sunday we gather together and sing the prayer of all Christians everywhere,
Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ has mercy upon us. The plea for mercy is followed by the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis. Christ’s birth is announced:
Glory be to God on high! And on earth peace, goodwill, toward men.
We plead for mercy from God’s only begotten Son as we sing:
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sin of the world, receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
We don’t sing this to hear ourselves sing, though it is a beautiful portion of the Divine Service. We sing this because the mercy God gives us through his Son is the foundation for our lives. Everything we do as Christians flows from it. Those who have received mercy have mercy to give.
You don’t express your faith in Jesus by blowing up buildings, murdering people in a nightclub, or waging war against the infidel. You don’t express your faith in Jesus by amassing more and more money so that you can relax, take life easy, and rest in your financial security. You don’t express your faith in Jesus by butting into other people’s lives and imposing on them a holiness they neither understand nor want. You express your faith in Jesus by showing mercy.
You don’t judge. You know what it’s like to be under the judgment of God’s perfect law. It hurts. It shows your conscience what’s wrong with you. It accuses you. It leaves you helpless to get out from under its judgment. But you have been set free from judgment. You have seen Jesus lifted up on the cross to die for you. You have watched him bear all of your sins in his body. You have seen him meet the judgment of the law – the judgment that was directed against you because of your sin – and you watched him take that judgment away from you. God forgave you all your sins for Christ’s sake. This forgiveness is yours through faith alone and you want others to receive it. You forgive. You forgive as you have been forgiven.
Jesus says: don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive. Give as you have received. God has been merciful to you. Be merciful to others with the same mercy you have received from God. Until you have been forgiven by God you cannot forgive. Only when you have received forgiveness freely as a gift from God can you give forgiveness freely as a gift and not demand that the one you forgive do anything to make up for what he did against you.
Holy living is based on the pure doctrine of the gospel. If you know how God justifies you, namely, freely by his grace alone on account of Christ shedding his blood for you on the cross, then you know how to love your neighbor. If you think that you must do the good things God requires before God will forgive you your sins then you will think that others must do the good things you require before you will forgive them of their sins. If you don’t understand your need for forgiveness first of all, your unforgiven sins will make you blind.
If the blind lead the blind, they both fall down. You are spiritually blind until God forgives you and you know you are forgiven. You have to know the teaching of forgiveness before you can live the life of forgiveness. God teaches you his gospel. It enriches you. It enlightens you. It opens your eyes to see God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, as you see God placing all your sin on Jesus and Jesus paying for it by his blood and removing it from you as far as the east is from the west. The pure doctrine, that is, the pure teaching of the gospel is never just head knowledge that you file away somewhere in the back of your brain. It is heart knowledge. It penetrates into the very heart of your being, capturing your affections, changing your mind, and giving you a desire to give what God has given to you.
Religious people can be a real pain. We all know what I’m talking about. Nobody minds religious goodie-two-shoes as long as they display a bit of humility. But it’s the insufferable arrogance of religious people feeling it’s their duty to point out all of your faults that turns people off on religion altogether.
But do you know what? It’s the politically correct, anti-Christian, godless crowd that is the most intolerant, the most judgmental, the most critical of folks who don’t toe the line in parroting the right words, and reciting the right slogans. That’s because the judgmental heart is the natural condition of sinful humanity. The only way our hearts can be softened so that we can forgive others freely from our hearts is if God himself removes the plank out of our eyes by forgiving us our sins, washing us in Holy Baptism, justifying us by God’s grace alone so that we stand before God as righteous saints, clothed with nothing less than the blood and righteousness of Jesus.
This is doctrine I’m preaching you. This is the teaching that defines, directs, and empowers you to live Christian lives. Only forgiven sinners who trust in the forgiveness that Jesus alone has won for us all can show true mercy and nonjudgmental love. You cannot give what you don’t have. The teaching we confess on the day we are confirmed is centered in Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This teaching is our life. Life is good.