“Hold Fast to What You Have” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

11th Sunday after Pentecost August 16, 2020

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            Jana, Joshua and Daniel, dear family members and friends… Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            For this Confirmation Sunday, hear the words of our Lord Jesus to the Church at Philadelphia, and to you dear young people:  “I am coming soon.  Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”  This is our text.

            Monday afternoon a line of severe thunderstorms battered an 800 mile swath from Nebraska to Indiana.  It unleashed a severe blast of straight-line winds called a derecho (dare-ay-show).  A derecho has been described as a fearsome inland hurricane. Winds in Galesburg reached over 85 mph and in Cedar Rapids clocked in at 115 mph.  Early estimates were that over 40% of the corn in Iowa was knocked down, with silos crumpled and trees uprooted over an 800 mile stretch, killing two and leaving millions without power.

            When the winds started to roar, I walked out on the front porch to watch our western tree line, and the large tree by our church drive.  The powerful wind pushed so hard, those mighty trees seemed nearly to lay over and touch the ground under its force.  A few large limbs, that were hanging before the storm, flew 50 yards or so before crashing down, but when the brief gust was past the trees stood back up straight and tall.

            It was a remarkable sight.  I could never have imagined most of those trees would have the strength to endure that beating, but their roots are deep and wide.  Only the damaged branches and the ones at the edges surrendered to the fearsome gust.

            Jana, Joshua and Daniel, your roots have been planted deeply.  1 Corinthians 12 says, “You were baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ… and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” That you have stood these years is a testament to the power of the God who “makes you to stand firm in one faith.”  It’s also a testament to the parents who helped plant those seeds of the Gospel, the praying grandparents and godparents, some of whom are here today, the Sunday school teachers and Bible school teachers who cared enough to give their time to building God’s Kingdom, and the prayers of God’s Church from the day you were made to wear the garment of Christ’s righteousness in the waters of God’s Baptismal grace.

            Confirmation Day is the end of nothing.  It’s the day that you confess before God and God’s people that the ground of faith into which you were planted is the faith you have grown to know. And not simply that you know it, or at least you did way back when we did questioning, but that you believe it and confess the church’s faith to be your faith and that you desire to live out that confession until the end of your days. 

            This work of making you children of God was perfect and complete in the moment, Galatians 3 says, “You who where baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Yet, that perfect, complete gift of God once begun in you, God carries on to completion. His Holy Spirit, once given, daily stirs the waters of His love as He brings you to maturity. 

We who love you pray with Ephesians 3, “I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

            We pray you be deeply rooted because we know you will face stormy days. 

When you live under your parents’ shelter, standing strong doesn’t seem like such a tall order.  But don’t ignore the storm warnings.  There are strong cultural winds blowing that sweep too many of our young people away.  Many have stood in the same place you are today, vowing before God to suffer all even death rather than fall away, but in short years, their carelessness for tending their roots, allowed the winds to sweep them away.  Joshua, Daniel, Jana, for Jesus’ sake, please don’t let that be you.

            God is the One who roots you and establishes you.  Your salvation is by God’s grace alone, a gift given in God’s watery Word, nourished by Holy Scripture, and fed with the body and blood of Jesus at His altar.  The biggest enemy in this project, what will wage war to keep your roots from sinking deep and strong, is not the devil, oh, he’ll work his worst alright.  But he can’t snatch you from your Savior’s hand. Your biggest enemy is within you. Jesus warned, “Out of the heart come all evil thoughts.”  St. Paul warns, “In you, that is in your sinful flesh, there is no good thing.” Two natures beat within your chest; the one is cursed, the other is blessed; The one you love, the other you hate, but the one you feed will dominate.

            Too many Christians remain frozen in infancy, their roots stunted and weak, because too many of us are too pleased with ourselves.  When you don’t live in holy fear of God, you can easily slip into believing you’re strong enough on your own.  Your sinful flesh will tempt you to think you don’t need to feed on the flesh and blood of Jesus every week, and soon every week becomes almost never. When that’s the case, remember you aren’t God, and He says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  It is surely important.

            Immature and overconfident Christians can think it OK to surround themselves with anti-Christian influences, with friends who don’t know Christ or care about living out their faith.  Can think it’s OK to listen to godless teachers or lying professors who saw away at your roots, tempting you with the devil’s lie that you are an evolutionary accident with no Divine Creator or God-given purpose and goal.

            You wouldn’t willingly spend time in a Covid ward, but there is a much more eternally terminal plague.  Don’t fill your minds with internet garbage, and never even one time date, to say nothing of marry, someone who doesn’t share the faith you confess this day to be your own.  Godless influences can sever your roots.  Psalm 1 teaches you God’s wisdom: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But the blessed one has delight in the Law of the Lord, and on His Law he meditates day and night.

            You have been given God’s strong roots, but they’re young and tender. Only as you let God stretch and strengthen them and sink them deeply into His strong Word can you stand up to life’s winds.

When we first heard about Covid, we sat around our family table, and I’ve shared the same things with your class, that today the world has changed, and it will be something you never forget.  Only God knows what He has in store.  Perhaps the last moments of this world are winding down.  Jesus is coming soon.  But if not now, and God is using this virus to call a world back to Himself, back to repentance and trust in Christ, and back to a renewal of His Church…  If that be so, when the wind of Covid has past, there’ll be a need to rebuild.  Some will be lost through separation from God’s gifts, but for the tree of God’s Church to stand tall and strong again, she will need sons and daughters like you, Jana, Daniel and Joshua.

Sons and daughters who will ask, not, how can my church amuse or entertain or serve me, but how can you be God’s men and woman, serving God’s Kingdom, praying and giving of your talents and treasure.  You have been discipled for these dark days to be God’s children in your school hallways, in your future families with your own spouse and children, to be leaders and Sunday School teachers or full time church workers in God’s Church, to be a voice of God’s redeeming light in a world of darkness. 

I don’t know how many days God has given for you, but I know each day He gives you is not just to mark time, but to make a difference, to be courageous and unshakable, to resist the lies and foolish talk of the evil one and to grow in the grace and knowledge of God.  Therefore, let your hearts be stored with the precious truths of God’s Word, that, strong in faith, you may make a worthwhile job of your lives; that your lives have their significance, strength, and achievements according to the plan of God; that when your time is up and your life has been lived, God will not sadly shake His head and sigh, “What a waste of time that was.”  In a few moments, you will vow before the Almighty God that such is your desire, by the grace of God.

The Almighty God doesn’t stand at a distance, taking it all in, to see how you do. He took human flesh in the Virgin’s womb and became your true Brother, sharing your flesh and blood in every way, except without sin.  He walked this life path before you.  Because He is your God in the flesh Brother, He is able to sympathize with your weakness, and He who set the foundations of this world in place invites you to call upon Him as dear children ask their dear fathers.  On the tree of the cross, Christ absorbed the storms of hell, and they could not overcome Him.  Still today, He stretches out His strong arms to love you, forgive your failures, nourish your tender roots and heal you from storm damage you have endured, and each storm yet to come.

Grow deeply and hold tightly to these truths.  Jesus sustains all things with the word of His mouth, and He has you in a grip of God’s grace that can never be broken.  He promises and we make this our prayer for each day of your life, “I am coming soon.  Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.