Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Reformation Confirmation 10/26

          The name might not mean a whole lot to many of you, but Karl Barth was one of the most influential and brilliant Christian thinkers and theologians of the 20th century; he wrote thousands of pages, millions of words of dense theology which I guess is profoundly insightful but personally I’ll have to take the word of others on that.  I’ve got one volume of his multi-volume Church Dogmatics upstairs but I must confess that it’s mostly unread because I just couldn’t make much sense of it; sometimes you do have to come to terms with your limitations.  But, despite the limitations in my understanding, lots of other theologians who I can make sense of cite Barth as a major influence, so the point is he was the real deal in 20th century theology although I wouldn’t suggest that you rush right out and buy any of his books.

          Anyway, Barth gave one of his final lectures at the University of Chicago School of Divinity back in the 1960’s.  He was in his eighties and quite frail, so when he finished his lecture, rather than have him stand up there any longer to field questions, the president of the Div School said he would ask Dr. Barth one question on behalf of everyone.  He asked, “Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all?”

          Barth closed his eyes and thought for a moment.  Then he said, “The greatest theological insight I have ever had is this, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”

          We need people who think the faith even if their thoughts and ideas sometimes do go way over our heads; they still contribute to the tradition we’re part of and their ideas do get translated in ways that are more understandable.  Of course today we celebrate another one of those thinkers, Martin Luther—we remember the work he did in challenging what was going on in the church of his day. 

Luther wrote a lot too, maybe more than Barth, I’m not sure, but I am sure that he is much more readable.  I wonder though, at the end of his life, how he would have answered the question posed to Barth, what’s the greatest theological insight you’ve ever had.  He might answer it the same way, except I guess he couldn’t have because the song wasn’t written for another 300 years or so; it does reflect his theology pretty well though.  You would hope he would come up with something better than what are actually supposed to be his last words; supposedly on his death bed he said, or wrote, “We are all beggars.”

          On the other hand, that might not be such a bad answer for Luther…as long as you know a little bit more about him.  The little bit more you need to know is about grace.  For our four confirmands and for all of you actually, I would hope that when you think about Luther and what it means to call yourself a Lutheran Christian, that the word grace would come to mind before anything else; well maybe Jesus should come to mind first but grace shouldn’t be far behind. 

The core of Luther’s theology was that our own efforts to be good, to obey the commandments, to do all that God would have us do are not enough.  For Luther, the knowledge of sin always got in the way.  We try to follow the Ten Commandments, we try to think about “what would Jesus do” but it’s never enough because try as we might, we miss the mark, we sin. 

Luther’s greatest insight was about the grace of God, the grace that the apostle Paul had written about way before Luther, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  That’s Luther in a nutshell.  The prophet Jeremiah wrote about it way before Paul.  The new covenant he talks about in today’s first lesson is about grace because the initiative is all God’s.  There’s no “if you do this” or “if you don’t do that” attached to the new covenant; just acknowledgement that the people didn’t keep the old covenant, but God is unwilling to break the relationship.  God offers new hope, new opportunity because he wants to; that’s grace!  For Jeremiah, for Paul, for Luther it was about grace; it was about Jesus loves me.  That is the great theological insight of this confirmation Sunday. 

But there is more to this day.  Grace is the word you should have within you, written on your hearts, but the other thing Lutherans talk about is the response to grace.  Part of the ancient liturgy of baptism and also part of the liturgy we do today for the affirmation of baptism is to ask “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?”  If we were writing that question today, we might phrase it differently, but however you phrase it, what it gets at is that the response to God’s grace begins with recognizing that the ways of God, the ways of Jesus are often not the ways of the world.  There is a difference that must be recognized. 

For years we have called what we do here today Confirmation; that’s Con-firmation, not Con-formation.  What each of us did when we were confirmed, what each of these young people do today is to confirm a relationship, to say yes to a relationship with God which in part means not conforming to many of the things the world finds good and acceptable.

The automatic response to the “Do you renounce the devil and the forces that defy God” question is, “I renounce them,” even though if any of us really thought about all the implications of the question and the answer, we might not be so quick about it.  I think that’s OK though because I think what our answer really means is that we do recognize that the ways of God are not the ways of the world and so we know we will struggle with the differences as long as we live.  Some days we’ll do pretty well; some days we won’t.  That’s why we have God’s word of grace within us and written on our hearts.  That’s why we sing Jesus Loves Me.

Pretty much the same thing is true of the final question I ask the kids  this morning; “Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism?  Now this one is a little bit different because it does then tell you what this means; the implications of your answer are laid out for you…that is…to live among God’s people; to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper (that sounds like going to church to me); to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed (that’s the old, They’ll know we are Christians by our love); to serve all people, following the example of Jesus (what would Jesus do); to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. 

All of that is not an easy assignment, but the answer is, “I will and I ask God to help and guide me,” and God is probably saying, “I hope you do better than the guy standing in front of you and all those people sitting behind you, because they all said the same thing and they haven’t always done it verywell.”  That’s why we have God’s word of grace within us and written on our hearts.  That’s why we sing Jesus Loves Me.

You see, Luther was right; we are all beggars.  But with that word of grace we can recognize that Luther was right and not be devastated by it.  Alex and Mindy and Katie and Tory can affirm their baptism this morning thankful for God’s word of grace revealed in Jesus and certain of the relationship God has with them.  Along with them, all of us can dip our fingers in the water of the baptismal font and be reminded of the relationship and the ongoing struggle to be who God calls us to be.  Some days we do it pretty well; some days we don’t.  But every day, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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not me
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