Sermon for Easter 2

April 28, 2019

John 20:19-31

What an exciting day. Four students who have spent the past three years studying Luther’s Small Catechism and God’s holy Word will confirm the faith into which they were baptized. What does it mean to confirm? Confirm simply means to strengthen. I received an email from Sandy Gimbel, events coordinator at the Ramkota last week. She was writing to confirm that the Mayor’s Prayer Lunch was taking place as it was on her calendar. She also wanted to know our menu choices. I am glad that she reached out to me. In past years, I have been the contact person for Crisis Care Chaplaincy who set up many of the details for the annual Mayor’s prayer lunch and we had tentatively set dates with the Ramkota for a few years out. Mayor Bakken has chosen to change the Mayor’s Prayer Luncheon to a Prayer Breakfast and selected to move it to the University of Mary on May 7. I had to write back to Sandy, apologizing for not making contact sooner and informing her of the changes ordered by the Mayor. She replied that she would remove our name from the books for that date. I can now confirm for you that the Mayor’s prayer lunch will not take place at the Ramkota, rather with every confidence, I can declare that the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast will take place at the University of Mary. You now have confirmation of this truth. In other words, it has been strengthened in your mind when and where the breakfast will take place.

In the Gospel reading for today, Thomas needed to have it confirmed for him that Jesus was really alive. He had heard it. The other 10 remaining disciples had seen Jesus the week before when they were hidden behind locked doors. Jesus simply appeared and showed them the wounds in His hands and sides. He came bringing peace. Twice He said it, “Peace be with you.” There are times when we just want peace and quiet. Turn off the noise, whether it is traffic or screaming kids or the blaring of the television or stereo. Peace is much more than no sound. Remember that Christ Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He was born to bring peace on earth. We see how the shepherds confirmed the message of the angels in Luke 2. I know we are longing for spring, but let’s go to Christmas just for a moment.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[a]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  They confirmed what they heard the angels declare. Jesus was born to restore peace with our heavenly Father. We were in need of a Savior, a deliverer. We were really in trouble because of sin. God’s justice demanded that someone make payment for sin or we would be destroyed with the eternal punishment we deserve for our rebellion against God. God the Father poured out all of wrath and anger at sin on His Son when Jesus suffered and died for us. He was the bringer of peace because He was the perfect sacrifice. Out of love for His Father and for you, Jesus never sinned. He did not break one commandment in any way. He is the holy Son of God who has brought peace to this world through the forgiveness that He won in his bloody death and glorious resurrection.

Peace be with you! 10 of the disciples were at peace because they saw Jesus with their eyes. It was the very Jesus who had suffered and died. The wounds in His hands and side left no question. He then commissioned them to go and share the gift of forgiveness as He sent them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” This, of course, is Christ establishing the Office of the Keys, giving to the church, through her pastors, the authority to forgive sins in His name.

Eight days later, Thomas finally gets to confirm what had been told him by the 10 disciples. He was stubborn. He told them, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of his nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Thomas is a tough nut to crack. Jesus knew what He had to do.   A week later, the disciples are together again. This time Thomas is with them. Jesus comes among them through locked doors and said, “Peace be with you.” He then goes directly to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my side, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered “My Lord and my God.” Confirmation!! It was made strong in Thomas’ heart and mind that the words of his friends was true. Having seen Jesus, He boldly confirms the truth of who Jesus is. “My Lord and my God.”

You are confirming that all of the wonderful gifts given at your baptism are indeed true. Having studied God’s Word and the Catechism, you are confirming that these teachings are true and you wholehearted believe them. You acknowledge that God has given us the Law, the Ten Commandments summed up, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and spirit, and your neighbor as yourself.” You are admitting that you are not able to keep any of them. You are confirming faith in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. You are confirming that our Lord wants to hear from you and that He is available to you continually as He declares, “Pray without ceasing.” He has given us the model prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. You are confirming that in your baptism your sin was placed upon Jesus and that His perfect holiness was given to you. In a word, your sins were forgiven and you were made a member of the Body of Christ, His Church, and an heir of heaven. You are confirming that you recognize that when you receive the Lord’s Supper you are acknowledging that you receive Christ’s very body, in, with and under the bread, and that you receive the very blood of Christ as you sip the wine, for the forgiveness of your sins.

I mentioned that the Confirmands were welcomed into the Body of Christ, the Church, at their baptism. As a part of the rite of Holy Baptism, there is a part where the congregation declares, “We welcome you in the name of the Lord.” This happens right after Pastor says these words, “We receive you in Jesus’ name as our brother/sister in Christ, that together we might hear His Word, receive His gifts, and proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”   As a congregation we do a pretty good job of caring for our young children and seeing through Sunday School and into Confirmation classes. Sadly, once students are confirmed, we haven’t done so well. Yes, part of that is on parents and the catechumens themselves. However, we have said that they are part of the family. How have we shown that kind of love and care? How have you reached out to our youth? Do you know their names? Do you know their interests? When was the last time you had a conversation with one of our youth? Our retention rate is not very good. The graduating class of 2019 had seven members when they were confirmed on March 28, 2015. As a congregation, we have failed in our efforts to care for them. Do you even know who they are?

          If we want to change the outcomes, we need to change our approach. I certainly hope that when these four students are seniors, they are faithful in worship and in the life of the church. However, if history is an indicator, we may be lucky to see one, or if we are lucky, two of you. We need to change how we think about our youth. I have changed my mind about exercise. I used to think that my 4 times a week 1 ¼ mile walk around our development was a major feat… until I got my Garmin watch that sets goals for me. It started at 9500 steps per day. Mind you, one trip around our block is roughly 3,000 steps. Not only does it keep track of steps on a daily basis. It also tracks days in a row. I have been driven to meet the goal nearly every day in the last month. 29 out of the last 30 days, I have walked at least 10,000 and on some days, up to 15,000 steps. What changed? I wasn’t going to give in to defeat. I have to plan out my day to get those steps in. It starts with a trek around our development at 6:15 am before I really start my day. That gives me a head start with 3,000 steps.

If we want to see changed results in our care for youth, it is really up to all of us. Would you be willing to pray for one youth every day? How about approaching them and having a conversation when you see them? Invite a youth out for coffee or soft drink. Send a teen a note, letting them know that you are praying for them. Set an example by coming to Bible Study or volunteer to lead a study for youth on a regular basis. If we keep doing the same thing, we can expect the same result. I would love to have a conversation with you about how you would like to care for our youth so that they can continue to declare with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Sadly, the Lord calls some of His children home before we think He should. This past Wednesday, I had to tell the parents and sisters of a 38 year old woman that she had been killed in a car crash. It was comforting to know that she had been in church on Easter Sunday and had received Holy Communion. Pastor Walla was able to comfort her family with the good news of forgiveness because Betsy was a baptized child of God who remained in the faith. We cling to God’s promises. Jesus loves you and was willing to give His very life for you so that He could spend eternity with you in heaven.

Thomas was able to confirm the message of the 10 by seeing Jesus face to face. We too can confirm that Jesus is alive as we have eye witness accounts of this truth. Jesus declares that you are truly blessed. After Thomas confessed regarding Jesus, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus said to him. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.” You are blessed because you have believed without seeing. I pray that you remain faithful to the Lord in receiving His amazing gifts as you joyfully hear and study His Word, eagerly approach the altar to receive His Body and Blood, celebrate your baptism in Christ as your sins have been washed away. I want to see you in heaven. Jesus, the Prince of Peace has opened heaven to all who trust in Him. He says to you today, because He lives. “Peace be with you.”