Please listen again to the first and last verses of our Gospel reading from John 14… Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Today is Confirmation Day for three of our young people, but I’d like us all to be confirmed this morning. To confirm means “to attest to the truth or validity of something.” This is really an ongoing process, so I would ask all of us—not just Rachel, Damon, and Perry—to attest to the truth of our faith. And at the very heart of it all is this question: Do you love God?

That’s really quite a question, and our own personal answer may depend on how we understand what it means to “love God.” Are we talking about an emotional thing, a kind of heart-felt affection for God? Yes, that is one aspect of loving God. But the other Gospel writers quote Jesus as telling His followers that they were to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s a lot more than mere emotion or affection, isn’t it? This reflects a kind of love that involves our all-- a love that shows forth not only in our feelings, but also in our thoughts, words, and actions.

Once again: Do you love God? Where does that kind of love even come from, anyway? A very clear answer to that question is found in 1 John 4:19- “We love because…?… He first loved us.” This means there is a question that precedes our first question. Before we can respond to the question “Do you love God?” we must first answer this question: “Do you know how much God loves you?”

So that must be the first thing to be confirmed for you today: “Do you know how much God loves you?” Do you? Do you understand that your Creator/Father knows everything there is to know about you-- your strengths and your weaknesses, your successes and your failures, your victories and your defeats? He knows all of that. And yet that is all actually irrelevant in terms of impacting His divine love for you. He loves you this much + !

For us to come to truly love Jesus, and be moved to follow His commands, we must believe that He loves us, and we must experience that love. Remembering our baptisms is really all about remembering our Father’s love for us. Communing at this altar is really all about experiencing His love over and over again. Gathering faithfully in this place to worship and praise, to learn and to grow, to work and to play, is all about an ongoing experiencing of God’s unfailing love.

When we experience God’s love, we are moved to love God in return. And we learn that love actually is more than a feeling, it is a response that calls for action. The command Jesus calls His followers to obey is the command to love. His words: “As I have loved you, so you are to love one another.”

In that very same chapter of 1 John we hear these words: “God is love.” Humans were created in the image of God, which means that we were created to love. This purest of all loves is one that is outwardly focused. Uncorrupted human nature is focused on loving and serving God and loving and serving one another. The problem is (and this is a very big problem, a problem that is at the heart of all other problems)… the problem is that human nature is horribly corrupted.

That is truly what sin is all about. Instead of loving and serving outwardly, we are now born with a corrupted nature, a nature that is inherently self-centered. And that ruins things. That kills relationships, that pollutes hearts and minds, that causes division and conflict and hostility and war. Sin is what is wrong with this world. It is why lives are ruined.

And yet, our Creator/Father has not allowed sin to win the ultimate victory. Sin wins some battles, but sin has lost the war. Through His life of humble service, His suffering, His death by crucifixion, and His resurrection, Jesus has defeated sin and its companions—death and the devil. What moved God to bring all of this about? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

If you know how much God loves you, then I trust that the Holy Spirit—the “Advocate”—that Jesus promised to send, is within you. And I trust that that same Spirit will help you to grow in your love for God.

You know, that’s really what Confirmation is supposed to be all about. Perhaps one of the main reasons this process called “Confirmation” has more often than not proven to be quite ineffective over the generations is that we’ve focused too much on information, and not nearly enough on transformation; not enough on coming to know God within a real and dynamic relationship. We ask these young people to spend a few years learning about God, culminating with a day to come before the congregation to demonstrate that they have learned the basics, and to affirm their baptismal vows.

But all of that’s only a means to an end. And that end is having a relationship with God through Jesus, a relationship that calls for ongoing nourishment and exercise. Year after year, pastors such as myself urge Confirmands and their families not to see this as a culmination of some sort of graduation, but as one important step along a life-long journey. And year after year far too many Confirmands and their families tend to mostly disappear as soon as it’s over.

Something needs to change, and what needs to change most is our focus. And so, on this 17th day of the month of May, in the year of our Lord 2017, I again ask our Confirmands—and I ask each and every one of you: Do you love God? Have you experienced the love of God in Christ, the grace that accepts you as you are, reminds you Whose you are, and calls you to live every day in that love, to form your very lives around an ever-growing relationship with God?

I pray that the Holy Spirit of God will lead you to say “Yes! Yes, I know how much God loves me, and I am filled with love and gratitude for God. Yes, I want to grow in that love, to grow in that relationship. I want to love and serve God, and I want to demonstrate that love through my loving service of His other children.”

Finally, I pray that God will make this happen right here in this place, as we gather faithfully around Word and Sacrament, to worship and to serve, to pray and to play, to know and to grow. All for the love of God. Amen.

   April 2019   
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