God saves us from the "confirmation syndrome"
I let our confirmand select our text today. She did well. To be fair, it’s hard to choose an inappropriate Word of God. I mean, it’s God’s Word. Think of what Psalm 119’s anonymous psalmist says about God’s Word:
“I faint with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word.” “Your word, o LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”
Three examples culled from 176 verses praising the Word.
Compare it to Morgan’s psalm, Psalm 56. David wrote these words “when the Philistines had seized him in Gath.” You can read about it in 1 Samuel 21. Perhaps a little review of David’s life between Goliath and Bathsheba is in order.
David grew up during the reign of Saul, Israel’s first king. For various reasons, the Lord rejects Saul and sends Samuel to anoint a new king, a man after the Lord’s heart. God chose David.
Anointed, but not enthroned, David debuts defeating Goliath. Saul notices and makes David a captain in his army, a captain who earns accolades: “Saul has slain his thousands; and David his tens of thousands.” Such praise disturbs Saul. He sees a rival for the throne (little does Saul know!). So he tries to kill him. A lot. He throws spears. He gives him suicide missions. He sends hitmen.
David gets wise and runs; first, to the high priest. He asks for food and weapons. The priest provides both, the weapon being Goliath’s sword. That decapitated Goliath. Goliath. From Gath.
Sensing Saul on his tail, David flees further. He goes to King Achish. The kingdom? Gath. What was David thinking? He goes to the home of Goliath?! Not only that, but as Saul’s captain he made mincemeat of the armies of Achish and the Philistines. On one of the missions Saul hoped would kill David, David killed two hundred Philistines and brought their – eew – foreskins to Saul.
So David runs from the frying pan into the fire. And almost buys it. The enemies don’t want him there. Well, they do, but not as an expatriate, as a captive. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” Perhaps rumors about Samuel’s anointing have spread. Maybe David’s military prowess makes it de facto. More, “Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.’”
The Philistines identify David as an enemy – their enemy. Next, Psalm 56 tells us, they seized him. David goes from one step ahead of Saul to being either the next public execution or a diplomatic card for negotiations with Saul. No wonder David talks about hot pursuit. “They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life,” David’s poem says.
In this case, it’s a little bit David’s fault. What did he expect when he ran to Gath? For a moment, David acts like his ancestors who determined that they needed a king, and so rejected God’s rule through judges like Moses, Gideon, Samson and Samuel. For a moment David foreshadows his descendants who determine that to preserve kingdoms they must ally with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or Persia, even though God told them to trust him as their only ally.
So quickly, even the man after God’s own heart turns from God and to the world for aid and comfort. He lifted up his eyes to the hills and said, “Where does my help come from?” And his heart didn’t immediately say, “The LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” He hasn’t yet heard these words Jesus spoke, but he forgot their timeless truth, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
It’s easy to forget when the world closes in. Think of Paul’s Romans 8 list: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. Paul describes the Christian’s lot in the world: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
We live in that world. It wants to and tries to kill us. Think of life’s transitions. Going from the shelter of home to college or the workplace. Going from a Christian school to a public school. Going from church back into the world. As we welcome Morgan to the Lord’s Table, I’m sure she wonders about moving from catechism class and Bethel school into the grownup world.
Here it’s easy to find God’s Word. It surrounds us. Just as at Bethel school, and for Morgan next, at Great Plains. Those words surround us. Some call it a “bubble” or “cocoon.” Some sneer when they say that. As if it’s bad. But it’s good, great, wonderful. To have God’s Words around means we have God around, his Spirit around us and in us, breathing into us his breathed-out words.
But the sinful heart sneers at this bubble and cocoon. This sneering stands at the heart of the so-called “confirmation syndrome”: that sad situation where so many confirmands disappear within days, weeks, or years of confirmation.
Some blame lay with pastors and congregations who do not nearly enough to work with this group at a critical age.
Some blame lay with parents who suddenly take the hands off the reins and require nothing of their children any more, as if they’ve “graduated” from all that Jesus stuff.
But a lot of the blame lay with the confirmands. They leave confirmation class and enter a world where Saul hurls spears at them and Philistines seize them and they stop looking to the Lord for help. They merge into and blend into the world. They don’t just live “in” the world, they become “of” the world. Like David.
All the while this transition often gets accompanied by that sneer about escaping the “bubble” and “cocoon” of Christian education, or confirmation class, or a Christian and Lutheran world-view for the “real world.” It says, “All that confirmation stuff was nice, but the world doesn’t operate that way. How can I survive with that stuff? I need to get out, see things, experience them, do them the way the world does, or I’ll have nothing and be nothing.”
That sad syndrome that every pastor warns against in confirmation sermons, simply forgets those words of Jesus from Matthew, “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Confirmation syndrome isn’t just youthful rebellion, though it is partly that. It isn’t just something to minimize by saying, “They’ll be back when they get married, or have kids.” Though they might be. Confirmation syndrome means fleeing God to live with Philistines. It rejects God and relies on yourself. And God destroys such souls and bodies in hell.
David got that: when the Philistines tried to seize him. He pretended to be crazy, insane, literally a drooling idiot. The king of Gath dismissed him, “Haven’t I got enough nuts around?” 1 Samuel 22 says David “escaped.” And Psalm 56 tells us how: God did it. Hear it in the second half of Morgan’s confirmation verse: “For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Going back to the title of the psalm, “when the Philistines had seized him in Gath” leads one to notice two things. Firstly, David seems to have written this while in custody. Secondly, he wrote in the past and present tenses, as if it were already done. Delivered. Alive.
Because the Spirit redirected David’s eyes. Glance back through Psalm 56 and hear the Spirit at work. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” One thing and one thing only, flipped the switch in David’s heart: the Word.
As always it’s the Word. Our lessons focused on that this morning, didn’t they? Jesus gave the disciples a word: “Trust in God; trust also in me! I am the way, the truth, and the life. If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Peter gave us a word: Christians are chosen, royal, holy, and belonging to God through faith in Christ. God called you out of darkness! That word the Bereans examined daily, not just occasionally.
In that word they found Christ! As David did – “you delivered me from death…that I may walk before God in the light of life.” As Paul did after contemplating death and slaughter: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” As we do. We find Christ. Or, better, God the Holy Spirit shows us Christ on every page, in every letter of the Scriptures that testify about Christ crucified for our sins, raised to life for our justification. He goes on and shows us Christ, dead, buried and resurrected in Baptism, a Baptism that kills, buries, and resurrects us too. He shows us Christ, gives us Christ, in the meal Morgan soon receives. Not just bread and wine at this table, but the body and blood that Christ gave to deliver us from our enemies, to turn back sin, death, and hell. For you. For your sins. For your life.
Through Christ and faith in him God delivers you. God promises to rest your feet on the Living Stone, on Christ, so that you do not stumble. God the Father shows you Jesus, the light of the world, the light of life for you, the resurrection and the life, through whom believers live, even though they die.
Prompting the first half of Morgan’s confirmation verse: “I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you.” No d’uh. God made amazing arrow-down, for us and for our salvation, promises. Which he kept and continues to keep in Christ. He forgives and forgives and forgives. He delivers and delivers and delivers. Today Morgan makes promises to that God. She promises a life lived serving her Lord, a thank-offering to him.
We rejoice in Morgan’s promises. More, we celebrate that when she stumbles, and she will; when her thank offerings haven’t come for a while, and it’ll happen, that the Lord stands firm and sure. In that word, in that God, we trust. We are not afraid. Because what can man do to us? God our Father, in Christ, has already delivered us from death and given to us the light of life. So we trust in God; we trust also in Christ. Amen.