1D sounds like an apartment number and a strange sermon title, but Mallory probably knows it's the common abbreviation for the popular British band One Direction. I thought it a fitting title for her confirmation Sunday because after all we only want her to go one direction.
Yet there are 2 directions in the world. One away from God; the other toward God, and you might think it obvious which direction a person is heading. In some cases that's true. Unbelief, immorality, blasphemy are obviously going away from God. Faith, praise, and thanks to the true God are going toward Him.
But it's not always that clear Mallory, especially in your own heart. On Easter we found Mary Magdalene going to the tomb but she wasn't heading toward God. She was heading to the God she thought had failed. Later when Jesus showed Himself to her she headed away from that tomb but this time it was toward God and to the disciples to tell them that Jesus had risen.
In the Gospel we find the Emmaus disciples going the wrong direction. Here's where you want to pick up your ears. They are talking about Jesus, His innocent suffering and brutal death on the cross. They are talking about how He forgave sins from that cross and promised a thief paradise that very day. They are talking about Jesus saying, "It is finished." They are talking about the empty tomb, angels, and a risen Jesus. But they are heading away from God. They're disappointed in the church and are heading away from it. But they've still got the facts and language of faith, they think they're heading in one direction but it's really the other.
Mallory, there are only 2 directions; 2 paths; 2 destinations. Your whole life you'll be going one direction or the other. And though you're not even in high school we're asking you to declare the direction you're going. The rite of confirmation, which takes place after a period of instruction, dates back to apostolic times (Schaff, II, 250). Originally, it was dramatic, emphatic, and obvious which direction the confirmands were taking. They did as you will. They renounced the Devil, all his works, and all his ways, but they did this with their backs to the altar facing the outside world. Then when they confessed the creed they turned and faced the altar. The one direction you're heading Mallory is the font, the altar, the pulpit. The direction you're heading away from is the Devil, and all his ways and works.
There are 2 directions in the world, but there is only one direction with God. And He chose you, Mallory, before the foundation of the world, to head towards Him. The choice was between you and Jesus. As you continue your education you're going to be presented with made up ethical dilemmas. If you could only save your husband or father from drowning who would you choose? If you could only save your baby or husband from burning which one would it be? I'm not sure of the value of such hypothetical discussions, but I will say that was the real choice before the heavenly Father. He could either save His only beloved Son who never did anything wrong or you who can't do anything right.
The Father chose to save you, but that meant His holy, kind, delightful Boy Jesus would be drowned in God's cup of wrath and burned in the fires of hell for an eternity on the cross. That's the choice God made from before the world was created that led to you being here today to be confirmed in the Faith. Because you were chosen before time, in time God claimed you as His own in Holy Baptism. In time Father, Son, and Holy Ghost applied the precious blood of Christ to you through the waters of Baptism marking you as one of the chosen ones; sealing you as a member of Body of Christ.
From your view, confirmation has been an extra hour and a half of school for 3 years: memorizing, testing, writing, and in some cases rewriting. From God's point of view, it was Him teaching you what He did for you in Christ and to you in Baptism, so that you might meet Him today for the first time in Holy Communion. You might be thinking wasn't there a less painful way of doing this, at least less writing? Nope, not for sinners like you and me. Look at the apostles; they didn't go to their first Lord's Supper till after 3 years of instruction. Though Jesus didn't make them write, He did what I never did. I never called you Satan; Jesus called Peter that. I never called you a son of thunder; Jesus called James and John that. I did test you with questions as Jesus did Philip.
And now you're ready Mallory to meet you're Lord in Bread and Wine. This isn't new, better, or different forgiveness than you have received in Baptism or in Absolution. This is not richer forgiveness than you pray for daily in the Lord's Prayer. It is more emphatic in this sense. The world you live in pulls you in the other direction appealing to all 5 senses. In Communion, with His Body-Bread and His Blood-Wine, Jesus preaches to your sense of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste that you belong to Him. He is your Body and Blood Brother leading you, guiding you, carrying you one direction.
But your Lord's 1 direction shows itself in your life in 2 different ways. And that's why I chose for you what some may think is a strange confirmation verse: "For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." "Thanks a lot Pastor; my whole life anger and weeping are part of my confirmation verse!" It's worse than that Mallory. They will be part of your life, but not just yours. They're part of the life of any Christian going 1D.
There is God's anger in our life. This Hebrew word for anger comes from the word for nostril, nose or face. It's anger that manifests itself in hard breathing, flared nostrils, and a contorted face. Remember how the Hulk just before he changes says, "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry?" Well, not one of us wants to see God angry, but that's what we see in the Law. May you never, ever want to see, let along think you can tolerate seeing, God angry with you.
Mallory you're the first confirmand whose lived your whole life in the 21st century where God is openly mocked, the idea of His judgment laughed at, the concept that there are eternal standards God holds the whole world to ridiculous. May this never be you. When you were in confirmation you were just a child: a child who didn't want to make or see me mad. Never lose that child like fear of God's wrath. And never lose the tears.
In a fallen world, among fallen people, there can't be laughter all the time. There will be weeping. Here the Hebrew means great lamenting, wailing, distilling water. The tears are emphasized. We'd say sobbing. The Law will do that to us. We sin against some one or they against us and tears result. Death is the greatest preaching of the Law and sobbing certainly comes from it. If I could, I would spare you the tears, but I can't, no one can. Those going 1D are on a trail of tears, but not forever, not even for long.
You're going to need the Law the rest of your life Mallory, but you don't need it every minute of your life. And you don't need to live under it. God's anger at sins lasts only a moment. Literally it's the wink of an eye. When God's Law is exposing your sins it seems like forever: I do this, this and that wrong. I don't do this, that, this right. It can seem like forever but God only means for His anger to last for the blink of an eye.
It's the same thing with the sobbing. Oh how the Law can painfully show you every dark, seedy, embarrassing, heartbreaking thing you ever did against God and everyone else. But God would not keep your in tears always. Your confirmation verse says sobbing tears may lodge, may stop over, may pass a night with you, but He doesn't want you drowning in them.
The Law is God's foreign, alien, strange work to show you your sins, to show you that you're turning away from the one direction. But once it does that, the Law's work is done. Once you've seen the Hulk angry turn away. You can't turn him back into Bill Bannister with your excuses or promises to do better. And once the Law has reduced you to tears as it did Peter, the sinful woman in Luke 7, and David in Psalm 32, it has stayed long enough with you. Time to kick him out of the house.
God's proper work; the thing He delights in doing Mallory is telling you that you are forgiven, promising that you have been reborn in Baptism, and feeding you with His Son's Body and Blood. You can see this because while His anger lasts for the blink of an eye, His says His favor lasts a lifetime. While weeping may pass a brief night with you, not just quiet rejoicing but a ringing shout of joy comes to stay in the morning.
This imagery of the shortness of the Law and the lifelong shouting joy of the Gospel is to teach you that God wills that you don't become bogged down in the Law. Your 3 greatest enemies, the Devil, the World, and your own sinful nature will tell you that you haven't felt bad enough for long enough to hear the Gospel. No you have to look at God's enraged face and feel His hot breath till you feel sorry enough. And you can't be done with sobbing over how badly you've let your Lord, family, and faith down. No, you need to cry till you can feel you have a right to be forgiven.
Mal, that's the wrong direction. God preaches His Law to us to turn us one direction: to the Gospel. As soon as the Law shows you the fallen person that you are, look to the Font and remember that you've been reborn. As soon as the Law puts your sins on top of you, you remember that the Absolution has removed your sins from you as far as east is from west. As soon as the Law has made you taste the bitter tears of your sins, you taste the Lord's Body that He gives you for Bread and the Lord's Blood that He gives you for Wine. Taste and know that the Body and Blood of Jesus can only be taking you one direction. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Confirmation Sunday (20140504); Psalm 30:5