Pentecost B Sermon (2024)

Pentecost / Confirmation Day
Texts: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15;
Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:18-27

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 40:40): https://fb.watch/shSE-d_EH3/

STATEMENTS OF FAITH AS LIFE STORIES NOT ETERNAL TRUTHS

This is such a wonderful day of celebration with Ava and her family, as she professes her faith in Jesus and affirms her baptism. In taking a few moments to reflect on what this all means, I’m happy to include her “Statement of Faith” in the Sermon Notes for today as an example of what I think statements of faith need to be.

In a few minutes, we will recite the Apostle’s Creed as part of the Confirmation liturgy as a historical instance of a ‘statement of faith.’ And you might think to yourself, “Hey, it’s been a while since we’ve said the Creed. I’ve kind of missed it.” And you might ask yourself, “Has Pastor Paul left out the creeds on purpose?” The answer is, “Yes.” I’m not a big fan of the creeds for a number of reasons. But Ava’s sharing her Statement of Faith with you this morning gives me a chance to explain.

You may notice that her statement of faith is quite different than the traditional creeds. The creeds tend to take the form of a list of things we believe in, or are supposed to believe in. They are posed as a list of what Christians through the centuries consider to be “eternal truths” about God and Jesus. And so we’ve shaped our approach to faith accordingly. Our version of the Gospel has become something like: ‘believe this list of eternal truths about God and Jesus, and God will graciously send you to heaven when you die. If you don’t believe them, then too bad, you will be sent straight to hell.’ The Creeds through the centuries have been used by Christians as a litmus test for whether one is in or out in God’s eternal lottery of salvation. During the Spanish Inquisition of the Middle Ages, for example, Jews or Muslims were sometimes made to say the creeds and affirm them, or suffer the consequences.

Let me go on record with you as saying that I believe that approach to be anti-Gospel. Sometimes I talk about the version of the Gospel that I was taught as being too small or not enough. But there are also times when I’ve come to see some aspects of the Gospel many Christians happily proclaim to actually be against the Gospel. To me the heart of the Gospel is that God loves every person and every creature and is working to save the whole creation from both it incompleteness but also it corruption at the hands of human beings. The one great eternal truth is simply this: that God is unconditionally in love with creation and each of us. God is eternally in relationship with us and will never give up on anyone or anything, because that’s how unconditional love works. Right? We know that as parents. We may sometimes let our children have to suffer the consequences of wrong actions, but we will never stop trying to help them succeed, right? Even if sometimes we need to step back and let others do the helping?

There’s a line like that in the passage from Romans 8 which Ava chose for her confirmation verse. By the way, that was one of those God coincidences, namely, that Ava chose her verse as Romans 8:18, and then we scheduled her Confirmation Day for today on Pentecost, May 19. And guess what? It just so happens that the Second Reading assigned by the lectionary for this day is Romans 8:22-27. So we simply added four verses in front of those, beginning with Romans 8:18. And it’s in one of those added verses that Paul mysteriously talks about “the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. . . .” Who is the “one” that Paul is talking about? It has to be God, right? Why would God let the creation be subjected to futility? We just talked about it. God is like a loving parent who must sometimes let their child suffer consequences. Why? Because love requires freedom, and freedom means allowing our loved ones to make mistakes.

But God does this all “in hope.” “In hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” My favorite line in Ava’s “Statement of Faith” is the one about hope, where she says, “Now, [God] helps me by giving me hope that there will be a better tomorrow, even if today really sucks (Romans 8:18!).” Isn’t that marvelous! I love it! And I think it truly captures what Paul is saying in this passage, especially knowing how we human beings can go astray, how we can sometimes find things to make our days suck. But he always has hope because the one, greatest eternal truth is God’s loving relationship with us. He ends Romans 8, in fact, with this amazing statement of faith: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come . . . , nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39).

What Ava is helping to teach us this morning is that a Statement of Faith isn’t about a list of eternal truths we must learn and assent to. And certainly not is the basis of whether God saves us or not. No, a Statement of Faith is about our eternal relationship we have with God, because God is unconditional love. It is about the story of our lives, all the ups and downs, all the times of celebration and all the days that suck — that God is with us through all of that. In today’s Gospel Reading, notice that Jesus never speaks as though the disciples already have the truth locked up, like there’s some creed they need to memorize that gives them the key to salvation. No, the whole point of sending them the Spirit, the Advocate, is that truth is a fluid, ongoing process that unfolds in the stories of our lives. The Spirit of Truth is promised to accompany them to help reveal truth as something unfolding to them as they live their lives in the world and carry out their mission of salvation, their mission of justice, their mission of the truth of God’s power of love for the world. In short, Statements of faith are less like the Creed and much more like what Ava has shared with us today, the story of her life so far, with God by her side. The story of her trust in God to continue to lead and to guide her. The story of her trust that there is nothing in this world that can separate her from God’s love in Jesus.

So let me conclude by sharing with you, Ava, my favorite part of Confirmation Day. We celebrate you Statement of Faith today, your commitment to this community of faith and its mission of the Gospel. These are important to us that you, many years after your baptism as an infant, affirm that baptism. But I commend to you that there might be something even more important than that for you today, in the liturgy we will carry our in a couple minutes. And that’s the opportunity for you, Ava, to hear and remember in a way that can’t from your baptism day, the commitments made to you. We will make a commitment to you to continue to support you in your life of faith. And most importantly of all is to hear again God’s eternal commitment to you, as a child of God on whom he has poured out his very Spirit of love to accompany you all the days of your life — including the days that suck. Amen.

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Bethania Lutheran Church,
Racine, WI, May 19, 2024

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 40:40): https://fb.watch/shSE-d_EH3/

Sermon Notes

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