Third Sunday of Easter (Year A), Sunday, May 8th, 2011
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“You will receive the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Today is Confirmation Day here at Saint Luke’s. In just a few minutes we’re going to call forward the youth being confirmed, and pray that the Holy Spirit strengthen them as it did those early Christians in our first lesson. Confirmation is sometimes called “Affirmation of Baptism.” It’s a longer term, but it’s pretty descriptive of what Confirmation actually is. You see, “affirmation” means “to say yes.” The Confirmation students are here today to say Yes to their baptisms, to say Yes to God’s call. When the confirmands come up before the congregation, they repeat the promises their parents and godparents made at their baptism. Confirmation is when a young person says that yes, I am a Christian, and this is what I believe. From this point on, these young people choose to be Christians. They’re not just here because their parents say so. When they come forward, we will be repeating parts of the liturgy of baptism, except this time they will be making the responses, not their parents. It’s an important milestone, and I hope and pray that they will have the courage and faithfulness to follow through with it all the days of their life, even in a culture that is increasingly secular-oriented.
Yet, in a larger sense, what we are celebrating today is not our ability to follow Jesus, but our Lord’s ability to call us to him. You see, whenever we reach out to God what we always find is that God was reaching out to us, first—and is already helping us to reach out to him. God created us, and even when we were dead in sin, God loved us and promised us that he would always be with us. God came to us as Jesus Christ, our Messiah, who died and rose again that we might have abundant life. God loves us still, even when we go astray. God loves us when we convince ourselves we already know what God wants, even without bothering to listen to him. God is with us still, calling us and all people to him, helping us hear his word and respond to it.
That’s what happened in today’s first lesson, when Peter was preaching to the crowds after Easter, telling them about Jesus and what his death and resurrection meant. The crowd heard the message, and the Holy Spirit was working—they felt it in their hearts. Peter was there because the Holy Spirit led him to be there, and he could preach such a stirring sermon because the Holy Spirit filled him. After all, Peter spent pretty much the entirety of Jesus’ time on Earth getting things wrong and messing up. But with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter found the voice and the wisdom he needed to preach God’s word. The crowd received his preaching and were moved by it because God was working within them, too, because the Holy Spirit was calling them. God was working there. God had already reached out to them and called them through the promise of Jesus, and they responded to that call and were baptized. Their sins were forgiven, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. They learned what it meant that Jesus, crucified and risen, was Lord and Messiah. They learned to hear God’s call and respond to it through lives of faith.
Whenever we reach out to God we always find that God was reaching out to us, first—and is already helping us to reach out to him. That’s what happened in today’s Gospel reading, too. On Easter Sunday morning, two disciples were travelling to a village called Emmaus. We don’t know why. In fact, we don’t even know where Emmaus is—there are several different villages near Jerusalem that might be it. What we do know is what happened on the way. Jesus came to those two disciples, and they didn’t recognize him. They were too caught up in what they thought they knew about what had happened to see what had actually happened.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever been too sure of something to see the truth, even when it’s staring you in the face? As Cleopas and his friend found out, it can be easy to get trapped by what you think you know. We are told that they were already disciples—they had walked with Jesus, they had heard him preach, they had heard him tell them about what was coming, and then when it actually happened, they still didn’t understand. Jesus Christ is Lord of All, the Messiah, God’s Son sent to forgive our sins, reconcile us to God, and teach us how to follow God’s Word. They saw it, but they didn’t understand it. On their own, even as first-hand witnesses they couldn’t figure out what it meant for them or anyone that Jesus had died and rose again. But God had called them, and God had promised them, and God was helping them learn how to see him even through their confusion and doubt.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus walked with them, kept them company, taught them, and ate with them. When at last they were ready, when they had heard him and he’d explained to them everything that had happened so that they finally knew the truth, that’s when they realized it was Jesus. That’s when they realized that he had been with him all along, that their hearts had been burning within them. They were trying to understand what God had done and was doing, and when they finally saw God, they realized that God had been with them the whole time and they just hadn’t realized it. They had been reaching out to God, and found that God was the one helping them do it because God was already with them.
Do you know what else is really cool about the story of the walk to Emmaus? It’s a story about Communion! Jesus takes the bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to his disciples to eat. And it’s through that meal that those disciples see Jesus. In the same way we gather around a table today for communion, and find that Jesus is present through bread and wine, which he makes into his body and blood. In this story, the pattern of Christian worship is established that we still follow today: the disciples come together, they hear God’s word, they share a meal in which Jesus is present, and they go out to spread the Good News. Our worship service works in the same way. God gathers us in, teaches us his word, shares a meal with us, and then sends us out into the world to live as faithful Christians and to share the Good News of God’s love in word and deed. And when we come seeking God, we find that God has already sought us out, helping us to hear his word and live as his people.
It’s that process of learning to see God reaching out to us that brings us here, today, for confirmation. God reaches out to us in the same way through our baptisms. That’s why we baptize babies as well as adults: in baptism, God is reaching out to claim us as his own, so it’s not dependent on our ability to choose. We have already been chosen, each one of us. We have already been called. The question is, will we respond to that call? Will we live lives conformed to Christ, in the covenant God made with us in Holy Baptism? Will we live among God’s faithful people, listen to God’s Word, share his supper? Will we proclaim the Gospel through word and deed, and follow Jesus’ example of service, justice, peace, and love? Will we respond to all the many ways God reaches out to us and calls us to follow?
The young people who come forward for Confirmation today are here to say yes, they will. They’re here to promise God and this congregation that they will listen to God’s call, that they will follow in the way of Jesus. In return, we need to help them—and each other, and everyone we meet—along that path. God is calling us, all of us, to follow him, and God gives us his Holy Spirit to give us strength, and wisdom, and understanding, and most of all, to give us joy in God’s presence, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray that all people will hear that call and respond.