When Confirmation Becomes Graduation?

Text: John 10:11-16

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Bailey, Navae, Dustin, Shawn, Matthias, Brooke, Oliver, and Abigail, as you may or may not know, some see confirmation as graduation. That is right; some individuals will consider this day your church graduation. In fact, the Lutheran Church has seen the troubling statistic that after confirmation, many youths and their parents will never darken the church's door again – at least that is until they need the church to do a wedding, funeral, or a baptism in the future.  

Again, these individuals see confirmation as a graduation day – the end of Sunday School Classes, the end of sermon notes, the end of the Small Catechism, and the end of regular church attendance.  

When challenged about this mindset and when challenged about letting church attendance slide after confirmation, these students and families can get very defensive. The defense often sounds like this, 
“Don’t worry; we are doing church in our own way.”  
But what does this mean to do church in your own way?  

Well, some do church by watching religious people online. Others worship God supposedly in nature. Or others worship God by listening to Christian musical artists. Or, what is most likely common is that nothing is taking place; the phrase, “we are doing church on our own,” is nothing more than a smokescreen to not feel guilty and get the pressure off. The point that is being made, though, is that these individuals supposedly do not have to worry about the well-being of the Christian faith because they have a plan. They have it figured out so that they are safe. They have created a strategy, a method, or have someone set up to allow them to keep on being spiritual but not religious. In other words, they don’t need the church.  

Now, on the surface, this all sounds rational and good. After all, it sounds kind of nice to be spiritual but not religious. However, there is a fundamental flaw in this kind of thinking, and that is this: it assumes that the world is peaceful, kind, and non-threatening to Christians.  Furthermore, it assumes that this Christian faith is a bunch of rose peddles, pumpkin pie, or a long walk on the beach.  

Dear confirmands, as you know, this Christian life is not full of unicorns, birthday cake, and fun confetti. Instead, being a Christian is being under constant threats of danger – walking through a valley of death. Being a Christian means that you have a target on your back. It means that you are at war, in a conflict, and at odds with the world and the devil himself.  

Jesus talks all about this in our reading from the Gospel of John. Jesus says that this world is full of wolves who want to devour the sheep. And sheep, when they are not in the sheepfold of the Shepherd, well… they are easy prey. 
Now, dear confirmands, you may be tempted to think that you can live outside the sheepfold of Jesus. You may be tempted to think that you can devise a plan, a scheme, or a way to be spiritual but not religious. However, please hear me loud and clear. First, wolves are sneaky. Wolves often hunt sheep with stealth and secrecy. And sheep often do not know they are being hunted, that is, until it is too late. And secondly, the majority of the plans that we devise to take care of our spiritual well-being are just like hired hands – they don’t work. You see, when the wolves come to attack the sheep, just like a hired hand, our plans, schemes, and systems fall apart and run away at the first sign of trouble. They cannot withstand the attacks of the wolves.  

This is the reason why so many people return to the church when the going gets tough in their lives. It makes sense; whatever they have made, a hired hand in their life is not strong enough, big enough, or wise enough to withstand the attacks of the wolves of life.  And so, thankfully, they come back to the church.  

Bailey, Navae, Dustin, Shawn, Matthias, Brooke, Oliver, and Abigail, listen up; you are not safe from the wolves of life. Apart from Christ’s church, you are a vulnerable sheep. Sure, you may be able to acquire a bunch of things and persons and resources to protect you from the wolves; however, mark this… when the going gets tough, these things will fail and run, just like the hired hand runs when the wolves attack the sheep.  

Now, please keep in mind that I do not say this with some sort of ulterior motive. I do not say this to try and manipulate you into staying in the church to boost church attendance or increase the church budget. I also do not say this to get you to subscribe your loyalty to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. No, if I were to be advocating for any of this, I would be no better off than all the other hypocritical hired hands in life who talk a big talk but run in the face of danger. Instead, I say this because of what Jesus says. As your pastor, I say this because you and I, together – with your family and friends – we all do not need a hired hand but a Good Shepherd that will never let us down.  

Bailey, Navae, Dustin, Shawn, Matthias, Brooke, Oliver, and Abigail, in our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells you, me, and the rest of us here that He is our Good Shepherd. And as your Good Shepherd, He cares for you as His sheep. In fact, unlike a lousy and worthless hired hand, unlike all the failing systems, schemes, and plans that let us down in life, your Jesus… well, He protects you against the fiercest of wolves named: sin, death, and the devil. In fact, when sin, death, and the devil come charging at you like a pack of hungry wolves to devour and steal you away – to confine you to the hell that you deserve, your Good Shepherd stands between you and the wolves while saying, 
“Damn you wolves for attacking My sheep. Take me. Take me instead, for I am the Good Shepherd. You will not touch My sheep or have any authority over My sheep.  They belong to me. You cannot snatch them from My hand. I have promised to keep them safe. Take me instead, for I will gladly give Myself to you for the sake of protecting My sheep.” 
And dear confirmands, the Lord does give Himself for your sake. On Mt. Calvary, He gave Himself into the jaws of death on your behalf. And today, He gives Himself to you as well to give you the benefits of His cross and resurrection. Dear confirmands, the Lord gives you His body and blood at this altar to forgive you of your sins, fortify your faith, and strengthen your love. He does this for you because right now, you are in His sheepfold – the church. 

And so, the point is quite clear, you and I continue to come to this church, even after confirmation, not for a budget or attendance pins or to make your grandma and pastor happy. Instead, you continue to come to this church because it is a sheepfold of safety from the wolves in this world. You come to this church because it is a haven or an ark of safety in a crazy storm.  You come to this church because Jesus is present in this church, as your Good Shepherd. You come to this church because your Jesus gives you His Word and Sacraments right here in this sheepfold.  

And in the case that you do fall away from the church in the upcoming years, I want you to hear this loud and clear today. I don’t want you to forget what I am about to say: dear confirmands, your Jesus will never turn His back on you. No matter how far you stray, no matter how long you depart, no matter how much you get ensnared in sin and darkness, your Jesus will never stop calling you back to the sheepfold that you were baptized into. Never forget that there is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you, and He always invites the tired, the worn out, and the sin-sick to come unto Him, for He is the Good Shepherd that provides rest for your body and soul.  

Bailey, Navae, Dustin, Shawn, Matthias, Brooke, Oliver, and Abigail, you are sheep.  Christ is your Shepherd. Today is not graduation but a day where you take your places at the Good Shepherd’s altar so that Your Shepherd can continually provide for you throughout this life - through the good, the bad, the ups, and the downs.  

In the name of Jesus, your Good Shepherd. Amen.

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