What a weekend: a new family; a new Lutheran; a new teacher. In Baptism, God pours His love upon Bria McCue. He covers her in Christ’s blood. He forgives her sins and makes her His child. In confirmation, Ben Josten confesses the faith the Spirit works and then joins us for the first time in receiving the body and blood which Jesus sacrificed for the forgiveness of Ben’s sins. Through the rite of installation, Lydia Kuznicki becomes Bethel’s teacher. She promises to do for her students what John did for his, point to God’s Word and say, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” thus speaking God’s forgiveness to herself and her students.
Paul, concerned about the same forgiveness, uses some of the last words he’ll ever write to point Timothy to Jesus and faithfulness. Paul used this emotional moment to grab Timothy. Reread 2 Timothy and you will see time and time again Paul’s refrain: “Keep! Guard! Entrust! Remember! Correctly handle!” No schmaltzy Hallmark sentimentality here. Paul wants to leave Timothy with no illusions. The world is wicked, evil, and hate-filled. It killed Jesus; it will swallow you and kill you. The sin within you will gladly do the same. These enemies want nothing more than to make this day – Bria’s Baptism, Ben’s confirmation, Lydia’s installation – the first day on a downhill slide into hell.
Paul knows that, so he simply says, “Stand firm!” “But as for you,” he writes, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” Notice the emphasis up front: “But as for you.” Paul plays the parent dealing with a child who says, “Tommy gets to do this.” Paul says, “I don’t care. I don’t care what Tommy or Timmy or Tammy does. I don’t care what other teachers, other pastors, other churches, other confirmands, or other families do. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. Right here. Right now. I’m telling you to stand firm.”
This is your Martin Luther moment. In 1521, the emperor demanded that Luther take back everything he’d ever written and said. Luther replied that he would not, because it would go against Scripture and conscience. And according to at least one account Luther concluded by saying: “Hier stehe Ich! Here I stand!”
That begs the question: “Where am I standing?” On “what you have learned and have become convinced of,” Paul writes. This isn’t a mindless standing. This isn’t just ideology for ideology’s sake. This isn’t because you were born this or your parents think that. It’s not some academic thing. It isn’t just “the right thing to do,” to baptize a baby. It’s not because you’re wife’s a member that you get confirmed. It’s not because it’s such a glitzy and glamorous job that you teach our children. That’s meaningless and worthless. That’s the coal-miner’s faith: “I believe what the Church believes.”
Paul says it’s not only what you learned, it’s what you’ve become convinced of, what you believe and trust. And that happened to you. You didn’t decide it; the Spirit did it for you. He convinced you of the things upon which you stand, the things that brought you to font, and confirmation, and classroom.
Paul then mentions those things: the holy Scriptures, the God-breathed Scriptures. The words that make you wise for salvation, even if you’re an infant who can do nothing more than squirm and scream and sleep and soil a diaper. Bria can’t do much, but, Paul says she can believe. Just as Jesus said as He held babies and said, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
These words you’ve studied, that the Spirit’s convinced you of, that you believe, they’re powerful words. The Spirit fills them with God’s power. For your salvation. They make you wise, Paul said. You understand. As the psalmist wrote, with these words about Jesus you’re wiser than your enemies. You have more insight than your teachers. You have more understanding than the elders.
Because this Word is powerful. You just went through the miracle of birth, Mike and Ashley. You know the power there. God says that greater power resides in the Word. Through the Word a person is “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring Word of God,” regardless of age: 15 days, 15 years, 50 years.
It’s a unique wisdom. It’s not how to keep your baby happy and preferably sleeping through the night. It’s not how to organize a new home. It’s not how to keep calm rowdy children. It’s wisdom for salvation, deliverance, rescue, being saved. It’s knowing that you’re saved and how you’re saved: “through faith in Christ Jesus.”
This is the foundation of rock Jesus preached about. This is what makes this a Bethel, a “house of God.” We’ll sing during Communion today, “Built on the rock, the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling.” And we have this rock before us so visibly today. Again, our hymn: “Here stands the font before our eyes, telling how God did receive us. Th’ altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice and what the sacrament gives us. Here sound the Scriptures that proclaim, Christ yesterday, today, the same, and evermore, our Redeemer!” Without these things, without this Baptism, without this Supper, without this Word, we have nothing. You have nothing. You are dead in sins apart from Christ.
We have everything because we have the Word and it is God-breathed. All of it. Not some. Not most. All: from Genesis to Revelation, these things the Spirit wrote, these Words which we hear, which we preach, which we read, which we pour, which we pass out and which we eat. From God. Breathed out. Breathed into us: “what you have learned and become convinced of.”
If we lose this, we lose everything. We have wisdom only when we have the Word. We have salvation only when we have the Word. The devil whispers in our ear that it doesn’t matter all that much. We don’t need this Word or that Word. The devil tempts us to think that it’s not all that important that I as father or mother teach the Word, that’s what we have pastors and teachers for. Or, worse, the devil insists that you can teach your children different lessons than those set forward in Scripture, that you can pick and choose the Words of God for you and your children.
Then the devil, with the willing allegiance of the world and your own traitorous sinful natures, convinces you that you need to stand in other places, that you need training from other places. You baptize your child, because it’s a quaint ritual. You get confirmed because your wife said so or because it’s what happens when you get to eighth grade. You make these solemn promises to hold faithful to the Word and the Lutheran confessions as a called servant of Christ, but really true wisdom comes from elsewhere.
All sorts of elsewheres, the devil says. It comes in curriculums, or jobs, or technology, or sports and recreation, or university training, or family traditions. And suddenly you find yourself standing in those things, being convinced of those things, more than in what the Spirit has convinced you to confess today: Jesus Christ. And those are houses built on sand. They wash away in the daily storm and strife of this world. God will obliterate them on judgment day. Only one thing remains: “Heaven and earth pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words will never pass away.”
I hope you see what a high and holy calling it is to be a parent, a confirmand, a teacher, or “simply” baptized. You see how quickly we run into foolishness when we let our course be set by anything except Jesus. So this Word of God and nothing else must set the tone for your life. This Word God gives you, that He breathes out into the Scriptures and breathes into your hearts, is “useful” Paul says. It makes you qualified and capable for every possible kind of good work, because it makes you “a man of God.”
This isn’t a sexist statement, excluding women or children. Paul said something similar in Galatians: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This isn’t sons as opposed to daughters, thus excluding half the world. This is sons as opposed to slaves. Through the Word of Christ, whether spoken, poured, or eaten, God makes you family. You were slaves to sin. Jesus took that slavery upon Himself and bought your freedom with His blood. You were a non-person, hated by God, forsaken by God. Jesus suffered that hatred for you. You were covered in filth, not of body, but of soul, and the Spirit of God washed the guilt of that filth away in the sacrament Bria receives. You were starving, as slaves usually are, but as a son, God gives you the best food, the finest wine – His Son’s body and blood, the food that Jesus puts on the table for us to eat and drink and live.
God’s breathed-out Word initiates you into all that that means. Paul says it teaches you doctrine. It rebukes error. It corrects faults. It gets you back in line. It instructs you in righteousness. Like a parent, the Word of God disciplines you so that, as Moses told Israel in Deuteronomy today, you are not enticed away to false religions and false gods and shameful living.
But first, God’s Word makes you wise for salvation. It picks you up. It cleans you off. It convinces you that you needed that. God’s Word does. God does. He convinces you at font and altar and pulpit. He convinces you as you hear about Jesus’ sacrifice in family devotions, Sunday School, Lutheran day school, catechism class. He keeps on convincing you, because you still wear your sinful nature around your neck. You still need medicine because you’re still sick. I’m still sick. And God still heals. His Word remains useful for me, all these years after I was baptized, after I made my confirmation promises, after I vowed at my installation and ordination. In the words of our liturgy, “And also with you.”
Today you stand prepared: Mike and Ashley, Bria, Ben, Lydia, baptized sons and daughters of God. Even if you don’t feel it and even if you know that you haven’t reached the end of your preparation. You’re prepared because God teaches you. God convinces you. God breathes out and breathes in to you His Word. He breathed out His Son Jesus, and breathes Christ’s forgiveness into your hearts, into your minds, into your lives. Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us! Amen!