Festival of St. Philip and Saint James
May 1, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
Last summer, Jennifer, Becca, and I were incredibly blessed to be able to take a vacation to Florida. In preparation for our trip, I mapped out the route on the computer and figured that if we got lost, the GPS on my cellphone that would get us where we were needed to be. Little did I know that US Cellular’s GPS system pretty much doesn’t work south of Saint Louis. It wasn’t a problem on the interstate because we had an atlas, but in town it was a different story. Every day we were in a different place, so when we went back to the hotel I had to decide which way go. And you know what? I was wrong…every…single…time. I’m not kidding. For five straight nights, we ended up lost because I choose the wrong way to go.
Today is Confirmation Day, and all of you, Confirmands and adults, are in a similar kind of situation. You have to decide which way you’re going to go. If you chose correctly, you won’t get lost, and you’ll be set for this life and beyond. But if you choose incorrectly, you’ll be lost, not just for this life, but for the next as well.
When it comes to life, there are really, two different GPS systems that competing to be the one guiding you. One of them is going to lead you the wrong way, and it’s going to do this all the time. You’ll think you’re going the right way, but you’re not. There have been hundreds of accounts of people driving into a swamp, an overflowing river, or the wrong way on a highway because they listened to their GPS, which they thought couldn’t possibly be leading them the wrong way. But it was, and because they ignored the warning signs and neglected to use common sense, they crashed their cars.
This is Satan. He is the GPS for evil, and he is doing everything he can to lead you away from the final destination that God wants you to have. He wants you to get lost and to end up in Hell; not a metaphorical hell, not an imaginary one, but a real hell from which no one can escape. Satan is going to do whatever he can to get you there.
His directions are intended for you to take the road of sin. He wants you to drive down the nice wide path that Jesus says leads to destruction. If he knows drugs and alcohol are your weaknesses, he’ll lead you towards them. If he sees that you enjoy lust, he’ll direct your heart and eyes. If you struggle with doubt or depression, he’ll give you the directions you need to get lost in despair. He wants you to get and to stay lost, so he’ll tell you that reading the Bible isn’t essential to Christians. He’ll tell you kids that what you’ve learned from me isn’t all that important, that you can always worry about your faith and relationship with God later in life. He’ll point you to the belief that coming here to God’s House is a waste of time, that it’s boring, that it doesn’t apply to you, that you have better things to do. And guess what? When you listen to him, when you let him guide you, you’re going to get lost. To get lost means that you chose the wrong way to go. You’ve turned from what God has taught you, you’re closing your eyes to the warning signs, and you’re tuning out the Holy Spirit who’s telling you that if you don’t turn around you’ll be in grave danger.
I didn’t know that the default GPS on my phone would be worthless when I needed it the most. If I had, I would’ve bought an expensive model that wouldn’t have let me down. I didn’t know though, so we had some pretty stressful, angering nights. But where earthly GPS systems will let us down, God never will. He’s the exact opposite of Satan because He wants each of you to reach your heavenly destination. In the Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Way to Heaven and the Way through Life. He is the Truth that speaks to us and which gives us Life.
Where Satan wants to lead you with temptations, lies, and sins, Jesus leads you with His Word. In the Old Testament reading, we hear Isaiah say, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’”. The Word you children have learned is living in your heart and mind so you can draw on it when you need it. The Holy Spirit, who you received when you were baptized, is leading you through Scriptures to Christ Jesus. And as long as you listen to Him, you’ll always find your way to Jesus who gives you forgiveness and salvation. It’s hard to choose the right way to go, but you can do it for the Holy Spirit is with you always. You will also be led through the Lord’s Supper that you will be receiving for the first of what is hopefully many times. It’s the holy body and blood of Jesus which will keep you on the narrow road to eternal life and enable you to close your ears Satan’s fatal directions, and to keep your eyes fixed straight ahead on Jesus, who is the only Way to go.
In a few minutes you seven confirmands will make a vow to God that you will follow the way of His Son. You will promise to be faithful to Him and to even die before you renounce your faith in Him. You are the latest in a long line of people to make this vow, a vow many children your age are making this very day. Some who have made this vow have remained faithful. Many more have not. Many have stood at this railing, and others like it, and have never come back. This breaks my heart, but more than that it breaks God’s heart for they have chosen the wrong way to go and if they continue on that path they may find themselves hopelessly lost.
Today we’re celebrating the Festival of Saint Philip and Saint James and in them we can see ourselves. Philip and James where two of Jesus’ disciples, in fact they were among the first called by Jesus. For three years they followed Jesus and when Jesus said that He would be arrested and killed, they vowed that they would die with Him. But you know what happened, right? They broke their promise by running away into the night. They failed miserably as they listened to Satan’s guidance.
You’re just like them. All of you have been called by Jesus to be His followers, to let Him guide you, but just like Philip and James, you’ll fail. You say you’ll follow Jesus, but there’ll be times you’ll ignore His directions and follow Satan’s instead. We all do it. We listen to the wrong voice so we go the wrong way.
But just as my GPS tells me to make a “legal u-turn” when I’ve gone the wrong way, so does Christ. He could’ve let Philip and James go traipsing after Satan, but He didn’t. Jesus called them back, forgave their sins, and they became faithful followers once again. Saint James was faithful and became the first disciple to be killed for his faith in Jesus. Jesus calls again through His words, we remember that we are baptized, and we turn around. We repent of our sins and for following Satan, and when we do we find our forgiving Lord waiting to lead us on. He doesn’t just let us go, He calls us back to Himself so that we would never be lost.
He leads us to the place He has prepared for us. The disciples are confused, but Jesus is clear. He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Through His death Jesus went to prepare a place for you, and eternal place, and then He came back to show you the way. He did all this for you. He died and rose so that you could take your place in His Father’s mansion. This place, this final destination, is yours! Kids, what I’ve been trying to get you to realize all the years that I’ve known you, and what I want you to never forget, is that you belong to God. You’ll wander, but when you turn around you’ll find a loving and forgiving God. When you listen to His voice, you will find that He’ll lead you where you need to be.
So in a few minutes when you Confirmands hear the questions that I ask, when all of you hear the questions that I ask our young people, you need to think about your answer. Which way will you go? Will you follow the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Or will you follow Satan who is the way to death and hell? This is a serious question which requires a serious answer. The question isn’t just for today to be forgotten tomorrow. You’re going to be asked this question every day for the rest of your lives. But I want you to remember that you aren’t doing this alone. You’re not trying to find your way without any help. Rather, the very first question I will ask you tells you how you can do it. I will ask, “Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism?” It’s in your baptism that you find the strength and the ability to choose the right way to go. God has given you the precious gift of faith in your Baptism, and He will continue to strengthen it and cause it to grow. He is always here for you. It’s not always easy to choose the right way to go, but with Him, you can do it. Jesus is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life, and when you follow Him, you will find your way home.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen