Today is the confirmation of Kole Knickmeier. Kole, we rejoice with you and your family on this special day. We recall your childhood with us, and we stand with you as you now grow into adulthood. I am glad I’ve had the opportunity to know you in confirmation. And I’ve appreciated your faithfulness in acolyting. I admire your work with your family for the Sunday night meal for the homeless shelter the first Sunday of every month. And I along with everyone else here wish you well in your coming years.
Thank you for writing the prayer of the day that we read together. It is a special day for you. But it is also an important day in our Lutheran faith and your prayer captured that as well. This is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday we set aside each year to recall the founding of the Lutheran faith tradition, over 450 years ago. It is a Sunday when we remember those values upon which the faith is founded.
Those values include a commitment to the Bible, that ancient story book from which we learn so much about human struggle and wisdom and divine love.
Those values include a commitment to grace and love that knows no bounds. We are all loved by God far beyond what we deserve, and we stand in thanks for that grace.
Those values include extending God’s love to others, everyone really, regardless of who they are or their circumstances in life. No one is beyond the grace of God. No one is beyond the compassionate embrace of the divine and of us.
Those values include living with faith and confidence, rather than fear, knowing that the future may be uncertain or difficult, but we will make it through the hard times, because God is with us and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Those values include scripture, grace, open arms, and the courage of faith. And there is another value of the Reformation we read of this morning in the gospel of John. It is something called freedom.
Now we usually think of freedom as freedom from something, and that is a good thing. We experience freedom as a release from something that is holding us down or something that is oppressive. We are made free by God from all that harms us, reduces us, limits us. We are freed from those forces that keep us from being what we are called to be. We are freed, according to John, even from death, which has been transformed somehow into a mysterious passageway into a new kind of life. We are freed from many things. And when we have been freed from something, we usually want to celebrate. That’s what the fourth of July, or Passover or Bastille Day is all about. Freedom from oppression. We all want to be free.
But in John we begin to see another side to freedom. It’s not only about freedom from something. It is a freedom for something. Freedom is for something. It’s great to celebrate our deliverance, but then we are called to live as free people.
And that gets us back into confirmation. Confirmation comes at that transition from childhood into adulthood. Gradually in these years we become less dependent on our parents. But what will we do with that freedom as we become more and more our own person, living and acting on our own? What is our growing freedom for? And what is our freedom in Christ for?
If I were to some up what freedom is for, it would probably be just one word: compassion. Compassion is caring for others, even if they are strangers to us, even if they don’t deserve to be treated well, even if they are different in ways we do not like. The Lutheran word for compassion is grace. And it’s good to talk about grace in this building on a Lutheran day. But outside this building what we are talking about is compassion. We are free to be a compassionate people.
Along with compassion, we might say that freedom is for other things as well. We may be free to do something but refrain from doing so because it would hurt others. We may even limit our own freedom so that others may be more free. We may even not insist on our own values but uplift the values of someone different from us. All of that is part of being not only free from, but also free for being the people of God.
So Kole, and all of us, on this day, may we remember our baptism, may we remember our heritage, our Bible, God’s grace, the love of God for all, and our confidence in God. Grounded in all that, let us go out there and be compassionate. Lord knows, the world needs it. And Sunday night shelter meals are a small part of that. May you and all of us grow in compassion each day. And may we through that compassion meet the one who loves us all, who gave his all for us, who continues to stand with us as we stand with others, and who this day welcomes us into the deeper journey of freedom that marks the lives of Lutheran adults everywhere.