If You Consider Me a Believer, Confirm Me

12 05 2009

Ac 16 11-15 If I’m a Believer, Confirm Me (published version in pdf format)

Acts 16:11-15

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

It’s amazing how history repeats itself. I suppose that’s especially
true on Confirmation Sunday. Today five young believers
present themselves before God’s altar at Emanuel in order to confess
their faith in front of everyone. Like so many who have gone
before them, they wish to be received into communicant membership
here at Emanuel. They desire to put the other members’
hearts at ease so that when they join you at the Lord’s Supper, you
will know that they understand what it is they are truly receiving,
as well as what it is that they confess with you by coming to that
Holy Supper as part of the fellowship of WELS members.
And, like I said, it’s amazing how history repeats itself. I myself
once did the same thing at my confirmation. Most of you also
did the same thing. Lydia of Philippi did the exact same thing.
Well, okay, not the exact same thing. But it may be closer than
you realize. After being instructed in the true, Christian faith, Lydia
stood up and publicly showed her personal desire to be
counted among those who believe as her instructors believed. She
said to Paul and his companions, “If you consider me a believer in
the Lord, come and stay at my house.” Likewise you five are
standing up today to be counted among those who believe as other
members of Emanuel believe, only you’re saying, “If You Consider
Me a Believer, Confirm Me
as a communicant member.”
The words are a bit different, but if you look at what’s happening
here in Acts, you’ll see that the thought is just the same.
1. Lydia desired to show her support of the gospel.
Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t think so at first. In fact, back
when I picked this sermon text for Confirmation Sunday, I wasn’t
so sure this was a good choice. I could totally see the Gospel for
this Sunday working. “I am the vine; you are the branches”
seemed perfect. Likewise the Second Lesson, about genuine faith
and love for God in action, seemed perfectly suited for today. The
First Lesson only won out at first because it’s a text I had never
preached before, so I thought it was worth a go.
But even when I started studying it on Monday I wasn’t really
getting it. I thought for sure that I was going to have to shift to a
different text before I got too far. But then, when I got to those
words, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay
at my home,” I got it. I saw it. I saw all the parallels between what
Lydia was doing as she responded to Paul’s teaching and what
you are doing in responding to the Evangelical Lutheran faith as
you have learned to know it from Luther’s Small Catechism.
You see, inviting a religious teacher into your home was the
same thing in that day as what we do when we put money into the
plate for our congregation’s expenses, or when we send money to
a mission to support their work. We’re saying publicly that we
know that the ministry we are supporting is God’s work, and we
want to keep that work going. When you invited preachers like
Paul and his traveling companions into your home, you were becoming
an active participant in their work, supporting it by giving
them a place to stay and food to sustain them in their ministry.
That’s exactly why John wrote in his epistles not to welcome
preachers into your home who claimed to be associated with the
Christian message but who teach something different from what
the Apostles did. “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue
in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in
the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to
you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your
house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his
wicked work” (2 John 9-11).
Do you see, then, how giving Paul and his companions room
and board was participating in their good work? So you also see,
then, that when Lydia insisted that they make use of her home it
was a public confession of her faith. It was doing more than just
hanging back and listening. She was standing up, letting everyone
see that she wanted to be a part of this. She wanted to be an active
supporter of Paul’s ministry. So she was baptized, and then: “‘If
you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay
at my house.’” Do you see the parallels?
She was doing what you five are doing. “The Lord opened her
heart to respond to Paul’s message.” She had listened to the Word
of God, just as you have been. The Lord “opened her heart” to
that message, which is what he has done for you.
2. Confirmation is the same response
to the Word coming from you.

Open, you see, is the key word in that verse. It’s the same
word used in Mark 7, where Jesus put his fingers in a deaf man’s
ears and said, “Be opened!” It’s the same word used in Luke
24:31, where Jesus had been walking down the road with a couple
of disciples after his resurrection when suddenly “their eyes were
opened and they recognized him.” It’s the same word used a few
verses later, where Luke wrote, “Then [Jesus] opened [the disciples’]
minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (24:45).
So let’s see if you guys “get” that word. When Jesus opened
that man’s ears, it meant that he could, what, hear? It probably
means a little more than “get some sound,” because when the disciples’
eyes were opened on the road to Emmaus, what did that
mean? It can’t mean that they could see for the first time. They
hadn’t been traveling with seeing-eye dogs all evening! But now
they recognized Jesus. They finally saw what they were seeing.
And when Jesus opened the disciples’ minds a few verses
later, what did that mean? It meant that they not only heard the
Scriptures and processed the words and sentences so they could
store parts of it in their heads, but that they understood the real
point for the first time, that it was all about God being the ultimate,
all-powerful, unfailing Savior of all who called on him and
that Jesus was the Christ he had promised for the ultimate deliverance:
saving us from the eternal curse we deserve for rejecting
him and relying upon other means to happiness and eternal life.
So what does opening the heart mean, the expression used in
your confirmation text? Well, opening the ears doesn’t just mean
hearing some vague sounds, but really hearing. Opening the eyes
doesn’t just mean having sight, but really seeing what you’re seeing.
And opening the mind doesn’t just mean understanding the
words your are hearing because you know the language and,
thereby, what the person is saying. It means really understanding,
getting the real point, seeing how it all fits together.
All of this I can confidently affirm you guys have done. You
have really heard the Word, truly seen your forgiveness in it and
understood Jesus at its center. But how are your hearts opened?
Look again at the text before us. What does it say? “The Lord
opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the
members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her
home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come
and stay at my house.’”
Do you see it? The opening of her heart was Lydia’s genuine,
outward response of faith: being baptized and giving these
preachers a place to stay and food to eat. Opening eyes doesn’t
just seeing. It means fully seeing what you see, like the disciples
recognizing Jesus after they arrived in Emmaus. Opening minds to
the Scriptures doesn’t just mean understanding what the words are
saying but fully understanding what they are ultimately all about:
the salvation from sin and death that the Christ came to win. But
opening the heart means changing how you respond, changing
your will, what you want to do.
Lydia wanted—Oh! Lydia begged for the opportunity!—to be
counted among those who responded to the gospel, who were an
active and public part of the community that rejoiced in it, confessed
it and supported it. She demonstrated her genuineness by
inviting them in. Is not your response here today the same?
Lydia said, “If you consider me a believer, if you see that my
response is genuine, then let me be a part of this. Let me support
this gospel ministry, be an active part of the people of God.”
Likewise you are here, not merely to recite a few things in front of
this congregation, but to show them the miraculous change that
the ministry they have been supporting has made in your hearts. It
has opened your hearts, changed your will.
You’ve had faith since your baptism. You have already known
the peace of believing that your sins are all forgiven through
Christ’s work done for you. Today we see how that faith has
grown. Today we see a mature confession. Today you publicly
make your stand. May God bless your added support to this gospel
ministry, just as he blessed Lydia’s support of Paul’s. Amen.

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