White Knuckled Christians
Today is a very
special day in the life of our church.
Today is confirmation day and thirty young men and women are
confirming their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a very special day for their lives, their mothers and
fathers, their grandmas and grandpas, brothers and sisters, and for
us as friends and congregation.
Today’s sermon is directed to these thirty young people,
but not only to them, but to young people in grade school, junior
high, high school and young adults.
Ultimately, the Word of God addresses all of us.
In my hand, I have
something incredibly precious.
It is very, very valuable. It is a precious gem and I would
like to tell you the story of how I obtained it.
I visited Ben Bridge’s Jewelry in Seattle this past week,
asking them to lend me a diamond worth between $5,000 and $10,000
for a sermon illustration for today.
I talked to the manager, and it was brief, and I went on my
merry way. I then went
downtown Kent to Blessings Jewelry and explained the situation and
asked to borrow an expensive diamond and I was again sent on my
merry way. So I then
tried Friedlander’s Jewelry in Federal Way, and I received the
same answer. So I began
the search within our parish, trying to find a priceless ring or
piece of jewelry that I could borrow for a sermon illustration.
I finally found this eagle diamond that I am proudly showing
you today, and its value is more than $40,000.
Yes, more than $40,000.
No, I am not going to tell you the name of the owner, but I
guarantee you, I will not leave this sermon illustration, this eagle
diamond, casually in the pulpit between services.
I hid it last night in a very special place in our house; I
have never had anything so economically valuable in our house
I would like to
tell you a story about this eagle diamond.
It is a make believe story but it is somewhat
It wasn’t that
long ago that my wife and I chose to make a trip on a cruise liner.
It was the Deutch Cruise Line and the ship Princedown, and we
were going to take a summer trip to Singapore with all these rather
rich friends. We got on the Princedown and left from Vancouver and first
sailed up north into the Gulf of Alaska. It was about 1:30 in the
morning, and we were asleep in our berth.
Suddenly, a bell rang out and we heard people shouting,
“Fire, Fire.” We quickly put on our bathrobes over our pajamas and on with
the slippers and we ran out into the hall.
I thought, “The ring.”
The eagle diamond. The
precious ring that we had along.
The heirloom of my great-grandmother’s. So I rushed back
into the room, found my secret hiding place in our suitcase, and
took out the precious gem from the hidden compartment.
I put the eagle diamond into my left hand and squeezed it
tightly. I squeezed it
so tightly my knuckles became white.
I ran out into the hallway, then onto the deck with my wife,
and there was smoke all around us. You wouldn’t believe it but there was male chorus, a set of
barber shoppers, and they were singing The Navy Hymn, of all things,
trying to calm us. The
cold night slowly gave way to the early morning, and the captain
spoke again through the loudspeaker:
“Prepare to abandon ship.”
We were already wearing our life jackets, and there were
twenty-five and fifty foot waves crashing over the cruise liner.
My wife, Jan, got into a lifeboat and it was lowered down.
Her lifeboat pulled away just about the time the ship’s
keel lurched way back and I thought the ship was going to sink.
I was afraid. I
knew I was going to die, and impulsively, like others, I jumped over
the railing into he raging sea.
But I still had the eagle diamond, clenched into my left
fist, as I hit the water, sunk into the gurgling seas, and finally
came up. Alive.
I popped the eagle diamond into my mouth and started to swim.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was a life boat in front of
me and miraculously I was pulled up into the lifeboat.
There was my wife, crying, all upset. I grabbed her. I spit
the ring from my mouth into my left hand and clenched my hand as
hard as I could into a fist. And
so we huddled together, afraid, hanging onto life until we were
Well, it is with
this mood of this imaginary story that I would like to approach the
sermon for today. This
past week, I was thinking, “What could I say to these young
people? What needs to
be said to them more than anything else?
If I could give them the best advice that I could ever give
to these confirmands, what would I say? If I had one sermon left to
give, and for some reason, I was going to die, what would be that
one, last parting sermon?” Those were questions I thought of this past week. And my mind
flashed to II Thessalonians 2:15, “Hold fast to Jesus Christ and
the ways of Christ that we taught you.”
Yes, that is what I will say.
Hold fast to Christ and the ways of Christ that you have been
taught. Hold fast to Christ, to his words, his wisdom, his ways. Be
white knuckled Christians. Hang
on to Christ so tightly that your knuckles become white.
sermon, the preacher can use the priceless diamond as a prop,
squeezing the diamond into the palm of one’s hand and into a fist
with its white knuckles.)
One of the greatest
disappointments of my life is to see so many young people let go of
Christ. They gradually
let go of that which is most precious in their lives.
O, they still believe in Christ.
They still have Jesus feelings.
If you asked them if they are a Christian, they would say,
“Yes, I am a Christian.” Yet,
they seem to let go. They
let go of the words of Jesus, the wisdom of Jesus, the ways of
Jesus, and ultimately, of Christ himself.
So many kids let go of church attendance, reading the Bible,
praying, and associating with Christian friends.
They try to live off of what I call “Christian common
sense” that they learned from their parents or in confirmation or
in Sunday school, but it doesn’t last very long.
It seems incredible
to me that such devoted young people as these, who write such
beautiful papers entitled “My Relationship to Jesus Christ,”
gradually drift away. What amazes me is that such devoted young
people as these men and women will let go. That is what amazes me.
It is almost like
they don’t realize the value of the gem they have.
It is almost like they think it is a fake; it’s not the
real thing; it is an imitation.
Not being valuable, they let it go.
see the tragic consequences of when kids let go of Christ and the
ways of Christ. They
get hurt; they hurt themselves or other people.
That is, you can’t imagine or perhaps you can, the number
of young Christians who are rooted in Christ and grounded in
Christian values, and they finally begin living with someone prior
to marriage and there is no life long commitment between the couple,
and they pretend it is OK. Why
is it OK? Because Christ teaches it is OK?
everyone else is doing it. Ignore
the teachings of Christ. Ignore the words of Christ.
Ignore the wisdom of Christ. Letting go of Christ.
Letting go of those things that were taught.
How I wish that our confirmands would be white knuckled
Christians. How I wish
they would hold onto Jesus Christ.
How I wish they would hold on to the ways of Christ, the
words of Christ, the wisdom of Christ.
How I wish they would realize the valuable possession they
have in their hands.
Or, you can’t
imagine the number of previous confirmation students who grew up and
married, perhaps to a person who does know Christ or walk with
Christ. In my job, I
talk to young women who are beat up emotionally and physically,
brutalized and battered. It
would be one thing if this happened only to an occasionally few
people, but it happens to many who get battered in the most intimate
relationship called marriage. And
sometimes I confess that I think to myself since I can’t say it to
them: “How I wish you
would have married a white knuckled Christian.
How I wish you would have married someone who clung to Christ
and his ways, his wisdom, his words.
You wouldn’t be getting beat up, if you had done so.” But
I don’t say it. I
only think it. White knuckled Christians are different than the world.
A person is different if they hang on tightly to Jesus Christ
as their most valuable possession.
They don’t beat up their spouse emotionally or physically,
if they have hung on to Christ and his ways.
would like to mention four Christian jewels that I believe you young
people need to hang on to. The first jewel is a ruby that I have here in my hand.
A red ruby. The
“coming to church” in order to worship with other Christians. Now coming to church and worshipping with other Christians
doesn’t seem that important.
It is no big deal, so we think.
It is not something we hand tightly onto.
It is not something precious.
How foolish. And
so young people and parents drop out of a regular worshipping
pattern after confirmation, not realizing how valuable that worship
pattern has been. As
people start to fall away and let go of their regular worship
patterns of Sunday morning, I notice that they begin to let go of
other things. They
begin to let go of the words, the ways, and the wisdom of Jesus.
They start relying on Jesus feelings and Christian common
sense. It is a fact. It
is a fact you learned in confirmation:
two people worshiping together regularly have a divorce rate
of 2%, not 50%. There
is power, immense power, to have a repeated healthy personal pattern
like Sunday worship. It
is a ruby. Don’t let go of it.
The second valuable
gemstone this morning is an emerald.
This is a lovely emerald that I have here in my hand.
Some of you may not realize that it is valuable; some of you
may think it is a forgery or fake, but you are wrong.
It is the real thing, not imitation glass, but the real
emerald. This emerald
symbolizes reading your Bible devotionally and prayerfully.
Again, this pattern may not seem important to you, but it is
extremely valuable. Statistics
tell us that only one in ten Lutherans read their Bibles once a
week. Lutheran kids
also do not read their Bible daily or weekly.
What a tragedy. At a youth retreat some time back, I asked the kids to recite
a favorite Bible verse that lived inside of them, and two thirds
couldn’t do it. How
sad. How really sad. Deeply
inside, I wanted them to be white knuckled Christians, who hung on
tightly to the words of Jesus, the words of the Bible, the words of
life. When I was a
young child growing up, I learned the following words that have been
with me and in me since childhood.
“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; not me,
but Christ who lives in me. And
the life I now live, I live by faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God
who loved me and gave himself for me.”
(Galations 2:20). I grew and learned another passage from the Bible that I now
recite every day. It is my mantra. I recite the whole chapter about
love every morning. It begins like this, “If I speak in the
tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or
clanging symbol.” Words of God. Living
words inside of you. How
I wish that the young people today would be white knuckled
Christians, that you would hang on to the emeralds and rubies that
you have been given.
The third jewel is
a real amethyst, luscious in its golden beauty, and this valuable
gem symbolizes prayer. To talk with God morning, noon and night.
To say the prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven” every
day. To know and pray prayers like “now I lay me down to sleep”
or “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” or “Lord, this
morning I come into the quietness and still of your presence to
begin this day with you, that out of this moment I may take with me
a quiet serenity and strength which will last me through the rough
and tumble of this days life. I
have come to find wisdom, so I don’t make any foolish mistakes.
I have come to find peace, so that nothing would worry or
upset me all through today; I have come to find love, so that
nothing would make me bitter, unforgiving or unkind.
I have come to find justice, so that I would always work for
the poor and the oppressed. I
have come to begin this day with you, continue it with you, and end
it with you, so that this would be a day that has nothing to regret.
Hear this morning prayer, for Jesus sake.
Amen.” This is
my mother’s morning prayer. She has now died, but her prayers
lives on in us. What a treasure.
What a jewel. To remember your family by name in prayer every day.
To remember your friends in prayer every day.
To remember those in need every day.
How totally tragic for Christians to let go of daily prayer.
How I want you to be white knuckled Christians, to hand on
tightly to the precious jewels of faith that you have been given.
Hang on to your prayer life.
The fourth jewel is
a jasper; and its deep beauty is in my hands.
This gem symbolizes Christian friends.
To have you hang on to your Christian friends today and
throughout all of your life. To
live a Christian life in this crazy world of ours without Christian
friends is impossible. You cannot live a Christian life today without Christian
friends. You know that
and so do I. O you can
think of those rare exceptions such as a solitary hermit on a remote
island, but in the real world in our real lives today, it is
absolutely necessary to have Christian friends to give you support
and strength and power. We
human beings, like so many flocks of birds and so many herds of
animals, are community people.
We need a community of like minded people, who hang onto
Christ, who hang on to weekly worship, who hang on to daily Bible
reading, who hang on to daily prayer, to help us do the same.
We need people around us who share our same values, so we
will continue to live in those values.
If we don’t have such Christian friends and community, we
will slowly let go…of the priceless jewels that have been given to
So, what happens to
you when you finally let go? It
happens or will happen to all of us.
At some point or points in our lives, we all gradually let
go. What happens then? I
would now like to illustrate that our God is a white knuckled God.
Sam, as a confirmand, would you come forward and stand with
me? Would you grab my
arm and I will grab yours. Sam,
would you slowly let go of me.
Let go slowly same so you are no longer holding my arm.
Meanwhile, I am grabbing on to Sam’s arm and I am holding
his arm as tightly as I can, and I will not let go.
And so it is with God: God
will not let us go. In
the Bible, God says, “Is my arm so short that I cannot pull you
out of the pit you are in? Is
my grip so weak that I will finally let you go?”
No, God’s grip is forever powerful and God will not let us
go. (holding Sam’s
arm all the while). And
finally, the miraculous time comes and Sam slowly grabs my arm once
again, more tightly and more tightly.
Even if you let go, God does not let go. God
wants you to grasp his love once again, to hang on to the precious
jewels that have been given. Thank
you, Sam. Our God is a white knuckled God who will not let go. (Sam
Today, after the
service, I am going to be very careful with these four jewels.
I am going to be enormously careful with this eagle diamond
that I have in my hand. I
am not going to casually leave these gems in the pulpit between
services. No, I will
always have these gems in my possessions today. They are precious. The
words of the Apostle Paul: “Hold
fast to Christ and the words that I have taught you.” Be white knuckled Christians for a white knuckled God.