“The Path of Life” (Psalm 16:8-11)
This is the time of year when you hear motivational phrases like these: “This is the first day of the rest of your life” … “Carpe diem (Seize the day)” … “The sky’s the limit” … “The world is your oyster.” This is the time of year when you hear graduation speeches.
Maybe graduates will also listen to speeches which mention all the paths ahead of them. Each day they will be faced with many choices. How they respond to certain choices will determine what direction their life takes. Whether you have a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder is not a very earth-shattering decision. Deciding who to marry … now that’s a life-changing choice.
While Confirmation Day feels like a graduation, remember what you always hear from me: “Confirmation is NOT graduation.” This is one step along the way in your ongoing growth in your life of faith in Jesus. And for each one of you … whether confirmand or graduate, youth or adult, there really are only two paths from which to choose: the “Path of Life” and the “Path of Death.” The Path of Life is trusting in God and walking in his ways and leads to eternal life. The Path of Death is turning away from God and his ways and leads to eternal death. The Path of Death is the one we naturally choose. It’s very easy to find. “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,” Jesus said (Matt. 7:13), “and those who enter by it are many” (Matt. 7:13). The Path of Life on the other hand, is not so easy to find. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14). Thankfully, God has revealed this path to us in the Holy Scriptures. Psalm 16:11 from today’s Introit says, “You make known to me the path of life.”
Knowing Your True Identity on the Path
Along this path of life, it’s important to know your true identity. Sometimes college students will take some time off and travel in order to “find themselves.” They have a major. They have an idea what career options are before them. But they’re not sure that’s what they want to do with the rest of their life. So they take a trip away from home … maybe Europe … or someplace exotic, like Nepal. They journal. They meet new people. They contemplate who they are and what’s really important to them.
“Finding yourself” is not unique to college students. Teenagers do this, too. They experiment with their own personal style … with clothes, hairstyle, music, and so on. They are developing deeper relationships. They wonder how they fit in to all the different subgroups at school. When I was in school, there were the jocks, the preppies, the punks, the stoners, the surfers, the nerds, just to name a few. I’ll let you guess what group I was in. I don’t know what labels are out there now. Maybe you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. You’re still trying to find your place in the world.
Some adults even struggle with knowing who they are. Certain men my age may have what is called a “mid-life crisis.” They look back on their life and judge their accomplishments (or lack thereof) and think to themselves, “I’m bored with my life. I need a change. I haven’t done what I wanted to. I haven’t achieved the goals I set out for myself.” At best, they go out and buy a motorcycle or a sports car. At worst, they abandon their families and begin to live selfishly and recklessly.
But you don’t have to wonder who you are. You already have an identity. You are a creation of the Holy Trinity. The same God who began to create with the words “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3) is the God who made you. This world did not come into being by chance. Neither did you. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). The Lord “formed [your] inward parts” and “knitted [you] together in [your] mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). The same God who numbers the stars also knows how many hairs you have on your head (Ps. 147:4; Matt. 10:30). He takes a personal interest in you and continues to care for you.
You are also a new creation in the waters of Holy Baptism. You were baptized into the name of the Holy Trinity … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your sins were washed away. You were brought into his kingdom. You were marked with the seal of ownership. You belong to God as his own precious, redeemed child. You are an heir of all that Jesus earned for you at the cross … eternal life and the promise of resurrection on the Last Day.
And because you are baptized, this makes you a disciple of Jesus. Jesus sends his Church into the world to “make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). This is how disciples are made. By baptizing and teaching. You become a life-long learner from Jesus and his Word. Led by his Spirit working through that Word, you receive help to make choices along the way on this path of life.
Your Travelling Partner on the Path
Along this path, you also have a travelling partner. King David said, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Ps. 16:8). In royal jargon, the right hand is the place of privilege and honor. The right hand is the one that acts and serves and fights. So when David says, “I have set the Lord always before me,” it doesn’t mean that he’s somehow manipulating God. Instead, David is recognizing the Lord’s constant nearness as the one who acts on David’s behalf, who serves David, and goes before him to fight his battles.
Is this how you and I go about our day? Setting the Lord always before us? Trusting that he is at our right hand? Not usually. Instead, we’re focused on our tasks at hand, the problems we face, anxious, worried, fretting over how we are going to make it through the day because our finances are in a shambles, our health is failing, our job is in jeopardy.
Repent of your sinful worry. Listen to David again: “because [the Lord] is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” The Lord is with you. He holds your hand as a Father holds his child’s hand and walks with you, stands beside you, and cares for you. Listen to Jesus who promises: “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).
Set the Lord before you as your travelling partner. Recognize that he has already promised to be with you along this path of life at your right hand.
Your Destination at the End of the Path
You are God’s creation and new creation in Baptism. The Lord is your travelling partner. Now let’s talk about your destination at the end of the path.
The end of the path of life is not death. Death is not the end. David acknowledged this when he said, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps. 16:10). In death, God does not abandon you. When you depart this life, you will be with the Lord, and the promise of resurrection awaits you.
What’s more, St. Peter explains that in that verse, David was actually prophesying our Lord’s own resurrection here. Peter quotes Psalm 16 in today’s reading from Acts 2 and says that David “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:31-32). And remember the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
The joys of eternity await you at the end of the path. “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” David says. And you receive a foretaste of eternity right here at this altar. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father. In his Holy Supper, his right hand reaches down from heaven and offers you his very own body and blood, the very body and blood that earned for you the forgiveness of all your sins. Here at the altar, you are ushered to the Lord’s right hand. He invites you to eat and drink with him and gives you the place of privilege and honor. Here at the altar there is fullness of joy. Here there are pleasures forevermore. Here you are prepared for a blessed death so you may then partake of pleasures forevermore at God’s right hand, no longer hindered by sin or sickness or sorrow.
Above all else, remember that Jesus already walked the path of life for you. His path took him from heaven to the womb of his mother Mary, to the manger, to Egypt, to Nazareth, to the shores of Galilee, to the temple in Jerusalem, to the cross of Calvary, to the Garden Tomb, and back to the right hand of the Father. But this journey that Jesus took was not to find himself. It was to find you … to rescue you from the path of death you were on and put you on the path of life.
Your path of life now leads you to the altar, back out to the world to invite others onto “The Path of Life,” and on into eternity.
Travel this path knowing who you are. You are God’s creation. You are God’s new creation in Baptism. You are marked with the seal of forgiveness. You belong to him. You are a disciple … a life-long learner and hearer of God’s Word and recipient of all his gracious gifts in Word and Sacrament.
Travel this path knowing the Lord is your travelling partner. He is at your right hand to strengthen you, to uphold you, to care for you.
And travel this path knowing your destination … fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at the Lord’s right hand … now in his Supper … then in the resurrection on the Last Day.