Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sermon from Sunday, April 1

You may notice that the sermon is shorter than usual. No, the congregation did not get off easy this week. We had a baptism and communion at our church.

The sermon is based on Jesus' baptism, Matthew 3:13-17 (read it here: ).

“This is my Son, the beloved; in him I am well pleased.” This is what God’s voice from heaven pronounced over Jesus when he was baptized. Often when we hear these words, we think they were just fancy language. But any bystander, hearing the Spirit say this, would immediately recognize that the language was an intentional echo of two Old Testament passages (which I have printed in your bulletin).

The first one was Psalm 2:7. Psalm 2 is a royal psalm; it is a psalm about Israel’s king. God had anointed Israel’s king; the power the king had came from God. And so the Psalm asks, “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain (against the king)?...He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision. Then he will speak to them,…saying, ‘I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” The king was God’s chosen ruler, God’s anointed, the one God had given power and honor and glory to. And in Psalm 2:7, this king says, “God said to me, ‘You are my son…’”

When the crowd at Jesus’ baptism heard the Voice say, “You are my son,” immediately they would have flashed back and realized that a voice from on high was saying, “This is God’s anointed King,” this is one anointed with heavenly royalty. “This is my Son, the beloved;” said the Voice, and so He was: God’s Beloved, God’s only Son. And he was royalty.

The second Old Testament passage that would have come to mind was from Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights.” That phrase “in whom my soul delights” parallels “in him I am well pleased.” Anyone hearing those words in that day would have reflected and remembered on this passage about a Servant that God was choosing.

Now here’s the thing about that servant: in the next few chapters in Isaiah, we will read about how that Servant will suffer. Of this Servant it is said, “He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.” (Isa 53:3). God had anointed Jesus as a royal and chosen King, yes; but he was also called to be a Suffering Servant, one who laid down his life for the good of the world.

At Christian baptism, we naturally look back to Jesus’ baptism. In a sense, it is the prototype for our baptism; it is the model for how we think of baptism today. And this makes sense, for the calling of Jesus is in a sense the call of all who have followed him in baptism. Whether your baptism was fifteen minutes or seventy-five years ago, you received a call to follow Jesus. Like Jesus, you received a royal calling. You were made heirs with Christ of the same promise. We are now part of what Colossians calls a “kingdom of priests;” we are given a royal calling. We are made daughters and sons of God, if not in exactly the same way as Jesus, still in a way far above any earthly calling.

And yet while we are made kings and queens, we are also made to be servants, and we are also introduced into a life of redemptive suffering. Like Jesus, we are called on to leave all and, yes, to suffer on behalf of others. Our baptismal call—like Jesus’ baptismal call—entails us stepping out of comfortable places and becoming willing to be in need. Like Christ, we are called on to lay down our lives for our friends, and even for our enemies. This is a royal calling we have been given, but it is not an easy one. Like Christ, we are called to a life higher than any other, but also at times harder than any other.

Today, the challenge for all of us is to live into our baptismal calling. There are some here who are afraid to embrace the royalty inherent in our baptism. We are afraid to confess that we are God’s beloved children, and we are afraid that deep down God really doesn’t love and treasure us. We are sure that if God were to see us for who we are that he would run away, or worse, push us away. There are some of us who just cannot embrace this reality of our baptism.

But there are also many of us who are afraid of the call to suffering inherent in our baptism. We often are afraid of what it might mean to follow the Son who suffered as he did. We hear him say, “If anyone would follow me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me,” and something in us turns away from suffering like that. But we cannot forget that this is occasionally the call, to be royalty who suffer for the world in which we live.

Here today, on Palm Sunday, we can see both sides of the coin. This morning, as we entered the church, we sang, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” a great hymn of the church which echoes the praises of that first Palm Sunday. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and the crowds laid their coats on the road and sang “Hosanna to the Coming King!” all things seemed possible for Jesus. Yet in five short days, all had changed, and the king was to suffer, this time to go through the ultimate suffering, the suffering of a humiliating death. During the first Holy Week, Jesus knew what it was to be crowned King and he knew what it was to suffer.

And so this is my prayer for you during this Holy Week as well; I pray that you will know the good God who gave you a royal calling; and I pray that you will have the strength to withstand the suffering that sometimes comes with this calling God has given us.