Wednesday, March 19, 2008

3-16 sermon audio!

Hi all--have been experimenting with audio recordings, so here goes. Hopefully the next week's will sound a bit better as I have a bit of tweaking still to do with the microphones.

Sermon from Sunday, March 16

Based on Romans 6:3-14, esp. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ are baptized into his death?"

In much of the Christian world, it is Easter—not Palm Sunday—that is set aside for baptism. This has to do with the fact that both Easter and baptism has to do with dying and rising to new life. Somewhere along the way, at our church, it became traditional to do baptisms on Palm Sunday. We do them throughout the year, too, if someone requests it, but we usually plan a service for Palm Sunday. I’m not exactly sure why Palm Sunday became the norm here rather than Easter; I have a hunch that maybe people were interested in planning it for Easter, but maybe some families travelled on Easter, or the Sunday seemed busy enough without adding another ceremony to it.

Now, I don’t know if that’s exactly why our church started doing Palm Sunday baptisms. There may be more of a story to it than that, I don’t know. But whatever the case, we should realize that Palm Sunday and Easter are two very different days. Palm Sunday is an ironic sort of day, isn’t it? Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people are cheering for him. They are waving their palms, and they are laying their coats on the ground before Jesus, and they are shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Those of you who have heard me preach on Palm Sunday before know that the palm was an ancient symbol of the Jewish people. When the Jews are waving their palms, and shouting hosanna, it is really a patriotic statement, not a religious one. Remember as well that the Jews were a captive and oppressed people in these days. The Romans ruled their country and the people did not like Roman rule; they wanted to rule over their country again, they wanted to be a sovereign power.

So when you see the people shouting hosanna and waving palms, it is really a patriotic statement, not a religious one. It is actually more of a revolutionary statement, as the people waved their palms and believed that God was going to deliver them from the hands of the enemies that oppressed them. They believed a revolution was coming, and they believed that the revolution was starting in Jesus. They believed that this was their moment; their vindication as a people was starting now.

Of course, they were soon disappointed. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the donkey and as he rides in, people expect him to start the revolution. But if you read the Palm Sunday story in Luke, the first thing Jesus does after riding in is not to attack the oppressive Roman government. Rather, the first thing he does is to come to the Temple and cleanse it. The first thing he does is not to take on everyone else, but to take on his own people. And you can almost sense people’s hearts sinking, because it turns out that Jesus didn’t want the kind of revolution that they wanted. Jesus wanted a revolution all right, but it was a different kind of revolution. It was a revolution of the heart, that started on the inside, and radically changes a person’s character, and outlook, and way of living in the world. Jesus wanted people to experience power, but not political power. He wanted his people to experience the power that comes from fully submitting to God. Jesus wanted people to have freedom, but not political freedom. He wanted his people to experience the freedom that only comes when we have made our wills completely captive to the will of God.

Palm Sunday is an ambivalent, ambiguous Sunday on the church calendar. It is a day when Jesus seemed to be triumphant, but was instead about to enter into the deepest trials of his earthly life. This is, of course, lightyears away from Easter Sunday, which we will celebrate next week. On Easter Sunday, Jesus has really triumphed. He has made a mockery of the power of Satan; he has laughed at the grave; he has demonstrated that even death has no power over him. In so doing, he gives hope to each of us who believe, that the grave is not the end, that there is more to our existence than what we now perceive.

The difference between these two Sundays is why I say that being baptized on Palm Sunday has different overtones than being baptized on Easter. When we are baptized of course, one of the things we are doing is pledging to follow Jesus. Well, it’s one thing to pledge to follow Jesus on Easter, when Jesus is at his most triumphant, when he is putting death to death, and when his power is obvious. But it’s another thing to pledge to follow Jesus on Palm Sunday, when there are tough times ahead. To pledge to follow Jesus is to pledge to follow him just when everyone else is about to abandon him! You are getting on the Jesus bandwagon just when it is about to hit a major bump in the road. You are choosing to follow Jesus just when things are turning dark. This Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, and it is a remembrance of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, that painful last meal before the crucifixion. We will have a service here, to remember that solemn event. And this Friday is the day we remember the crucifixion itself, that event where the created showed their hatred for the Creator and put him to death. In that horrible event, we got to see the depth of evil that can crowd the human heart; God was revealed to us, and God was revealed to be love; but instead of celebrating this good news, humanity put him to death. This upcoming Holy Week is a hard week, and it is during this most difficult week that you have pledged to follow him!

It gives us a bit of a clue as to what Paul means when he says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Paul wants us to know that when we follow Jesus, we do not merely follow him in his power, but in his death. As surely as Christ was put to death on our behalf, our lives are in a sense a process of dying—dying every day—to an old way of living. It means putting to death habits that are dear to us when we find out that those habits are hurting ourselves or others. It means ending behaviors that are not Kingdom behaviors. It means putting aside things we treasure when we find out that those things are not right for us, and not fitting for us to follow. And we do this dying because Jesus died for us.

Of course, this is not where the passage leaves us. Praise God! Paul says, “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead…so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like is. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed…so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus!”

Paul’s point is that the Christian life is not all about death…it is also about resurrection. It is not only about dying to an old way of living, but about getting a new kind of life, a life we never thought possible, a life lived in God and in his love. Yes, it is about unlearning old ways of living, unlearning our natural lives so to speak, but it is also about being given a brand new life, a life where we are truly free, not held captive by the old things we used to be. It is about dying to our old lives—lives which only hurt us anyway, lives characterized by lonely self-absorption. But it is also about starting new lives where we are given the privilege and joy of being children of the great King, heirs to the Kingdom he planned from the start and brought in with Jesus.

Tyler, Melissa, Patrick, and all of you baptized Christians: from Palm Sunday we can see it all. We can see the difficulty of the holy week which lies ahead. We can see the pathos of the Last Supper, we can feel the abandonment and betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane; we can feel the hard wood and hard nails of the hard cross on Good Friday, and we can still sense the chill of the cold, empty tomb on Saturday. And yet, beyond it all, there is Easter coming. There is a resurrection to be had, a new life to be won and lived and into which we may joyously enter. And we have been baptized into all of it: the joy and the hardship, the agony and the ecstasy, the death and the new life. It is my prayer for each of us who has been baptized into Christ, that we will willingly go with him through his death and into the newness of his life.