Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for Palm Sunday – 13 April

Sermon for Palm Sunday – 13 April

The text for this sermon is the Passion of our Lord from St. Matthew chs 26 and 27.

The audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.



Holy Week

The world today is hostile to the Gospel.  That’s foundational to my understanding of the Christian faith.  I don’t really buy into the idea that it used to be different back when you were younger and everyone was a Christian.  It may be that not so long ago you remember many people saying they were Christians and today there seem to be fewer people saying so but I contend that the world is hostile to Jesus just as it always has been.  And as support for my claim I would lift up today, Passion Sunday.  Today it is clear that not only the world, but the Lord’s own people, Israel, hostilely rejected Jesus as the Christ of the Most High God.  They would have nothing of Him.  Throughout His ministry they preferred a temple built by men but absent of the real presence of God to the dwelling of God among them in the flesh.  They preferred lives of spiritual blindness and a God who dwelled securely in the box that they had made for Him rather than the God’s Christ in plain sight.  They preferred life as they had always known it, ending in the sadness of death rather than God’s Christ ending death itself.  They preferred a religion they had fashioned for themselves out of the truth of God once delivered through Abraham, Moses, and David and Isaiah.  And so finally, they accused Jesus of blaspheming the God they created and sentenced Him to death.  And times have not changed.  Just as they were hostile to Jesus because they were of the world, the world today is hostile to the Gospel of God saving the world through the work of Christ Jesus.

Holy Week is very different from what the world expects.  “How many services are you having, Pastor?”  “That’s a lot of church,” says the world.  Contrary to what many believe, the world will allow you a little bit of religion.  The world will allow you enough religion so that you think your faith is, above all, extremely personal and that’s all about the sincerity and fervency of your prayers and about your efforts and your accomplishments and, I suppose today, the confirmation examination you passed.  “Good for you,” the world says.  “A little bit of religion can be good.  Just make sure it helps you to live a better life.  The world says look inside yourself.  Religion is supposed to make you a better person.”  But the world also cautions, “Just don’t get too religious.  Those people are crazy.  After all, you don’t want to focus so much on heavenly things, you’re no earthly good.”

The world’s view of religion is a bitter poison we are fooled into drinking at first but we quickly become accustomed to its bitter cynicism and what it calls self-reliance and free will.  The world’s view of religion is that all religion is basically the same.  So the world’s view of religion doesn’t have a lot of room for Holy Week.  Holy Week replaces man-made religion with the activity of the rescuing God in the recorded history of humankind.  And God’s activity once in history is embodied now in the actions of the Church until the end of time.  So in Holy Week we go to church more, ironically to pull ourselves away from ourselves and see ever more clearly the truth of God proclaimed in the work of His Son sent into the world to turn the world back to God.  Holy Week says, “Look at Jesus.  It’s all about Jesus.  It’s all about what He did.  It’s not about what you do.  It’s not about your sincerity.”  Holy Week helps us witness again what God did for us in His Christ, Jesus.

Observing Holy Week, especially Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the Great Three Days, is God’s antidote to the poison of the world we so regularly and willingly consume.  What do we do with medicines like antidotes?  We drink them and so ingest the benefits of their medicine to fight off the poisons that would otherwise surely kill us.  And participating in Holy Week is very much like that.  It was painful I hope to say the words of the crowd today.  But it should be all the sweeter to know that Jesus endured it all for your sake.  Look at all the actions that begin Holy Week:  today we process and hear and eat and drink.  With palm branches and singing, “Hosanna,” as our mothers and fathers in the faith have done for centuries, we take our places among the crowd that welcomed Christ into Jerusalem on Sunday as well as take our places among the mob at whose hand Christ died on Friday morning.  “His blood be upon us and upon our children,” we shout and mean to call the action on our own heads.  And what we meant as a curse, bearing the full responsibility of the death of Jesus even into perpetuity, Christ turns into blessing.  His blood was shed for us and for our children.  And so, four of our young people today are being confirmed into this faith, this Gospel, this mercy of Christ, confirmed in His blood shed for us and for our children.  If the Jews celebrate Passover so that they can pass on to their children why that night is so different from every other night, we observe Holy Week, the Passover of Jesus Christ, and even confirm our young people in the midst of it, in part, to pass on to them why this week is different from all other weeks and so show them that today, this week and even the whole of our religion is really far less about what they have accomplished and is so much more about what God has done for them, for us all in Christ Jesus.  The liturgies of this week call us into the action of God’s Christ for us and make us full participants in His Passion and full recipients of His mercy.  The services this week are not just “a lot of church” for church’s sake, they are the antidote to the poison of the world’s religion.

Dear confirmands, I have some bad news for you.  None of you passed the confirmation exam and none of you are qualified to be confirmed Christians.  Parents, I’m sorry, but this partly falls on your shoulders.  Your children are simply not adequately prepared.  But how could it be helped?  You yourselves were led and taught by pastors who were so much less than godly.  Truth is, it didn’t help that their current pastor isn’t qualified to be a Christian either and that I was trained by men at our seminaries who themselves were far less than the ideal models of Christian faith and virtue that they should have been.  We’re in a real mess.  We’ve all fallen far short of the glory God intended for us.  If our faith is all about our religiosity, the sincerity of our Sabbath keeping and our ability to perceive spiritual things, we’re just like those who rejected the Christ.  None of us are qualified to be Christians.  If our faith is all about us, we’re doomed, truly.

Dear confirmands, dear people of God, it’s not about our qualifications.  The Good News is about what God has done for us all in Christ Jesus, “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  None of our qualifications matter.  Only what Jesus has done matters.  Only Jesus matters.  And that’s Good News.  Stand back and look at that.  Don’t get religious.  Don’t settle for a little bit of the world’s religion.  This week in your observation of Holy Week, look closely what Jesus did for you, how we rejected Him but how He did not reject you.  How He did all He did this week for you.  Amen.

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