Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday + Confirmation Sermon

Confirmation Sunday – Phillipians 2:5-11 – March 28th, 2010

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Today we have that wonderful confluence of events – today is Palm Sunday, where we remember how our Lord Christ Jesus rode into Jerusalem and towards His passion with joy and singing – joy and singing we repeat whenever we have Communion and sing, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest – Blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the Lord.” And then, today is also known as Passion Sunday, and in our Gospel lesson we hear precisely what our Lord rode unto – namely His Passion, His suffering and death upon the Cross – all the things we will hear preached in detail this week on Maundy Thursday and on Good Friday. And then of course today here, it is also Confirmation Sunday, where in just a few moments, these 4 young adults will make public confession of their faith and publicly swear that they will strive to hold fast unto and to live out this faith all their days. There is one thing, one element that runs throughout all these three topics – and that is Christ Jesus our Lord, and in particular, His death and passion.

The central event of the Christian faith – the act, the event around which the whole of the Christian faith revolves around is the Crucifixion of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. It is there, upon the Cross, where the world is changed forever more – it is the ultimate unexpected twist, the ultimate change. In Scripture, we see plenty of wickedness and the consequences thereof. We see people sin, and we see people die. We see people act foolishly and then get into trouble after trouble – and really, none of this is unexpected. Sin brings with it pain and suffering. Any one of us here can give examples of that from our own life. And then, throughout Scripture we see examples over and over of God being merciful, of God being willing to provide forgiveness – of God showing mercy to man. Nothing surprising there. But then, you get the crucifixion – and we are forced to pause and wonder – is this how far God would go to show mercy and love to sinful man – is this how far God would go to rescue man from death, from the consequence of his own sin? That Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, would suffer, would take up the punishment for sin which He didn’t commit, simply to show us full mercy? It seems too much – and yet, Christ our Lord humbly rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – not to toot His own horn, not to bask in the glory of the crowds – rather, He rides into Jerusalem only so that on Good Friday He might walk out of Jerusalem to the hill of Calvary and the bitter conclusion of His Passion.

This week we will be observing several services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, looking in detail at various aspects of our Lord’s Passion, but just consider the big picture at the moment. What does Jesus do? He takes your place upon the Cross – He suffers so that you might live. This is the heart of the Christian faith – that God Himself would rather taste death so that you might have eternal life – that He values you more than He values His own life. This is the wonder, the joy, the mystery that shapes everything we do in this place. This is the truth into which we were baptized – baptized with Christ Jesus into His death as Paul says in Romans 6. And we come to this place as those who are baptized – family members of God coming into our home. The Cross then dominates our worship – one needn’t look very hard to see a cross in this room – and when new crosses are given to adorn the walls here, it seems completely normal and natural – and that’s because it is, that’s because the Cross is central to this place. I would hope that the Cross, that the love that our Lord showed unto us has been the center of every sermon ever preached in this pulpit, for that is the purpose of this pulpit – so that we might hear once again Christ and Him Crucified proclaimed for our salvation. And then, even in the Lord’s Supper – we receive the New Testament in Christ’s Blood – His testament, that which He willed unto us, that which He gives to us as His own last Will and Testament that we might inherit eternal life, that we might enjoy the life that He won for us by the shedding of His blood. Everything here revolves around the saving death of our Lord Christ Jesus.

But dear friends, this should not be just for an hour – this should be the shape and focus of all of our lives. St. Paul writes: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Have this mind – let what Christ has done shape your mind, shape the way you think – and not just now, but all the time. Be shaped by Christ – look at what He does – “Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. . .” Even though Jesus is God, and by rights should be far above any suffering – He doesn’t hold on to His dignity, He doesn’t demand that He be treated with the proper respect – for indeed, He is mocked and scorned by the soldiers and the onlookers during His passion. No, instead of demanding His rights, what does Jesus do? He “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He makes Himself as though He were the lowest of the servants – the most humble, the most ready to serve. This, dear friends, is to be our mind, how we are to work and operate. To say you are a Christian is not simply to say words but to strive to live your life following Christ’s example – to make yourself nothing, to put your neighbor’s need ahead of your own. Rebecca and Suzanna, Colton and Christopher, this is part of what you are pledging to do this day – In a few moments I will ask you “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” To remain true to Him, to strive to live your life showing forth His love. That is what all of us who have been confirmed have sworn – that we would strive to love God and love neighbor, even at cost and hardship to ourselves.

This is a hard task – and one at which we all often fail. While we still live, until we see the resurrection of the last day, sin still taints us, still holds some sway in us – and so, out of His great love for us – Christ “Humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the Name that is above every Name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Christ Jesus our Lord, in perfect love and humility, rescues us from our sin by His own death upon the Cross, so that we might share in and enjoy His eternal exultation at His side in heaven forever more – He is the one who comes and rescues us, even as we struggle along in this life. And to aid us in this struggle, to give us strength as we strive to turn away from sin, as we strive to have His Cross be the center of our lives, He has given us the most wondrous gift of His Holy Supper. Christ knows that we are weak – so He gives us His own Body and Blood so that we might share in His strength. Christ knows that we are impure – so He gives us this pure meal to make us pure. This is the wonder and purpose of this most blessed Sacrament, that we might be forgiven, that we might be strengthened so that when we walk out those doors that we might indeed have among ourselves the mind of Christ Jesus, and that we might show forth His love.

This is the shape of our lives as Christians. Now, our confirmands have spent two years in study of God’s Word and Christian Doctrine so that they might begin their lives as adult members of this Congregation, that they might continue their growth as Christians – participating fully in the life of this congregation. They will shortly ask to be received into the Communion Fellowship of this congregation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church throughout the world, confessing the Scriptures as the true, life giving Word of God and confessing that the doctrine we teach here in this place is in agreement with that Word. They will with their own lips make the same confession that we who have been confirmed ourselves have made, and they will join in the same blessing and benefits we have received from our Lord. I ask that you listen closely to their confession and consider and remember your own. These are words that are serious and somber, but also words of joy, because with them we recognize that our life and faith is tied to Christ Jesus and no other – with them we state that we desire to have His mind, and no other. We recognize our sin and confess it, and seek our Lord’s forgiveness and strength. With this as our common confession – we rightly and safely may come together with all joy and partake of our Lord’s most blessed Supper this day – not merely for this joy of this moment, but so that we might be strengthened and prepared for the good God has called us to both in this life in the world and in the life everlasting. Now may He who has been a good work in you bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ, our Lord. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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