Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday Confirmation Sermon

This past Sunday we had six young adults confirmed. In my previous 3 years (this is my fourth) we had 4 (and also one who studied under me for his family's congregation 30 miles away). We also have had 2 adult confirmations in the past month, 2 baptisms, and we have two transfers in adult instruction, and after easter we will have two adults start instruction.

This Sunday was also the highest attendence on a Sunday since I've been here. The Church was almost full - it was strange to have a sermon of Sunday length (as opposed to a funeral sermon) with that many people to try to keep eye contact with.

Here is the sermon

Palm Sunday/Confirmation 2008 – John 12 and Philippians 2

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

That first Palm Sunday, it would have been a sight to see, wouldn’t it? The crowds all singing and hailing Jesus, the roadway covered with cloaks and coats so that even the donkey Christ was on wouldn’t have to get her feet dirty. The Palm Branches waving, the cheers, the acclamation – it would have been something to see. But what would we have been looking at? What would we be marveling at? The massive crowds? Would we have been glorying in the throng of voices raised high – or seeing the waving palm branches and caught up in that? John records for us “His disciples did not understand these things at first.” Chances are we might have gotten caught up in the moment, not recognized what we were seeing either. The triumphal entry was a time of excitement and joy – but what so few of those people there knew, in fact, what perhaps only Jesus realized, is that the procession of Palm Sunday leads directly to our Lord’s Passion, which we just heard. The road into Jerusalem is the road unto the cross – and as He enters Jerusalem, that is where Christ’s focus is – upon the Cross and the salvation He will win there.

The crowds, they didn’t see the cross. They saw a miracle worker – who knew what else Jesus might do when He was in Jerusalem! The miracle worker who had been working the small towns was making his way to the big time! This fellow can even raise the dead – let’s make Him feel welcome and see what He can do. The Pharisees, their thoughts were on their own authority and pull. “Look, the whole world has gone after Him. We’re finished – no one is going to listen to us anymore! We won’t be the high and mighty of Israelite society anymore, what are we going to do? Roman soldiers, they probably got a little nervous about a riot, things like that happen in Jerusalem. And the Disciples – they still don’t get it. Maybe they think that it’s just about time that their Lord gets the recognition that He deserves.

All of these, all these people focused on worldly things. What cool trick is Jesus going to pull out of His hat? What is this going to do to the social order? We’ll it’s about time that people get a clue and start praising this Jesus that WE’VE been following all along. Miracles, power, respect – but none of these are what’s on Jesus’ mind as He enters Jerusalem. He sees not a throng that boosts His ego, He sees not conspirators or even clueless followers. He sees sinful men, lost sheep, people trapped and bound in sin – people who will be lost to Him for all eternity unless He strides to the Cross and pays the penalty for sin in their place. And so He does. Christ strides to the Cross, ready to win salvation for His people. His thoughts are not on Himself, but rather He desires to show love to others, show love to us, whatever the cost.

With this in mind, dear friends, and especially you, Lauren, Erick, David, Zach, Trenton, and Emily, with your confirmation and profession of the Christian faith just a few minutes away, listen again to what our Epistle lesson says. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. This dear friends, is to be our minds, this is to be how we are to think, how we are to strive to think, who we are to try to be. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. In the waters of Holy Baptism God claimed as His own, washed away all your sins. We know that, but not only that, He claimed you as His own, made you His own dwelling place, made you the temple of His Holy Spirit. Christ dwells in you, and because of this, He desires to train you and teach you to be more like He is. And what is Jesus like, what is this mind that we are to have, how are we to approach things?

Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. Jesus didn’t try and take all that was by rights His. Jesus wasn’t concerned first and foremost about getting His due. He’s God, He created the World, by Him all things were made. And He’s suppose to suffer and die? Yet Jesus never protests, never says “I’m God, after all, why should this happen to Me?” He doesn’t grasp on to rights or power or control. Likewise with us – as Christians our first concern is not to be what we can get, not what is in it for us. Our rights aren’t things to be grasped either – we turn the cheek, if 1 is demanded of us, we freely give 2 – because like Christ we don’t cling to what we think we deserve. No, like Christ our focus is to be elsewhere.

But [He] made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. Jesus didn’t seek to be a big deal – but rather He made Himself nothing – He served. He was content to have His focus be on the other guy. What can I do to serve, what can I do to show love? This too is what our mind is to be like – this is what it means to be an adult, mature Christian – to seek not to please yourself, but to show love and care to your neighbor. Think on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem – even as the crowds were lauding Him – on He goes, right to the Cross for the sake of those very people. And it is hard for us to do this. Our minds like to be self centered – we like to put ourselves first.

Confirmands – in a few moments you will publicly confess the Christian faith. The other adult members of this Congregation, they’ve done the same. When you do so, you are swearing that you will strive to be like Jesus, that you will seek to put your neighbor first, that your first priority will be to show love to your neighbor. That you will try to be the person God made you to be in the waters of Baptism when He claimed you as His own. That, dear friends, is what we all swore at our own Confirmation. We promised to strive and struggle, to always try to show love, to hold on to the Christian faith as we learned it from Scripture and the Small Catechism. And yet we do know what happens. You have learned the Ten Commandments, you know what they say about you – that you have failed. That’s what we come here, why we start our service Confessing our sin, admitting to God “We haven’t done like we ought.” But we also know what God has done for us. And being found in Human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross. That which we struggle to do, Christ does perfectly for us. And indeed, He goes to the Cross for us, pays the penalty for our sin – even shouts from the Cross “Father, forgive them.”

And so, that is why we gather here. We know that God will forgive us, that He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God will with His forgiveness preserve and nurture the life He gave you at your Baptism. His focus is upon serving you, giving you what you need for life. In fact, as we will see and study especially this upcoming Thursday night, He does so through His Holy Supper, where He not only gives you forgiveness for what you have done wrong, but He blesses you with His own strength and life so that you can be more like Him, that your mind can conform and be more and more like His mind – so that you can look and be more and more like Jesus. This is what He desires for you, this is what He began in you at your Baptism, and this is what He will bring about in you with His Word and with His Supper.

Paul tells us in Philippians what our reaction to this is. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on 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. We just confessed this a few moments ago in the Nicene Creed. It’s what the Church does – we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and salvation, and then we confess, we proclaim what Christ has done. Lauren, Erick, David, Zach, Trenton, Emily – when are confirmed, you are publicly adding your voice to this congregation’s – you are saying that what we confess here about Christ is your confession, what you believe as well. And that is good and God pleasing – and know that God will support and sustain you in that confession through the Word of life and forgiveness that He brings to you. May God keep you steadfast in His Word, and may God keep all of us who like have made this confession as well, may God keep us all steadfast and united and forgiven in His Word – so that in all things and trials, we see Christ the Crucified as our Lord, and learn to show love to our neighbor. Amen.

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