Monday, April 6, 2020

"Who are you?"

Palmarum, the Sunday of the Passion, sermon preached on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

This is a Palm Sunday and a story few of us would have written only months ago.  We find ourselves wearied by the barrage of bad news and unsettled by the uncertain future that is before us.  Yet if Christ did not come for times exactly like these, He did not come for any time.  So in this time of pandemic and panic, we need to look where Christ is in this story.

But it is also important for us to look for where we are in His story, the Passion just read.  Who are you in this story?  Obviously, none of us is Jesus.  Who would be foolish enough to think yourself to be the Son of God.  We know what happened to the Son of God and none of us wants to go there.

All of us are in some way like Judas.  We betray the faith and our Lord every day.  That is what sin is.  It is not some little infraction of a minor rule but an offense against the God who made us and saved us.  It is a wall built brick by brick of thought, word, and deed soiled with sin and with the power to separate us from Him whose love created us and whose love has bought us back.  But in another way we are not Judas at all.  None us has been paid to deliver the Son of God to the hands of those to whom He willingly surrendered Himself.  That was a one time event and Judas was not in control anymore than the temple guard was.  Jesus was walking to the place for which He was born and He came into this world.

Some of us think we are Caiaphas or Annas or Pilate.  We see ourselves as judges who sit upon the throne of reason, experience, and intuition and we get to decide if Jesus is who He claims to be.  Every one of us has heard people say “I just can’t believe this or that.”  We love to act as if we are the final judges of what is true, relevant, or meaningful.  But it is a game and an act.  Truth is not truth because you judge it so or because I say it is.  The truth of the Gospel does not depend upon you to prop it up with your feeble faith and it does not depend upon me to defend it against all its naysayers.  The truth is the truth because God is truth and in Him is no lie, deception, or darkness.  Only light.  We think we are judges but we are fools if we presume our judgement to count.  What counts is what Jesus says and does.  That is the only thing that matters.

So then, who are we?  We are the crowd.  We watch the saving act of God delivering us from our sin through His Son Jesus Christ.  In the exuberance of emotion, we cry out “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”  In ignorance and unbelief we cry out “Crucify Him!!!”  In arrogance and hubris we cry out “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Yes that is exactly who we are.  We are the sinners who cry out to God to save us.  But we are also the disappointed who thought salvation would look different than a cross and a limp body with the whispered echo of “it is finished.”  We wanted trumpets and heavenly choirs and a mighty army of legends of angels.  We are the proud who reject Jesus every day, preferring our old sinful ways to the new life of holiness, righteousness, faith, hope, and charity. 
We sit in fear in a pandemic and complain that God has not done enough to save us from ourselves.  We are sinners.  We are those for whom Christ came.  He does not hold up a high standard that we must first meet before He loves us.  No, He loves us as we are and loves us enough to suffer for our sins, die our death, and lay in the grave where we belong. 

He loves us when we are filled with emotion but then are worn out and tired of struggling for joy and peace in tough times.  He loves us even when our faith is like a balloon blown to and fro on the wind of change, doubt, and heresy.  He loves us when we prefer our sins to righteousness.  He loves us when use God’s name as a curse and invite damnation as if it meant nothing at all.  He loves us when we huddle in fear as if God has abandoned His people and faith were no help at all in days like these.

But there is one more person in the story whom we are like.  We are also like the centurion who at the end of it all looks up to the cross and realizes by the power of the Holy Spirit:  “Truly this was the Son of God.”  Each of us today look to the cross along with the Roman soldier who was given guard duty so long ago and with the faithful of every generation before us.  We look to the cross, the limp body that lived and died for our salvation.  We look to the cross amid natural disaster and man-made error and viral pandemic.  We look to the cross from the emptiness of this moment, the fragility of our lives, the shame of guilt, and the shadow of death.  “Truly this was the Son of God.”   That is faith speaking.

The passion story is the most sacred text in Scripture.  But to those who like the centurion of old look to the cross and believe, “Truly this was the Son of God,” it is a love story.  No bride has been harder to woo and win than the bride of Christ.  No love has cost more or paid a higher price than Christ paid for you.  No marriage required more forgiveness than we have begged of Christ.  No vows have meant more than the vow written in blood by Christ that we may be His and He may be ours forevermore.

Be of good cheer, my friends. Love has shown its true colors. Truth has triumphed.  God has kept His promise.  If you are willing to be a sinner, Christ has come for you.  Though you may have spoken all kinds of words in judgment against Him.  Though in anger for what He has done or has not done for you.  Though your fears strong and your faith weak.  Though your righteousness flawed.  Christ is yours; you are His.  Faith speaks: “Truly this was the Son of God.”   Amen.

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