Monday, April 3, 2023

What are you afraid of?

Sermon for Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, preached on Sunday, April 2, 2023.

What are you afraid of?  What is your deepest fear?  Is it death?  Is it a painful death?  Is it running out of money as well as time?  Is it failing to do everything on our wish list?  Is it that no one appreciates you and all you do or gives you the recognition you think you deserve? Is it that no one will acknowledge your greatness or remember you when you are gone?  Is it that you cannot protect or provide for those whom you love?  Is it that you cannot predict or control the future?  What are you afraid of?

Once it was clear that death was the ultimate problem.  Parents burying several of their children.  Husbands and wives faced children and an uncertain future alone without their spouses.  Diagnoses like cancer or heart disease forced you to jump to the end.  Retirement with your golden years filled with doctors' appointments.  Assisted living and nursing homes where people waited upon God.

It might be said that how we die is as important as how we live.  Can you end your life painlessly under a doctor’s care or should you?  What are the things that tell you life is no longer worth living?  Can we protect ourselves from any suffering or at least from the suffering of dying?  What are we afraid of?

Sin sounds so old fashioned in this context.  Today we flaunt on social media the sins that once would shame us.  Although we say we do not care what people think, we are always worried about those who unfriend us and those who speak ill of us on the unsocial social media.  What are we afraid of?  It might be only one thing or it might be a thousand things at once.  We are truly a people in need of rescue and in need of One to rescue us – not in the least from ourselves.

But we are Christians.  We are not a people without a story filled with promise and hope to a fearful people.  And we have a Savior who marches to His death like an honored guest at a parade.  Though the people crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David” have not seen the future or know where the parade will end, Jesus does.  He knows that the donkey is walking Him to the cross.  But He goes there without the kind of fears that routinely unsettle and paralyze us.  It is not because He has a  death wish but He is willing to die, even the cruelest death of agony and suffering if that is what it takes to free you and me from fear, from sin, and from death.

How long or how well we live is not our biggest problem.  There is a far worse death – the spiritual death in which this is the only life we get and death is eternal. The greater danger to us is that we will figure out a way to make our peace with the death of the body but have no fear left for the greater death of the soul.  They are connected, however.  Our bodies die because of sin and our souls labor in pain eternally because of sin.  Physical death is not the worst possible thing we face but physical death and spiritual death have the same source – sin and a Holy God.

Since Eden our bodies have always been dying.  Since Eden our souls have also lived under the terror of judgment and the threat of eternal suffering.  Since Eden our peace has been corrupted by fears real and imagined.  The miracle in all of this is that God did not abandon us to the death of the body or the death of the soul.  His righteous anger against our sin did not move Him to give up on us all but to take on flesh and blood and be our Savior.  The miracle in all of this is that even though we tend to fear the things that do not matter and do not fear the things that do, God still loves us enough to take upon Himself our pain, our sin, our fear, and our death.

Jesus has come.  He does not fear death as we do nor does He fear life as we do.  No, He knows the limits of this mortal life, the inherent weakness of our bodies because of sin, and He is willing to go where none of us want to go.  He parades to death, to the brutal and agonizing death of the cross, so that we might be relieved from suffering and saved from death by His death and resurrection for us all.  

The world is filled with suffering that is our due because of sin.  But He suffers as the innocent for the guilty, as the God who could and perhaps should have turned His back on us but did not.  What are we afraid of?  We ought to be afraid of sin and its consequences, of God’s wrath against sin and the punishment of hell.  If we were so afraid, perhaps then we might realize the magnitude of the gift our Savior has given us in His parade to the cross.  Our hope is in a life without suffering or a death without pain or a life filled with what we think will make us happy.  Jesus did not die for our happiness but for our sins.  He rose not to make this life easier but to deliver the dead to the life death cannot overcome – to present to the Father on high His baptismal born sons and daughters.

That is why we join the parade today.  Why we add our voices to the cries of “Hosanna!  Save us!”  Why we welcome the One who comes in the Name of the Lord to fulfill the promise of our Lord.  Why we lay down our clothing before Him who comes to suffer and die for us.  That is why we join the parade today.  Do not allow terror to steal from you the peace that is God’s gift in the crucified and risen Savior.  We are Christians.  We are not on our own or left to figure it out for ourselves.  We have the Lord who comes amid palms and hosannas to answer our fears with life – new lives to our old bodies and eternal life to world in which time is always counting down to the end.

It does not matter what you are afraid of, Jesus is the answer.  He dies the death we will give anything to avoid and He suffers the pain we would do anything to avoid.  He does so because in His suffering we are reborn.  We are forgiven, declared holy and righteous, and marked to belong to Him forever.  Don’t let your fear of what might happen replace the comfort and confidence of what did happen.  Christ came to die that we might live.  Until our last breath ends this life and when we are given the breath of eternal life, let us acclaim Him Lord by joining with the voices of old and of every generation:  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the Highest!  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.


Janis Williams said...

What is my largest fear? The fear I will fail to remain true to my Lord in the face of persecution. Thankfully, the answer is, of course, “Jesus.” I pray I will stand in faith, but remind myself He has promised that no one can snatch those who are His from His hand. The words and the courage will be given when they are required.

gamarquart said...

Janis, to you our Lord says, “Blessed are you, Janis! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

gamarquart said...

“We ought to be afraid of sin and its consequences, of God’s wrath against sin and the punishment of hell.”
Luther wrote in his great Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 5, v. 1:“Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ's sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come.”
The child of God has no need to fear sin, its consequences, the wrath of God, and the punishment of hell. In fact, fear of these things is a denial of the promises God made to us in the Gospel of the New Testament, and that is sin!
Obviously, the children of God regret the sins they commit, and this is as it should be. However, the God who said, Jeremiah 31:34, “…for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”, forgives us and will not punish us, because after forgiving us, He does not remember our sins any more. See, how huge a gift our Lord Jesus earned for us.
1 John 4:15, “15If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for in this world we are just like Him.
18There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us.”
Romans 8:15, “28And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. 29For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.
31What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God—and He is interceding for us.35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
“For Your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”g
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart