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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter 2019

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            I was looking over Easter sermons this week, some from other pastors, some I have preached in the past.  Sometimes, pastors have difficulty preaching on Easter Sunday.  It’s hard to say why.  As my friend Will Allen has said, it’s a pastor’s a super bowl.  Is that it?  Does the pressure settle in and get to us? 
Some people advise me to “just tell the story.”  They’re not wrong.  I remember being a college student and visiting a seminary.  We seniors who wanted to go into ministry did a tour of divinity schools in Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.  We got to hear what an actual professor told her students.  This is what she said.  “If you’re preaching on Easter, talk about Jesus’ resurrection.  Don’t get cute or creative.  Talk about the empty tomb.”  Profound.
Resurrection is the background of every sermon a pastor preaches.  Even on Ash Wednesday, when the mood is repentance, and Maundy Thursday when we talk about Judas betraying Jesus, and Good Friday when we focus on the cross; even those times are colored by the resurrection.  On Easter Sunday, resurrection is the story.  Jesus is alive.  We are Easter people!
            In 2009, National Geographic released a book entitled The Letter and the Scroll: What Archaeology Tells us about the Bible.  Here’s an excerpt from the entry in that volume that addresses on Jesus’ tomb. 
[Several] sites in present-day Jerusalem have been suggested for the tomb of Jesus.  For believers, the power of the Gospel message lies not in the location of the tomb, but in the words the women heard that first Easter Sunday morning.   He has risen; he is not here” (p.285).

            How ironic!  Bible scholars writing commentaries to help pastors prepare to preach say this about Easter Sunday: “Good luck, pastor.  Preaching resurrection is really tough.”  But, a secular production from National Geographic with no reason to promote Jesus gets it.  We don’t need to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to see the tomb.  The tomb is empty.  He has risen from death.  Jesus is alive.
            This is our story, handed down from the very first disciples.  In following Luke’s lead, we realize that it was in fact disciples who first knew of the resurrection and their initial reaction to the greatest news in history was to report it.  Disciples were the first to know Jesus had been resurrected; not the 12; not Matthew or Thomas, Peter or Andrew, James or John, but other disciples.  As we mentioned last week, Luke stresses that there was a community around Jesus and many of those followers were women.  Luke mentions them by name.
            There was Joanna, a woman of affluence.  Her husband Chuza was King Herod’s household manager.  When Pilate, the Roman governor examined Jesus, he sent Jesus off to Herod.  Herod was the Jewish king, controlled by Rome.  He was renowned for his decadence gorging on food, sex, and thrills.  He wanted a miracle from Jesus and when Jesus refused to impress him, he sent Jesus back to merciless judgment of Pilate.  In the entire story, no one seems farther from the truth than the self-indulgent Herod.  Yet in Herod’s own household was a man married to a woman, Joanna, who was one of Jesus most faithful disciples.  She was at the tomb.
            With her was Mary Magdalene.  Luke writes that she had been possessed by seven demons.  Jesus exorcised them and she became a follower (8:2).  Mark 16:9 corroborates Luke’s report of the seven demons.  Extra biblical sources have tried to amplify Mary’s relationship with Jesus.  The Bible simply says she was one of his closest disciples.  John’s gospel reports on her encounter with the risen Lord.  He received her worship, but told her not to hold him, but rather to go to the eleven, the male disciples, and tell what had happened and that the resurrected Jesus would be ascending to the Father. 
            Some of the other women and their relationships and exact identities are harder to piece together.  Another woman called Mary, the wife of Cleophas, is mentioned in John 19:25.  We also know from John that Jesus’ mother was at least at the cross.
            Luke speaks of Susannah (chapter 8) and of Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses.  This Mary is also mentioned by Mark in his gospel.  Some Bible interpreters think she might have been Jesus’ aunt.  There was a woman named Salome whom the Catholic Encyclopedia concludes was the mother of two of Jesus’ 12 disciples, James and John. There were many women disciples and very little has been said about them.  Many were not named.  But Luke points out that they provided the financial support for Jesus and the 12 needed (Luke 8:1-3).  They were crucial to Jesus’ mission.
            On Sunday morning, these women believed Jesus was dead.  They went early to be prepared at first light to anoint his corpse.  The angels they met at the tomb told them Jesus had been raised.  They ran to tell the male disciples who thought it was a foolish tale reported by wishful-thinking women. 
            Is our claim that Jesus rose from the grave just that, wishful thinking?  First Corinthians 1:21 says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”  Disillusioned, the male disciples couldn’t believe it when the female disciples rushed in and disturbed their solemn, defeated brooding.
            But Luke tells us that though they thought it was an idle tale, Peter ran to the tomb to verify for himself.  In spite of his tears and disbelief, he still checked out their story.  We know what he found.  Peter was amazed.  The word got out, the resurrected Christ himself over 40 days visited over 500 of his followers, and the church was born.
            Today millions in nearly every country on earth believe the truth – Jesus rose from the grave.  However, many millions more do not.  They do not believe the story of Easter because a human being can’t rise from death.  They can’t bring themselves to believe in the power of God.  Or, they could believe if they heard, but they have never heard.  Or, they have heard the good news preached by oppressive, hateful people in overbearing churches that do not reflect God’s love.  For numerous reasons, people don’t understand the reality and significance of the resurrection.
            Do we?  Jesus is alive!  He has been raised from death, has ascended to be at the right hand of the Father until the final judgment.  He is present among us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Do we believe? 
            In the past, right here at HillSong Church, the female witnesses were present.  I don’t mean Susannah, Joanna, Salome, the different Mary’s and the rest.  I mean in 2007, we baptized four women on Easter Sunday.  In 2010, we baptized another young lady on Easter Sunday.  And this year, 2019, we baptized two young ladies on Palm Sunday.  By going to the waters of Baptism, these faithful girls and women repeated the testimony of those women who went to Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter Sunday.  In going under the water, they testified that they knew they were dead in sin.  But, because they know that Jesus rose, in Him, they have resurrection, life eternal.  From the testimony of Biblical women, we hear that Jesus is alive.  Do we believe?
            From the testimony of baptized HillSong women, we hear the story of new life, eternal life that is had when one believes in Jesus, trusts in Jesus, serves in Jesus’ name, and follows Jesus’ lead in life.  From the testimony shared by our sisters here, will we believe?
            Rejoice in the story of resurrection.  When you put your faith in Jesus, resurrection is not just his story, told Easter Sunday.  It is your story.  The angels sing songs of joy and laugh until they cry because they are so happy that you have trusted in Jesus.
                        From Psalm 8
                         1 O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
         You have ordained strength,
         Because of Your enemies,
         That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

            Death is the silenced enemy.  Easter is our testimony.  Those women met two angels, learned of the resurrection, and went and told all that they had heard.  Easter becomes Easter when you and I go out and do the same.  We add our testimony to the story.  Jesus is alive.  We say it when we live with a cheerful disposition, even on bad days.  Jesus is alive.  We say it when we love people around us, even nonbelievers, even the mean ones.  Jesus is alive. We confirm it when we forgive without condition, and we welcome people into our lives, even people we aren’t sure about.  We welcome them because He welcomes them.  Jesus is alive.  We know it is true when we surrender to the Spirit of Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit takes hold of us. 
            This is a day of rejoicing and a day of telling.  We say is with our attitude and with our words.  So, join the women of the first Easter, go from here and tell all.  Join the baptized.  Say it loudly.  Say it with unbridled joy.  Jesus is alive. 

The Easter Sunrise Sermon - 2019

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            "I shook up the world," Cassius Clay proclaimed after he beat Sonny Liston to become boxing's heavyweight champion.  Clay later became a Muslim, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, one of the most flamboyant and well known athletes of the 20th century.  He was once on a plane and the flight attendant instructed him to fasten his seat belt.  He said, "Honey, Superman don't need a seatbelt."  She responded, "Champ, Superman doesn't need a plane."  He buckled up, but he never lost the sparkle in his eye or the unwavering belief that he could accomplish whatever he set his mind to.  Muhammad Ali was a great boxer - maybe the greatest ever.  But, while his victory Liston was surprising, he did not "shake up the world."  Champions come and champions go.     
Historical events leave a lasting mark.  The Holocaust, the end of WW II, the landing on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01; these are events we don't forget. These things matter. But even moments in history and stories that have a lasting impact can be located at in time and to left at that point in time Hitler, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Barak Obama, Donald Trump - they all matter for good or bad reasons; but they all pass away. Time marches on.
            One man truly shook up the world.  Jesus of Nazareth came from a small village in Northern Israel; he was the son of Joseph, a carpenter, and he lived in the first century AD and as far as we know, spent a few childhood years in Egypt but otherwise never traveled outside of Israel.  His life changed the world like no one else has.      
            Jesus was God in human flesh – 100% divine and 100% human.  He lived a perfect life, never sinning a single time.  His countrymen accused him of blasphemy and turned him in to the Roman authorities; though Jesus was not found guilty of any crime, to appease the crowd, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, agreed to take Jesus’ life.  He was flogged, and they pounded a crown of thorns into his head.  The soldiers mocked him and forced Him to carry the wooden beam he would hang on from the city to the hill called Golgotha.  And there, he was killed. 
            Who killed him?  The authorities who accused him?  The soldiers who flogged him?  The governor who passed the sentence?  God, who allowed it to happen?  Or, you and I?  We sin as all humans do.  Jesus died on the cross to take on himself the penalty for our sins.  We desperately need God's forgiveness, and we receive that forgiveness when put our faith in Jesus. 
            The story doesn’t end with Jesus’ lifeless body hanging on the cross or laid in a tomb.  On Sunday morning, the women who followed him, brought spices to the tomb to anoint His body, a last act of love for their lord.  When they got to the tomb, the earth beneath their feet rattled and shook. 
They watched as an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the boulder sealing the opening.  The angel announced that Jesus was not there.  Living people don't lay in graves.  They had seen him die.  He was really dead.  But on Sunday morning, he shed those burial clothes and walked out of that tomb alive and well.    Because he conquered death, all who trust in Jesus have eternal life.  Everyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved from eternal separation from God.  The only ones who face an eternity apart from God are those who reject Jesus and choose not to follow Him. 
If you choose to open your heart to Christ and ask Him in, He'll come.  You'll know Him, you'll be adopted as a child of God, and you'll be a subject in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only Jesus "shook up the world." 
Matthew, the Gospel writer, uses the word quake three times.
            In chapter 27, Jesus hanging on the cross, cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me."  When he died, the curtain in the temple that cordoned off the section called the Holy of Holies ripped in two. 
The people believed that God literally lived in there.  Once a year, the high priest would go in there and offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people that year.  They tied a rope around the priest so that if he died in God's presence they could drag him out.  The only time any ancient person even uttered God's name was on that day.  The priest would go in, make the sacrifice, pray God's name, and he was done. 
When Jesus died, his sacrifice was acceptable for all sins of all people of all time.  God tore the temple curtain to show that he doesn't live in a little room.  God is present in all places.  In Christ all people can go to Him.  At the moment the temple curtain ripped, Matthew reports there was a powerful earthquake.  Rocks were split in two.  Creation itself cried out when God's son died.  One of the Roman soldiers declared "Truly this man was the Son of God."  This mighty Roman warrior, was awestruck.  He knew that he was witnessing an act of God. 
The second time Matthew used the word ‘quake’ comes from what was read earlier - 28:2.  Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary went to anoint Jesus' body when the ground beneath their feet began to tremble.  But this earthquake wasn't intended to terrify or kill anyone.  Just as the earth cried out in anguish, now, Sunday, the earth rumbled praise.  Jesus conquered death and just as he predicted they would, the rocks cried out!  
On Easter Sunday morning, we see Heaven's power unleashed.  When one angel - not an army - but 1, descended, the earth shook.  Several strong men working extremely hard were need to move the stone that sealed the tomb.  The angel rolled it away effortlessly.  He moved the boulder so the women could see that the grave was empty.  Jesus was already gone.  He didn't need the angel's assistance.  His resurrected body cannot be constrained by physical limitations like stones, doors, locks, or walls.  This second quake was a testimony that Jesus was and is alive.
            The angel's action leads to the third time Matthew used the same word - quake - to tell the story.  Before Jesus was buried, Pilate dispatched a small unit of soldiers to guard tomb because the chief priests feared that the disciples would try to stage a resurrection by stealing the body of Jesus.  When the angle descended, those guards fell to the ground, stricken with fear.  Just as the earth quaked at Jesus’s death and again at his resurrection, Matthew writes that the guards quaked.  For fear of the angel, the guards shook and became like dead men.  Imagine a battalion of Romans marching into town, the ground rumbling with each step. Now, imagine these mighty soldiers lying in the fetal position and begging for life because one angel showed them the might of the Lord.
            The angel told the women, "Do not be afraid.  Go quickly and tell His disciples He has been raised."  They started down the road to carry out their assignment, but they encountered someone along the way.  The risen Christ himself met them to say "Good Morning!" 
The women fell at his feet, overcome with joy, relief, and awe.  "Do not be afraid,” he said, “Go and tell my disciples to meet me in Galilee."  When he met the disciples, he told them, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded."  
            The Easter story is easy to remember and retell.  Jesus Christ has risen.  He is alive.  Go and tell people they can have life in Christ if they come to Him in faith.  The women who were brave enough to come to the tomb were the first messenger, the first witnesses to testify.  Next, the 11 male disciples, excluding Judas, met Jesus, believed, and became the leaders of the first churches.  They told and retold the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The church was born.  The world was changed
            Today there are churches all over the world.  In every almost language on earth, people can read the story and make their own decision to follow Christ.  There are churches of all shapes and colors, and in God's church all people are brothers and sisters.  Prejudice has no place here.  In His name, we are united.  We have peace.  We share love.  We live life together.  Kings and beggars alike find salvation in the cross and eternal life in the empty tomb.
            Jesus shook up the world, but you only feel the tremors when you submit your life to His will.  You only experience the glory when you ask Him into your heart.  Do you want to become involved in the story of Easter by giving your life to Christ?  Or, would you prefer to live as if it didn't matter?  His invitation is open.  You can come to Him, invite Him in, He'll take residence in your heart, and your life will be changed forever.  He's done His part.  He went to the cross and now the tomb is empty. 
The next step is yours.  The final line of an old worship song goes like there.  “Were you there when he rose up the grave?  Were you there when he rose up from the grave?  O-o-o, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Where you there when he rose up from the grave?" Let your hear tremble.  Ask Jesus to shake up your world.  Receive Him as Savior.  Worship Him as Lord.  Tell of what he’s done as the good new; world-changing news. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Last Supper Commandment - Matthew 26:26-29

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            ‘Mandatum’ is a Latin word that means ‘commandment.’  The Anglo-French rendering is ‘Maundy.’  We call this day, the Thursday before Easter, the day we commemorate the Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples before he was arrested a crucified, Maundy Thursday.  English words ‘mandatory,’ and ‘mandate’ come from this Latin word.  Jesus sits at the table with his closest followers, gives them bread, and says, “Take this,” and “Do this in remembrance of me.  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s a commandment.  Gathering for the Lord’s Supper is mandatory for his followers. 
            What exactly is the commandment?  What does it mean?  And when does it take effect?
            What exactly does Jesus command his disciples and us to do when he tells us to take the bread and drink the wine?  From the writings of Paul and the practice of the very first Christians, we know all in the church were invited to the table for the bread and wine.  The Lord’s Supper was not reserved for elites within the Christian community.  There were not to be elites.  Regardless of one’s social status, rich or poor, powerful or unimportant, all were welcomed as one family at Jesus’ table.
            The assumption is that anyone who desired to follow Christ or claimed to be a follower of Christ would join with the church for communal worship. There was no such thing as a solitary, individual Christian.  In the earliest Christian Communities, the Lord’s Supper happened within worship.  When Jesus commands, “Take this bread, drink this cup, do this to remember me,” he’s commanding us to worship with one another in the gathering of the church.
In the tradition of the practice of the first century Church, when we gather for worship and come around Jesus’ table, we are to welcome all as equals.  Here, there are no rich or poor.  People of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are welcomed in love.  Jesus commands it to be so.  Come to worship.  Remember him by eating the bread and drinking from the cup.  And tell of the salvation he gives by inviting people you know outside the church to come with you.  This was recorded in the gospels.  All four gospels were written with the intention that they be read publicly and repeatedly for the purpose of telling Jesus’ story and drawing lost people to him.  
It’s Maundy, mandatory: gather with the church family; worship; eat and drink; remember; and, bring others with you.
What does it all mean?
Jesus says, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  It sounds bizarrely cannibalistic.  In some worship traditions, believers are certain the bread literally becomes his body as we eat it, and the wine literally becomes his blood as we drink it.  Such thoughts would not have occurred to the disciples at Jesus’ table or to the earliest Christians.  They were eating the Passover and as they did, Jesus transformed it.
The unleavened bread hearkened back to the meal the Jews ate when they were slaves in Egypt and the angel of death killed the firstborn in each Egyptian family.  Moses instructed the people to kill the lamb and spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their houses.  The angel saw the blood and passed over the homes of God’s chosen.  The lamb each family sacrifice died in their place.
Jesus is the final sacrifice covering not only Israel’s sins, but the sins of the world.  Remember, we’re commanded to take this supper.  It means we are all sinners, every last one of us. We are cut off from God because of the sins we have committed and there is nothing we can do to atone for our mistakes.  Sin has stained our souls.   Without Jesus, we’re eternally lost.
But, we’re not “without Jesus.”  He has come, died on the cross, and rose.  When he says, “Take, eat, this is my body,” he means he is going to suffer violence on our behalf.  In Paul’s rendering of this passage, 1 Corinthians 11, Jesus says, “This is my body that is for you.”  Jesus is for us.  He - God in the flesh - came for our good, our benefit.  However hard life might be, and life can be pretty trying, God loves us.  Jesus gives himself for us.  We’re not alone.
Nor are we trapped in our sins.  “He took a cup ... saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant which poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  In Jesus blood shed on the cross, sin loses its hold on us.  All are invited to drink, but Jesus knew not all would.  Even though this is a command, Jesus knew not all who heard it would obey it.  Many people meet God, receive his invitation to relationship through the forgiveness of sins, and reject that invitation.  God honors that response and those who meet Him and choose to turn away from Him, are cut off, separated from God by their own choosing.  Those who obey and turn to Jesus and take the bread and drink the cup are forgiven.  Our sins are washed away and we become new creations. 
We’ve said what Jesus commands.  We are commanded to worship with God’s church treating all people as equals, as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to come and worship, take the bread and cup and receive forgiveness, and to tell the story of salvation to others who have not heard.
We have said what Maundy Thursday means.  God is for us because God loves us.  Thus our sins are forgiven.  That which would cut us off from God has been removed.  In Christ, we have access to God.  Nothing stops us from living in relationship with God as His sons and daughters.
When does this story take effect?  That happens when we respond to the grace of God, the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts, and step to God in faith.  The original disciples took this step after they met Jesus in resurrection.  Shortly after this Passover meal, the last supper, Jesus would be arrested, and his disciples fled in terror.  They abandoned him and went into hiding. 
However, when he rose from death and they met him and touched his resurrected body, they were changed.  From fear to courage, they went through dramatic transformations.  Tradition tells us that the disciples became so determined to tell the world about Jesus that most of them ran afoul of the Roman Empire.  Under the governance of Rome, the law dictated that all subjects acknowledge the emperor as divine.  “Caesar is Lord,” was the decree.  The disciples could not abide by such a sentiment because they knew that Jesus is Lord.  Most of them died deaths as gruesome as Jesus because they would not recant and acknowledge the divinity of Caesar.  They didn’t care what Rome did.  They believed and insisted that Jesus and only Jesus is Lord.
We mostly likely won’t be threatened with death as our forebearers were.  It doesn’t happen that way in our culture.  So how will we know we have obeyed the command of Jesus?  Obviously we are all here in this worship service, singing songs of faith, confessing our sins and turning to Jesus as we prepare to take the bread and cup.  In that sense we are actively obeying his command.
How we will know this obedience has taken hold in our lives once Holy Week has passed and we are away from the church family?  We become self-giving, following the example Jesus set.  We look out for others and give of ourselves for their benefit.  This happens 100’s of ways, from donating blood to investing in someone else’ life to giving generous monetary donations to works that help people who need it.  The giving of ourselves happens in relationships with people we’ve know all our lives and in interactions with strangers.  We become love-banks extravagantly doling out the love of God to everyone we meet.
In addition to becoming self-giving, we also become storytellers and the story we share is the Good news of forgiveness of sins people can have in Jesus.  God is building the kingdom of God through His church.  Every time we share the story of Jesus, a brick is put in place.  Every time we invite someone to church, a brick is put in place.  Every time we help someone see what the life of a disciple of Jesus looks like, a brick is put in place.  God is building the Kingdom.  He works through the work of the church and the witness of individuals in the church; people like you and me.
Are we saying all that stems from the dinner we call the “Last Supper,” a simple remembrance in bread and wine?  Yes, that’s exactly what has been said. 
Tonight, perhaps you needed to put it all together, the connection from what the 12 went through that night to the life of faith you are currently living.  
Or, perhaps, you’re in a different place. You needed to be reminded that yes, you are a sinner, and yes, your sins cut you off from God.  However, Jesus has covered your sins and opened the way.  The pathway is clear for you to walk into God’s loving embrace.  Tonight, maybe communion is time for you receive forgiveness and begin truly living as God’s daughter or son.
Or, maybe you’re getting a sense of this entire story for the very first time.  You never knew what it all meant, but now you do, at least a bit.  Now that you know, you realize how much you need Jesus.  Tonight, for the very first time, you want to ask Jesus into your heart to be your Lord and Savior.  You can do that as you come to eat and drink.
Everyone is invited to come and meet Jesus in this bread and cup.  Take a few moments in silent preparation.  Pour out your heart to God and ask Him to reveal his love to you.
After we’ve had silent contemplation, join in as we gather at the tables to receive what Jesus has for us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Palm Sunday Sermon - 2019

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            The journey began in Luke 9:51, where Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem.  It ends here in chapter 19.  Jesus and his disciples arrive at Bethphage and Bethany, villages, just east of the city.  He sends two of his disciples into the city to make preparation for his entry. 
            Then Jesus allows those disciples to instigate a series of actions that have come to define our Palm Sunday worship traditions.  Luke makes it clear that there were more followers of Jesus than just the 12 who traveled with him.  In chapter 10, he endowed 70 of his followers with his power to heal diseases, cast out demons, and proclaim that in Jesus, the kingdom of God has drawn near.  By chapter 19, that group of 70 has swelled to the size of a small community built around Jesus.  By the beginning of the book of Acts, also written by Luke,  that group has grown to 120 or more. 
Jesus gives instructions in Luke 19:30 and his followers carry them out.  When they go beyond what Jesus instructed, he goes along with their initiative and enthusiasm.  They retrieve the colt as he told them to, but then they put their cloaks on it.  OK.  They lift Jesus and set him on the colt and they lead it along the road coming into the city.  He did not tell them to do these things, but Jesus willingly receives their adoration and their praise.  He doesn’t say, “I am God.  I am your Messiah and your Savior.”  He doesn’t claim those things at this juncture, but when his disciples make those proclamations about him, he accepts that.  He never tells them to act in a certain way regarding him, but neither does he deny their adoration.  They surely do not know what it all means, but they know Jesus is special and that’s enough for the moment.
Luke, more than the other gospel writers, makes it clear that this crowd lining the road is a crowd of true followers of Jesus.  They don’t know everything about him at this point, but based upon what they know, Luke presents them as disciples.  Their devotion to Jesus is imperfect and incomplete, but Jesus joyfully receives the worship they offer.  
Pharisees in the crowd are the one who provoke conflict.  These gatekeepers who dedicate themselves to their own understanding of the law demand that Jesus silence those of his followers who loudly praise him.  He responds by definitively affirming how appropriate it is that his followers treat him as one coming from God.  “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (19:40).  When we read this story from our perspective we see how inappropriate it is when someone says Jesus was merely a great moral teach or a wise rabbi.  More than those things, he was God in the flesh.  Worship is the right stance when we come before him. 
Jesus cherished his relationship with his followers at this point, before he was crucified and resurrected.  He knew full well what was coming - the suffering, the abandonment, and the death.  He knew some of these who professed faith in him would hide when the pressure from the authorities mounted.  These who enthusiastically cheered him would run away when he needed support.  Even so, in this moment, he loved his followers and he received the love they gave him because it was the best they had to give.
In worship today we have had three become church members, a man over 50 and two girls under 10. To be a member is to say you want to be part of the body of Christ.  You are announcing to the church family that Jesus is your Lord and you’ve given your life to Him.  You want to worship and serve him as a part of this church family and you are committing your life to Him and committing to serving in this church.
Greg was not baptized today because he was baptized many years ago.  He’s joining our church today but he’s been a Christian for a long time.  He was baptized before the girls were even born.  God has led him to commit to membership in our church family.  
Tara Beth and Mary Grace, in their baptism today declare their faith in Jesus.   Their baptism is their testimony that Jesus is Lord and that they belong to him.  In becoming members and being baptized they are telling all of us they want to live as Christians.  
Can a child so young make a commitment like the one Mary Grace and Tara Beth have made today?  Over the course of many years I have been in conversations with other pastors, with church leaders, and denominational leaders on this very topic.  Committing one’s life to Jesus is a serious thing.  Is it too serious for such a young child?  Can one so young understand what’s happening?
Obviously, we baptized these kids today because we believe their faith in Jesus is real and sincere.  I trust their parents.  I trust that they will continue to be raised in the faith.  I trust our Sunday school leaders and both of these girls are active in Sunday School and worship lab.  I believe they have had a real encounter with Jesus and their faith is genuine.
Is it a child’s faith?  Yes. In their lives, will these girls go through periods of doubt?  Possibly.  It can’t be predicted.  Hopefully they will continue to grow in faith and also in life, and that includes progress in their education.  Education opens a world of ideas many of which can lead a person to question his or her faith.  We grow when we face questions and struggles and when we deal with doubt.  
When we meet God and grow in relationship with God, we are dynamic, not static.  We have life experiences, including great joy and deep pain.  We react to the world around us.  Our team wins the championship.  There’s a devastating terrorist attack.  We get married.  We move to a new place.  All these and 1000 more experiences color our faith.  Jesus is Lord in all the seasons of life, but because the seasons of life change and the things we go through are so different, we see him differently.  Sometimes, we fall into life situations that make it difficult to see God at all.  He’s there and he loves us, but we can’t see him. 
So, yes, I think it is wonderful that a 7-year-old and 8-year-old were baptized today.  I think all of Heaven rejoices at their expression of faith.  And, yes, I think they may backslide and have periods in life where they have trouble relating to God.  The same, by the way, might happen to Greg at his season of life.  It happens to me.  I don’t predict difficulty for Tara Beth or Mary Grace because of their age.  I predict it for all of us because we all go through dark times.  If any of us have seasons of doubt, it does not negate the faith we proclaim at baptism.  God adores that childlike faith.  He loves us where we are and helps us grow to become more like Christ: loving, grace-filled, courageous, and compassionate.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the sounds of cheers and praises, coming from a small group - 70-80 true disciples.  However, turning over a few pages to the end of Luke 22, we see Jesus in prayer at the Mount of Olives.  When the authorities come to arrest him, one of the disciples strikes out with a sword, but that half-hearted defense amounts to nothing.  Jesus is arrested, roughed up, and no disciples are found anywhere.  Those who called out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” are silent and absent. 
Only Peter remains and he follows at a distance.  Three times he has the chance to stand in solidarity with Jesus.  Three times he denies knowing him.  The childlike Palm Sunday enthusiasm has evaporated into abandonment and denial.  
Yet, what comes about in Luke 24?  The same disciples that praised Jesus on Palm Sunday and left him on Good Friday to die in shame, alone and broken, are gathered with them.  The resurrected Christ welcomes them back with love.  He knew they would fail him and yet he absolutely accepted their Palm Sunday worship premature and uninformed as it was.  Now raised, he raised them to a new level of faith - Easter faith; it’s faith that cannot die.
When you see 2nd and 3rd graders baptized, don’t worry that their faith might be too childlike.   Celebrate because angels in Heaven are celebrating the new birth of Tara Beth and Mary Grace today.  Rejoice and be grateful.  God meets you in your childlike faith which is as fragile as theirs; maybe more.  Let the baptism of these girls inspire in your hear the deep desire to offer all of your worship to God.  Be inspired to give your very self to God, committing your life to Christ.  
We offer our Palm Sunday faith to God knowing we would have failed Jesus just as his disciples did if we had been there when he was arrested, tried, and crucified.  We worship, offering all the faith we have, however much that is.  And we worship in gratitude because we know on the cross Jesus accomplished forgiveness for our sins.  In the resurrection, he defeated death.  He loves us and when we come to him in faith, we have life.  We are new creations, forgiven and bound for the Kingdom of God.