Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sermon for 3/24/13--Palm Suday

Pilate and You

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

What do we know about Pontius Pilate?  The truth is, we don’t know much.  History tells us that he was hand-picked by Tiberius Caesar to govern Palestine. This was one of the “hot spots” of the Roman Empire; the Jews simply refused to cooperate with their conquerors.  It would take the best man Caesar had to govern this unruly province.  That tells us a great deal about Pilate.  He was intelligent and resourceful.  He was loyal—Caesar would have allowed no opposition, especially in Palestine.  But the Bible tells us of another attribute of Pilate, one which comes out in this text, one which we do not always associate with him.  Pilate was a man with an acute sense of justice.  After all, he knew Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against Him.  He knew that the Sanhedrin had turned Jesus over to him out of envy and hatred.  He also knew that those same Jewish leaders would make things very difficult for him if he did not condemn Jesus as they wished.  A word or two spoken in the right ears would brand Pilate as a traitor to a paranoid Caesar and to a threatened empire. 

What was such a man to do?  Even Pilate’s wife told him to have nothing to do with condemning Jesus; he would be condemning an innocent man.  But He was also a man under intense pressure. He knew what was right, and he also knew what was practical, and in this instance they were not the same.  Could he have set Jesus free?  The easy answer is to say that Jesus was appointed by the Father in heaven to die on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the world, and that Pilate was put there to carry out that plan of God; and all of this is true.  But Pilate was no more a robot than you are.  He could have followed what he knew in his conscience to be right and true, and set Jesus free, and God would still have worked His will in some other way.  Pilate made the decision he did for his own reasons.  His decision was the result of all that he had experienced to that point.  God has revealed to us what we need to know.  What we cannot understand or explain, we are to accept as the wisdom of God.

What about you?  What is your story?  Pontius Pilate is not more important than you. Yes, he was at center stage for a portion of the greatest event in human history.  But your story is just as important because each of you is a unique creation of God.  So what is your story?  You were brought to Holy Baptism by your parents.  There in those Word-filled waters, you died with Christ and rose with Him to newness of life.  Do not think for one minute that that event has not had a monumental influence in your life.  You may not yet fully understand it, but God does not abandon what He has made His own.  You have been raised and nurtured in a family—both your birth family and the family of your new birth—that has loved you and has taught you to love the Lord and rejoice in His love for you. All of this has helped to make you what you are now.

The more interesting question, however, is this: What is your story going to be?  Pontius Pilate is history.  You are a work in progress.  Where are you going?  In what direction are you heading?  Are you going to be bounced around like a ball at the hands of an fickle God who is going force you to be exactly who and what He wants you to be?  No. God does not work that way.  His are the ways of love and mercy.  Though you may forget your Baptism, He will not forget; God can never be anything but faithful.  Through that Baptism, our Lord Jesus has made you a child of His heavenly Father, an heir of eternal life. Through that Baptism, our Lord Jesus has applied to you the forgiveness of sins which He won on the cross.

Curtis, Hailey, Blaire: you are about to make important promises, promises meant to last your whole life, promises that may bring you to the brink of death itself through the hands of those who hate our Lord—and because they hate the Lord, they hate you, too. Your brothers and sisters here at St. Peter have made the same promises. Though you may be tempted to wander away from the Lord, He will keep His eye on you: not to strike at you, but to wait for the chance to draw you closer to Him.  In a few minutes you will receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your blessed Savior.  It may not seem like much at first.  Those who saw Jesus in the flesh when He walked this earth weren’t impressed with Him either.  But receiving the Holy Sacrament draws you closer to Him than anything on this earth can do.  And there you will find a joy and a peace that surpasses understanding.

What is your story going to be?  Of course, only God knows.  But if I could write your story, I can tell you what the end would be.  On that great day, when our Lord Jesus Christ returns to gather His faithful ones around Him that they might enjoy eternity with Him, and when He looks to me and says, “Who are these you have with you,” I will turn and look and see each of you.  And then, with great joy, I will be able to say to Him, “These are the children you have given to me.  And by Your grace, dear Lord, none of them are lost.”  That will be the greatest story ever, because that is the story our dear Lord Jesus Christ has written for you!  In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

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