Sermon for Sunday, June 30, 2013
The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
“…allegiance to the cross of Christ, and nothing else.”
Last year, the Fourth of July was on a Wednesday. And, poor Maggie, she had to work at the hospital on the Fourth. So, like any day that Maggie has to work and I’m left at home, I watch what I want to watch on TV. And I watch over-the-top action movies. So last year on the Fourth of July, I choose a wonderful flick – Die Hard 2. With Bruce Willis.
I vividly remember one crucial scene in the movie. Bruce Willis has an unnecessarily giant machine gun and he’s just blasting away. I’m on the edge of my seat, the dogs are asleep. And the machine gun is going (rat-a-tat-tat) on the TV screen. And I’m having a great time. Then suddenly I hear (pounding, thumping) right in front of the house. I about jump out of my skin. The dogs freak out. And it sounds like Die Hard 2 is happening in my front yard. (pounding, and thumping). I think Bruce Willis is busting into my house.
But of course it’s not Bruce Willis. After I manage to pick myself up off the floor, I realize that it’s just the kids next door setting off firecrackers. Because it was the Fourth of July. It was just some fireworks.
As you celebrate Independence Day this week, you might set off some fireworks of your own. But before you do, think about the fireworks that Jesus lights. Jesus and the disciples are going along the road to Jerusalem, and there are some guys there. Just sitting around, not expecting much to happen. They look at Jesus as entertainment, but they don’t really expect him to do anything controversial. Until Jesus sets off the fireworks.
Jesus says, “don’t even waste the time it takes to bury your father. Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Jesus says, “If you want to follow me, don’t expect to ever have a home.” Jesus says, “forget your family and your old life. Follow me.” Jesus sets off some fireworks. Those guys who had been lazing around on the sofa jump out of their skin. Don’t honor your father. Don’t expect a home. Don’t think about your family. What is all this crazy talk?
For too long, the Church has been squeamish in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. We have de-radicalized the message of Jesus, to make it more palatable. Too often we see the Church become a country club for nice people. People who don’t want to be disturbed. People who like Jesus, but who don’t really make the sacrifice to follow him. Too often we see how the church says you can have all your old gods, and follow Jesus. But I tell you – you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Make no mistake – Jesus calls us to nothing less than a whole new life. The old allegiances, the old family, the old way of doing things has to die. You have to die.
The Church is not here to support your family. The Church is here to make a new family. The Church is not here to help you keep your old allegiances. The Church is here to give you a whole new allegiance – allegiance to the cross of Christ, and nothing else.
Do not expect Jesus to pass by you quietly. Jesus is going to set off some fireworks. Jesus makes a demand on your life, a demand to follow him wherever it may lead. To leave behind family, and home, and all other obligations. And to swear yourself to the Kingdom of God.
Nowhere is this radical renewal of life more obvious than at baptism. This morning, we are going to witness the baptism of little Harold Arnold. Now, a couple of things happen in baptism. Through baptism, Jesus washes away our sin. This week at Vacation Bible School there was a song about Jesus washing away our sin. One little boy got this wrong. He said that Jesus washes away our “skin.” Close, but not quite.
The other thing that happens at baptism is that we become members of a new family. The parents – Harold and Katy – are no longer the only father and mother for little Harold. It is the whole Church of God – we are now his brothers and his sisters and his fathers and his mothers. In baptism, we are quite literally adopting new sons and daughters into God’s family.
Harold, as the father, this passage might strike you as particularly emotional. There is one man who asks Jesus if he has time to bury his own father. Jesus lights a string of firecrackers and says, “no!” The Kingdom of God is more important than the man’s own father. The same with you. If little Harold has the choice of following Jesus, or going to your funeral, I pray that he follows Jesus.
Katy, there are hard words from Jesus for you too. Another person asks the Lord if he can go home and say good-bye to his family before following him. It’s like Jesus holds up a Roman candle and lets the fireworks blast away. “No!” Jesus says. You cannot say good-bye to your old family – you must become a member of the new family. If little Harold has the choice of following Jesus, or saying farewell, I pray that he follows Jesus.
I realize that these are difficult words. Usually at baptism we talk about how cute the little baby is and what a blessing he is to the family. So let’s just get that out of the way – Harold is a really cute baby, and I know that he is a blessing to his parents.
But that’s only one part of it. The other part, is that Harold is dying this morning. The water in that font will drown him. We actually pray that Harold will be buried in those waters. The old family, the old allegiances, they have to die. He has to die. Not exactly what you expect to talk about at a baptism.
But this is the trick – as Christians we trust that what is dead does not stay dead. As Christians, we believe in the resurrection. Jesus died and was buried, but was raised again to a better life. This is what baptism represents. Harold will die this morning and will be buried, and we pray that he is raised again to a better life. A life with the new allegiances, the new family, a life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus first had to be crucified before he could be raised again. Good Friday always comes before Easter. Harold has to be drowned, before receiving a new life.
This sermon is not just for Harold. It’s for all of us. Perhaps we have been sleeping on the sofa of our souls. Where we don’t expect any loud noises. Where we don’t expect Bruce Willis, or Jesus to come busting into our lives. But I promise, that one day Jesus will light the firecrackers on our doorstep. The words that Jesus has for us will be hard. “Pick up the cross and follow me.” “Let the dead bury the dead.” “Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Firecrackers on the doorsteps of your souls.
Finally, notice how Jesus is described in that passage. “His face is set on Jerusalem.” Jesus is determined to go there. To the very city where he knows that he will have to die. This morning, set your face to the waters of baptism. Remember that you died there. That is your Jerusalem. And remember that you were reborn there. The baptismal font is our cross, but it is also our empty tomb. Remember, that you have a new life. A baptized life. A life with Christ. Remember, that Jesus lit the fireworks.