It was perhaps odd to see people dressed in their Sunday finery sitting on folding chairs in the pale gray utilitarian confines of a fellowship hall. But I learned quickly that the oddness would not endure. Next Sunday, on Easter, the congregation would take its seats for the 8:45 and 10:30 services in the new, just-finished sanctuary across the courtyard.
The oddness that would endure provided the theme for the service: the oddness of being a Christian. The oddness of people in a well-to-do 21st-century American suburb crying out during the call to worship, “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your King comes to you”; of those same people apologizing for “turning to gods of our own making and following pathways of our own choosing”; of choir and congregation thundering forth a song lyric full of contradiction:
“Ride on, ride in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die/ Bow Your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O Christ, Your power and reign.”
Again, it was perhaps odd to hear Reverend Scott Mitchell acknowledge in prayer that his congregation, successful by most worldly standards, “must stand in opposition to the world’s ways.” To hear him ask for courage “to stand up for Jesus Christ.... To minister to the outcast and the desperate. To work for that very same supernatural peace that everyone everywhere longs to have — that can only come from You. Help us not to scatter and leave You alone. May we take courage, remembering that You have conquered the world.”
How do we know that Jesus has conquered the world? Because He said so, in the reading taken from John’s Gospel: “In the world, you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
Reverend Jack Baca’s sermon asked the obvious question: if Jesus has conquered the world, why is courage necessary for Christians? “Normally,” he said, “the focus on Palm Sunday is on that very joyful moment in Jesus’ life when he came into Jerusalem, welcomed by the cheers of the crowds.... But if you skip from Palm Sunday straight over to Easter — which so many of us want to do — we miss one of the most crucial elements of the whole story about Jesus.... My fundamental premise and promise to you throughout Lent has been that following Jesus is about joy. But what about Jesus’...torture and excruciating death? We have said that the joyful life of following Jesus is about seeing Jesus for who He is, and learning the truth from Jesus, and loving each other as Jesus loves us, and making sure that we walk in the power of the spirit of Jesus. But we have to talk about suffering, and even agony, as we are learning about the joy way.”
Baca talked about the suffering of the early Christians, persecuted by Jews and Romans and “the general public, who looked at them as strange people who followed a crucified Savior, who practiced weird rituals of eating His body and drinking His blood, who went against the flow of normal culture. Serving Jesus, he said, was serving “someone whose very life is an indictment of the world’s values and twisted systems and the broken promises of the empty gods of this world.”
Besides the particular sufferings that arise from following Jesus, he added, Christians also share in the sufferings of “a fallen world...full of disease and hunger and war, where families fight and children are abused. It’s a world filled with pain. Every one of you has brought the pain of your life and the pain of the world into this place of worship today. We are captive to a world of sin and brokenness. Every human being — made for living in perfection — experiences pain because we are alien citizens in this place that was meant to be our home.” In short, if Christians are odd, it’s because the world was odd first, and Christ came to address that oddness.
As Baca said, “We follow a savior who conquers the suffering...by remaking the world in Himself, in His resurrection, and then offering the power of His resurrection to any who would receive it.” This, he said, “instills a deep joy in us, in spite of the pain and troubles. It’s not the way of denial, or of ease. But whether your life today is a proud parade or an agonizing crawl, take courage because Jesus — and we — conquered the world.”
And choir and congregation rose up again in song: “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God! All the vain things that charm me most/ I sacrifice them to His blood.”
What happens when we die?
“I believe the good Lord takes us to be with Him in heaven,” said Baca.
6225 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe
Denomination: Presbyterian Church USA
- Address: 6225 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe, 858-756-2441
- Founded locally: 1956
- Senior pastor: Jack W. Baca
- Congregation size: 1200
- Staff size: 45 (including school)
- Sunday school enrollment: 125
- Annual budget: $1.8 million
- Weekly giving: $34,000
- Singles program: no
- Dress: mostly formal
- Diversity: mostly Caucasian, some Asian
- Sunday worship: 8:45 a.m. (contemporary), 10 a.m. (traditional)
- Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes
- Website: villagechurch.org