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Sermon for Sunday 17 March 2019

First Reading                              Jeremiah 26:8-15

8When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord. 10When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. 11Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” 12Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Psalm                                                              Psalm 4

1Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard-pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. 2“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?” 3Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me. 4Tremble, then, and do not sin; speak to your heart in silence upon your bed. 5Offer the appointed sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord. 6Many are saying, “Oh, that we might see better times!”  Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord. 7You have put gladness in my heart, more than when grain and wine and oil increase. 8I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Second Reading                         Philippians 3:17–4:1

17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Gospel                                                  Luke 13:31-35

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”


Who lives in you?  This is a question that hopefully comes to mind as we read those words of Jesus this morning when He tells the Pharisees, “Go tell that fox (king Herod) that I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow and on the third day reach my goal.”  I will do what I must.  So tell Herod do what he must!

Throughout the years I’ve heard people ask the question, if you could be anyone you wanted, or, if you were an animal, what would it be.  It’s a game we sometimes play that’s intended to reveal something about our personality, about our desires, or our goals.  Well this morning, I’d like to change that up a bit, and if you would, I’d like to ask you to take a moment and let your imagination run free and picture yourself, your personality, who you  really are, as a house.  Any kind of house will do — just so it’s yours.

Now for some, you may see yourselves as a huge castle on a hill, with lofty turrets and banners waving in the breeze, a place that’s safe and secure.  For others it might be a high-rise apartment in a downtown area, complete with a doorman and maid service situated close to all the night-life hotspots.  Still for others, it may be a rustic cabin, hand-built of hewn logs, tucked away in the woods; a solid, peaceful and quiet refuge.  For others still, it might be a nice little retirement home, with a rocking chair on a wrap-around porch, a shade tree in the front yard, a white picket fence and a nice warm breeze stirring the flowers blooming all along the front. 

Now, if you will, imagine the front door of that dwelling.  Picture someone pushing the doorbell, buzzing the intercom, clanking the knocker, or rapping on the door.  Now if you were to let that someone in through that door of your pictured house, who or what would they find inside?  Who lives in you?  Who’s sitting on the couch, what sort of things would a visitor find sitting on the table, laying in the corners or tucked away in the closets?

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve met a few people who gave me the distinct impression that if I went inside the “houses” of their lives, I wouldn’t find anyone home.  Or, if I went inside their houses, it would be so cluttered with junk that there wouldn’t be any room to relax.  Or, I’ve known some whose houses are great and impressive on the outside, but once I entered, everything seemed to be artificial.  I’ve even known one or two that their house always looked like it was ready for Home and Garden magazine; picture perfect.  The problem is, it didn’t feel like a home.  It felt like you walked into a furniture show room after hours; hollow, sterile, devoid of warmth.  So, who lives in you?  If somehow, someone was able to take a look inside, what would they see?

That’s the question that would be good for us to address this Second Sunday in Lent.  Who, or what, lives in you?  What values, morals and beliefs guides your decisions?  What sort of things, sets the course of your life?  What influences determine the way you think, act and treat others around you?  Most of us I’m sure would like to say that it’s our Christian faith that determines who we are.  But is that completely true?  Truth be told, there are two kinds of people who can be home — citizens of the world or citizens of heaven.

In chapter 17 of St. John’s gospel, we hear Jesus praying to God the Father.  In this prayer, He reminds us that we, as His disciples, are not of this world as Jesus is not of this world.  And in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that we are citizens of heaven, not citizens of this earth (Phil. 3:20).  So, in this season of reflection and penitence, it would be good for us to really ask, who lives in us?  Maybe a good way to do this self-reflection, is to think back over the decisions we’ve made this past week.  Who made them — a citizen of this world or a citizen of heaven?

Recall the way you spoke to those around you and the way you treated others.  Who was present then?  What about our attitude toward the church, it’s leadership and the people around us: what about the offering we brought this morning, what do all these things say about our relationship with God: does any of this reflect what’s inside of us?  If someone were to examine these things, would they see that we’re a citizen of heaven, a child of God, that God dwells within?  Or, does the contents of our home seem more like the trappings of this world?  Do the contents seem more like one who cares little about others, who thinks of themselves first, whose actions fail to give witness to the allegiance we claim to have with God?  Who lives in us?  

What stirs us each day of our life?  We’d all like to answer that it’s our Christian faith, but can we?  The Christian faith is more than just a set of doctrines, more than some creed that we recite, more than assertions we study.  Our Christian faith is a reflection of God in us, it’s the lives we live — the set of moral principles that guide our decisions and are reflected in the words we use.  It’s our response to the poor around us.  It’s our record of worship, our interest in Scripture reading, our attention to prayer.  It’s the forgiveness we extend, even when the other person is unrepentant.

The reality of our Christian faith is our relationship with Jesus, the same kind of response that Jesus gave those Pharisees.  Look and see how I act, He said.  See how I go about my business.  Look closely at both my words and deeds.  I will continue to care for the sick and proclaim God’s Word.  I will continue to be about the business of the kingdom.  This is how Jesus answers the critics.  Can we say this?  It’s an important question, who lives in us?  More than the answer we give, it must always be “Christ lives in me.”  The same love, the same compassion that Jesus has, is present in me.  The same life, the same power of God that was present in Jesus, is alive in me.  

We need to be able to confess with all certainty that we are citizens of heaven.  That God is my Father, and it’s up to me to live according to that citizenship.  We cannot say we’re a citizen of heaven, a child of God, and make ourselves strangers to the house of God.  We cannot say, I am a citizen of heaven and live as an “undercover agent,” afraid someone during the week will discover our true identity.

In this Season of Lent, we’re called to look within ourselves and ask this very vital question: “Who lives in me?”  It’s an inquiry that calls us to be honest with ourselves and admit that even though we claim to be citizens of heaven, we often live as strangers before God.

A researcher for a publishing company recently interviewed a great number of people to determine what kind of books they liked to read.  Among the most common answers were, the Bible, Shakespeare, and a number of classic works such as A Tale of Two Cities, The Red Badge of Courage, and others.  In return for their cooperation, the company offered each person a choice of a free book from a list of titles published by the company.  There was a large variety of books to choose from, ranging from Christian devotional books to classical titles, and some of more recent authors.  It was interesting to note that the most popular choice of this supposedly high-minded group of readers was The Murder of a Burlesque Queen.

Sometimes we claim to be citizens of heaven and yet we live as strangers to God because we think no one will notice the difference.  We make excuses like, we’re not as bad as others around us?  We attend church, we give each week, we put food in the ministry box, we basically live good lives; we even plan to read our Bibles and say our prayers, sometime, don’t we?  Yet, how often do we, in reality, live as strangers to God while at the same time try to claim we’re citizens of heaven and hope no one notices the difference?  But the Season of Lent reminds us that God knows.  

Oh, we might be able to fool ourselves, maybe even deceive those around us, but we can never fool God, for God reads the human heart.  God knows who lives in our house.  As God reminded Samuel, “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1Sam. 16:7).  It’s like my grandfather used to tease, why polish the back of the shoe, people only notice the front.  However, people might only see the facade we put up, but God sees the back as well.

There’s a story of a burly, old lineman from a professional football team who thought that he knew all the tricks so he could stay out late and party on road trips despite the team’s curfew.  Over the years he’d gotten it all down to a science.  He’d pile certain things up under the blankets of the bed to make it appear that he was asleep when the coach checked curfew.  And it worked fairly well, until one evening when he was in a hurry and couldn’t find the right items to put under the covers, so he just decided to slip a floor lamp under the blankets instead.  Imagine what happened when a suspicious coach peeked in at 1 a.m. and snapped on the poor guy’s light.  The light of Jesus is like that.  

The revealing light of Christ lays bare the thoughts of the human heart and reveals the inner person.  If someone were to open the door to our house, who or what would they find inside?  If you want to know the answer to that question, review your thoughts and actions in the light of the cross.  How does, or does not our life reflect God’s love?  How do our actions make God’s compassion more visible?  Who or what occupies our lives?

Jesus tells us that two kinds of people cannot live in peace with each other.  “No one can serve two masters,” He says (Matt. 6:24).  Either we live as people whose lives are oriented to the world, who strive for happiness and fulfillment in the things of this world, who find our joy in the pleasures, pursuits, and possessions of this life, or we find our peace and joy in Christ.  Both kinds of people cannot live under the same roof.

Dwight Moody tells a story about two inebriated men who found their way back to the dock early one morning after a long night of drinking.  They were relieved to find their boat was still there.  They decided that, despite their highly intoxicated state, they could make it home.  So, they got in and began to row.  They rowed hard in what was left of the night, but when the sun came up, they were dismayed to discover that they were in the exact same spot where they had started.  In their drunken state, they had forgotten to untie the mooring line and raise the anchor.

We cannot live with our hopes and dreams, our aspirations and goals for life tied to the attitudes, values, morals and material possessions of this world and yet claim to be citizens of heaven. We cannot live dividing our priorities between serving ourselves and serving God.  We cannot live as citizens of heaven and be strangers to God.  Jesus says, “Either you will hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  No one can serve two masters.”  It’s impossible to hold dual citizenship.

To be a child of God is to allow God to be our Father.  To live as a citizen of heaven is to allow Jesus to rule our hearts.  When we have the love of Christ in our hearts, we know a life of discipleship and devotion, of faith and faithfulness, of conscience and commitment will follow.  However, we must allow Jesus in!  We must allow the love of God to rule our lives, direct our thoughts, and guide our actions.  It’s that simple.

In his autobiography, Dr. A.J. Cronin tells of a neighboring family called the Adams’.  Mr. Adams was an accountant in New York City, but he loved to spend all the hours he could working in his garden at their Connecticut home with his only son, Sammy.  When WWII broke out, Mrs. Adams suggested they take a refugee child into their home.  Mr. Adams wasn’t much in favor of the idea, but he went along with it to please his wife.  The child they received came from an orphanage in Central Europe with the impossible name of Paul Pio-tro-stan-silis.  Unfortunately, as Paul learned the language of his new family in Connecticut, he also learned to manipulate the truth.  He found it easy to steal and do mischief and broke the Adams’ hearts many times.  He did, however, develop a close friendship with the Adams’ young son, Sammy.

One day, Paul, against their specific warning, went swimming in a polluted stream near their home and came back with an infection that brought with it a raging fever.  Because of the possibility that it might be contagious, Paul was put in a separate room and Sammy was told to stay away from him.  Paul eventually pulled through the crisis, but, while he was still sick, one morning the family found Sammy asleep in bed with Paul, the two of them breathing into each other’s faces.  And sure enough, Sammy caught the disease.  The fever raged through him, and four days later, Sammy died.

Dr. Cronin remembered hearing about the tragedy while away on an extended study leave.  He wrote his neighbors, expressing his sympathy for them, telling them that he, for one, would understand should they feel the need to send Paul back, after all the heartache he had caused them.  A few months later, upon returning from his leave, Dr. Cronin went next door to visit the Adams’ and was surprised to see the same familiar sight of a man and a boy working side by side in the garden.  Only this time the boy was Paul.

“You still have him then?” Cronin inquired.  “Yes,” Henry Adams replied, “and he is doing much better now.”  “All I can say to you, Paul,” Cronin muttered, “is that you’re a pretty lucky boy.”  “Dr. Cronin,” Henry interrupted, “you don’t need to bother trying to pronounce his name anymore, either.  He is now Paul Adams.  We have adopted him.  He is now the son we lost.”  That’s the kind of love God has for us.  A love that Jesus expresses in the face of threatened death, a love that goes about its business, in spite of the consequences.  Love that adopts us as children.  

Because of God’s love, we have been made citizens of heaven.  His love puts us in our places and gives us our inheritances.  So, in this season of Lent, a season of penitence, of self-reflection, of examining our lives in comparison to Jesus, it’s good to peek inside the house that is our lives and ask, who, or what occupies that house?  My hope is that in this penitential season we’ll be able to say, “Christ lives in me, for I live in Him, and I am a citizen of heaven.”


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