Luke 13:31-35; Philippians 3:17 - 4:1; Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18
As you were listening or reading along with me just now as I read today’s reading from Luke’s gospel, did anything strike you as odd? Anything? Let me tell you what caught my attention. Two things. Well, three things really.
First, the Pharisees – the Pharisees of all people – they don’t like Jesus – are warning Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. You remember who Herod is, right? He’s the puppet ruler for the Romans in the are of the Galilee. And Jesus’ response? His response is the second thing that caught my attention. Sounds a bit un-Jesus like if you ask me when he says, “You tell that fox, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”
Actually, I kind of like Jesus’ answer. Calls Herod a fox. That caught my attention. Not the image of Jesus we have. You know – Jesus meek and mild – all that that kind of hokey stuff that doesn’t really capture who Jesus is at all. No. Jesus is standing up for what he believes in. And he’s not afraid to do it. He is not afraid to do the work that the Father had sent him to do. He wants Herod to get the message loud and clear, “I’m going to be doing the work of Him who sent me.”
And by saying that – which is the third thing that caught my attention – Jesus was once again saying something about who he himself is. By showing what it is that he does – he says something about who he is. In other words, he is saying, “I am going to do what I am going to do. The Father lives in me. Therefore, I must do what I must do, and no earthly ruler is going to stop me.”
This is the same Jesus that I keep telling you all the time that we are supposed to imitate. And by that I don’t mean that we should go around calling somebody else a fox, or whatever name you might feel like calling someone else who irritates you. We’re not going to do that, are we! Not us good Lutherans, right? Yeah, right. Today – let’s save the name calling to the presidential wannabes. As shameful as that is. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Listen! What we need to do is to take a look at ourselves. One of the things that we focus on in this season of Lent is to take an honest look at ourselves, and to admit that we are sinners who mess up, and admit our need for forgiveness. And I just want to remind you that God IS faithful. He promises to forgive. To forgive you all your sins. Because that’s who God is and that’s what God does.
But quite frankly, I’d like us to move beyond forgiveness – and to learn what it means to become imitators of Jesus Christ. In everything. In our thoughts – in our actions – in our words. Our attitudes. Our beliefs.
I mean – even the Pope and the Donald got into it this week over just what that means! Ok. I know. I said I wouldn’t say any more about that, didn’t I!
Our reading from Philippians says something about Christ-likeness. Paul – the author of this letter to the Christians in the Greek city of Philippi – tells them to “join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”
Sounds a little arrogant, don’t you think? “Join in imitating me.” How would it sound to you if I were to stand up here and say, “Hey! Imitate me! If you want to be like Christ – imitate me.” Why are some of you laughing?
What I understand Paul to be saying is this. He wants the Philippians to follow his example, yes, but also to “be imitators – not of me – but WITH me.” Which is pretty much what Paul says in another letter, his FIRST letter to the church in Corinth that we call – oddly enough – FIRST Corinthians. In chapter 11, verse 1, he writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” That sounds better, yes?
Among my favorite Scripture passages is Galatians 2:20 – in fact I’ll tell you that it is my favorite – which says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave his life for me.”
If you can – I want you to wrap your head around that for just a minute. “It is no longer I who live.” I’ve got to tell you that the first time I heard that phrase, I was a sophomore in college, and I didn’t understand it. But here’s what I learned. It is no longer I who live. In other words, Randy – Randy is dead. It is no longer Randy who lives, but Christ who lives within – Randy!
Listen! Let’s go back to Jesus for a minute. Jesus is telling the Pharisees – hoping that Herod would get the message – “The Father lives within me. I must do the work of Him who sent me.”
Folks – let me tell you something. This is what Jesus wants for you and me too. He wants to live within us. It’s all about being in a relationship with Jesus Christ to the point where we can say, “Christ lives in me.” So –as disciples of Jesus Christ – let me ask you. Who lives in you? Who or what lives in you?
• What guides your decisions?
• What sets the course of your life?
• What determines the way you think?
• The way you treat others around you?
• What – or who – is it?
Remember just a few seconds ago I said that Randy is dead? Randy is dead. It is no longer Randy who lives but Christ who lives within Randy. But here’s the deal. That old Randy – what the Bible calls the old self – keeps coming back up to the surface. I know. Hard to believe, but it’s true. When you see me at my worst – and some of you have – it’s that old me coming to the surface – again! And it’s like there’s this war going on inside of me. I want to imitate that Christ-likeness that each one of us is called to imitate. I want my life to be a reflection of Christ living in me. I know it doesn’t always happen. But still – that is the life I want to live.
And when I mess up – miss the mark – those are the times when I am so very grateful for Romans chapter 7. If it weren’t for Galatians 2:20, I’d say Romans 7 would be my favorite. But it’s interesting, the same Paul who said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me,” says in Romans 7, “The good I would do, I do not do. And I do the very thing I hate…Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It’s a struggle. And if Paul struggled – well – then I guess we can admit that we struggle too. Sounds like we’re in good company, don’t you think?
Listen! This is NOT a sermon where I am telling you that it’s good to be good and it’s nice to be nice. I don’t like those kinds of sermons. Christ likeness goes way beyond that. Way beyond.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Most of you remember something that happened in our country last year. It affected all of us. You remember the name Dylan Roof? The white racist who was arrested for shooting nine African Americans to death at a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Again, what makes this incident all the worse for us in this room is that Dylan is one of us. Dylan is an ELCA Lutheran. Apparently, the message that we preach and teach – the message that his pastor taught – somehow didn’t register in his heart. Something or someone else was living in him, but I can tell you at that moment, it wasn’t Jesus.
Now, at his trial, some of the relatives of the dead came to court to speak directly to Roof, and do you remember what they said? They told him – that they forgave him.
Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, was one who spoke. She said to Roof, “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. ... You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
At a news conference later, South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley alluded to the statements the victims' families extended toward the shooter, saying, “Their expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away.” And no wonder. In that painful circumstance, those relatives of the murdered looked like the Christians they are. Because Christ is living in them.
You know – I don’t know. I would like to say that I would be as forgiving. But I don’t know. I think in time, yes, that I might be. I hope I never have to find out. But this much I do know. It was Christ alive and living in the hearts and minds and lives of those loved ones whose lives had been shattered by one man’s act of hate – that allowed them to say, “I forgive you.”
So let me ask you. Who lives in you? Who or what lives in you?
The answer is critical. I think what we want to say is, “Christ lives in me.” And if that is true, then it will show. It will show. And yes, people will notice the difference. They will see Jesus in us!
Let me share with you a story. Maybe this will wrap up everything I’m saying here today.
One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, there’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand." (I know. Sometimes that happens.)
The mother said, “Oh? What is it?”
The little girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said
God is so big that He could hold the whole world in His hand. Is that true?”
The mother replied, “Yes, that's true.”
“But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?”
Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was
With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us – wouldn't He show through?”
Who lives in you, huh? Who. Lives. In. You? It is my hope and my prayer that every one of us would arrive at that point where we can shout, “Christ! Christ lives in me. And I live for him.” Amen.