I’m sure that most of us here today have done what I did when I first listened to the text from Romans. I scratched my head, thought that Paul really wasn’t kidding when he said he was bad with words, and got to thinking that the point of this passage was that because of God sending the Holy Spirit, Christ now lives in us who are his followers. This isn’t exactly new knowledge to those of us who have been going to church most of their lives.
There is that song most of us learned at camp or in VBS called I’ve got the joy joy joy joy, down in my heart. Well, I’m not going to serenade you with the rest of the song, but the third verse talks about us having the love of Jesus in our hearts. Because we are able to quickly understand this so quickly and from such a young age, it seems to me that the older we get, the farther away we go from actually living it out.
I’m going to read to you again the last 3 verses of today’s lesson, but this time from The Message.
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about.
But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells - even though you still experience all the limitations of sin - you yourself experience life on God's terms.
It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!
I especially like the last sentence. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s! That’s a big statement to live with. When Christ’s spirit lives in us, we will be alive in the same way. We must no longer think of ourselves as individuals, but realize that we are only important because of our relations with others. Because if Christ had not had others around him at all times, if it were not for the sins of others, Christ would not have needed to be. If this is the case, I think we must begin to act as Jesus acted.
A few weeks ago, we heard Jeff preach about the difference between living as Christ has already been resurrected or simply waiting for Jesus to return. We must do more than mentally reflect on that idea everyday… Instead, we must act out that idea every day we are alive in Christ.
With that in mind, we must all do our part to think of the things which we truly admire most about Christ and act upon them. When Jesus said that we will do greater things than he did himself, we must really believe in that and make every attempt to act upon that belief.
As you ponder the thing that you might do in your life because Christ lives in you, I’m going to share with you what it is I hope to do. Some of you I’ve told about this already, but now I think I’m finally able to go about doing it.
The thing I admire most about Jesus was the fact that he was able to meet people and invite himself into their home for a meal. The fellowship that happened around the table, the sharing of stories, the whole idea that Jesus forced hospitality has always amazed me. It was reinforced to me a couple of times this week, which is why I’m bringing it forward to you today. The first way was in my studying for this message, when one of the authors I read said that “renewal in Christ is not simply an individual affair. In fact, it is not primarily an individual affair at all. It is a matter of renewal through membership in a new community.”
The second way this was reinforced to me this week was by one of my favourite authors and preachers. Many of you may remember the video we watched during our stewardship campaign by Rob Bell. I was finishing his latest book when he ended with a story about how he always noticed that Jesus was always at someone else’s house, sharing a meal, drinking their wine, laughing and telling stories. Because of this, Rob Bell attempts to invite people over to his home to do this same thing.
Unfortunately for me, I am unable to have people over to the place where I am currently residing, and have yet to really figure out a way to still have a meal and good conversation with most of you. Well, I realized that my hope in doing this would not be fulfilled unless I let the Christ who lives within me do the talking. With that being said, over the next 16 weeks, I really want to come over to your house and have a meal with you. I’ll give you more information in the bulletin about this once Easter is over, but I want you to keep it in the back of your mind. I think it will be an exciting way for us all to practice the things we are going to be focusing on this year, Evangelism, Hospitality, and Healing.
There is another main point in this story that must be brought to our attention. It is the concept of forgiveness and freedom in Christ. It comes from the first two verses of Romans 8, which talks about there being no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
There is a story of a man who has lived in a small town his whole life. He had grown up in a church that preached hell, fire and brimstone. He stopped attending church once his parents no longer forced him to go. He lived out most of his adult life trying to do the best he could, although there were apparently some things that he was not particularly fond of. One day he drove by a local church which hung a banner which simply said, “No Condemnation.” The man continued to drive by that sign everyday going to and from work, he passed by it every time he went to the grocery store, every time he went to pick up his kids from school. He didn’t believe it. The church always condemns someone. They always have someone to blame. He continued to drive by that sign every day, and every time he passed it, he felt angry, because it was not what he experienced as a young man.
One week, this man had a particularly rough time. His boss had chewed him out over some small misunderstandings, his ex-wife called him complaining about late child support, and his current significant other called to say that his current relationship wasn’t going anywhere, so she was going somewhere else. As he drove past the church at the end of that week, he saw the sign that said “No Condemnation” in a new light, with new hope.
When Sunday morning came around, he snuck into the back of the church a few minutes after the service began. Unfortunately for him, the last pew on both sides was filled, so he had to sit on the end of the fourth row from the back. As he watched, he saw this man all dressed in black lead the service while some people sang, some people read, some people did very little of either, but that everyone spoke the bold text in the liturgy.
Finally in the liturgy, it came to the point where everyone was confessing. “We confess that we have done wrong.” And the man said to himself, A HA! I knew it…here it comes…the condemnation I knew the church has always had. The liturgy continued… “We have done wrong, lived for ourselves, turned from our neighbors, refused to help others, ignored the pain of the world.” The anticipation in the man was killing him. He waited for the words of his old preacher about those people who have done wrong going to hell. He waited for the preacher to say that only the good people who fully follow will go to heaven. He waited for those words, because once he heard them, he was going to get up and leave…
But he never heard those words, because the next words out were the words of Romans chapter 8. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The divine intention for Christ's church is NO condemnation. NO condemnation of either the self, or the other. For St. Paul, the church is the place where the world, as God intends it to be, is accessible to humankind. The church reveals the world as it has been transformed by the Cross of Christ. The world where there is no condemnation. Here the prodigal child of God is always welcomed home--no questions asked. Here we celebrate the grace and mercy of God made known to us in Christ Jesus. A grace that knows no boundaries. A mercy that has no restrictions. A love that always includes, never excludes.
I wish I knew the ending to the story of the man I just told you about, but I don’t know it. What I do know is that we must write the ending because Christ lives in us. Christ moves in us. Christ has our being in us. And because of that, we must not have any condemnation in our hearts. We must live as if forgiveness is real and it must be taken seriously. Amen.
 Paul Achtemeier. “Interpretation: A Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Romans. John Knox Press, Louisville. 1985. Pg 135.
 The Rev. Sid Burgess. Sermon entitled “Bama Bubba” preached on October 8, 2000. Available online at: http://www.day1.net/index.php5?view=transcripts&tid=209