Sermon: Dwelling in the House of the Lord.
“O LORD God of hosts, blessed is the man that putteth his trust in thee.” [Psalm 84:13]
It is not often that I write my sermon based on the Psalm for the day, but today’s selection from the Psalter struck a cord in me. Here is a powerful statement of faith. Here we truly see a man in love with God. And, although it may not seem so, this is ALSO true with both our Old Testament lesson and our New Testament parable.
Our Old Testament lesson is very long and very alarming. Here we have God saying that Judea is doomed. They will be punished for their iniquity – their lack of faith. They have turned to idolatry and have left the ways of God. Jeremiah is shocked and scared and asks how that could be possible since all the prophets were prophesying that God would deliver them:
Then said I, “Ah, Lord GOD, behold, the prophets say unto them, ‘Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place.’”
And how did God respond? He told Jeremiah that these were false prophets:
Then the LORD said unto me, “The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.”
Now, the Book of Jeremiah is not what I would call uplifting. Here is a man who is the lone voice of the Lord. His life was not easy, and he had to witness one of the most heart-wrenching events in the history of the southern kingdom. But, he was a true disciple of God. Jeremiah loved the Lord with all his heart, mind and soul, and because of this, the Lord gave Jeremiah a very difficult mission. Jeremiah could very easily have sung this 84th Psalm.
In the New Testament parable, we have two different people in God’s Temple – a Pharisee and a publican. Notice what the Pharisee says:
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’
At first blush, this sounds a lot like a man in love with God. He fasts more often than is required by the Mosaic Law, and he gives his tithe based on his total income whereas the Mosaic Law would exempt part. Yes, this man sounds in love with God, but really he is not.
This is a man in love with HIMSELF. He is NOT giving these things to God. He does it solely to prove that he is better than anyone else. And for that reason, all his gifts are worthless. Now look at the publican:
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’
A publican is a person who was reviled by the Jewish people during the time of Christ. He was a tax collector and a manager of public works projects,
But what really made him despicable in the eyes of the Jewish people is that he was a collaborator with the enemy. He helped the pagan, Roman conquerors. And for that reason alone, publicans were reviled. Yet, this publican came to the Lord humbly, and in love. And for that reason, his prayers gained favor with the Lord. It is just like our Psalm for today:
I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, * than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness.
Again, this brings me back to what I said two weeks ago. Contrary to what others may say, Christianity is NOT a religion of rules and regulations. It is NOT a religion based on what we do or what we say. Rather, it is a religion of right intention.
Two people can do the exact same thing, but one may be a joy in God’s heart and the other may make Him angry. The difference is in what the person felt in his heart at the time he did what he did.
Look at the publican and the Pharisee. The publican had the proper attitude. He came to God humbly, confessing his sins and seeking God’s love. The Pharisee saw no need to ask for anything. He saw himself as perfect. And everything he did, he did NOT do for God but rather he did it for his own self aggrandizement.
Likewise, two people can fast, but only one may do it properly. The one who walks around with a sad face complaining about his fast or who brags about his fasting isn’t doing it for God. He is doing it for himself. But the other person who fasts and finds it a joy or who does it and no one knows he is fasting is truly doing it for God.
This is why our Psalm for today is so important. It is important, not as far as any rule or dictate as to what we are to do, but rather, because it conveys the proper feeling we should ALL have when we think of God!
Look at the psalm again:
My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the LORD; * my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
“Desire,” “longing” and “my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God” all speak of how we all SHOULD feel toward God. This is how we should feel when we worship God. This is how we should feel when we do anything FOR God. This is how we should feel whenever we even think about God. It should be a joy. It should be our heart’s desire. We should long to be WITH Him. And we should rejoice that we know Him.
So, this is my question. Do we really have this joy? Christians should be joyful people. Are we? Do we rejoice in what we do for God from the most basic prayer to the most stringent fast? What is really our intention?
It is time we recapture our joy. It is time we recapture our enthusiasm. It is time that we look at all we do as an act of love and not an act of duty.
This reminds me of the story of the father and son. The son had done something wrong, so the father gave him a spanking. Afterwards, the father went to his son’s room to encourage and admonish him. The father said, “I really didn’t want to spank you, but the Bible says that children should obey their parents.” The boy tearfully replied, “I know. But the Bible also says ‘Be kind one to another’ too.”
The Bible tells us many things. It tells us how we are to act and how we are to worship. But Christ makes it very plain time and time again that just doing the right things isn’t enough. We must do these things with the proper attitude. And what is more, even if we do the WRONG thing, if we come back to God out of love and devotion, all past sins WILL BE forgiven. This is the lesson in our parable for today, and this is our lesson from Jeremiah. The wrong attitude will make our sacrifices worthless, but the right attitude will make us acceptable in God’s eyes.
Therefore let us all cultivate this proper intent. Let us cultivate a proper attitude. Let us approach God in love and joy. Let us do everything for God as an act of love, not as a fulfillment of a law or regulation. And if we do this, we too may dwell in the house of the Lord. We too may be able to sing:
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; * they will be always praising thee.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; * in whose heart are thy ways.