Sermons & Blogs
Bethany Lutheran Church
Pastor Cheryl Walenta Gorvie
Sermon May 13th, 2012
Jesus says, “Abide in my love.” Doesn’t that sound nice? But what does it mean? “Abide”—who says that anymore? What is that? I encountered a Bible translation that interprets the word “abide” in a different way—it means “make yourself at home.” Jesus is saying, “Make yourself at home in my love.” The word “abide” might leave us a bit lost, but “home”—now here is a word we understand.
We use it all the time. When it’s late and we’re tired, it’s time to go home. Maybe we have tickets for the home team baseball game with great seats behind home plate, where we may see runners get home safe, or perhaps we’ll even see a home run! Maybe our favorite basketball team has the home-court advantage. If we’re studying, there’s often homework, and to see if we really understand what we’ve learned, maybe a take-home test. Although if you’re home-schooled, I suppose all work is homework and home-tests.
If we’re ever away from our hometown, our home state, our home country, or our home planet, we might get homesick. If something affects us really deeply, we might say it hit close to home, which is uncomfortable since we like to feel safe at home since our home is our castle, possibly protected by a home security system, although sometimes we might vacation at a home-away-from-home, like a weekend home or a summer home. If we’re not yet homeward bound, we might check on how things are going on the homefront and phone home.
Maybe you’re one who brings home the bacon, even if you work from home in your home office. Even your computer or your typewriter keyboard has a home key, which you press when you want to skip to the beginning of the line, and when you’re surfing the internet you can make your favorite website your homepage. If your job is military or you work overseas, you might get lucky and have some time on home-leave. Or maybe you work in the home, taking care of kids as a stay-at-home parent. For those people who are wondering if there’s a kid yet, there are home pregnancy tests. Perhaps you list your profession as homemaker, and your job is to make a house a home, using home furnishings, home appliances, and getting ideas from watching home and garden television, all to keep the home fires burning. Since home is where you hang your hat. Or home is where your heart is. Or maybe you’re simply at home in your own skin. Home sweet home.
You can call your homeboys or homegirls from your home phone, maybe even that one friend, you know, the lights are on, but nobody’s home. You can visit homebound church members who are also part of your church home, or spread some love at a nursing home or maybe a children’s home, or maybe you’ll invite people over and open your home to them. There you can enjoy some good home entertainment, like home videos or home movies, or perhaps you could watch Home Box Office. Or you could stay out late, until the cows come home, but if nothing interesting happens, don’t worry—it’s nothing to write home about.
Maybe you want a home where the buffalo roam, or you’ll plead, “Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong.” Maybe you like to prepare some fresh home-baked bread, or homemade muffins, or turn your home-grown tomatoes into a full home-cooked meal with a side of homefries…and if it doesn’t go well, you can attend to a stomachache with some home remedy, or if it’s bad enough maybe you’ll need a home health nurse, or you might start singing “Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home.” Sometimes we fear we can’t go home again, but get out your homing device, or maybe a homing pigeon to guide you, since mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
We might say all roads lead to home—it’s the place to which we consistently return, where we sleep at night, the space we share with family, or part of our past that makes us who we are. That is home. When I’ve asked people in this congregation what made you want to stay here at Bethany Lutheran Church, I’ve heard over and over again, “It feels like home.” I don’t take that to mean that many of you have ever lived inside a sanctuary or that your homes look like church buildings. I understand that you mean you feel at home, you feel comfortable, you feel free to be yourself, with all your unique God-given gifts as well as with your imperfections. And maybe you understand that you really are at home in the love of Jesus, held safe and secure in the embrace of God.
While it is always true that God loves us and keeps us safe, if we determine safety by such standards as avoiding bodily harm and preserving life and avoiding death, we know from the witness of the gospels and the stories of the martyrs that following Jesus is anything but safe. The words we hear from Jesus today come from John’s gospel, and these are the words of Jesus’ long speech to his disciples just before Jesus was to be crucified. He knew he was going to die, so these words have a special weight, the last things that were said. These words are especially significant for the community to which John is writing, as though Jesus is addressing them directly when he tells them to make themselves at home in his love, that he is saying these things to them “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John writes this gospel decades after Jesus’ death, when Christian persecution is growing. During these times of intense struggle, who doesn’t need to be reminded of those things which are central? When people are losing their respected place within their communities and losing their lives for the sake of their faith in Christ, who doesn’t need to be reminded that there’s a home in Jesus, a safe place in Christ’s love?
Being in the presence of someone who has lost their home, or even seeing the remains of a burned-out house or apartment building, may make us appreciate our own homes that much more. Even moreso if we’ve experienced the loss of a home. Even for those of us who live in sturdy homes made of bricks and imagine ourselves secure, we live with the knowledge that a fire could destroy everything without warning. We live with the knowledge that tornados are indiscriminate in their destruction. But sometimes the danger isn’t readily apparent—a job loss could mean the inability to make payments on a home, leaving you in danger of becoming homeless. And regardless of how sturdy a home may appear, there can be destruction brewing within, carried by the people who live there, in relationships broken by divorce or addiction or lies. A home is as happy as the people inside it, among those who share love with one another. A beautiful mansion could be a dreadful place because of the unhappiness of the people inside it. A humble shack might be a wonderful, hospitable place because of the great love of the people who live there. You can’t always tell from assessing the outside.
In the same way you can look at people who seem to have their lives in order, with neatly-pressed shirts and well-shined shoes and a spotless car and a perfectly-manicured front yard, and you may discover that same person may not ever feel at home anywhere. And there are those who seem to have nothing, without a job, no savings account or retirement funds, experiencing bad health, maybe even not engaged with reality, and some of these people might be very clear about how precarious is their situation and are not afraid to trust in God and to make their home in the love of Jesus.
Many people who have been close to death have an enhanced appreciation for life, for how precious life is. For those of us who are baptized, we might forget that we have already lost our lives. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death—in baptism, we die to sin. Our lives are over. But we are raised in Christ’s resurrection, and our lives no longer belong simply to us, but to God. We have to be reminded of this over and over because we forget this. We begin to think that we’ve earned what we have, and before long, we are justifying ourselves that we deserve what we have. But self-justification gets us nowhere. We wander in circles, having forgotten the way home. Some of us wander in this way for a long time, years or even decades.
Sometimes we wander into a place like this, into a church community, searching for the way home, because something inside us knows that it’s time to stop looking for it on our own. Sometimes we’re able to ask for directions. And sometimes all we can do is sit and receive hospitality. Perhaps we’ll soon encounter some clues to find the way home to the love of Jesus. When we forget the way, there are reminders.
It’s because we are forgetful that every week we begin worship in one of two ways: with confession, or with thanksgiving for baptism. Maybe you’ve noticed this. In confession, we recognize before God that we are not perfect, we cannot make ourselves whole, we cannot justify ourselves. We recognize that justification through Jesus Christ is what saves us, and this is a gift of grace from God, restoring our relationship through forgiveness, repairing the brokenness in our homes, showing us the way to make ourselves at home in the love of Jesus Christ. When we begin worship with the thanksgiving for baptism, we are reminded of God’s promises of salvation that are made in baptism, that we are made children of God and the water that marks us with the cross on our foreheads leaves an indelible imprint there. We can’t wash it away no matter where we go, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve been present in worship, no matter how lost we’ve ever been.
It’s in being reminded of our brokenness, our inability to save ourselves, that we are reminded of our need and our dependence upon God’s mercy. We can freely give thanks for what God has given us, our lives and everything we have. Whatever our merits and whatever status the world may award us—these don’t mean squat compared with God’s grace. If we make our home in the love of Christ, that means we locate our worth in God’s grace. And that changes the way we live.
When we know that all of our needs are taken care of, when we are operating from a place of abundance, then we feel more free to give, more free to love others and to meet people where they are. When we know that we are cared for, even during times of intense stress, even when we fear we’re losing everything, we find our security in Christ’s love. This is the place to which Jesus is calling us—make yourselves at home in THIS love.
During the Easter season, we read from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the stories of the early church, the things believers were doing soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They continue teaching and preaching and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, at the temple and in their homes. They are so at home in Christ’s love that it extends to others; they share their possessions, they invite people into their homes and share food. They are living in a spirit of abundance. But what they are living is God’s command, they are living the law of love, and they are set free in that process. Last week, several of us met together for what we called a “Missional Ministry Mini-Retreat,” where we studied some chapters from the book of Acts. Conversation about the Bible and sharing in times of prayer guided our discussion as we evaluated where God is leading us as a congregation. Some themes emerged in our conversations. We noticed that the early believers we read about in the book of Acts were faithful in prayer and worship and trusted where God lead, even if that meant changing their plans when the Holy Spirit called them in a different direction. These early believers used whatever they had, sharing food and welcoming strangers even in times when they traveled to new places and they were the strangers. They paid attention to the cultures where they visited and honored the people and their customs, noticing where God had been at work in their culture even if the people had never heard of Jesus. In everything they did, they praised God; even in prison, they didn’t stop singing hymns.
What would it look like if we let these practices become our guide? What if we look at this church not simply as a property or a place to gather with friends? What if this church is a place for people who find themselves at home in Christ’s love? Can the love that Jesus extends to anyone he calls “friends” be the same love that guides our actions here? And what about when we go out the doors—does this change who we are in the world?
Michaela Bruzzese says “this radical, senseless love cannot remain within the comfort of our churches. Instead, it must flow into the world where it can transform our small notions of both love and justice. …When we are tempted to settle for the narrow expressions of human justice, the command of the kingdom compels us to seek out the transformative power of God’s justice and God’s love, the love that redeems and brings new life, not death.”
Make yourself at home in my love, Jesus says. This is how we abide in Christ’s love, not as servants, but as friends. We exist, stay, remain in Christ’s love. We make ourselves at home there, stretching out on a comfy couch, leaning back in the chairs at the dinner table, flopping on the floor to play a game with your brother or sister, we exist just as we are, the way we do when we’re at home—this is what it means to be at home in Christ’s love. This isn’t something foreign, but something intimate and familiar. And sharing this love, this home with others—this is the law by which we live. This is the love that transforms us, the love that brings new life. This is the love that changes the world. How will this love guide our steps as Bethany Lutheran Church?
Every time we trace on our foreheads the sign of the cross, every time we confess that we can’t save ourselves, every time we answer the call of a person in need, every time we demonstrate love for one another, we encounter an invitation: this may be the way home. For heaven’s sake, and for Christ’s sake, make yourself at home. Amen.
|Sermon Pentecost 2011||