Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Welcome Back Sunday: Where the Heart Is

(The following is a part of my message from Welcome Back Sunday. The reflection on 9/11 is just below this post.)

John 14:23

This is our season of homesickness. Some of you have just moved here, while others have been here for a while and have just returned from visiting family and friends. That’s where Julie and I are right now. We miss our daughter, our parents and siblings, and the cousins that I an played with while we were back in California. It’s a season of homesickness. Many of us are here today missing places where we feel loved—places where many of the people we love still are. That’s really the essence of homesickness, isn’t it? Missing the places where we love and feel loved.

But it’s not just people and houses that define home for us. There are all kinds of things that we miss when we feel homesick. That gives me a good opportunity to share with you one of my most deeply held beliefs.

It’s something I learned from my grandfather as a child and was reinforced in my relationships at home and at church in my teens.

It’s something that grew in me during my college and seminary years.

It’s my firm and passionate belief that in almost every way that matters, baseball is superior to football. Now I know that football season just started, but that doesn’t change what I believe. I miss baseball, can you tell?

I’m not alone in this. One of the great philosophers of the 20th century agrees with me on the superiority of God’s game, er, baseball over football. Of course I’m talking about George Carlin. Listen to how he describes it:

Football is played on a gridiron. Baseball is played in a park.
Football players wear helmets. Baseball players wear caps.
In football the specialist comes in to kick something. In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.
Baseball has the 7th-inning stretch. Football has the 2-minute warning.
Baseball gets extra innings. Football has sudden death.
In football the runner gives you the stiff arm. In baseball the runner gets to slide.

But the biggest difference is that in football the main objective is military: The battle is fought in the trenches, the field general (you know him as the quarterback) seeks to evade the blitz and soften up the enemy line with a pounding ground attack and aerial bombardment. Sometimes he uses bullet passes; when he thinks it will work, he goes for a bomb to riddle the enemy defenses and penetrate the end zone.

In baseball, the object is to go home.

See what I mean? There’s no arguing with George Carlin on this one.

23Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

John’s gospel is a unique book in the New Testament. The other three gospels can be grouped together because they follow the same patterns and tell the same stories, but John is different. He covers a lot of the same events—and a few that aren’t in the other three books—but he tells those stories differently. He uses images like ‘word’ and ‘light’ and ‘life’ that make it easier to understand who Jesus is and what he was trying to do.

John’s gospel is the one we give to new Christians, because it gives people a great foundation for getting to know Christ in a meaningful way. If you’ve never read it from start to finish, or haven’t in a long time, I’d recommend it to you.

Chapter 14 of John’s gospel is the beginning of the ‘Farewell Discourses,’ a series of teachings and prayers to help the disciples learn to live and serve without Jesus being physically present with them.

The chapter starts with some familiar passages: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled…in my father’s house there are many rooms, or mansions,’ followed by a promise to go and prepare a place for his followers. By the time we get to our text in verse 23, Jesus is still talking about the idea of ‘home.’

There’s a little bit of profiling going on in our text. Listen to what Jesus says: ‘You’ll recognize the one who loves me because she’ll obey my teaching.’

Now Jesus isn’t saying that ‘if we’ll do A, then B will happen—that if we love him then God will love us in return’ He’s giving the profile of what a Christian really looks and sounds and acts like: You can recognize the people who love me—they’re the ones living out my teachings.

That’s a big part of what we want to do together in this church over the coming year. To focus on the teachings of Jesus and the way they’re interpreted and explained in the Scriptures is a big part of what we’re all about in this place.

Just looking back on the last year together, we’ve walked through a lot of what Jesus had to say. We spent last fall on the Lord’s Prayer, and how those words of Jesus teach not only how to pray, but how to live.

During Advent last year we talked about Christmas Gifts You Can Use: the way Jesus inspires Faith and Joy and Love and Hope for the world.

During Lent this year we talked about the meaning of the Atonement, of Christ’s sacrifice for all of us. And from there we explored the Resurrection and what it means for us, and then Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and how it transforms our lives individually and as a church.

This past summer we enjoyed the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Starting next week we’re going to begin a journey through Paul’s Letter to the Romans—a letter he wrote to explain what faith in Christ means for people in the most influential city of the day. Because there’s a message for London in this letter to Rome.

Learning the teachings of Jesus—and learning to obey those teachings—is the road map for growth as a Christian disciple.

All of that’s important, but what I really love is the next part of the text. The promise in our passage goes like this: God promises to make his home with the people who love him.

To put that another way, the promise to everyone on the journey of faith is not just that we’ll live with God somewhere, somehow in the future. The promise is that he’ll come and live with us and redefine what home means to us right now.

This past week we remembered the tragedy of 9/11. There was an essay in the Guardian by a writer who described a pair of shoes he keeps in a cupboard in his office. They belonged to his father. They’re scuffed and scratched—they’re covered in dust and sealed in a plastic bag.

The writer’s father had been in one of the twin towers, on the 59th floor, and had survived by making the long walk down the stairs to the street. When he got out of the building, he started walking, and he walked all the way to his family’s home on 71st Street.

The writer can’t make himself get rid of those shoes, or even to store them in a place where he won’t see them as often. The shoes are a part of what saved his father. The shoes are what brought his father home.

That leaves us with a few questions as we reflect on our text today.

What is it that rescues you from the disasters in your own life?

What is it that reminds you that you’re safe and secure and loved?

What is it that brings you to the place where you feel at home?

As a recovering English major there’s a little voice in the back of my head that reminds me that every new paragraph—every new section—every new year begins with a topic sentence. I’ve been thinking about what that sentence should be for us, and here it is:

Jesus Christ is the one who defines what ‘home’ really means for us.

In this church—among this diverse group of people from Britain and America and all over the world. In this place we believe that Jesus Christ offers the true comforts of home to every person. We find out what that means as we learn his teachings, as we become obedient to what those teachings call us to do, and as we grow into mature disciples of the one who made us, redeems us, and calls us into his family.

If you’ve been coming to this church for a while now, then welcome back.

If you’re here for the first time or new to London or just getting started with us—if you’ve come here this morning feeling more than a little homesick, then welcome. You’re among friends, and you’re in for a great year.

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