What does it mean for you to have a home? What makes a home for you? To many, it means shelter, comfort, privacy, the building. And all this is important. But then there are so many more elements that make a home a home, like the people we live with. Today, we observe Mothers’ Day, so many probably think about their moms when they think about home, and all she did to provide for the family and to protect her children. I don’t know if all of you had or have a mom like that, but I sure hope you did or still do.
Maybe a beloved pet or two define what home is for you. Keepsakes and memorabilia that remind us of people we love. Home maybe could be best summarized as the place we feel we belong, the place we are embraced by others, the place we are accepted, the place we feel safe, like in a mighty fortress.
And so a home is not only the place we live in. We often talk about having a church home. And then there are other circles and other groups that give us the sense of belonging we all need. We can find home in various places. And we all have found a home, a place where we belong, here in this community of faith. That’s a blessing!
But then, as church, as the body of Christ, as followers of God, we not only find a home in a community of Christ, in this community of Christ – no, it is also our task to create and build a home for others. A place where people feel they belong. A place where people of all backgrounds and walks of life feel they belong – because God doesn’t make distinctions between us, but invites and embraces all.
The church is more than just a building, a house; in order for the church to be a home, there needs to be true acceptance and forgiveness, there needs to be the embrace of the ones who are lost and often have no feeling and sense of belonging, no home. There are quite a few folks in this church who were war or after war refugees, and I have heard many stories about how it is not only to have lost a house, but to come to a new place and to be totally disoriented. My grandmother, a refugee from Silesia, shared many stories with me how refugees for rejected in what eventually would become my hometown, Delmenhorst. People begrudgingly opened their homes to the flood of homeless people – because they were mandated to do so. And even my mom, who was born in Delmenhorst, still carried the stigma as the child of a refugee, of being different, the other as she grew up.
No wonder the refugees bonded together and built their own community in their new environment and hung on to traditions and foods and songs they remembered from the home they had to escape. And I wonder if there is not a certain parallel to all those refugees from other parts of this world who come to Europe today. Integration is a two way street, and if there is rejection from the host society, one shouldn’t be surprised if people flock together in their own groups and hang on to the traditions of their homelands even more strongly.
I think we know how important it is, in our own private circles and families, in society, and here in this church family, to provide a home, and a sense of belonging. Because without a home, without a sense of belonging, people get lost. We all know about physical homelessness, but emotional and spiritual homelessness can be just as devastating.
We need to reach beyond the wood and stone, we have to leave this place that is home to us, and become a house made of living stones, as we heard the Apostle Peter say in today’s second lesson, a house made of living stones that gives shelter and loving presence to those who need us, who need God. We are the church. All of us. We all are those living and breathing and feeling stones Peter talks about. I don’t know about you, but I think this is quite a powerful image. Wherever we go, wherever we build a community with these living stones, there God dwells.
Today’s gospel lesson is about home. And the whole context of this lesson is heavy: Jesus speaks words of grace and comfort to the disciples into the midst of their confusion and grief: Jesus has just told them that he must die. As the disciples fear the loss of Jesus, the breaking apart of their faith family, of their home, Jesus promises that they will never be without a family, and homeless. God will provide a house – and, in the original Greek of the New Testament, the term used for house can either mean the building, or house can have the meaning of household, or family. Today we still sometimes say that Jesus was descendent from the house of David, or we talk about the British royal family as the House of Windsor. I love this image, in my Father’s household, there are many different dwelling places. To me, this speaks of a variety of gifts, and diversity. There is room for all. So what Jesus says is: God will be our home and provide all of us with family – always.
Our hearts need not be troubled, because we are beloved children of God, part of God’s household and family, and that Jesus will lead all of us home, to the Father, the Mother, the loving Parent in heaven.
Now of course we often think of entering our Father’s house as something that will be happening in the future. So maybe it happens after judgment day and the end of the world; probably after we die and leave this earth. It is not a coincidence that we often hear today’s gospel at memorial services or funerals, as a word of comfort for those who mourn. We will go home to God, where Jesus himself has prepared a place for us. Which is an important word of comfort to hear. God will take care of us, always. There always will be a place prepared for us.
But then we have God’s house, God’s household built of living stones, right here and now. Jesus doesn’t just promise his disciples a home in heaven after they die, but also reminds them that he has prepared a family for them here on earth by calling people into the fellowship of God. And John the evangelist was writing to a Christian church which was going through the painful separation from the Jewish synagogues, the young Christian community was driven out, and de facto homeless. John assured them by reminding them of Jesus’ words: you will always have a home with God, and you are members of God’s household. You have God. You have the promise. You have each other. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
I know that some hearts in this congregation have been troubled by the fact that not as many people come to church anymore as in previous decades; that we are getting older.
And some may be asking: so, what’s going to become of this house, this household? Will German language ministry still be relevant 5, 10, 15 years from now? To which I can only say: This house of God, this community of faith has seen many people come and go over the last 122 years, and I believe there is still some life in this community of faith. And even if this church will have to close down and some point, the broader church will continue to exist. God’s still working in this world, maybe just in slightly different ways. So: do not let your hearts be troubled.
But I want to urge you, the household of St. Matthew’s, to look and reach beyond the wood and stone of this building, and never stop looking for opportunities to create and build an emotional and spiritual home for all those who are lost. For those who don’t feel they belong. For those who, for way to long, have been told there is no place for them in God’s church. We all need a home. And there are many in our extended community who long to belong, who long for a home as well. For those who don’t know or doubt that Christ, indeed, has prepared a place, a household, for them.
I encourage you to continue to share this home you have found with God and within this community with others, even if they look different or have a different lifestyle from yours or bring their kids who happen to make joyful and other noises during worship. There’s no need to be concerned that, if we let others in, there might not be enough room for us – God has provided a vast house, a huge household, with a multitude of dwelling places. God has prepared a home for all. A home that will shelter us, like a fortress, when we feel threatened or lost. A home built of living, breathing stones, people who become Christ to us just as we become Christ to them.
This post is also available in: German