“Our Home, Our Joy, Our Place”

John 14 1-14

Our Home, Our Joy, Our Place

May 14, 2017

(In the children’s time we looked at the print that hangs in the church office, depicting a stylized view of Arendtsville.  It is entitled “Our Home, Our Joy, Our place.”  Many of our members own a copy of the print.)

In seminary we learned that there are two  types of biblical interpretation, exegesis and eisegesis.  In the first type, as the “ex” would imply, one pulls from the text an interpretation based on the original language, the historical context, and its place within scripture as a whole.  Basically, we look at what is there as opposed to what one hopes to find there.  In the second type, one brings to the text something that you want scripture to support.  I have an idea, argument, assumption to prove and I rummage around in scripture until I find support for it.   Now which one do you think is considered the correct approach?  Obviously, the first one is the preferred method!

However, this morning I am employing the second approach…just so you know.  And unashamedly I might add.  It is Mother’s Day, and I wanted to discuss the theme of “home,” and Jesus quite conveniently opens the door to home, in this magnificent passage of John 14. Although, I did not pick the passage, the lectionary happened to appoint it for this second Sunday of May.  The immortal words (as put in The Message) “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that were not so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you?”  How charming, comforting, and convenient is that!?  So since Jesus got us started on our theme,  let’s think about home…in three different ways.

The first way I think about home is in terms of our familial roots, or the home you now share with family.  It’s our family of origin, however we define that for ourselves. Around here, we tend to talk in terms of our “homeplace” or the place our most immediate ancestors hailed from.  Now for me, those roots are all here in Adams County. On the Rebert side those roots are a farm in Seven Stars.  The Lower home place was McKnightstown.  Of course, the Blocher homeplace was the farm on the battlefield near Barlow’s Knoll…which by the way we call Blocher’s knoll because that’s what it was called before Barlow had anything to do with it.  You have your own story of home and the place you most closely identify with your kin.

I tend to define this first aspect of home by the immortal words of Robert Frost in his poem The Death of the Hired Man:

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in. It’s not something you should have to deserve.’

We don’t deserve a good home any more than one deserves a bad home. It is just home.  One of my favorite  books is Growing Up by Russell Baker.  Russell Baker’s memoir describes his childhood in rural Virginia, his youth growing up in the Great Depression, and his young adulthood in Baltimore with his mother, Lucy. Russell’s reminiscences are centered on his relationship with his mother.  Lucy is the daughter of a genteel Virginia lawyer who dies unexpectedly, leaving Lucy to drop out of college and take teaching jobs in rural areas. She meets Benny Baker, a son of a large local family, and gets pregnant. The two marry over objections by Benny’s matriarchal mother Ida Rebecca. They have three children, Russell, Doris, and little Audrey, and Lucy fails to reform Benny from drinking. Benny is diabetic, and he dies an early death, leaving Lucy with three children. One of Benny’s brothers adopts Audrey, and Lucy moves in with her brother Allen. The Great Depression begins, and Lucy can’t get a job.

Allen takes in Lucy, Russell, and Doris, as well as his brother Charlie. His fast-talking, money-grubbing brother Hal soon joins them.  The book chronicles the hard years of the Depression where family members would show up at your door in the middle of the night, suitcase in hand. And you took them in because that’s what family did.  There was no other social safety net in those days, other than your blood relatives.  You showed up and they had to take you in.   You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives, as the old saw goes.

The second aspect of family is one that arises from convenience, need, and shared circumstance. I call it our family of circumstance.  Typically not blood relatives, this kind of family arises more  among people  living where they don’t have familial roots or connections.    Family of circumstance tends to collect around you through the twists and turns of life.  Many people who have been helped thru addiction by AA, or Alanon, tend to think of those associations as family. Maybe you have neighbors that over the years have become like family to the point that you don’t even remember when and how it happened.  Co-workers can be like family to each other.  My husband has best friends from High School who still get together frequently and consider each other brothers.

I think of the wonderful Louise Penny mystery series about Three Pines, a mythical village in rural Canada.  Drawn by a variety of circumstances, eclectic and eccentric people populate this town;  and add immeasurably to each other’s lives.   There’s the crazy old poet Ruth and her pet duck, the earth-mother psychotherapist who runs the book store, the artist, the gay couple who run the B&B, and of course, Chief Inspector Gamache who runs the murder investigations when things go wrong in Three Pines.    I guess because I know the first kind of family so well—living near the place where was I was born—I am most intrigued and attracted to this kind of family, family of circumstance.  If Three Pines really existed, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

This is the kind of family that Jesus traveled with.  Eccentric and eclectic—some were fishermen, one was a tax collector, others were tradesmen—it was really a very diverse group and probably closer than if they were actually family.  They argued, laughed, cried, ate together, maybe even drank a little too much together, and jockeying for positions of favor.  The last few chapters of The Story tell of the ways in which the early church carried on this tradition of being family of circumstance. The early church was really more like family than anything else.   People shared their possessions and food, protected each other, and took care of the widows and the  orphans.  We don’t think that Paul ever married, but surely he considered people like young Timothy his son, or  Barnabas as his brother.

So we come to the last aspect of family I wish to lift up.  This is the family that surrounds us this morning, our family of brothers and sisters in Christ . This is the family we inherited at the time of our baptism.

Friday I went downstairs to Fellowship Hall and saw several of our members meeting with an HVAC  company and its representatives.  As you know our aging boiler needs replacement and we have much to decide.   I am sure that our property committee members had things they could have been doing in their own homes, but they were here tending to their church home.  And Zion is a lovingly kept church home.   Within its walls is a repository of tradition, culture and shared memories  created in its 225 years of existence.  Would a Morton Building be easier and cheaper to upkeep?  Sure…but it would not be Zion.  Many of you are sitting in pews that your mothers and fathers sat in, and their mothers and fathers before them.  And that is all wonderful good as the PA  Dutch would say.  But that is not what makes us family.

The fact that Jesus opened the door to his Father’s house to us—that’s what makes us family.  It is said that home is not where you were born, but where you become yourself.  When we abide in Jesus, live in Jesus, our most authentic self can be born and flourish.  When we abide in Jesus we are the most “at home.” It is that intersection point on the cross, where the horizontal meets the vertical.  Our relationship with God, and our relationship with others is at this most fruitful when we dwell at that point.  As our poster of Arendtsville depicts, it is our home, our joy, our place.

The Church was never about a building.  It was always about the people of God and the ways they worshipped God.  It was always about the ministry done in the Father’s name, as a response to the free and gracious gift of an eternal home.    The Church was always about its cornerstone, Jesus Christ.  And anywhere Jesus is, we have a home.

Right outside the door of this church, the cornerstone is inscribed with 2 scripture references.

Isaiah 28:16-See, I am laying in Zion a cornerstone, a sure foundation: one who trusts will not panic.

Ephesians 2:20-So then you are no longer strangers…but members of the household of God…built upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, with Christ himself as the cornerstone

Family of origin or family of circumstance….one is lucky to have either, really, and both are a blessing.  But our church family is where we take our place within the household of God, in the Father’s House.

This week I visited Jay and Lorraine in their new home in an assisted living facility.   I knew which two rooms belonged to them because there were two matching wreaths on the doors.  The wreaths seemed to say, “here is Jay and Lorraine’s home.”  That same sense of home, brings us through these doors at Zion.

We know the Father’s House  because Jesus stands at the door to welcome us in.  It is our home, our joy, our place.  He is ready to usher us in to his Father’s house…today, tomorrow, and for all of eternity.