What Makes a Home
Psalm 23, Acts 2:42–47 and John 10:1–10
A Seminary friend of mine came home from the Holy Lands yesterday. She’s been in Palestine and Israel for a couple of weeks with a Presbyterian group called Mosaic of Peace. While there, they experienced the stories of the people and discerned how God is calling the church to help heal gaping wounds that have been seeping for centuries. I began to read their blog with interest. An entry from early last week provoked me to explore what’s going on with the archeological digs beneath the Silwan Valley – a small area in South Jerusalem inhabited by Palestinians.
According to bloggers and Wiki-Journalists and peace activists from the span of faith traditions across the globe, Jews are digging beneath houses in this section of South Jerusalem with the hope that they will unearth artifacts that substantiate the claims of the Israelite people that this particular plot of land belongs to them. At the heart of it all is the bible-based conviction that this land is the land that God promised to the Jewish people through the prophets, written about with vivid description in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. This is the land covenanted to Abraham by God who told him to take his wife and leave Haran and God would make of him a great nation. The land of milk and honey; the land of sustenance and delight – beautiful in as many ways as there is beauty to describe, filled with joy and comfort and love for the people Israel: this is eretz Israel –the land they are to call home. And so they dig.
What makes a home? Could it be an anointing or a prophetic claim? So far, some archeologists and vacationers and freelance excavators have found some exceptional artifacts of antiquity that mark this space as important and historical – including a three thousand year old silver coin bearing the image of King David, and as recently as April, a sarcophagus that is believed to be from the 13C BCE. But while they’ve managed to unearth exquisite artifacts from thousands of years ago, they have not found a hard chard of indisputable evidence that definitively marks this land as exclusively “belonging” to their people Israel.
What makes a home? As we move forward in scripture from the Old Testament to the New, we come to a new meaning of home. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read a sort of epilogue to the story of the day of Pentecost when the Apostle Peter declared that “the entire house of Israel” should know with certainty that God made Jesus both Lord and Savior (Acts 2:36). That day, more than 3,000 people reportedly repented of their sins and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to become a different sort of home. The earliest Christian church was set up as a community that embraces an expansive family. The text tells us that the lived together and devoted themselves to Christ’s teachings, shared things in common – food, drink, chores, money – and praised God with generous hearts.
From early in the book of Acts, scripture sets up an idyllic scene of this life in shared community. But as we continue through the book, we find that the early church home was peppered with controversy and conflicting opinions. It doesn’t take long in our exploration of the early church to find stories of those who were less than faithful to the cause: first, of a couple who held back from the community some of the proceeds from the sale of their house when they’d otherwise covenanted to turn over all of their money to the common good; then, of the apostles who criticized one of their own for eating with and baptizing those they considered to be unclean. So, in spite of the nicely painted, initially idealized picture of home, the early church experienced internal challenges from the very start.
Still today, as I’m sure you know, there are matters or situations that threaten to disrupt us in our faith-filled homes – including the larger church home of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We’re four weeks away from GA – the meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). (GA meets every other summer to debate and vote on important matters of church polity and theological and ecclesial position of the PC(USA.) Leaders from across our denomination will struggle with key questions about our family of faith: our church – our home.
Among the challenges before us this year are two of the most wrenching issues of our time: marriage equality along with the right for Presbyterian clergy to officiate same gender marriages; and then the issue of divestiture and sanctioning against Israel for what has been labeled apartheid toward Palestine. Controversial conversation topics like these become the stuff that drive polite-minded people away from the table of the most gracious home.
In anticipation of heated debate on such CNN headline matters, some of our faithful ones have circulated correspondence urging “forbearance.” Citing Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 4:2), they remind us of our responsibility to lead a life worthy of our calling, with all humility and gentleness and patience, bearing one another in love and making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – particularly in the face of these already-proving-to-be-schismatic concerns of the Christian church. On the surface, this sounds like rock solid counsel. Yet anytime we hear a verse of scripture plucked from its biblical context as a counterpoint in a debate over a matter of justice, we need to perk up. Because rarely is it the case that the bible is best used to affect a delay in action that could make justice will roll like a mighty river, even as the Book of Order states, at the risk of losing its life.
What makes a home for you? Is a home about a particular geographic location or a particular demographic representation? Is it a place where everyone shares a certain viewpoint on one or more of the most controversial topics of the day? Is it comprised of certain people, is it open to anyone else? Amidst all of the definitions that come to mind, I believe that we will find one of the most important characteristics of all amidst the debate of the day is the quality of courage to explore the differences between our members and be inspired by the Holy Spirit to be continually transformed into a renewed people of God. Through the swell of debate that happens between respectful members of the household of God, we will be born and reborn into the home that God is yearning for us to be. It is this quality of courage that upholds the values of the church, honoring all people’s right to have access to all things in life that make them whole. It is a quality of courage instilled by our Shepherd God who calls each of us by name no matter where we are to lead us through the gate as a healed and healing body that puts a salve on the wounds of injustices in our earthly home and as we enter our eternal home.
What makes a home? Many of us spend years of our lives digging for what that might be. Too many of us waste precious hours longing for a remnant of a distant memory to return. Too often we reach for a figment of someone else’s imaginings. In this season of Easter, as we explore what it means to be the Christian church, we’re called to understand for ourselves what it means for us to be a home. May we be forever encouraged by our God to be honest with ourselves and honest with each other, challenge the status quo with integrity, and help justice roll like a mighty river. May we be forever encouraged to engage in respectful debate to strengthen our understanding and focus on what it means to be a missional home of Jesus Christ. May we be forever guided to lead a life worthy of our calling, bearing with one another in love to build a home of prayer for all people. May we be forever anointed by our God of goodness who tells us that there is promise after all the pain of the world. May we forever realize that we are persistently pursued by our Lord and Shepherd who will not let us go, all the days of our life until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.