When I was 21 I left Philadelphia and moved back to New York City. While I was there I went to visit the friends who had bought the house I had grown up in. I hadn’t wanted to move to Philly, and I was trailing tattered pieces of New York behind me as I tried to go back to what I had remembered as home. As you might guess I found that everything had changed. The home I remembered had been altered, and walking in the front door to a different house was a shock. It was the first time in my life I realized the truth of what it meant to be a Christian whose home was not of this world. I was homesick for something that would not exist again in this life and I began to get a vague understanding of what it might have been like for the refugees we had supported over the years. They had left behind a home not knowing if there would ever be a place to return to. I had to learn a slightly different lesson, that the past is forever beyond our reach. In my sadness, the songs about heaven really were a source of comfort to me, even though some of them make me cringe a little now. There is a lesson there for us as well, what speaks to us at one stage of life may be unhelpful to others or even ourselves as we grow. There was one hymn that our music minister had rearranged to a more modern style that truly got me through that stage of my faith it is called Heaven is My Home.
I’m but a stranger here Heaven is my home
Earth is a desert drear Heaven is my home
Danger and sorrow stand Round me on every hand
Heaven is my fatherland Heaven is my home
What though the tempest rage Heaven is my home
Short is my pilgrimage Heaven is my home
And time’s wild wintry blast Soon will be overpast
I shall reach home at last Heaven is my home
There at my Saviour’s side Heaven is my home
I shall see glory’s light Heaven is my home
There with the good and blest Those I loved most and best
And there I too shall rest Heaven is my home[i]
I was searching for my true home, and finally I had to come to the point at which I let go of the home that only existed in my mind, the home that had changed, and I began to fix my eyes on the home that I was called to be part of. That home is not the heaven I look forward to, but the realization that I, with my brothers and sisters in Jesus, am called to be a home to the Holy Spirit. In our text, Peter exhorts us to “4Come to him [Jesus], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-5
We are at the “Come to Jesus” moment in Peter’s writing. In the verses prior to this he had just finished telling his readers to let go of “malice, slander, guile and insincerity”, and now he was getting into what they were to be about. Jesus is the living stone, a play on words, if you remember the name Jesus called the man named Simon who wrote this book. Peter was the rock on whom Jesus said he would build the church, but Peter is reminding people that the true foundation did not lie in him, but in Jesus. That foundation also shows us that God’s values are not humanity’s values. Humanity rejected the values of sacrificial service that are precious in God’s sight, and in their rejection ironically gave Jesus the opportunity to express the ultimate goal of those values. His sacrifice at the hands of the cruel Roman oppressors became God’s expression of ultimate love. God chose to limit himself and suffer in order to welcome us who caused him pain to be His dwelling place. Now there is something to be thankful for this Thursday, Friends. We as God’s people are being built into the temple of the Holy Spirit, you and I are a house of worship. You and I are God’s home. Before I go on, I want you to think about what it might mean for you to be a home to the living God.
We actually have the blessing and call to be a piece of heaven on earth. Not because of who we are, but because God lives in us. This is one of the core understandings of the Friends theology, that each of us really does carry God within. We have received the fulfillment of the promised Emanuel “God with us.” Since we each carry Jesus with us, each one of us is a mediator of God’s presence in the lives of those around us. We have the awesome task of sharing God’s sacrificial love with each other, the people we work with and go to school with, the person who jumped in front of us in the checkout line, the people who our culture teaches us are to be rejected. Every day we have opportunities to make spiritual sacrifices for others. In those sacrifices we get to bring God’s presence, his power and love, to bear in the situations we encounter. In those sacrifices we give and receive glimpses of our true home, we get a window into Heaven and for a brief moment we get to live out those lines in the Lord’s Prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I live for those moments, and I want to share one of those moments that I have experienced with you to give you an example. I was at a junior high school and one of the kids who was a Christian was bullied by others. One day this child was sitting in a classroom and the teacher had said “Happy Birthday” to one of their tormentors. After class this Christian went up to the person with the birthday, handed them a dollar bill that was supposed to buy lunch tickets that week and said “Happy Birthday. God bless you.” You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom. The person who had been handed the dollar said “I can’t take this.” and tried to give it back. His face looked like he held a live snake in his hand, like maybe someone had poured a burning coal there. The young Christian replied “I insist and hope you have a happy birthday.” Heaven came down and reached into the lives of every kid in that classroom that day. It was one of the most beautiful things I have experienced in my life. There was a spiritual sacrifice that happened in addition to the physical. In that gesture of a dollar bill the forgiveness of God was modeled.
Our call is to be agents of that forgiveness, and it is a difficult task. Forgiving is one of the hardest sacrifices we can make, and not just because we don’t want to do it. Forgiveness means letting go of power, when we feel that someone owes us something, there is a sense of power over that person. Letting go of any power is hard, even if that power is only an illusion it feels real to us. Jesus sacrificed all of the power he had as God so that we could come into his kingdom, so he could live in us, so we could come together and be called the dwelling place of the most high. When we emulate that forgiveness we create the conditions in which heaven can break through into our world. You are the dwelling place of God! We are the dwelling place of God, and it has been given to us to bring God’s presence into this broken world, into broken lives, and by the forgiveness that comes from sacrifice by Jesus, be ministers who bring the spiritual sacrifice of forgiveness into the lives of others. In our time of open worship, allow the Holy Spirit to work within you, listen for those promptings that are building us up together into a home fit for God to dwell. Let us ask ourselves the questions: “What opportunities for holy sacrifice do I miss? Are there people around me that I can extend forgiveness and love to even though it might be hard?” Let us pray.
[i] CCLI Song # 4357029 Thomas R. Taylor Public Domain