A few weeks ago whilst I watched a renewal of wedding vows, I was struck by a promise two people made to make home a 'haven.' I have long been fascinated by the gospel's sense of home and the Saints' insistence that 'home' is not an easy place to find, unless it is found in God. John's gospel tells us in chapter 14, how Jesus comes to make home with us, to take up residence in us through his Holy Spirit, to become 'at home' in us and confer upon us a feeling of home: the feeling of home that we are always really looking for.
Paul and Peter, in the New Testament, both describe how we are restless: we are temporary residents in a strange land. I have always known that restless feeling. Jesus's promise is that he is completeness for our emptiness and our rest and home when we are searching and lost.
I have had times when I have desperately missed home, and times when I have lost my way home. I have 'made-over' homes, prepared homes anxiously for guests, bought and sold homes and given up my home to be housed and then re-housed with work.
I have done all of the above with one home becoming a stuck place, in that I dream of our first family home a lot, the home I call my 'baby-days home.' That home was my most 'haven-like' home.
Home is a very primary call and a very human need across all faiths, religions, ideologies and tribes.
In the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, we meet Lydia, who is so impacted by her encounter with a community of faith, that she herself is converted and baptised and comes to open up her home to other people.
Lydia encounters Jesus through Paul's teaching one day by the river because the Holy Spirit has been preparing her heart for this moment. People do not convert people: God converts people!
Lydia interests us for the way she parallels many people today: she is self-sufficient and independent. She is not unsympathetic to the things of God. She even worships and prays sometimes. However, she has neither been introduced to Jesus nor the Holy Spirit fully.
In many ways then Lydia could be one amongst our own culture in the West: autonomous and successful, this rather sassy business woman who deals in luxurious fabrics, occasional church attender but often too busy and self-sufficient for God...and God, well, God is creator certainly, and benevolent, intelligent designer, often, requiring occasional duteous visits and desperate pleas in desperate times, he is not yet, until she meets Paul, Son and Spirit as well. As Lydia comes into relationship with Jesus, everything that she is and has achieved continues, but in service to him too.
Lydia opens her home to Paul and his missionary band and begins what goes on to become one of the first house churches.
The Holy Spirit has come to reside in Lydia, to make his home within her, to prepare her to really hear and really see. And when Jesus makes his home in us, we are then able to open up our homes and moreover our very lives to other people.
Of Lydia's first house church, Paul will say in his letter to Philippi: “I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy...” (Phil. 1:3-4). Lydia's home literally became a haven to them when they later escape prison and are ordered to leave the land but reside there for a while instead ...such is her hospitality, they are prepared to risk life and limb for it. About whose home can I say something similar, I wonder? Have I experienced home as a place I can't wait to get to? Lydia is a real home-maker in the godly sense of the word.
Homes that are havens are of course ideals, we all want this but few of us achieve it – houses get messy because life gets messy. And so Jesus, who himself entered this messy world, knows that human homes are not enough. This is why he asks that he makes home in us.
Home is life in Christ.
...and if home is life in Christ, what about our churches?
Cosiness in church is not what we are to be about – we need to be authentic. Hospitality is certainly a requisite gift but as a gift of the Holy Spirit, it does not confer cosiness upon us. As recipients of this gift of hospitality, we are to engage too with a restless Holy Spirit who blows where he will and will change us. This is not comfortable stuff. But it is the way of authenticity.
We create home when God is with us. Michael Mitton describes home in his book 'Dreaming of Home,' as a place where 'you find a place of safety where you can be yourself without fear or shame' but I add a challenge, it must also be a space that asks questions of you, just as Jesus does in the gospel reading, about whether we are truly following him. It is when we love him that we know him to be making home in us.
Often for many, home with God points to some kind of future reality. There are thoughts either of the end of time as we know it, when all will be put right, or we imagine our final resting place: our heavenly home with God. There is certainly a future orientation to home. Those promises are true but what, however, is even more radical, is that when Jesus says he and his Father “will come and make [their] home with us,” is that he means now, not tomorrow (that too)...but NOW - today: we are to know this quality of life in him as our present reality. This is that peace from God that John's gospel explores, it is that abiding in Christ that I call 'Finding our way home:' abiding, dwelling, a closeness beyond the closest closeness. This is what John wants for us, with Jesus, as he writes his gospel.
Our divine homing instinct will be fully satisfied one day but what is wonderful about Jesus is that he sets us on a homecoming course now. We will sense God's peace and bring his power into our communities as we love one another and follow Jesus.
So what do we do to aid the 'coming-home' process?
- Know that the gospel grows fruitfully where it takes risks. Paul's first European convert was this woman Lydia : a woman, seemingly self-sufficient and content with a large home until she came to know how truly homeless she was and how free she could become, dependent on Christ. She grew not an institution or a building but a church that began with a house group, a small fellowship of journeying, questioning seekers. In a changing world, the church needs to find ways to meet people where they are at, just like she does and stop hanging on to its outmoded, irrelevant traditions. Walter Brueggemann, a well-known bible teacher asks us to think about home as 'not any nostalgic return to yesteryear, that home is irreversibly gone. The home for which [we] yearn ... is the ‘kingdom of God.’
- How is it that the disciples were really able to say “We have left our homes to follow you” - this can only be because they were becoming 'at home in Christ...' and yet they restlessly pursued the Kingdom, asking others to find a home in Jesus too. We need to get creative as church about how we go about creating home, increasing a peace from God that leaves us secure but not cosy, journeying to completeness but not unchallenged.