Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Home, Sweet, Home
02 January 2011
MasterPiece Church

If someone were to ask you where HOME is, what would you tell them? If you are not living there now, do you ever go back? Why or why not? [Carry on group discussion.]

When I was 19 my parents moved to Tempe from San Jose -- where I had spent all but perhaps three months of my life. In my mind, to the degree I had given it any serious thought, I had always envisioned home as somewhere in Northern California. And in a sense that is home -- I grew up there -- it left an imprint on my life -- but hardly any of my people live in San Jose anymore. I have very few friends there.

We’ve bounced around a bit over the years -- Chicago, Washington State -- which we enjoyed -- but it wasn’t home.

Texas for six years -- which was more adventure than home. Then back to California -- Turlock for 11 years -- a place where we felt very much at home.

Then Guam for three years -- another adventure -- comfortable enough - people were friendly -- but it was not exactly home. As a mainland American, even though people were friendly, it was obvious that we were foreigners. And our extended family was all far away -- even phone calls were difficult because of the time zone difference of 17 hours.

When it came time to leave Guam the question was -- where to? We had no place.

We tried several different options but Arizona, by that point had become more home than anywhere else. I’d lived here for about four years in my 20’s -- liked the weather nine months of the year -- and learned to tolerate the other three. It was the default -- the preferred place to be if none of the other doors were open.

We figured that we’d eventually move to Arizona. The only question was a matter of timing.

You see, when we lived elsewhere we kept coming back to Arizona. Cheryl’s parents had retired to Green Valley south of Tucson and my parents and brother were here in Phoenix.

Home in a sense is to where you return -- perhaps literally or mentally -- certainly relationally.

And this is why the prophet’s message in Jeremiah 31 is so powerful -- and so hopeful.

A story:

Akim wasn’t just homesick -- he, along with everyone else he knew, was DESPERATELY homesick. It had been years since he and everyone in Judah had been kidnapped in mass and dragged off to Babylon. That’s about 700 marching miles -- and a gazillion cultural miles away.

Now, it’s true that things were not perfect back in the homeland. There was injustice and suffering -- especially if you were poor. The rich kept getting richer at the expense of the poor -- one of the reasons that God allwoed the Babylonians to exile them. But it was home.

And he missed the olive groves and vineyards which graced the hillside of his childhood village. And the Temple -- the glorious center of life itself -- nothing but a memory -- fading at that.

Hadn’t God promised that land to them? An inheritance forever?

Sometimes Akim and his friends would gather for a pint and psalm of lament.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
as we thought of Jerusalem.
We put away our harps,
hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
For our captors demanded a song from us.
Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn:
“Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a pagan land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget how to play the harp.
May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
if I fail to remember you,
if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.


But then at one such homesick session, just as everyone was pretty plastered and about as blue as they could be, somebody pulled out a scroll, with a transcript of a speech by that crazy doom-and-gloom prophet Jeremiah. And perhaps if the words had come from anyone else they wouldn’t have been as credible. For he was no Pollyanna.

Now this is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Israel.
Shout for the greatest of nations!
Shout out with praise and joy:
‘Save your people, O Lord,
the remnant of Israel!’
For I will bring them from the north
and from the distant corners of the earth.
I will not forget the blind and lame,
the expectant mothers and women in labor.
A great company will return!”

Even the weakest and most vulnerable will make the journey.

“Tears of joy will stream down their faces,
and I will lead them home with great care.
They will walk beside quiet streams
and on smooth paths where they will not stumble.
For I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my oldest child.

“Listen to this message from the Lord,
you nations of the world;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
The Lord, who scattered his people,
will gather them and watch over them
as a shepherd does his flock.
For the Lord has redeemed Israel
from those too strong for them.
They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem.
They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts—
the abundant crops of grain, new wine, and olive oil,
and the healthy flocks and herds.
Their life will be like a watered garden,
and all their sorrows will be gone.

Kind of sounds like a real Garden of Eden, Akim thought -- even better than he remembered it.

The young women will dance for joy,
and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration.
I will turn their mourning into joy.
I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.
The priests will enjoy abundance,
and my people will feast on my good gifts.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Was it really possible that they’d eventually get to go home? Maybe God had not forgotten them after all.

Now, we all know that, indeed, the people were released from their Babylonian captivity and Akim and all his family and friends returned home to Jerusalem in 539-538 BC.

But it wasn’t as spectacular as the prophet had predicted. The city walls and the temple had all been destroyed 70 years earlier. Farms were overgrown. Houses had to be rebuilt -- and there was a constant threat of invasion -- to say nothing of the unhappy neighbors who shared the land with them -- squatters who had moved in during their absence.

Yes, the promise of a return to home is fulfilled -- but there is a sense in which it remains open -- a kind of vision for a fuller-filling.

And that’s where our text from John 1 comes into play. You see, there is a bit of a paradox at work as the promises of home wait for the fuller fulfillment. While God promises to return his people to home -- he himself leaves home to live among them.

John 1:14 -- “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness...”

The word “home” here is literally tent. God set up his tent among us -- his home -- his place.

And while we may have these nostalgic and romantic feelings toward home and the stability of a life in another place or even another time -- God shows up and sets up camp in our midst. Emmanuel -- God with us.

In other words, he is saying find your home in me. You can leave your places and thrive.

It is amazing how often God calls his people to leave their homes in the Bible. We’re all struggling to find a place of rootedness but

> God says to Abram in Genesis 12 “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”

> In Matthew 1 another dispatch: “After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,’ the angel said. ‘Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’”

> Mark 10:29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.”

> Matthew 28:19 -- “GO and make disciples...” or perhaps an even better rendering is “as you are going...” The assumption is that you are on the move.

Even though there is this promise in Jeremiah of a return to wonderful home there is also a recurring call to leave home in order to do something on God’s agenda. And I would suggest that this is more common than not.

You see, the promises of home are left unfulfilled because Jesus himself is the fulfillment. When he came to earth to set up house-keeping among us he called us to find our sense of home in him -- more so than in any given place.

Yes, we like where we live -- even in the summer when it is blazing hot. Arizona feels like home. But we feel most at home simply being where God has called us to be -- whether that is in Arizona or Guam or California or Texas or Washington -- but those places are only home in a shallow sense because we find our rootedness in him and his home among us.

John 1:11-12 sums it up well --

11 The light came to his own people,
and his own people didn’t welcome him.
12 But those who did welcome him,
those who believed in his name,
he authorized to become God’s children,

When we welcome Jesus into our lives we find ourselves at home as children in his household. This is the fuller fulfillment of Jeremiah’s promise. (KEY POINT -- repeat)

And I want to invite you this morning to change the way that you think about home and place -- and shift your focus toward being at home with Jesus -- wherever you are. And we’re not just talking about heaven but here and now, too. Heaven is home -- but only in the sense that Jesus is headquartered there. Wherever he is, is home. Jesus has opened the doors of his home to you -- and I want to invite you to welcome Jesus into your life.

Regardless of where you are from -- that doesn’t matter so much -- this is an invite to call Jesus your home.

As we prepare to share together in the simple elements -- the bread and cup -- which symbolize the family meal in Jesus’ household, we’re going to read together the affirmation of faith printed in the bulletin. These are words from the Gospel of John chapter 1.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him.

But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God. The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

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