There is nothing like coming home. Whether on vacation or a business trip or a week with youth at camp, coming home is a cherished exhale for many of us.
While we may enjoy our time away, we long for our bed, our shower, our routine, our pets, and our people. I once heard someone say that the best gift of being away is the reminder of how much you love where you call home.
I met a man some years ago who had a great love and appreciation for his farm. He had worked it for over 70 years. Soil, blood, sweat and tears had all intersected in the land and homestead. It’s the only place he ever really wanted to be. After his passing, his wife shared with me how difficult it was for her to ever convince him to go on vacation. He didn’t care to be away from the farm. He didn’t have much use for the big city or the beach or tourist spots. Everything he could ever want or need was right there at home.
What happens when we’ve lost our sense of home? What about those children who have moved from home to home, not all happy places, while in the foster care system? Or the children at the border who have lost any sense of home or security?
The loss of stability and security, a sense of home base, can be devastating for humans and animals. It isn’t ironic how many animals can find their way home through sights and smells. I believe the human spirit has a similar ability to geolocate home but what makes a home a real home for all living creatures, is what awaits us when we get there.
I minister to many people from various walks of life. Some have a stable idea of home and know where to find their strength renewed. For many, this place can look a lot like grandma’s house or the church they’ve grown up in. As a lifetime Methodist, the cross and flame has become a lighthouse beacon in any city I’m in. When I see that cross and flame, I know that in that house, I will find home.
What I’ve come to realize over the years, is just how many people see the cross and flame, or any cross / church steeple, and see the opposite of safety and home. They have felt discarded, pushed out, and unwanted. For many people, they no longer look at a church building and believe they will find sanctuary within those walls. I cannot imagine feeling this way.
As a pastor, but a believer first, I want to be a part of a church that keeps the lights on. I want to serve a church that welcomes the stranger and the neighbor alike. I want to be in mission with a church that recognizes the realities of its mission field and gets to work to feed the hungry and be present with the sick. This is the kind of place my soul feels at home. This is where I feel the presence of Jesus. Because this is what Jesus would do.
I can remember the first time I found the doors of my church locked. I was a teenager and I had made some choices I wasn’t sure how to process. I wasn’t sure where to go or who to talk to. And then I thought of the church. I immediatly turned my car and headed to my safe place. All I wanted to do was sit in the middle of the floor in the sanctuary and talk with Jesus. I parked and walked up to the door. My body jolted as I wrapped my fingers around the handle and found resistance for the first time. It dawned on me that I was always there during office or church hours. This was much later.
I found a bench in the prayer garden outside of the church building and I talked with Jesus. It felt good to sit with my friend awhile. Since those early days of my life, I have discovered I can talk to Jesus anywhere. I can find his help in all places and at all times. But not everyone shares this experience.
Many I know and love feel as if the doors to the church are always locked to them, literally and metaphorically. Recently, we’ve served Community Dinner in our sanctuary due to the fellowship/community hall being worked on. While there is always hesitation to have food in the sanctuary, we have chosen to put service over concern. We’ve severed 5 dinners in our sanctuary and what a holy experience they have been.
At one dinner, an individual shared with Tate how moved they were that we would welcome them into our sanctuary. Oh how that broke my heart. It hurts me to know that people feel unwelcome and unwanted in God’s house. That’s not our exclusive clubhouse. This is God’s house. All are welcome here. Yes, but not all feel welcome.
This man went on to tell my husband, in tears, how long it has been since he’d stepped foot into a sanctuary. But for these meals, he’s been welcomed into God’s sacred space and served. He was invited in and fed. He was treated with worth and value. And he sat there in the pew, eating his meal served by friends, and stared at the face of Jesus in the stained-glass panes before him. There in that place, he dined with Jesus.
We may never see this man on a Sunday morning, but now he knows he belongs in those pews as much as any of us do. We’ve treated him like our honored guest, as Christ treats each of us.
My prayer is for everyone to find a sense of belonging in a house of worship that feels like home. I pray that when anyone walks through the doors of St. Paul’s, they feel wanted. We won’t be able to provide everything everyone wants in a church. We won’t be able to please everyone nor will we be everyone’s cup of tea. But I pray that no one ever feels unwanted. Some will come to visit our church and never stay. Some will stay for a season. Some will come for God, some for community, some for healing, some for hope.
I suspect you all know someone who needs to find their spiritual home. We are surrounded by wonderful people who need a community of faith to stand with them. Our neighbors are more isolated than ever. We may recognize this when we think of inviting someone and realize how little we know them.
As John the Baptist stood there with two of his disciples, Jesus passed and John stared hard at him and said: ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus, and Jesus turned around, saw them following, and said, ‘What do you want?’ ‘Rabbi, where do you live?’ ‘Come and see,’ he replied. So they went and saw where he lived and they stayed with him the rest of the day.John 1:35-39
“What do you want?” Two disciples, enamored by this Jesus, stared at him in awe. Wanting to know where Jesus lived, they received a simple invitation. “Come and see.” Jesus didn’t respond by giving them a ten-point brochure on the highlights of his home, or showed them his new fancy worship space. Jesus didn’t describe the financial health of his home or the discipleship plan. Jesus didn’t ask them if they were worth see it; qualified and righteous. No, Jesus simply offered an invitation to come and see.
God doesn’t need us to sell the church or to market its merits. The Gospel will always be relevant. Are the disciples still hungry to see what Jesus has for them? Are the disciples still carrying their crosses? Are the disciples still sharing the good news? Are the disciples still coming to him?
Having a home to come home too doesn’t mean your faith home is perfect. A home to come to is wherever comfort and ease can be found. For us, this is where Jesus dwells. When we open our sanctuary to serve our mission field or open the door of our church, we are inviting people to come and see Jesus, not us, Jesus. When we are the church in the community, outside of our walls, we are inviting people to come and see.
When our special guest came for dinner and dined with Jesus, his gratitude wasn’t for us individually, it was for the opportunity to be allowed into a place we call home and see Jesus. Now we believe God is everywhere and not locked in our sanctuaries, but those are holy spaces where people feel a deep connection with the divine or have felt locked out from. On this night, our guest wasn’t kept out. Instead, he came to eat and was gifted with the invitation to come and see. On this night, he felt at home.
Come home. Come and see. Come and rest in Jesus.