Given at Gordon Chapel Evensong on 6 Nov 16 by Jeff Lowndes
Hold those lovely words from John’s Gospel (14.23-29) in your mind during this sermon – Jesus speaks to the disciples of joining God in making a home with them, and not to be afraid – he leaves his peace with them. Those words are for us too – but are they relevant in today’s world where we have so much more than in ancient times.
Are we too preoccupied with our homes – have they become more like fortresses or retreats, where we hide from the world and do our own thing. It’s said that when we have a choice, we don’t go out as much as we used to. We have takeaway food, and often sit slavishly in front of the tv or computer – and family life suffers. Our lifestyle is not as healthy as it once was – there is less commitment to organisations – our young people are not always shown a good example of living in community.
This preoccupation with house and home isn’t helped by the media, we’re bombarded with advertisements and advice on how to decorate, equip, and maintain our homes, we worry about the upkeep, the rent or mortgage. Perhaps it reveals who you are, and who you want to be, for in a way you make it in your image – owned or rented it is yours – but it absorbs you – it owns you.
But there’s more to life than a material home. What about becoming a home? A very different one that’s not just 4 walls around us. That special place already exists in all of us – do you feel it in your very being? We’ll call it our inner home – our heart!
We may be aware of this inner home and are comfortable with it. But, we may neglect it, keep it at arms length, try to ignore it. The condition of our inner home – our heart – is at least as important as our outside one. We wouldn’t let just anyone into our material home, so we need to be just as concerned about who occupies our heart – it’s crucial – why?
It’s important because God wants to be our guest. He doesn’t force himself upon us – we have a choice. Remember Jesus said at the last supper – “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.” He also promises to send the Holy Spirit to reside with us. So, we know that the Holy Trinity wants to dwell inside each of us – do we invite them? Do we make room in our heart for them, or do we resist and hold back?
Our inner home may be filled with all manner of stuff: Preoccupations, attachments, anger and resentments crowd the space where God would be. We may even be too full of ourselves to leave any room for God.
Our society, we – are preoccupied with acquisition and consumption, keeping up with others. Whereas the classic practice of the Christian life, would and should be, towards clearing out that which is unnecessary and undesirable – thus the Christian runs, or should run, against the grain of the secular existence.
But let’s be careful – it’s easy for our spirituality to become a matter of collecting religious merit badges, when what the Holy Trinity seeks is not just what we do, but who we are. God wants our company, our kindness – he wants to walk with us – you’ll remember those lovely words from Micah – “what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, show mercy and walk humbly with your God”.
If only all religions and governments would have those words written at the top of their constitution, standing orders and agenda and follow them.
It may seem strange that God wants to be our guest, as amazing as Jesus birth and resurrection. So strange is this divine desire that we may fight it. Yet our heart can be a royal suite that welcomes the Lord. To accept this visitor is to become holy – and that holiness is a form of hospitality.
But, there’s danger in having God as a guest. That still small voice may also arrive like a holy fire, burning away the rubbish that clutters up our lives. God makes his own space in our heart, space not only for himself, but for all those He loves, whether or not they love Him. When we welcome God, then holy hospitality becomes inclusive: we welcome all people – not only our neighbour, but the immigrant, the refugee and those in need.
When we welcome God as a guest in our heart, then we welcome countless followers who accompany him – we care for all creation. Will you be a friend of God when he is so indiscriminate about those he embraces? Will you host an open house, not for God alone, but for everyone he accepts in his amazing love, his shield of grace? It may mean that you will thereafter carry a cross!
Your inner home will not be some place for you to hide away, nor a way for you to avoid life and stay safe. It will become part of the kingdom, part of the holy city sent from heaven, part of the mansion promised by Christ.
Jesus gives to us an inner home of peace, joy and hospitality. To love him means making room in ourselves for this world and this Saviour.
So – we know that we have our material secular home – we live in it – and we know that we have our inner home – and God lives there. There are similarities in both those homes – we want peace in both – but the world intrudes on them.
Increasingly in our modern society we fit alarms in our house and are afraid to leave them unlocked, we hesitate to walk out in the dark at night and we hesitate about meeting strangers – especially ‘foreigners’.
We fear failure and ridicule so we scramble to meet tight schedules, duties and obligations. And where there is fear, there is no peace. Fear brings with it anxiety, worry, tension and much more – none of which help us to feel calm, peaceful or joyful.
It’s the way many of us feel as we watch tv, read the papers and try to deal with life – sometimes this world seems too violent – conflict is everywhere. All of this affects the home we live in – and the home that lives in us. So where can we find the peace we seek? We know in our hearts don’t we – the Bible is the key to faith and understanding.
The Holy Scriptures tell us of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. If you wonder what you should believe and do, simply go there – our NT reading tonight shines light on where we should look – that is – to the words of Christ.
Jesus was about to leave the disciples for good and they were afraid, confused and nervous. So Jesus said “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me…. Peace I leave with you”
The peace Jesus gives is an unconditional, eternal gift to his followers in every time and place. That’s why he doesn’t give peace to us as the world does. For the secular world, peace is often conditional, fragile, temporary, it has strings attached, and is frequently reduced to mean only the absence of war and strife. But peace is much more than that.
Christ’s peace has no strings attached. Peace, in the NT sense means: salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation between God and humanity, and it will last forever. It is also peace of mind – and that is something that I think we all crave for these days.
If we follow Christ it wont always be easy – we will need faith and that can be a fragile thing at times, but the Holy Spirit will help us and with faith we can have hope.
With faith and hope we can face the world with courage – our inner and outer home can become a refuge – a place of peace for us – and for those that God would have us care for.
May we go forth to love and serve the Lord, and in his name, share a room in our heart with those we meet. Amen