Readings: Psalm 66:8-20, Acts 17:22-31, I Peter 3:13-22 John 14:15-21
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Maryland, May 17 2020
An online service can be found at https://youtu.be/tceLJNHQAow
During years when lock downs do not apply, one of the regular features on the British calendar is the annual “ Ideal Homes” show, held at Earls Court in London.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of family based weekend of seminars on relationships between spouses or advice on dog training or helpful hints on dealing with children in their teens. “Ideal Home” is a trade exhibition where you can see the latest gadgets, the latest designs, the newest and the best.
I guess the theory is that if you have a home that’s up to date with an automated everything, solar driven lawn mowers, self flushing toilets and a perfectly blended and themed kitchen where the decor matches the pots and pans and the table napkins perfectly compliment the ceiling fans, then you will have a happy, blissful, contented and ideal home.
As Christian people we would probably all wish to have ideal Christian homes. But I wonder what sort of image that phrase calls to mind? What would an ideal Christian family look like?
Would they be middle class, squeaky clean, neat and tidy, never missing a service (be it actual or virtual) at church, ever so polite, ever so dedicated to everything they put their minds to; a kind of spiritualized Brady Bunch?
Or would they be that environmentally friendly family, father an advocate for peace and social reform, mother always with smiling faced children around and nursing a baby, living frugally with their limited means in their ergonomic trailer home, adopting refugee children, campaigning constantly for social causes, always first to volunteer for anything justice related? ?
Or would they have by now left the country, Father and Mother and teenage sons and daughters (having all graduated from Bible College) all in perfect harmony, working in some forgotten corner of creation, facing daily the threat of wild animals and, not just coronavirus, but a whole host of nasty foreign diseases? Never uttering one word of complaint, succumbing to a single argument, but daringly, carefully and prayerfully saving the world?
What is your image of an ideal Christian family?
How does your own family compare to it?
Chances are that we expect the sort of high ideals for Christian families
that most of us never even get close to in our real lives.
Ever thought about Jesus family background? His mother had been a teenage bride who became pregnant out of wedlock. Among His ancestors were the prostitute Rahab, the materialistic King Solomon who, though famed for His wisdom, was not wise enough to curb his spending before splitting the nation into fragments. The anointed King David, an adulterer and a murderer. And that’s the good cards in the pack!
Ever thought about Jesus home life? He starts out life in a stable, then becomes a refugee in a foreign land, before moving to Galilee (Which was sort of the “Redneck” district of Israel). He has brothers and sisters, but from the lack of mention of father Joseph at the time Jesus starts His ministry, we presume Joseph had died and that Jesus was head of the household.
It can’t have been easy in that position to leave and embark on a mission that would have it’s destiny in a cross. What about the family it was His duty to support? Maybe such an experience lay behind His strong words that to follow Him meant having a love for God that made all other loves seem like hatred by comparison.
His family weren't exactly supportive. When He was a boy missing in the temple, His parents get mad at Him. Half way through His mission the whole family are convinced He has lost His mind and try to persuade Him to come home. It wasn't that Jesus didn't care or have a plan. We know that even as He hung on the cross He told the disciple John to take care of His mother and that His brother James became a leader in the Jerusalem church.
Our families are not ideal families. Our homes are not ideal homes. We are not ideal people. Yet…within all those limitations, allowing for all those crazy family dynamics, it is within our families and our homes that Jesus calls us to love Him and to obey His commandments. Even during this time of pandemic. Or maybe especially so!
When we place our trust in Jesus Christ, His promise is that God's Spirit will make a home in our lives. Hear what Jesus says in verse 18 of John 14 ; “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.... because I live, you will live also... you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you."
As we place our trust in Jesus Christ our lives become a dwelling place for His love. We start trying to live in a way that reflects the relationship that we have with God. And this is not easy. We mess up and don’t always live up to our own ideals, let alone others.
We may live with folk who are not as excited about faith as we are. Folk who don’t see things the way we do. Folks whom we feel can impede our spiritual progress. I don’t think that should surprise us. That’s how it was in the house of Jesus.
We may be called to work every day alongside folk who care nothing for our beliefs or the One we believe in. Such an atmosphere may not be the most conducive to personal spiritual development. Again we should not be surprised. Jesus speaks in John14:17 of how our lives are indwelt by “The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him”.
We may sometimes feel that we worship alongside people or belong to a church that is far from being an ideal spiritual home. Again, don’t be surprised. The Church, any church, whatever the brand name, is not a community of the sanctified but a ship full of sinners. If we found the ideal church home, the moment we became part of it, we’d mess it up! We wouldn’t belong. We need help!
The Good News? Jesus tells us help is available. Verse 14. "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Verse 16 “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another, the Helper, that He may be with you forever.”
The only restriction on asking and receiving is given in verse 15 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” In other words, if we ask for anything out of selfish concern, or out of a heart that has no intention of seeking to live God’s way, then the God who loves us more than we love each other, isn’t about to let us have something that will mess our lives up even more.
But if we ask God to help us become the sort of people we know in our hearts that God wants us to be, then God will help us. His Spirit, the Helper, the Advocate and Counselor, will be with us. His love will be in us and working through us. God will help us with that situation at home, with that situation at work, with that situation in our church, in our personal life, in our spiritual life. “Because I live” promises Jesus “you also shall live.”
Beyond that, it is our mission as a people of God to seek that all this world becomes an ideal home for people God has created and who God loves. Our mission statement states that “We are called to serve.”
One of the great ends of the church, (symbolized by the by the sixth of our banners) is that she be an “Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World.” The annual “Ideal Home” exhibition in London seeks to show what a home can be. Our ideal as a church is to demonstrate to the world what a community built upon the love of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit can be.
We are also called, as the fifth banner declares, “To the promotion of Social Righteousness.” Where people do not feel at home in this world, because of injustice, because of disaster, because of prejudice, because of illness or because of their difference to others or from our selves, we are to welcome them home as children of God.
Where things have gone wrong, we are invited, by Jesus, to be part of the solution. When things seem hopeless, we have a message about a Cross that became a resurrection. When all is lost, we have a God who seeks to find. When all is confusion we are invited to lift up the name of One who declares that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
It all begins in the heart. We can only have ideal homes and seek to create a world that is an ideal home for all who we share it with us, to the extent that we welcome the love of Jesus Christ to find a home in our hearts. That’s where the change can come. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” The best hope for others to come alive to the reality of God’s presence is for God's presence to come alive in us!
Every human heart is designed to be an ideal home for the love of God. Revelation 3:20 declares "Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
Every worship service is an opportunity to come home to the embrace of God. Every scripture we hear is outlining our manifesto. Every prayer we say is inviting God to be a part of our everyday lives. Every hymn we listen to or sing is a testimony of what God has done and can do in the lives and through the lives of God's people.
May this day, and every day, be a time for hearing and responding and for knowing the friendship of God... and seeking for our lives, and our world, to be the ideal home for God's love. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.
Prayer – May 17 Easter 6 Ideal Homes
Lord our God, we know our homes are not ideal homes and we are not ideal people. We hear over and over Your command to love. To love You with all that we are, to love our neighbor like we love ourselves. We hear the glorious proclamation ‘God is love’, yet still fail to adequately express Your love in and through our lives. The one thing You most desire for us to accomplish is the very same thing we find the hardest to do… to love as we have been loved.
Because Your love is so much greater than ours, we do not give up, we do not stop trying, we do not count such effort as unworkable or unrealistic. For every time love is expressed then hope also comes alive. Every act of giving produces fruit for Your Kingdom and brings about change. Help us to be courageous in expressing Your love to this needy world through which we walk.
We offer prayer for all those whose circumstances are making it hard for them to feel Your presence or Your support. We think particularly of all whose lives have been ravaged by the current pandemic. Those who have lost loved ones; those whose health has failed. Those who are in family situations where love has left home or where relationships are strained to breaking point.
We see a world that seems often so bereft of true love. Wars continue to rage. Greed continues to leave its mark on those least able to help them selves. The hungry remain unfed, the naked unclothed, the homeless still wandering, the unjustly imprisoned still seeking for justice.
Yet wherever and whenever we take the time to care, change can happen… and for all those we have been able to help we give thanks. We thank You for those times we have had needs and others have come to help us and shared the love You have given them in ways that have lifted us up.
Conscious of Your constant love and support towards us, shown especially through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ we join in praying together the prayer that He has taught us, saying…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. AMEN.