Friday, November 11, 2011

Come Home—Because Home Is Where the Heart Is

(A sermon based on Luke 12:32-34 preached at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald on Sunday, October 9, 2011)

One of the words we use to refer to church is “home”; we say things like “First Baptist is my church home” or “First Baptist is my home church.” During the next few weeks I want us to consider together the ways in which we might need to come home to our church home.

Church is home, you see, because church is where the family of God gets together.

During my college years I was called to serve as pastor of the Fairmount Baptist Church outside of Sparta, Georgia. It was in some ways a very good position. The congregation only gathered for worship on the fourth Sunday of each month; my salary was $60 per service plus lunch that was shared with us by a rotation of three families. It was an odd situation, though, in that the worship service amounted to a monthly community reunion. People came from all over the area; one fellow even drove 70 miles to get there. Most of the people in worship were members of other churches and attended those churches on the other Sundays of the month. But they came together once a month because there was something in that place and in those people that they treasured. And if someone was not there they were missed.

It was clear that for those people who gathered in that place once a month, there was something at Fairmount Baptist Church that they treasured and so there was a sense in which their heart was there; it was clear because of the effort they made to get there. I hope, though, that their real treasure was actually found in and that their hearts were actually oriented toward something and somewhere beyond that old white church building. And, as much as I want us to love First Baptist Church and as much as I want us to be committed to it, I want us to be clear that our true loyalty goes much deeper than that because our true identity goes much deeper than that.

Our true identity is that we are part of the kingdom of God; our true place of belonging is in the kingdom of God. But what does that mean? Dallas Willard has explained it well. Someone’s kingdom, Willard said, is the arena within which his or her “effective will” can be exercised. In other words, my kingdom is what I can pretty well control and determine by my will and my decisions. So, my kingdom involves little things like what clothes I will wear, what sports teams I will support, what I will eat for breakfast, and what I will watch on television. It also involves big things like what I will do for a living, what causes I will support, how I will relate to my family, and with what congregation I will worship and fellowship. Our kingdom involves whatever we can directly affect [Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), p. 21]. We are each the king or queen of our own little kingdom.

But, as Willard put it,

Now God’s own ‘kingdom,’ or ‘rule,’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the action of his will are the organizing principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature or by choice is within his kingdom
(Willard, Conspiracy, p. 21).

So Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v. 32). Do you hear that? God very much wants to give us the kingdom. God very much wants us to live in the awareness that our lives are a part of what God is doing in all of God’s vast creation and in all of God’s vast purpose. The kingdom is our home.

And home is where we should feel safe and secure; home is where we should not be afraid.

In light of our being at home in the kingdom of God, of what should we not be afraid? Don’t be afraid of this life; don’t be afraid about what you will eat or drink or wear and don’t be afraid about bank accounts or investments or anything else. Why not? Because we belong to something bigger, we belong to something better, we belong to something eternal, and we belong to something unfailing.

But what do we treasure? What do we really value? It’s easy to determine what we treasure because we give our lives—our hearts, our will, our efforts—to the pursuit of that which we treasure. There are things that are fleeting and temporary that we need and we are to do our part in acquiring them—but we cannot give the fullness of our devotion over to them. There are things that are earthly but are yet very important and we should give them their appropriate place in our lives—family and friends, for example—but we are not to give the fullness of our devotion over to them. Think of how life will be different, though—how it will be more focused and vital, how it will be bigger and broader, how it will be more Christ-like—if we treasure our life in God, our life in the kingdom of God, more than we treasure anything else.

“The first thing the word home brings to mind is a place,” Frederick Buechner said [Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), p. 13], and that is certainly true, but the first that home actually is is a life and the kingdom of God, which is our true home, is our true life. It is a life that we have because Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, came into this world to live it among us and to bring it to us. It is a life that we have because we can enter it through the death of Jesus on the cross and through his resurrection from the dead.

So Paul said, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3). That is the way it is now. We live in the kingdom of God now; our life is hidden with Christ in God now. Granted, a great fulfillment is coming one day; Paul went on to say, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).

All of this is ours because of God’s grace. But we do have a role and responsibility which is to lay up treasure on heaven and not on earth and to seek the things that are above and not the things that are below. We do that in our individual lives but we also do it in our life as the Body of Christ, as the community of faith—and that brings us back to the church.

The church is one of God’s vital vehicles through which we strive for the kingdom of God. The church offers the disciplines through which we put ourselves in a position to receive the grace of God and to experience the Spirit of God. We strive for God’s kingdom through worship—what does the way you pursue worship indicate about how much you treasure God’s kingdom? We strive for God’s kingdom through Bible study—what does the way you pursue Bible study indicate about how much you treasure God’s kingdom? We strive for God’s kingdom through service—what does the way you pursue service indicate about how much you treasure God’s kingdom?

The kingdom of heaven, of which the church is a vital right here and right now expression, is our true home. That’s where our true treasure is. That’s where our heart is.

Think about what you really treasure; think about that to which you give your heart.

Is there somewhere that you need to leave and come back to your true home?

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