Scripture Acts 11:1-18; John 13:31-35
Acts 11:1-18 (The Message)
11 1-3 The news traveled fast and in no time the leaders and friends back in Jerusalem heard about it—heard that the non-Jewish “outsiders” were now “in.” When Peter got back to Jerusalem, some of his old associates, concerned about circumcision, called him on the carpet: “What do you think you’re doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?”
4-6 So Peter, starting from the beginning, laid it out for them step-by-step: “Recently I was in the town of Joppa praying. I fell into a trance and saw a vision: Something like a huge blanket, lowered by ropes at its four corners, came down out of heaven and settled on the ground in front of me. Milling around on the blanket were farm animals, wild animals, reptiles, birds—you name it, it was there. Fascinated, I took it all in.
7-10 “Then I heard a voice: ‘Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, Master. I’ve never so much as tasted food that wasn’t kosher.’ The voice spoke again: ‘If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.’ This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the sky.
11-14 “Just then three men showed up at the house where I was staying, sent from Caesarea to get me. The Spirit told me to go with them, no questions asked. So I went with them, I and six friends, to the man who had sent for me. He told us how he had seen an angel right in his own house, real as his next-door neighbor, saying, ‘Send to Joppa and get Simon, the one they call Peter. He’ll tell you something that will save your life—in fact, you and everyone you care for.’
15-17 “So I started in, talking. Before I’d spoken half a dozen sentences, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us the first time. I remembered Jesus’ words: ‘John baptized with water; you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So I ask you: If God gave the same exact gift to them as to us when we believed in the Master Jesus Christ, how could I object to God?”
18 Hearing it all laid out like that, they quieted down. And then, as it sank in, they started praising God. “It’s really happened! God has broken through to the other nations, opened them up to Life!”
John 13:31-35 (First Nations Version)
31 After he left, Creator Sets Free (Jesus) said to them all, “The time has now come for the True Human Being to honor the Great Spirit and to be honored by him. 32 As soon as the Son gives him honor, it will come back again—full circle.” The Passover meal was coming to an end. It was time to close the ceremony and face the dark night ahead. The heart of Creator Sets Free (Jesus) was full of compassion and love for the ones who had walked the road with him for over three winters. 33 “My little children,” he said to them, “my time with you is almost gone. You will look for me, but where I am going you cannot follow. This is the same thing I said to the other Tribal Members and I now say to you.” His followers lifted their heads up and looked into the face of their Wisdomkeeper.
34 “I am giving you a new road to walk,” he said. “In the same way I have loved you, you are to love each other. 35 This kind of love will be the sign for all people that you are walking the road with me.”
M. Wildman, Terry. First Nations Version (p. 196). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
*Hymn - There’s A Spirit of Love (https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=YfYd-oJjnnI&list=RDAMVMYfYd-oJjnnI) - words are on the video
Scripture - Revelation 21:1-6
Revelation 21:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Leader: A Word of God that is still speaking, People: Thanks be to God.
For the next couple of weeks, there was one word that kept popping up in various scripture passages from the lectionary - and that word was “home.”
It was a word that surprised me a bit, especially since one of the phrases I’ve been using to talk about my experience in Lancaster a couple weeks ago was that it was like a family reunion among people who hadn’t yet met in person - in fact, in all the meetings over Zoom that we had up to a few weekends ago, we talked about how much we longed to eat together…worship together…sing together.
Home…and family…all bound up together - and it is my hope and prayer that all of us will be able to experience that connection and kinship among each other soon.
So we’ll be spending some time exploring this idea of home and household and thinking about what it means when God is a part of those spaces.
But let’s start with our homes right now - or maybe even the homes we remember from childhood.
In the place that feels the most like home to you - maybe that’s right now, maybe a place in your childhood - What were some of the house rules in that space? They can be small little rules or big ones.
In this house we…[images of signs and posters]
Two kinds of rules - practices tied to efficient running of the household (who does what, what is or isn’t allowed, what choices people can make for themselves) and they run the gamut from how much screen time is allowed to who takes care of the trash to what happens and when. They are sometimes explicitly stated and many times practices we fall into without really talking about it.
Then there are the rules that are about how we are with one another. What happens when there’s conflict and how we restore relationship. How we use our words to build each other up and speak respectfully. What practices create a place of safety and belonging. These kinds of rules point to something that’s deeper than a legalistic framework of “dos” and “don’ts”; they reveal values that give structure to our life, our home - our church.
Monastics and contemplative Christians would call this “A Rule of Life.”
Home isn’t just about what happens within the walls of our residence - though that’s a start. Home is about belonging in community with others - a place of grounding, collaboration with neighbors, where we wrestle together with hard things, celebrate together the beautiful things, and rely on each other when life gets hard.
We talk a lot about how Chebeague is this way - or at least, this is what we tell ourselves about our island home and what we aspire to together - but this is also how the church should be - in what ways is our church a place of shared life together? What are the house rules we live by? For those who, for whatever reason, don’t connect with us as their spiritual home, what does that say about where we may need to grow?
The scripture we heard from Revelation declares, as we see this new heaven and new earth, “the home of God is among mortals.” God dwells with God’s peoples and they belong to God - this is the vision of creation that is both a now and not yet as the unfolding of the kingdom is both a present reality (Jesus’s message that the kingdom of God is at hand!) and as the future when all things will be made right in God.
God’s home is here among us - and John in Revelation paints that vision of a place of healing for all. As Michael Fitzpatrick at Journey with Jesus writes, “Everyone will be bound in moral responsibility for each other, and it will be a community without tears or mourning or pain. We will be a people who drink from the springs of Life itself.”
If God’s home is here, and if we’re being drawn into that life even now, our other two passages of Scripture point to what I think are some pretty essential House Rules:
It looks like sharing possessions together. Carrying or shouldering each other’s burdens and rejoicing in one another’s celebrations. Washing each other’s feet. Being cared for when we’re burned out. Listening to the experiences of those who are different from us and letting their stories shape our hearts. Caring for the needs of vulnerable populations -- and working to change systems so that folks aren’t so vulnerable. Encouraging each other in spiritual growth - this is why I love the way the First Nations Version puts it - where Jesus (or Creator Sets Free) says: 34 “I am giving you a new road to walk,” he said. “In the same way I have loved you, you are to love each other. 35 This kind of love will be the sign for all people that you are walking the road with me.” We are companions together on this path - we are bound together by Jesus, who draws us deeper into this life where God is at home with us.
Again from Michael Fitzpatrick: “A real home is one enmeshed in a community of belonging, where we fashion a moral future together by recognizing that no one is dispensable, that there is no one whose judgment and contribution we can do without in forging the moral life.”
Enmeshed in a community of belonging. No one is dispensable. Love as we have been loved.
This week I saw a story from NPR about a young woman named Elizabeth Bonker, who was the valedictorian at Rollins College in Florida, and delivered the commencement speech to her fellow graduates. This wasn’t noteworthy in and of itself - but Elizabeth is a nonverbal autistic who hasn’t spoken since she was 15 months old. But with help from technology and with the support and acceptance from her peers and teachers - she was able to overcome many challenges. In her speech, she said:
"God gave you a voice. Use it. And no, the irony of a nonspeaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me. Because if you can see the worth in me, then you can see the worth in everyone you meet."
She also channeled a bit of Fred Rogers - who is the college’s most famous alumnus. She said, "When he died, a handwritten note was found in his wallet."It said, 'Life is for service.'" She then had her classmates write down those words on a piece of their program to tuck away. She then continued, “We are all called to serve, as an everyday act of humility, as a habit of mind," she said. "To see the worth in every person we serve."
As we continue to take these first steps into being a Community Church - I invite us to imagine what it would be like to truly take these house rules to heart - what a shared life together looks like even when it may look completely different than what we’ve known previously; what does loving one another as we have been loved by God look like; what does it mean for God’s home to be among us? What does it mean for us to be at home with each other when we all have vastly different understandings of what it means to worship, to serve, to pray?
These are some of the biggest questions we need to sit with together - especially in a season where the pandemic has changed the landscape of so many people’s relationships, priorities, needs and hopes. They aren’t new questions - but they are ones that will help us get at the heart of who we are as a church together and how we are called to serve our friends and neighbors who live here - and our friends and neighbors who live around the world.
In all this, we have the guidance of a God who makes a home with us. Who is our Source and our Grounding. Who draws us deeper in love and grace. Who holds all things together and who makes all things new. Our home is in God - not just in some distant future, but in the here and now. Thanks be to God. Amen.
I love the way that enfleshed poses these questions, starting with “What would it look like if we, as individuals, really believed God dwells in us? This would mean mustering the courage to fight for our dignity, to refuse to be doormats, to humble our egos, and to protest all the systems and people that keep us from access to resources necessary for thriving.
Or what if we, individually, really treated our neighbors as if God dwelled within them? This would mean being tender towards one another, working in collaboration rather than competition, having meals together, sharing
what we have with each other, fighting against every law, rule, and norm that diminishes our neighbors.
Or what if we recognized that God lives, too, in the nonhuman animals and the land around us? How could we let pipelines ruin our water, plastic fill our oceans, slaughter houses go without regulation, and species be wiped out? All while continuing to let corporations go without accountability?”
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.