Welcome Home

Vello, Berta, for Fine Acts

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; Acts 16:9-15

What is a home?

A home is not necessarily the same thing as a house. A house, or an apartment are buildings, physical spaces.

A home, on the other hand, has a deeper meaning to it, even in secular usage will have an almost spiritual tinge to it.

After we hosted a party a few weeks ago, my wife Shannon and I were told that we had a very welcoming home.

This doesn’t mean they were necessarily complimenting the parsonage, although it does have a nice relatively open living room and Florida room combined entertaining space.

Not too toot our own horns too much, but I think they would have said this even if we lived in a small apartment. The core of a welcoming home is not the physical surroundings- there are beautiful mansions that feel like a warzone, and tiny apartments filled with love. I believe it’s not even the individual people inside of it. Instead, it’s about the connections that we have in our family, and the warmth, openness, and safety that we were willing to extend to others. It was this warmth and openness that made our home was place where our guests could relax and feel safe.

I sincerely hope that where you live feels like a home is a place where you feel warmth and openness, and I hope that this church is a place where you can feel safe and loved.

It is a reason I open many worship services with the words, “welcome home”. We all want a place where we can feel safe, where we can rest, where we are welcomed not just for the gifts we bring, but our simple presence.

But home isn’t always easy. Family can be very hard. I think all of us have had an experience where our foundations of home- not of a house, but home- either shifted or became unmoored in some way. Hopefully, when that happened, we- or our family- were flexible enough to change and find secure footing again.

Our Bible readings are about this forging of a new home in their own ways. Our first reading is about the New Jerusalem, the Heavenly city on the remade Earth. It’s a radically different place than our homes now. God lives there, not in a temple, but in the middle of the city. There’s trees and fruit, and healing is readily available to not just the chosen but the whole earth. This is a picture of what home could be like.

Yet getting there is not an easy process. There’s a lot to cleanse on this earth; and if you’ve ever dealt with harsh chemicals in the bathroom to get a particularly gnarly stain out, imagine how hard it would be to scour racism, misogyny, or extreme nationalism out of our planet.

Yet, eventually Humanity and Divinity are able to live together in harmony under a new normal, with new foundations, a rebuilt and completely reimagined home. Even if the people involved are the same, there is a new set of relationships that are fairer and more loving. No longer are there debts or debtors, abused or abusers. Instead, we dwell with God in a place of peace, much like our poet describes on the back of the bulletin.

Our second reading is from the book of Acts, and features one of those rare features in the bible that we have been highlighting since Easter: a named female character. This particular story introduces us to Lydia, a merchant who dealt in the luxurious imperial purple. Scholars suggest that she too, was wealthy, or at least had a household. The patriarchal culture of the time suggests that if she had the sole power to invite these men, including Paul, into her house without asking permission of her husband or father that she was probably a widow, one of the few social situations a woman could be in with some degree of independence.

Lydia, interestingly, is the first follower of Jesus in Europe. This makes Europe the last continent in the bible to have Jesus followers in it- Israel/Palestine is in Asia, and the Phillip the Ethiopian Eunuch converts way back at the beginning of the book of Acts, and starts the church in Africa. As for Lydia, church that she founded, or probably led in the town of Philippi, is the subject of one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, the book of Philippians.

Lydia, for her part, is honored by churches that have calendars for different saints, including the Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox Churches even call her “Equal to the Apostles.”

But what I found most intriguing about this passage is that she invites these men into her home. This is a move that took courage, as it would have been scandalous for a woman to invite three unattached men into her home, but she does it. Her act of invitation, however, is no mere act of charity, of sympathy for pitiable creatures.

This happens after her baptism, which, the same then as now, are celebrated as a welcoming into the Christian family of faith. Indeed, her invitation is conditional, but not on them, but on herself. She was not taking pity on a stranger, she was inviting a new brother, a new teacher into her house and into her life. This is what home looks like in practice.

The reading tells us that Lydia’s whole household converts along with her. That must have been quite a disruption! Old ways of relating to one another were upended, and new ways of thinking of their place in the cosmos and the social order had to be made, in addition to new religious rules to follow or not follow- did they allow pork in the house?

We don’t know the minutiae of the discussions and new adjustments that they had to make, but Lydia is clearly able to understand the shifting of the meaning of home and expand it to include Paul and his fellow disciples as siblings in faith, not just as guests.

Let us aspire to Lydia’s flexibility and welcome in our church and our homes. We know that disruptions come to our church and homes surely as they did to Lydia. Some of them are positive; the addition of a child, whether by birth or adoption. New members who join us for coffee hour and maybe sit in our pew occasionally. Others are more painful; suffering from addiction, the loss of a family member or friend; perhaps a beloved family moves away because they just can’t afford to live in Miami anymore.

Yet if we remember that our homes, and indeed our churches, are not the buildings or even the people inside of them, but the network of relationships inside them, including that great relationship to Jesus; although the foundations might bend, they will not break.

Members and friends of the Miami Shores Community Church, Welcome Home. Home to a church that tries to echo that New Jerusalem, a place of healing for all people, not just the people inside its wall. A place where we might learn to love God and each other learn how God loves us and reflect that love in our world that needs us so dearly.