Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Come-Be at Home Together

Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ, and I bring you greetings from Holy Spirit Lutheran, your fellow members of the Reading Lutheran Parish at 4th and Windsor. My name is Pastor Carolyn and the first thing I want to share with you is that I am not “from here.” In fact we were joking before worship as someone asked me that exact question. It’s one of the ways we all start conversation with someone new. Are you “from here?” I am not. Most obviously because I am not your pastor here at Nativity. And in fact I have only been at Holy Spirit for 21 months. But I am also not from Reading, or even Berks County. And though I came here from Lancaster County, I learned that even though I lived there for 24 years that is not quite long enough to be from there either. In fact I have lived in three different states, and at about 15 addresses, and to be honest I am not sure where I would say I am from. All of our readings today lift up some aspect of the concept of “home.” For almost two years now, I can tell you that I consider Reading to be my home. We have been settling in to a new house, and a new neighborhood and settling in at the church, and as this has been happening in this part of our journey together, I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He was speaking to a group of high school students over 50 years ago as they were about to embark on the next part of their journeys, and trying to figure out how they fit into a changing world, and he said, “ We may all have come here on different ships, but we are in the same boat now. “  We are in the same boat now.

I think that not only could be said about our journeys, but also about the part of the Book of Acts we are catching up with today which begins, ironically with a ship story and a journey. Paul and his companions have been traveling around the Mediterranean, and while they have some ideas where they want to go, sometimes God redirects them. Traveling into parts of the world where seaports draw together people from lots of different places, and a mixing of ideas as well as trade. Many people drawn to a particular place from a variety of backgrounds and on journeys. The journey of the earliest followers continuing almost as incredibly as it began, when Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” Now in this chapter, Paul has a dream of a man saying, “Come, help us.” And on the strength of that alone, and very little concrete stuff, they embark upon a several days’ journey. And led by the Spirit, they encounter Lydia and her household and they baptize them.

And in baptism, though they have come on different ships, they are in the same boat now. And so it is for us. We are in the same boat, together with Christ in the power and work of the cross and in our baptism. Even your architecture reminds you- if you look up at those exposed beams that curve like the upended shape of a ship. We are in the boat together. And we as the churches of the Reading Lutheran Parish have been partnering together for a very long time. Recently the leaders of the churches here in the city met to ask the question where God is sending us together now? How can we continue to provide a strong Lutheran witness now? What ministries for the sake of the gospel should we undertake? As a part of that discernment, we are now creating a separate nonprofit group called Reading Lutheran Parish which will allow us to more effectively work together in shared ministries in addition to the ministries we undertake as individual congregations. It is another step in the journey. And in some ways this is already what we do. In fact, Nativity already plays a vital role in a ministry of Holy Spirit. Some of you may know, but others may not. Holy Spirit runs an afterschool program called the Doves Nest, three days a week during the school year in which we provide a meal afterschool, as well as homework and literacy tutoring, and other activities. Most of our food comes from the Food Bank, but on occasion we suspend that food because a yummy meal is provided by some of you here at Nativity. We always look forward to it and it is a real blessing! I want to share my thanks for your hospitality and your gift to others for the sake of the gospel. Everyone knows a home-cooked meal is best!

And today we are sharing in this Pastor Exchange with a chance to worship and share together. And I thank you for your hospitality to me today- pretty much a stranger-graciously receiving me, and providing assistance, a drink of cool water, and directions to the bathroom. Simple but gracious hospitality.  We really are in the boat together.

But as easily as I can say that, and it sounds wonderful, the truth is that sometimes we don’t want to be in the boat together. If you have ever been on the “too long vacation” or had the guests that stayed too long, you know. We know who we are supposed to be, but by nature we want our own space. Even Paul feels that way- Lydia’s invitation was not welcomed at first. Paul and his companions were kind of like, “No, that’s OK.” But she insisted. Just as the Spirit at work in Paul drives him to these new places, at the same time the Spirit at work in Lydia brings this surge of hospitality as she invites them to Come- Come to my house. And finally they give in.

And here is where I think that the Book of Acts gives us some useful lessons for our journey. Lydia’s invitation is more than “come to my house.” She is speaking about relationship. She’s saying- Come be at home.  In baptism we are in a new relationship. She is living that belief. Once my family and I were on one of those “too long” vacations to Prince Edward Island. Partway through we stayed at a bed and breakfast in farm country. And the owner had offered to make us dinner, pointing out that places to eat were few and far between. We reluctantly decided to say yes, and expected a simple meal. But he went out of his way- going to the dock for a bushel of fresh mussels, and to the next farm over for fresh dug potatoes, and to another friend for fresh wild blueberries to make a blueberry crisp. It was overwhelming hospitality for the couple days. But by the time we left we had this sense of belonging. We were changed. It felt like home.

Lydia’s hospitality to basically total strangers is an invitation to be “at home” together. It is a deepening of relationship through the Spirit. In baptism they and we are on a journey, but at the same time we are invited and empowered by the Spirit to be “at home” together. In Christ and with each other. It is a deeper understanding of “home.”  We who believe that Christ is with us, are empowered to live into the notion that while we are on a journey, we are at home because “home” is wherever God calls us and wherever God finds us. *

As we continue on together as the Reading Lutheran Parish and in our congregations, I pray that God will continue to draw us deeper into the notion of being “at home” in Christ together. AMEN.

* Thanks to Dr Kristin Johnston Largen for her work on the concept of "home" and being at home in the world published in the Spring 2013 Seminary Ridge Review of Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary!


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