Sunday, November 28, 2021

Paula Stoltzfus: Coming home to love

Peace... while we wait
Advent 1
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14; John 14:25-27; Romans 12:9-18

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We are at the beginning of Advent. A time of waiting to celebrate the coming of Emmanuel. This mysterious act of God making home on this earth.

There are different aspects for what home may mean. Home can be an address, family or people group, or possessions that provide comfort.  Another aspect may be as a place where one can feel most oneself. And still another, home is an internal place where one can be totally honest with oneself and the others around them.

It is so easy in our culture and even faith community to put up a facade, imparting a message that all is well, when it very well may not.  What is it that keeps us from being at home with each other? With ourselves?

There are three distinct communities of people in our scriptures read this morning who were in a quest for home, a sense of meaning and belonging.

Jeremiah was speaking to the Israelites of Judah, the southern kingdom who had been overtaken by the Babylonians, under the rule of Nebuchadnezzer.

To place this into context, Israel, the northern kingdom, had already been destroyed by the Assyrian empire and time had passed enough to cool some of the conflict down. While things were cooling down for the Assyrian empire, things were heating up for the Babylonians, for they grew in strength. and took control of Judah.  As a result, the Israelite elite of Judah were taken into exile in Babylon and the poor fled as refugees to Egypt.  Jerusalem, the Holy City and Temple, were destroyed. Judah was thrust into political, social, and religious upheaval. Their home as they knew it was no more.

Jeremiah, priest and prophet, was a lone voice in the mix of a people trying to create meaning out of their chaos. His message was one that offered both judgment and hope. In the text read today we hear him trying to be a voice of encouragement, giving the Israelites in exile a message from the Lord.  It was a promise that God was still with them where they were.  It was because God was with them that they could settle down and create a home.  It would help them stabilize themselves in community and faith.  Seeking peace in the city where they had been exiled would benefit them and their neighbor. Sounds like good news, right?

What wasn’t such great news is that Jeremiah was carrying a message that the exile was to last 70 years. There were other prophets who were preaching revolt and a short time of exile so as to encourage the Israelites to be ready to move back to their homes. Thus, Jeremiah was not a voice they wanted to listen to.

As so often is the case, God’s timing was not their desired timing. Perhaps their invitation, whether they wanted it or not, was to slow down, settle down, and tune in to God’s way of being with them, which wasn’t tied to an external place, not to Jerusalem or the Temple. It was a message to trust in God’s promise of presence with them no matter where they were.

John 14:23-27
The second community was the disciples in the Gospel of John. The disciples were like a small community who were living an intensive faith formation class right beside Jesus. That provided them with intimate space to ask questions, witness, listen, and learn from the One they were believing to save them and usher in the new kingdom of God’s reign.

The context of this particular conversation was during the last supper as the disciples were with Jesus. They were full of questions about Jesus’ confusing words foreshadowing his death.

John paints Jesus’ words with poetic imagery of Jesus being one with God and anyone who was one with God, was one with him; anyone who loved Jesus, God would also love.

Once Jesus would leave, the Holy Spirit would come to be God’s presence. Out of this triune interweaving of love would come peace, that is (1) otherworldly, and can speak louder than (2) fear.

Jesus wasn’t speaking of a concrete place in which the disciples would find this love.  It was to be found internally.  An abstract place, not easily absorbed by the disciples.

This teaching of Jesus was an invitation to seek God beyond Jesus' own flesh and to know God’s love from within one’s very own being.

Romans 12:
The third community was a divided church in Rome where Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians were at odds with one another. Paul wrote the letter addressing the two communities as one.

Paul called out both groups of Christians. The Gentile Christian’s were boasting that they were not bound by the Jewish law and the Jewish Christian’s were using their heritage as an advantage for boasting their credibility.  Paul was challenging both of them to put aside their stakeholder in identity and in its place hold the centrality of Christ’s reconciling love, which would unify them in living out their faith.

Paul was challenging each people group to see that Jesus was not solely found in their own respective heritage and traditions, but rather that tradition was transcended and transformed by the Jesus way, of love, devotion, joy, hope, patience, sharing with those in need, practicing hospitality, and living at peace with everyone.

The formation of our sense of home (faith) can both literally and figuratively look or feel like any one of these communities.

We may find ourselves:

  • in a place where we feel uprooted from our homeland, 
  • scattered from our people, 
  • faced with losing that which has anchored our faith in the past, or 
  • suddenly at odds with those we have intimately connected to

These places are ones that can cause disorientation, crisis of faith, and stoke a renewed quest for God’s presence.

We are challenged as these communities were challenged,

  • to embrace God’s presence not only around us but most importantly within us,   
  • to claim that God’s presence doesn’t rely on a building, 
  • to trust that God’s love is interwoven in our being and that when we say ‘yes’ to that love, the troubles and fears of this world lose their power. 
  • to know that the centrality of Christ’s love is what binds us together in unity, despite our differences.

We each are tempted to separate ourselves from God’s love,

  • to seek after bolstering our own ego, 
  • buy into the idolatry of money and power, or 
  • breed bitterness and ill will towards others.

Doing so influences our outlook, view of God, community, and world.  For this we confess when we fall short in living out God’s peace and shalom in ourselves and those around us.

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