A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday in Lent – March 7, 2004
Text: Philippians 3:20
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Home is where the heart is. That’s what folks say when their hearts fill up with appreciation for the place they love best and suddenly they feel overwhelmingly grateful or secure or homesick. It’s what we say to remind ourselves that however rootless and unconnected we may feel at any moment in our lives, there’s always a place that our heart returns to, and that’s a place we can call home.
I didn’t need to look very far for an example of this at work in real life. As it turns out, my brother, Jeff, is grappling with this very reality. Mom and Dad, you see, are building a new house and will be moving in this spring. For Mom and (to maybe just a little lesser degree) Dad, it’s a great, exciting time…they’re living out a dream.
For Jeff, it’s a different experience. All his life “home” has been 214 Dale Street, the second house in from the corner as you’re coming off Second Avenue. My family’s lived at that address for nearly 25 years now, and it’s the only home Jeff has ever known. I suppose the same is true for me… but I’ve got a new home in Litchville. To me, the Dale Street house is finally starting to become “Mom and Dad’s house.” But Jeff is still in school, and his heart is there in that special house. It’s home to him.
When Mom and Dad move, I know that Jeff will do his part to be helpful and happy for them; but I think that it will take much longer for his heart to be at the new house south of town that for their hearts. It won’t be “home” to him the way it will be to them.
For better or for worse, home is where the heart is.
If you spend much time at all in a nursing home, you’ll find how true it is. They may be called “homes,” and the staffs, bless their hearts, may do everything the can to make them homey, but a good share of the residents never really think of “the home” as their home. They still get newspapers from “back home” in the old town, the one they grew up in, or the one they got hitched and raised kids in. They still reminisce about the garden back at home, or the neighbor kids when they’d come out to play, or the way it was so quiet at night, so different from the hustle of a nursing home. Their hearts are still back in the old place, and they can never quite call the care center their home and really mean it. Who can blame them, when their hearts are still far away in their younger places?
There is another group you find at the nursing home whose hearts are elsewhere. To me, at least, they are much more difficult to relate to, almost troubling sometimes. They are the men and women whose hearts are no longer in the places of their past, nor in their present life at the care center, but rather have already moved on from here, looking with anxious eyes past the grave to the hope of heaven. They talk about longing to “go home” to be at peace, to be with loved ones, to be with Jesus…death, to them, seems to become the door that will let them finally pass through to where their heart already is.
I said that these people sometimes trouble me, and it’s true. It makes me uncomfortable to be with people who long to die. I’m young and my heart – whatever place it clings to – is very solidly rooted in this world, not the next. When I’m with people who are nearing life’s end, it challenges me, forcing me to wonder whether all of the places I love so much might only be shadows of my real home after all. Being around these elders of mine who long for heaven causes me to ask, is it possible that my heart is not, at the bottom of it all, in the right place?
That certainly seems to be what Paul is trying to tell me, and everyone else who reads his words: “Our citizenship is in heaven,” he declares. Plain and simple. You may have thought that you’re a citizen of the United States of America, or the State of North Dakota, the Counties of Barnes or Lamoure, or of the Cities of Litchville, Hastings, Valley City, Lamoure, or wherever your hat hangs. But the truth is that we’re citizens of God’s country.
Citizens of heaven. Full members, along with countless brothers and sisters, of the kingdom of God. Residents, even though we’ve never even peeked at the place…residents nonetheless because Jesus has prepared a place for us, and then opened the door wide so we might come in.
Heaven is our true home. It is where God intends us to be, and where he intends to be with us. Heaven is the place to which, if our hearts only knew, they would cling with all their might.
It is the people on the edge of life who see this most clearly. People who are old, people who are dying. People like Paul who are suffering and facing the end. But are you and I so, so far from our own edges that our hearts can’t catch even hope for their heavenly home?
I will try to look for it.
I will try to live like a citizen of God’s country, even though I’m sure I don’t deserve it.
I will try to care as much about the concerns of my eternal home as those of my short-term home here in this world.
And when I become caught up in the ins and outs, the picky details of this life, I will try to listen to Paul, listen to my elders, listen to my own heart when they whisper to me of another home they long for.
Home is where the heart is, and our home is in heaven. May heaven draw our hearts homeward, toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.