Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Acts 16: 9 – 15
9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
The Conversion of Lydia
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district* of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.
Revelation 21: 3, 10, 21: 22 – 22: 5
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.
10And in the spirit* he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The River of Life
22 Then the angel* showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants* will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.
John 14: 23 – 29
23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
I’ve just taken two days of leave during which I painted my daughter’s fence round her and her husband’s new house. When I arrived she said. “Make yourself at home.” Now, when someone says “Make yourself at home” it doesn’t necessarily mean lie back on the couch and put your feet up on the coffee table. Making yourself at home is always contextual. So I was well behaved and made sure I took off my dirty paint things whenever I came inside etc.
Speaking of homes, I enjoy watching Prime TV at 6.00pm because it’s my dose of escapism for the day, the BBC’s Escape to the Country. It’s a programme where a celebrity takes people, who want to escape from city life, around lovely country houses, which, because they have normally sold an expensive London home, they can now afford. It’s a fascinating thing seeing what people think goes into making a home.
A few weeks ago a retired RAF Wing Commander and his wife were being shown around a house and he made this comment. “I want privacy because I’m becoming a grumpy old man. An Englishman’s home is his castle etc.”
The man had the escape thing down pat, but does a bolt-hole make a home? Homes, I would like to suggest are places of hospitality. If they are used simply as places to escape to, they become places of loneliness.
Our second reading today from Revelation 21: 3, opened with the words, I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.”
What does it mean that God’s home is now among his people? In one sense it is explained by the next verse that describes the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
It explains the unification of heaven and earth. God’s home among human beings will be:
- a place where there is no temple to contain God for he is himself the temple
- a place where there is no sun or moon because God is its light
- a place where the gates are always open
- a place of purity
- a place of worship
- a place of healing, AND
- a safe place – no evildoers are there – for God is all-present to all people who are there.
It’s a place where earth has opened itself up to receive God in his entirety.
When God is at home among his people, he is omnipresent: not like a lot of awkward additions to everything I perceive, but rather that I perceive everything through the eyes of God in understanding that the created order is shot through with God’s presence.
A tree is more fully a tree because I see it as God sees it, infused with the lively presence of God’s doings. God is both more tangibly in me and more clearly in the things around me.
It’s a place where God and the Lamb are honoured with perfect hospitality. They rule forever and are excluded from nothing. This is what it is like when God’s home is among his people.
From the Acts of the Apostles we read, The Lord opened her (that is Lydia’s) heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’
Lydia’s open heart lead to an open home.
Hospitality towards God is the big challenge because, since The Fall, we have wanted to keep God at arm’s length. Our flesh is not naturally inclined towards God. C.S. Lewis once said something like, It’s not that we want to do bad things, so much as we want to be left alone.
Every time you and I find a slight reluctance to God or God’s ways, we need to stop and have an attitude adjustment.
If we don’t, we slip from grace into law and if we keep going, into licence: from faith into religiosity and if we keep going into rebellion.
A helpful notion is the idea of ‘practising the presence’ of God. You may have come across Brother Lawrence, who published in 1691, a book called Practising the Presence of God. I think in order to do so you have to make friends with God. But it’s more than friendship, more than a lack of hostility towards God.
In the opening verse of our Gospel reading: 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
But who is the “him” Jesus is answering? Well we go back a verse and we read, 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’
At first it sounds as though Jesus is not answering his question, but a careful reading reveals that he is correcting Judas’s perspective. It’s not about us and them, is the first thing Jesus is conveying.
Let’s read the two verses together: 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ : 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
It’s not that Jesus is only going to reveal himself to those he has called. He will reveal himself to those who love him, who offer God hospitality. It is those who love him first who will obey his words. It is they who are open to receive God, and consequently Jesus says, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
Licence says,” I do my own thing. I want nothing to do with God.”
Legalism says, “I keep God at arm’s length by performing my duty and doing good works. My home is my castle. I decide who comes in and out at my convenience.”
Grace says, “I am not self-sufficient. I depend upon God and in faith I love him. I open myself to receive him into my very being.”
In other words, I offer God complete hospitality. I give God a home in everything I think, do and am. In Jesus’ words, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
The question Judas asks implies a cosy coterie, an ‘us and them’, a select few to whom the revelation of God comes. Jesus says that it is to those who love him, who as a consequence obey his words that he and the Father will come – and much more than that. They will make their home there.
Jesus never forces his way in. Even if you’re old and dying and in desperate need that he should be in, he does not force himself in. Instead, he is always there, saying, in the words of Revelation 3: 20, Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Jesus once said, The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Matthew 8: 20). Each of us, in our own way, has to respond to whether that is true or not.