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Texts: Hosea 11:1-4,8-11/Luke 18:18-23

Title: “It’s Where the Heart Is”

Let’s begin with a couple of definitions. House: a building for human habitation, especially one that is lived in by a family or small group of people. Home: the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. The distinctions the two definitions draw between the two terms home and house are not all that broad, except on one point. House is a building, whereas home, in general terms, is what the inhabitants create within the building. The contractor constructs a house, while the person or persons who occupy the house construct a home.

There is a housing development of fifty houses on Healdsburg Avenue in Healdsburg that will soon be completed. The builder has been very aggressive in marketing those houses, and with good results. Sales have been brisk. If any of you are interested in buying a house, or would simply like to have a look at what they have done, they will be happy to accommodate you. Here’s what you do. You go to the sales office on site, and an agent will take your name, ask you some general questions about the kind of house you might be looking for. They will then offer to show you a variety of houses across a range of prices.

Did I say they will show you a variety of houses? What I meant to say is that they will show you a variety of “model homes.” I assume you are all familiar with model homes.

I have been in a few model homes at various times, but these were particular impressive. If the designers who chose the furnishings for the various rooms in those houses hoped to impress, it was mission accomplished room after room. Each aspect of the design was carefully coordinated so as to give each room its own individual character. If you want decorating ideas for your home, time spent in those model homes might be time well spent.

The model home presents us with an idea of how you or I might furnish a particular space. What no designer can do, however, is design into a given space the elements that make a model home a home. The model home communicated the aesthetic touch of the designer, not the human touch of an actual occupant. No designer can turn a house into a home, be his or her skills the best in the business.

The model home is just that, a model, a virtual reality, a facsimile of the real thing. No, you won’t find a child’s or a grandchild’s art work on the wall of a model home. You won’t see the antique matching lamps acquired at an estate sale. You won’t find chairs that actually look like that they have been sat upon. No crack in the sheetrock. No dishes in the sink. No laundry waiting to be folded.

A home reveals the wear and tear of daily life. It looks lived in. The furnishings reflect the tastes of the occupants and what those persons value. The furnishings have a history, which is the history of the persons who live in the space. The picture on the wall, the bookcase in the corner, that easy chair with the cracked leather arm rests may be mere objects, but not to the person who acquired those items and lives with them. Around these objects memories have collected and attachments formed. It’s not what they are physically, but the meaning they acquire for over time that convert the things we have collected and choose to live with from objects that occupy space into the unique and personal space we refer to as home.

Home is more than an address where we happen to live. It is our sanctuary, our “oasis,” “hideaway,” “refuge,” “harbor,” or “haven.” It is a place where we can “let our hair down.” It is a place where pretense seldom ventures, at least when we are home alone. It is place where the “school clothes” come off and we can hang out in just about any comfortable garb we have a mind to wear.

If there are two sayings whose truth would be universally embraced those saying would be the following, “there is no place like home,” and “home is where the heart is.” There is no way I could possibly improve on those sentiments as I attempt to cover my subject this morning.

No place like home. Linda and I like to travel. The whole experience, from picking the destination, to the travel arrangements, and needless to say, the trip itself, give us great pleasure, but after a certain time away one of us will always, predictably say, “I’m ready to be home.” It’s been our privilege to visit a number of very special places, but, no, “there is no place like home.” I would be very surprised if you didn’t feel the say way.

That saying, “home is where the heart is,” has a broader application to which I would like to turn. Augustine, a fifth century saint, is credited with this observation that places home in its theological context, “our hearts are restless, Lord, until they find their rest in thee.”

There is no truth to which the scriptures, the theology, and the traditions of the church give more weight than the truth that Augustine seized upon so many centuries ago. “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they find their rest in thee.” So why have the likes of us so persistently denied that truth in the choices we have made, and continue to make?

Hosea, from whom we quoted earlier, was just one among the several prophets who posed that question. Prophesying in the eighth century before Christ, the prophet voiced God’s frustration and anger that Israel was making her home among her idol worshiping neighbors. No violation of God’s will could be deemed more serious. Flushed with anger, God might have summarily disowned Israel for that offence. Fact is, God refused to do that, God still provided Israel with a home to which she could return. So thoroughly was God committed to his errant people that we read, “my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger…for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” And the good news for us is that God still stands by that promise, even as we continually do our homemaking wherever our fickle appetites take us.

The restless heart finds its own attachments, this God knew full well, but God’s compassion always superseded his anger. “How can I hand you over, [to your folly] O Israel?” God would answer his own question countless times. No, he could not hand Israel over to her menacing enemies, nor would he allow her own wayward appetites dictate her fate. Centuries later the Apostle Paul would write, “Though we remain faithless, God will remain faithful, for God cannot deny himself.”

So where did Paul did get that Idea? He didn’t make it up. All he had to do was consult the record. When hadn’t God been faithful? In his letter to the church at Rome the apostle makes his most bold claim for the faithfulness of God,  writing, “He [God] who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” Faithful to the extreme, God surrendered his own Son. In his act of self-denial he revealed just how far he was willing to go to secure our freedom from the powers of sin and death.

God cannot deny him essential nature, but that is something we mortals easily accomplish. We deny that our origins are in God. We deny that union with God is our destiny. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest and author made the same point, but in a particularly striking way when he wrote, “We all have a home address, but we can’t be found there.” Ponder those words a moment, “we all have a home address but we can’t be found there.”

Stop and think through this inconsistency. You and I are folks who place great value on our homes for the reasons I earlier reviewed. Home is our base camp, our haven, a place where we can be at peace and be ourselves. However, and here’s the inconsistency, we often find ourselves estranged from the home address that God assigns us, and “we can’t be found there.”

The Gospel of Luke reports that a certain ruler approached Jesus with a serious inquiry pertaining to his future home address. The inquiry was made using these words, “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” He sought assurance that when the time came God would welcome him into his heavenly home. In his rather terse response, “you know the commandments,” Jesus may have been revealing impatience with the questioner’s works-based—“what must I do” ambitions. Be that as it may, the ruler could place a checkmark next to each commandment. He was clean as a whistle, but he also had great wealth, a stubborn obstacle in his path to the eternal life.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Those words of Jesus appear at another place in Luke’s Gospel, but they certainly apply here. The ruler’s heart was fixed on his wealth. He was at home in the life his wealth afforded him, so much so that the eternal life to which he said he aspired took second place.

“We all have a home address, but we can’t be found there.” The home address is the one God assigned us at birth, but we don’t live our lives there. Instead we create homes of our own design, model homes, reproductions, facsimiles, we choose to furnish to suit such ego needs as wealth, power, privilege, and a good reputation in the eyes of our fellow man.

In the ruler’s case, his model home was so comfortable and extravagantly furnished with the world’s goods that he was unwilling to give it up even if it meant forgoing treasure in heaven.

Model homes, of course, cannot replace our true home. We can do everything within our power to give them eye catching appeal. We can furnish them with all the things that might satisfy our cravings, but still remain spiritually unfilled. And why is that? It is because there is “no do it yourself” plan for building a life that can succeed.

God had a plan for each of our lives before we were born. Not a single plan has ever been duplicated. Each one of us is a one of a kind original, a child precious in the eyes of God, so precious that God’s heart breaks when we attempt to build a life on our own specifications. His heart breaks when he sees us attempt to project an image that is not true to who we are, when we attempt to conform to some standard we, or others, have set for us, or so occupy ourselves worrying about to tomorrow that we forget to live today.

There are many prescriptions that creative people have written, and which are currently being written, boasting methods that will guarantee a rich and satisfying life. Seekers have tried those prescriptions, but none of those prescriptions have delivered the lasting benefit so long as they ignored that most essential reality of all, the reality that the heart is restless until it finds its true home.

“We all have a home address, but we can’t be found there,” continuing, Fr. Nouwen writes that “we live in a state of distraction rather than a state of presence. We chase the future, the next ambition, the next idea, and end up missing the moment.”  The tragedy is, of course, that God is in the moment, and it is a moment too rich in possibilities for us to pass up.

A life in God is a quest to learn what it means to live at our home address, it is allowing God to sanctify, or make holy, each moment we live by keeping our senses attune to his presence.

“Home is where the heart is.” God will not turn away any restless heart from its true home. He wants each person he has created to know that his or her restless hearts has a home. How blessed are we that we have had guides and mentors in our journey of faith who have helped us cultivate a love for home.  How blessed are we that we have been given today, and by God’s grace another day tomorrow, to apply what we know.  AMEN.

Living God, our restless hearts are searching for home, but too often we allow the distractions of life govern our itinerary. We give our worldly aspirations precedence, all the time trying to convince ourselves that personal fulfillment is attainable if we have enough money, the right body image, or a close circle of family and friends. Help us do what we so often fail doing on our own. Help us to find the time and the discipline to reconsider how we are setting our priorities, and if necessary, help us make the course correction that is most consistent with your holy will.

We give thanks today for the friends among whom we gather, and the privilege of enjoying the peace and fellowship this brief hour and one half affords. Grant us renewed openness to your presence in our midst, O Lord, so that we may grow into the vision you have prepared for us, both as individuals and as a faith community. We thank you for the prayers and mutual support by which we are bound in this congregation, remembering with gratitude the kindnesses and support we have experienced as part of this family.

Abide, heavenly father, with those who continue to wage battles with cancer, Norm, Holly, Margaret, Roy, and Allen. Comfort the sorrowful, and reassure those who bear the weight of emotional distress. No stranger to our anguish, O Lord, we know that you will never forget us in the dark passages of life. Strengthen our faith that we may remain strong even as our path leads through the valley.

We pray, O Lord, for world leaders who face the challenges of high office, particularly challenges pertaining to peacemaking and peacekeeping. May the leaders of the nations of this world strive for unity across borders, races, and ethnicities, not as a vague precept, but as a realistic and actionable objective.

Encourage and focus us, O Christ, as we continue our Lenten journey. May these days of prayer, introspection, and repentance represent for us a new and important chapter in our journey of faith. And may the personal growth we attain this season become a gift we are eager to share with others.

For this day, for each other, for the church over which you so majestically and powerfully reign, O Christ, we give thanks, praying..