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AUDIO and TEXT of Sermon Preached 3/10/13- "Come Home"

click here to download AUDIO

 

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Fulton Porter, III

 at

St. Thomas Church, Chicago

March 10, 2013

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:11-32

 

Come Home

 

 

Let us pray:

 

Our Father and our God, we your prodigal children come now to the font of your grace.  Forgive us, and so restore us by your word, that we may proclaim your saving help to the entire world.  Through the one who calls us home, the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

 

I can hear my grandmother calling me, in her rhythmical, high pitched, sing-song voice.  I can still hear her calling me to come home when I was a young boy, as darkness began to fall and my day of play was coming to an end.  I can hear her strong voice calling to me from what seemed like the far reaches of the universe, although she was only several hundred feet away.  I could hear her call even permeating through the walls of my friends’ houses.  It resonates in my mind even today.  Her voice was sharp enough even to cut through several inches of bricks and mortar to summon her child home.  She would call once, which to me was a warning. She would call twice, which meant I needed to hurry.  But don’t worry; she never had to call me a third time.  That happened once and all I can tell you is that I am a living testimony to the fact that people can recover from comatose states without medical attention.

 

Stephanie Mills performed a song in the Broadway musical, The Wiz, which talked about home.  She sang:  When I think of home I think of a place where there’s love overflowing.  Well, I think Stephanie was correct about our idealized concept of home in a perfect world.  In a perfect world, home is a place where we feel and receive the safety of love, however, in actuality, we may have some very mixed feelings about our homes, our various places of origin, the place where we grew up, and even the places where we now reside.  What has home been like for us in this city, in this country and in this world?

 

We as a people of the African Diaspora have struggled with the concept of home since our involuntary immigration to this country hundreds of years ago.  What is our place of origin?  Is Africa our home or is America our home?  How do we fit into a society, whose infrastructure by the way was built by the sweat of our ancestors, and call it home when there has been no love overflowing?  How do we, on the other hand, relate to and connect with a home across the Atlantic, Africa, the cradle of civilization; a place of which we have no conscious memory and the majority of us have never seen?  How do we feel at home in the dichotomy of the twoness, which W.E.B. Dubois spoke of?  On the one hand we are Black and on the other hand we are American.

 

We as a people live in a society in which single parent households account for 30 percent of family households with children under 18, and in the black community this number rises to an astonishing 70%; and the number of single mothers has increased from to 14 million between in the latest census data.  What is home like for us when nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and more than 1 million children have parents who separate or divorce each year?

 

And God bless our grandparents, usually grandmothers, who were the only parents for some of us.  Grandparents whose golden years were not times of relaxation but times of endless work required to raise sometimes multiple generations of grandchildren and provide a home for them.  The  census found that 4 million grandparents are the primary caregivers for the children in their families.  Thank God for Grandparents.

 

What is home really like when the domestic violence is up and 1/3 of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives?  What is home like when 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner?

 

What in the world can home be like when each day in the United States more than 3 children die as a result of child abuse in the home- most under the age of 5?  What must home be like in this society when it is estimated that 1 in every 4 children in the U.S. are living in a household with an alcoholic adult?  What are we to think about home?

 

In today’s Gospel, we see a picture of what true home is like.  In today’s Gospel according to Luke we experience through Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son a sample of our eternal destiny, our everlasting home, by God’s grace and love for us.  Today’s Gospel resonates with the reality of our own life experiences in this our earthly home: Adolescent rebellion, alienation from family, the appeal of the new and the foreign, which draws us away from God, the consequences of our foolish living, the warmth of home remembered, and even the sourness of some of our relationships.

 

But the God who created and redeemed us infuses us with a hope today, because  home, despite our memories and societal dilemmas, is a place where God’s love reaches the darkest place of our being.  Home, despite our memories and insecurities, is a place where we feel safe.  Home, despite our memories and our feelings of disconnectedness, is a place where our roots and our rooted ness is in God’s soil, the one who created us out of the dust of the earth.  Home, despite our memories, is not our alcoholic father or abusive mother, but home is experiencing the welcoming arms of a God who runs toward us to embrace us, all of us.  Home, despite our memories, is not a confusion about who we are, but it is a knowing whose we are.  Home, despite our memories and our feelings of unworthiness, lies not in the shame of our sins and unrighteousness but in the power of God’s forgiveness and reconciling work for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is home, not the troubles of the world but the triumph of God’s unconditional love for us.  So let us not be tempted to think that our current mess is all there is or all that it will be.

 

The prodigal son separated himself from the home of his father.  It is a fact that the temptation a parent faces is to allow the child’s separation to become reciprocal.  In other words, if the child has abandoned me, then I abandon them, and the parent may be tempted to respond in kind.  But what we see in today’s Gospel is a model of parental love that says that no matter what the son has done, he is still the father’s son.  When no one else will love you, tolerate you, or even give you a bite to eat, the father will.  And so it is with each of us, we are still the father’s children and he runs to us when he sees us coming, and embraces us, and accepts us back into our home.  This is God.  This is a love that when experienced will change us.  We can no longer be the same.

 

In God’s economy, love requires no confession and no restitution, a concept which I dare say most humans are not able to grasp.  We want them to pay.  But, the joyful celebration begins not after any penance or restitution, but as soon as the father recognizes his son coming toward home.

God’s grace is waiting for us if we would just come home.  God’s love is transformative if we allow ourselves to experience it.  That is why Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, they are new creatures.  The old has passed away and everything has become new!  We don’t have to worry about dragging behind us the baggage of what we did or who we did it with, because if we turn to God’s love, God sees us as new.  We don’t have to worry about the old things that have haunted us, for when we repent and turn to God’s love, he hallows us.  We are a new creation through Christ, and we are no longer the same!

 

But wait a minute; there is an important side note.  Jesus reminds us that before we can experience God’s grace in our lives, we have got to come to ourselves.  And sometimes it takes us being in a pigpen.  But I have come to realize a strange thing.  Pigpens can look like a penthouse and still be a pigpen.   This is important to remember, for some feel this does not pertain to me. I'm making more money than ever before, driving better, living large. Surely I have no relationship to a prodigal in a pigpen.  But, I would suggest, take another look at the debonair, the dignified, the suave sophisticated players.   Never mind the hip ambiance. Listen closely, and beneath the witty small talk you may hear a grunt or two.   That happens in pig pens.  For the truth is, some air conditioned, Persian-carpeted penthouse condominiums are nothing but pigpens.

The sad fact is, it can be harder to come to your senses in a penthouse pigpen. You see, in our Western society we equate prosperity with righteousness, sin with poverty and rags. The strange thing with that is how people can see you on top, and you know you've hit bottom.   A penthouse can be a pigpen.

 

We must come to ourselves and realize that we are God’s own, we have been made a new creation, and created for God’s purposes and therefore we are no longer the same.  We must come to ourselves and forsake the foolishness in our lives, the vain pursuits, which carry us farther and farther away from our true home in God.  We must come to ourselves and realize that nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even ourselves.  We must come to ourselves and realize that when we get to the swine pens of our lives, swine pens of our own making, we must face ourselves, admit our mistakes, and be willing to swallow our pride and come on home.   God is calling us to come home.

 

There are those of us, like the elder brother, who think we can make it on our own, who might be proud of the kind of perfect lives we live; those who would rather live by justice and merit than by God’s grace.  The irony is that if any of us got what we deserved we’d all be dead.  But God’s grace and mercy continues to sustain every drawn breath and every heartbeat every second of every day.  Even so, there are those of us whose selfishness and self-righteousness prevent us from rejoicing with those wayward ones whom God’s love and grace has been bestowed because we are too busy talking about what’s fair and what’s not.

 

But I came to remind all of us today that God is not pleased with our self-righteousness. God is not pleased because we all have a responsibility as part of our fellowship with Christ to rejoice with others in their grace filled moments, in their coming home, even though they do not deserve our forgiveness or God’s grace.  None of us do.

 

Paul reminds us that we have a responsibility as ambassadors or Christ’s reconciliation.  We are to be instruments of God’s grace.  We are to stretch out our arms and welcome that one who has squandered his inheritance, that one who has been rebellious, that one whose home is filled with violence and poverty, that one whose life is filled with bitterness         and hate, even those who would seek to persecute us.  With outstretched arms we are to welcome all who turn to God and seek the shelter of God’s grace.

 

And so Beloved, God is calling us to come home, to a place where we are no longer the same but to a realization that we are new creatures in Christ.  Come home, all who are weary and heavy laden.  Come home, all who have been battered by life’s storms.  Come home all who hear God’s voice calling.  Come home, beloved, come home, where God’s redemption is plentiful, and where you are no longer that same.

 

Amen!

 

 

           

 

 

 

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