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The preaching series in this season is all about Home. Miak, in the past three weeks, spoke about how Home is the way, finding our way home, and what it means to be welcomed home as well as to welcome others home. And if you’ve missed any of these sermons, you can watch them on our Youtube channel.
Today I will be talking about coming home.
Question 1 (Word Cloud)
When you think about coming home, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
Usually when we think about coming home, the image that comes to mind is somewhere where we feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging. A place where we feel safe and can be truly ourselves, where we can rest, laugh, dance, eat and feel accepted. And it’s not just a one-way thing. It’s not just about how I feel — how comfortable, safe and accepted I am. When we have truly come home, it is a two-way relationship.
Not only do others help us feel comfortable and accepted, we also help others feel safe, comfortable and accepted. There is a mutuality in the relationship. Home is where we take care of each other. When you feel safe and accepted here, that is when you begin to feel the first stirrings of home. But it is only when you are willing and able to invest in the lives of others in this community, and experience what it means to take care of one another that you know you truly have come home.
This mutuality is not a new concept. In fact, it’s an ancient one that began with God.
If you read through the Bible, you will see this word “covenant” come up a lot. We don’t talk a lot about covenants today. But we should because covenants are one of the most important themes in the Bible. Right in the beginning from Genesis, we see God entering into relationships with various humans, and these divine and human relationships are often accompanied by a covenant.
In fact, when we say the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament”, what they actually mean is the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant”. That’s how important covenants are in the Bible. And they can teach us something important about the way God relates with us, and how we are to relate with one another.
A covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other, and work together to reach a common goal. In the Bible, they are often accompanies by oaths, signs and ceremonies. Covenantal relationships were very common in the Bible. It wasn’t just God and humans but there were covenantal relationships between people as well, such as David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, etc.
Today, I just want to focus on God’s covenant making with Abraham and see what we can glean from that story.
Genesis 15 (NLT)
Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.”
2 But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. 3 You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”
4 Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” 5 Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”
6 And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.
7 Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”
8 But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?”
9 The Lord told him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. 11 Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away.
12 As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. 15 (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.”
17 After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. 18 So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt[a] to the great Euphrates River— 19 the land now occupied by the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
God’s Covenant Making with Abraham
Berit ‘Olam: Everlasting Covenant
Genesis 15 reminds us of God’s repeated promises to Abram but Sarah is still barren and without a son, the promises of God remain unfulfilled. When Abram points this out, God reiterates the promise that Abram will become the father of a great nation. “God even signs the agreement in the manner of ancient treaties by symbolically passing between the pieces of sacrificed animals, which signifies that one who violates the terms of the treaty will suffer the same fate as the sacrificial animals.” (Sweeney, 67) The symbols of light, fire and incense are symbolic of the Divine Presence.
Notice that only the smoking pot and flaming torch passes between the animals. The smoking pot and flaming torch represents God’s presence and only God passes between the animals.
So if this is a covenant between God and Abraham, why doesn’t Abraham also pass through the animals? That’s how they made agreements in that time, right? Yes, that’s how it usually works. But in this story, God was taking the initiative to sign the covenant first. Abraham was being invited to trust God, to believe that God is good and has his best interests in mind and will be faithful to him even if Abraham messes up.
God was trying to show Abraham that mutuality is not a transaction. Covenant is based on a relationship between the parties involved, while a transaction is usually just an exchange of goods or services, and there is often no relationship involved or just a superficial relationship at best.
As God would slowly reveal through the relationships God has with humanity throughout the Bible, this everlasting covenant is anchored on love. But what is love?
Question 2 (Open)
What is love to you? How do you recognize love?
This question is important because we need to know what we are looking for when we talk about love. More importantly, we need to reflect if what we recognize as love is truly love. Many of us grow up with a warped understanding of love. Perhaps in our families, love meant never talking back to your parents or doing whatever you were told. Maybe our parents modelled love as expectations and our greatest fear is disappointing them. For some of us, we grew up not feeling loved at home and even our adult relationships have been filled with pain and heart breaks, and we are not even sure what love really is. Love is this elusive ideal that we all desire but often find so difficult to even define or explain.
So what is Love?
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
What is Love? – 1 Corinthians 13
“Love never fails.” (13:8)
“Fails” means collapses, disappears, ceases, comes to an end, no longer have force
What does the Bible say about love? One of the most famous passages can be found in 1 Corinthians 13. Remember this line that says “Love never fails” in v.8? When we realize that “love never fails” means love never ceases or collapses or comes to an end, then we understand a little deeper what God’s covenantal love is all about. God’s love for us will never collapse, disappear or come to an end. And not only that. This also helps us understand how we can uphold love in our covenants with one another. “Yes, I might fail you from time to time, but with God’s help, my love will not collapse or disappear or come to an end. My love will stay even when things get difficult between us.”
This is what is meant when we say our covenant with God and with each other is based on love. It is based on a love that doesn’t collapse at the first sign of trouble. It is a love that stays even when things get difficult, and we are committed to working things out to the best of our ability. It is a love to seeks to know and be known.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known but not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
Jesus’ Covenant With Us in John 15
Jesus also spoke about the new covenant. One example can be found in John 15.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Speaking of himself as the vine and of his disciples as the branches, Jesus says: “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you” (John 15:4). This is an invitation to intimacy.
Then he adds: “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5) This is a call to fecundity (or fruitfulness).
Finally, when he says: “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11), he promises ecstasy. These 3 themes are the golden threads woven through the whole of John’s gospel.”
“When Jesus says: “Make your home in me as I make mine in you” (John 15:4), he offers us an intimate place that we can truly call “home”. Home is that place or space where we do not have to be afraid but can let go of our defences and be free, free from worries, free from tensions, free from pressures. Home is where we can laugh and cry, embrace and dance, sleep long and dream quietly, eat, read, play, listen to music, and be with a friend. Home is where we can rest and be healed.”
“Fear is the great enemy of intimacy. Fear makes us run away from each other or cling to each other but does not create true intimacy. Fear makes us move away from each other to a “safe” distance, or move toward each other to a “safe” closeness, but fear does not create the space where true intimacy can exist. Fear does not create a home.”
The Intimate Space = Holding a wounded bird
Creating an intimate space is like holding a wounded bird carefully. If you hold it too loosely, it might fall and die. And if you hold it too tightly, you might suffocate it. True intimacy is creating the right space for growth. That’s the kind of intimacy Jesus was talking about when he said, “Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” And that’s the kind of home we want to build.
“It is the space where growth can take place.”
“Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells, has become our home. By making his home in us, he allows us to make our home in him. By entering into the intimacy of our innermost self, he offers us the opportunity to enter into his own intimacy with God…God so much desired to fulfill our deepest yearning for a home that God decided to build a home in us. Thus God overcomes all distinctions between “distant” and “close” and offers us an intimacy in which we can be most ourselves when most like God.”
Henri Nouwen, Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity & Ecstasy In Christian Perspective
Question 3 (Open)
What does Jesus’ vulnerability mean to you?
Are you home? Can you hear the inner voice of love?
The voice of first love (1 John 4:19) says: “You are loved long before other people can love you or you can love others. You are accepted long before you can accept others or receive their acceptance. You are safe long before you can offer or receive safety.”
But it is not enough to just experience intimacy between us and God individually. We need community to learn how to love and be loved more deeply and authentically.
While it’s true that we need to learn to ourselves before we can love anyone else, there is a missing part. If we want to experience intimacy, we need to be taught to love aspects of ourselves–again and again–by the people around us. The reality is that it’s hard to learn how to love ourselves on our own. And that’s the humbling truth. We have our own blind spots and insecurities. Sometimes the only way to learn self-love is by allowing ourselves to be loved — especially in the areas of our lives where we feel most unsure and most vulnerable. When that happens, we feel freedom and relief, and permission to love in a deeper way. This is the gift of intimacy and relationship.
“There is a twilight zone in our hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves-our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and our drives — large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. This is a very good thing. We will always remain partially hidden to ourselves. Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can.
The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility, but to a deep trust in those who love us. It is the twilight zones of our hearts where true friendships are born.”
So there are two invitations for us this morning. Both are related to coming home.
One is coming home to God.
Just as God initiated that covenant with Abraham, God has initiated a covenant with you and me. In Jeremiah 31:3, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” And Jesus said, “Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” How will you respond? Will you say, “Thank you, and I will make my home in you too, God?” Or will you ignore and push aside this invitation of love?
The second invitation is for you to come home to community.
As I said in the beginning, we know we have truly come home when we not only feel safe and accepted, we also help others feel safe and accepted. It is a two-way relationship.
Not only do others help us feel comfortable and belonged, we also help others feel safe, comfortable and belonged. There is a mutuality in the relationship. Home is where we take care of each other.
To be honest, sometimes people treat FCC as a hospital. They come with wounds and hurts, and hope that we can help them get back on their feet. And we are happy to do so because that’s part of our work and ministry as pastors and as a church. That’s what we are called to do. We are called to love unconditionally. But sadly, many also leave after they have gotten what they needed. Some join our cell groups because they don’t feel safe joining their own church’s cell groups. They are happy to feel comfortable and accepted here, and want to just stay that way, and the relationship is kind of one-sided.
But if you want more than a hospital, if what you truly want is a home, then I want to extend this invitation to you today. Home is where there is mutuality in the relationship. Home is where we take care of each other. Are you willing to be covenantal in your love? When we care for you, we put in our hearts and soul. Will you invest your hearts and souls too?
Home is where we take care of each other.
Home is where we learn how to love and be loved more deeply and authentically.
Home is where we create and hold space for each other to grow.
When you understand and experience what this means, you know you have truly come home.
Come home to God.
Come home to community.[Reflection & Response]