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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Home of Homes (Psalm 84, John 1-2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 23, 2017 - Psalm 84; John 1:14; 2:18-22

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:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Better is One Day (Redman)
Singing Together: I Have a Shelter (Cook, Cook, Kauflin - Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: Home (Austell) - click player to hear today's live version or check out the studio version

Hymn of Sending: Be Thou My Vision (SLANE)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we pick back up in our summer series entitled, “Psalm+1.” Each week we are looking at one of the Psalms, which were the songs and prayers of God’s people. The “plus one” is a New Testament passage that ties in some element of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the theme of the Psalm. Today we are looking at Psalm 84 and the idea of being at home with God.

Home with God (Psalm 84)

Psalm 84 is a beautiful poem or song that reflects on what it means to be home with God, in the presence of God. In the first section of the Psalm (vv. 1-4), human beings can relate to the animals – the birds, the swallows. Like them, we also find a place to lay our head and care for family. (v. 3) But that experience of a home is just a glimmer of a greater Home where we are in the presence of God, who provides and cares for us as His family. So the poetic phrases and words flow. God’s home is ‘lovely’ (v. 1) and the Psalmist yearns, longs, and sings from the soul to be in God’s presence. (v. 2) That is the place of blessing, the best place to be. (v. 4)

How are we to experience the presence of God? The Psalmist explores that as well in the middle section of vv. 5-8. God does not drag us against our will into His presence. Rather, the blessing of being in God’s presence comes to those who find their strength in God and whose hearts are traveling the highways to God. (v. 5) In other words – in fact, Jesus’ words – those who SEEK will FIND. Even passing through the valley (v. 6), those who seek God are oriented towards home and have the hope of finding and knowing the presence of God.

The third part of the Psalm (vv. 9-12) connects the celebration of the first section with the chosen path of the second. It becomes clear that choosing to seek God also means choosing to turn away from the alternatives – from false gods, from self-interest, from distraction. That’s why one could say, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (v. 10) Those places ‘outside’ may seem attractive in the moment, but they do not hold a candle to trusting and living in the presence of God. The Psalmist gives us a glimpse into the better way when describing the Lord God as “sun and shield" and the one who “gives grace and glory.” (v. 11)

So all in one sentence: Being with and in the presence of God is the best thing and something that we can and should desire, seek, and find. To do so, we must turn away from what is against God or not God and turn toward God’s will and word. That is not only the path of blessing, but is the definition of blessing.

God at Home with Us (John 1:14)

Well that’s lovely and, as they say, “that’ll preach.” God is good; turn away from sin and turn toward God; God welcomes you home and into His presence!

But here’s the reality and the problem: we don’t consistently and faithfully seek the presence of God. We do choose those places that are ‘outside,’ that are lesser than or outright lies in the moment. Not only do we not consistently seek and choose the “courts of the Lord,” sometimes we run full out in the other direction. That’s not only an admission and confession; it is actually the human condition.

But I am reminded of the verse which introduces Jesus at the beginning of John’s Gospel. After identifying Jesus as God and with God and from God, John writes this amazing sentence about Jesus:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (v. 14)

The great news of the Gospel is that in Christ God came among us and made His home WITH US! We are inconsistent seekers, inconsistently faithful. But here’s the news: GOD is the one being faithful; GOD is doing the seeking.

Think of that great parable of the Prodigal Son. In it the son has failed miserably and has rejected his father and family. He doesn’t come back home expecting restoration; he comes to beg mercy. But the Father runs – silly runs, making a scene – to welcome him. And the Father seeks out the older brother, who has literally chosen a place ‘outside’ the home to withdraw and sulk. The Father seeks him out as well to invite him in.

Jesus sought out folks who had failed and fallen: those who realized it, like the tax collectors and beggars, and those who denied it, like the Pharisees and scribes. He was God in the flesh, making a home among us, helping us see God.

Home through Jesus (John 2:13-22)

And Jesus connected the dots for us between Psalm 84 and himself. For the Psalmist, the dwelling place of God was both the Heavenly courts and the earthly Temple and house of God. While God could see you and know you and protect and bless you; God’s people generally had to go to God.

Jesus flipped that around and said that in Him God had come to you. Jesus loved the Temple as the “House of God” – that’s why he was righteously angry at the mis-use and abuse there by the money-changers. But in that same setting he then connected the dots to himself and identified his own body as the new presence and place of God.

John introduced Jesus as God in the flesh. Jesus taught that his body would be the new Temple. And when he died and was raised, he demonstrated those things to be true.

Why is that important? It means that the claims of Psalm 84 are now located in Jesus. Indeed a day with him is better than a thousand elsewhere. He also asks obedience, faithfulness, and service of us. But a fixed “House of God” cannot come after you or pursue you. But Jesus can and does. He actively seeks you out, inviting repentance, offering forgiveness and restoration, and inviting into partnership and service.

That is why Jesus is our “Home of Homes.” Not only is the door always open and the welcome always extended; he also is looking out for you and seeking you faithfully. It’s like our old lighthouse and searchlight imagery. Jesus is God on the move for the world, for you.

Can I Quit Church?

A few final thoughts… That doesn’t mean that church is worthless. We come here for a number of reasons taught in the Bible: worship, community, fellowship, and more. The New Testament says in Hebrews not to forsake assembling together.

Jesus locating the “House of God” in himself also didn’t do away with the idea of an eternal Heavenly Court. In fact, that is the greater and more permanent “Home” – and where Jesus is now, at the right hand of the Father. But what he did was bring a taste and a preview of that eternal reality into the here and now. We portray and experience that when we receive the Lord’s Supper. I always say that it is in anticipation of being in the presence of God, a kind of appetizer for what is to come.

In just a bit, during the offering, I am going to sing a song I wrote called “Home.” I’ve sung it before, so you may remember this backstory. It is taken from one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite books – The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. What has just happened is the end of the world (in the story); for C.S. Lewis, the context of WWII and other world events were in the backdrop. The Christ figure in the story, the lion Aslan, is caring for those who still survive after a fearsome war and great suffering on all sides. He has prepared a meal as a taste of what is about to come. The human children and some others see him and this gracious meal and receive his kindness and love as they pass onto what is portrayed as the greater country, the life to come. Another group refuses to trust the motives of the lion and cannot see the banquet set before them. In their blindness they literally taste it as hay and dirty water and they turn away and choose ‘outside’ despite the lion’s earnest invitation and plea.

In the final scenes of the book, after all the struggles of this life, the children and others reach the far country. They proclaim, “This is what we longed for all along.” They knew the comfort and ‘home’ of God in life and they recognized and welcomed the greater home in the end.

God’s invitation to you is to come home and ENJOY being at home with him, not just in eternity but here and now in the highs and lows and struggles of life. An illustration I have found helpful is this:

You do not have to earn or purchase or build or find your home with God. In Jesus, because of Jesus, God has already made a home. Yet, far too often we choose to reject our home and family with God and sleep outside. Sometimes we even choose a thousand days or more ‘outside.’ But there is a better place that is already secured by God’s love through Christ for all who would come, and that includes you. Come home!

Don’t settle for the driveway or the yard. Come in! The refrain of those children and others in C.S. Lewis’ book was “further up and further in.” Come home!

The Father of the Prodigal said to his lost son, “Today my son has returned; come inside that we might celebrate!” He said to his older son, “All that I have is yours; come inside that we might celebrate.” Come home; come in; Christ has made a place for you. Amen.

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