June 10, 2007
"FOLLOWING THE SHEPHERD"
"Compliments Of The House"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
An elderly man in Florida calls his son in New York one November day. The father says to the son, "I hate to tell you, but we've got troubles here at home. Your mother and I can't stand each other anymore, and we're getting a divorce. I've had it! I want to live out the rest of my years in peace. I'm telling you now, so you and your sister won't go into shock later when I move out."
He hangs up, and the son immediately calls his sister in the Hamptons and tells her the news. The sister says, "I'll handle this." She calls Florida and says to her father, "Don't do ANYTHING until we get there! We'll be there Wednesday night." The father agrees, "All right."
He hangs up the phone and calls out to his wife, "Okay, they're coming for Thanksgiving. Now, what do we do to get them here for Christmas?" (1)
There may a few people who avoid going home but for most of us, going home is great thing. Going home brings back all kinds of great memories. The Psalmist knew that. That's why he wrote what he did at the end of the 23rd Psalm. Let's look at it again.
 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The portion I want us to look at today is the last part of verse 6: "and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." That passage always makes me think of home.
Growing up, the first weekend in June was one of the highlights of the year. It was an unofficial family reunion on my mother's side. We would all gather at Aunt Viola and Uncle Warner's place. Aunt Viola was my mother's aunt and one of the interesting things about Aunt Viola was that she collected salt and pepper shakers. She had display case after display case of her unusual collection. We could and did spend hours and hours looking at them all.
One of the goals we all had when we were on vacation was to try and find a salt and pepper shaker that Aunt Viola didn't have.
Anyway, gather at Aunt Viola's was an all day event. We usually go there about 10:00 am or so. And we'd all turn to helping Uncle Warner set up the picnic tables, get out the lawn chairs, horse shoes, badminton, croquet and volleyball sets. We'd mark off the bases for the whiffle ball game.
We'd carry out plates and cups and coolers full of drinks. It was the one day of the year that nobody asked or limited how many cokes we could have.
And then there was the food. Uncle Warner would have the barbecue going and there'd be ribs, chicken, pork steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs and sometimes even steak. There was enough food to feed an army. And the smell in the kitchen was like heaven. We had the usual, potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad. But then there was also the big deep dish lasagna, the stuffed cabbage, the German potato salad, sauerkraut and pirogis. There were about ten kinds of pickles. And every condiment you can think of. It was a feast.
But that's not the only memory. After lunch we got serious about all the games. As my cousins and I got older, whiffle ball became the game of choice. It always turned out to be the teenagers against the old guys. In the heat of the afternoon, after we were all played out and worn out, everybody would get quiet and in the shade.
My cousins and I would retire to Aunt Viola's basement, where she had a Ping-Pong table and this huge old radio. We'd fiddle with it and see how many foreign radio stations we could pick up. We'd play some Ping-Pong. But we always made sure to raid the freezer.
We thought we were getting away with something. We'd open Aunt Viola's freezer and sure enough, there was always a new half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream. Danny loved strawberry, Bruce loved vanilla and I loved chocolate. It was perfect.
We'd grab spoons and snarf that down and then hide the empty container. I don't know when it started probably when we were about 10. And we'd all feel guilty about it but excited that we'd gotten away with it for another year. It wasn't until we were 15 or 16 that we figured out that Aunt Viola knew what we were doing all along. Not only that, but after that first year, she made sure there was a half gallon of Neapolitan Ice Cream in the freezer for the gathering.
She never said a word, but I do remember coming up the stairs one time and seeing aunt Viola looking at us when the back door opened. I don't know what Bruce or Danny saw but I swear that as she looked at us, she grinned and winked, almost as if she were saying: "Compliments of the House."
That's just one of the memories I associate with Home.
Home. Remember Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and ET the extraterrestrial? All either one of them really wanted to do was go home. Home and that sense of home is so important to us that we have tons of phrases like: "A man's home is his castle. All the comforts of home. Charity begins at home. Come home, all is forgiven. Don't leave home without it. Keep the home fires burning. Make yourself at home. There's no place like home. Wherever I hang my hat, that's home."
Home is a place where we're recognized, greeted, welcomed, loved and supported. And if all of these sensations are missing from our lives, we become lonely and our hearts ache and we long for those feelings desperately even if we don't know what they are. You can't really define home but you CAN feel at home. And you know WHEN you're home.
That's our desire. That's the longing we have. To be at home.
C.S. Lewis, in his famous sermon, "The Weight of Glory" tells us that all of the desires we have or experience on this planet are fulfilled in one way or another. We get tired, there's rest. We get hungry, there's food. We get thirsty, there's water. But the one longing for which there seems to be no earthly satisfaction is our great yearning for home. He says the reason we can't find it here is because Earth is not our home.
We all seek a place where we are recognized and loved. Where we can fall into the welcoming embrace of our fathers, mothers and other relatives. C.S. Lewis says: "That place exists. It's called Heaven. And until we recognize it as the place for which we were created, a place that no earthly locale will satisfy, we will be doomed to wander in fruitless searching for some pale counterfeit.
God is waiting for us to come home. He has paved the way for us through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son. He wants to call us by name, welcome us, and reward us. He wants us to find rest in Him. All He asks is that we receive this incredible gift and enter into His family. Our real home can only be found where God is.
A. That's the promise isn't it? That's the promise Jesus made to each of us, that we would dwell in the house or the mansion or the place prepared and built just for us by the very hands of Jesus our Savior. If you remember the passage from John 14, that's what Jesus said. "I go to prepare a place for you so that where I am, you may be also."
What will it be like? I have no idea. I heard a preacher go on and on about all the trappings of heaven, and how big the mansions were going to be and how good the meals were going to be and how gorgeous everything was going to be. But the truth is Scripture doesn't say. Scripture talks about the glory and majesty of God, talks about the place prepared for us but it doesn't describe the rooms.
Besides all of the best descriptions of Scripture may be nothing more than Biblical metaphors to wrap our limited understandings around. They may be there simply to assure us that when the end does come and it's time to go home, we will be with God. And then we'll discover that simply being with God and being in God's presence will be enough. The surroundings and trappings just aren't that important.
The simple truth is we don't know what it will be like. But this we do know. Christ promised to prepare a place for us. Christ promised He would be there with us forever. And Christ promised to come back and take us there so we could be with Him and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
For me, that's enough. For me, it's enough to know that we all want to go home.
B. The movie Antwone Fisher is based on an autobiographical account of the author. It's the story of a young black sailor prone to violent outbursts who is sent to a navy psychiatrist for help. Refusing at first to open up, the young man eventually breaks down and reveals a horrific childhood. He was born in a women's prison, where his mother was an inmate. His father was shot and killed by an ex-girlfriend and he grew up in a foster home at the hands of an abusive foster mother.
Through the guidance and eventual friendship of this doctor, he begins to confront his painful past and then, with the help of his girl friend, begins a quest to find the family he never knew. The one thing Antwone Fisher longed for the most was a real family. Someone to belong to. Someone who wouldn't leave. Someplace and somebody where he was recognized, greeted, welcomed, loved and supported. What he longed for the most was home.
I love the scene when after a long search, Antwone, who has dreamt all his life of finding his family, with the help of his girlfriend he finally does.
[CLIP] Antwone walks into the house of his aunt, who he just met earlier that day. He has no idea what awaits him. As he opens the door, the room is filled with people. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces great him and embrace him.
They lead him through the kitchen door and he sees a table full of food. Around the table are all the elderly relatives. His girlfriend hugs and kisses him. Then the matriarch of the family (presumably his grandmother or great-grandmother) knocks on the table and motions to him to come to her.
Antwone walks over to her. She tenderly holds her hands to his face and looks deeply into his eyes. She says one word - "Welcome." The room erupts with joy. (2)
He was Home. Home. A place of welcome, where we're recognized, greeted, loved and supported. Home a retreat to which a son or daughter can return in triumph or defeat, in victory or disgrace, and know they will be loved, no matter what. Home.
In an old issue of Today's Christian Woman, a woman shares that her family is close friends with another family and they both attend the same church. Often times they get together and we spend Sunday afternoons relaxing at our house around the pool. Recently, when she phoned the friends, their 4-year-old daughter, Alicia, answered and politely asked who was calling. To tease her, I said kiddingly, "Alicia, you come to my house almost every Sunday and you don't know who I am?" In an awed and reverential voice, she replied breathlessly, "Jesus?" (3)
We all long for a place where we know we are loved, and where we feel we belong. Some people are blessed to experience some of that with their family. But all of us have the chance to experience the ultimate homecoming through Jesus. Imagine what it will be like when you see the outstretched hands of Jesus reach out to you and say "welcome".
"And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." That's the promise our God. That's the promise of Jesus. And it's all Compliments of the House through the Grace of God.
1. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), December 2000
2. Antwone Fisher, 20th Century Fox
3. Stacy Penalva, Indianapolis, IN. Today's Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart."
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