Following the Shepherd #6 in Series
An elderly man in Florida called his son in New York one November day. The father said 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 hung up. The son immediately called his sister in the Hamptons and told her the news. The sister said, “I’ll handle this.” She called her father and said, “Don’t do ANYTHING until we get there! We’ll be there Wednesday night.” The father agreed, “All right.”
He hung up the phone and called 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 forever.
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.
II. THE DESIRE:
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. God leads us to green pastures so that we can find rest in Him. God leads us beside still waters to quench our thirst. God offers to restore our soul through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son. God has paved the way of life with paths of righteousness that will take us safely through the valley of death.
God prepares a table laden with a feast of love, mercy and grace. God calls us by name. God wants to welcome us and reward us. So that goodness and mercy will follow us not only through the rest of our lives, but all the way home.
All God asks is that we receive this incredible gift and enter into God’s family. Because God knows that our real home can only be found where God is.
III. THE PROMISE:
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, it talks about the place prepared for us but it doesn’t describe the rooms. All I know is that “It’s beautiful over there.”
I know this for a fact. I know it firsthand because I saw the beauty reflected in the eyes of an old Coastie as I held his hand while he died, and that’s what he said. It was my first encounter with death as a Pastor. It was at one of the first Churches I served.
I’d been visiting the father of one of the members who was in the VA Hospital and was dying. Charlie was an ex-Coastie like me so we hit it off pretty well and started swapping sea stories. I’d stop and see him about once a week. That last week he wasn’t even aware that I was there.
One night about three in the morning, the doctors called the family and they called me. When I got to the hospital, Charlie’s daughter and son-in-law were already there. Charlie looked pale and shrunken. His breathing was rapid and shallow. There was very little life left in him. It was obvious that he wouldn’t be with us very much longer.
I had only been a pastor for about seven months, and really didn’t know what to do or what to say. I hadn’t had any of those pastoral care classes or read anything about what to do at times like that. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do, so, I prayed. We all held hands and prayed.
I was scared to death. I don’t even know what I prayed. But the whole time I was praying for them, I was praying for God’s guidance and strength for me.
When I finished praying, we all looked up and there was Charlie, his eyes were open and as clear as could be, the light had come back into his eyes. He was looking up. It looked like he was looking at something a long distance away. All of a sudden a beautiful smile filled his face. He took a deep breath and said, “Oh, it’s beautiful over there.” In his smile and in his eyes, I saw the glimpse of a reflection of what was waiting for him and for us.
With those words, that daughter’s tears were wiped away. The moment their father uttered those words you could see the hope and the promise of eternal life alive in their eyes.
That family was given the rare opportunity to look into the face of one who experienced the reality of heaven; one who experienced the reality of the Resurrection promised by God.
I knew the Resurrection was a reality before I ever heard this man’s witness. I knew it because Jesus said it was so. But I’ll never forget the look of joy and anticipation in that Charlie’s eyes.
You could almost see the hand of Jesus reaching out to welcome Charlie home. And that glimpse of the Home that waits for each of us was “Compliments of the House.”
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. For some people, that’s not even enough. Let me tell you about Miss Emma. Miss Emma and, Tom, her husband had been sweethearts since the seventh grade. From that moment on, they were inseparable. They went and did nearly everything together. In their later years, whenever I saw them, they were always holding hands. They were still deeply in love.
Miss Emma was devastated when Tom died. The day he died, she shut the blinds and drew then curtains and darkness of her grief engulfed her.
A couple of months after the funeral, on one of those dark, drizzly days, I stopped to see her. I wasn’t sure she was home. The house was dark and all closed up; all the blinds and curtains were drawn. I rang the doorbell, nothing. I knocked and then I heard a quiet voice say, “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Miss Emma finally came to the door, and as I walked down the hall to the living room, I couldn’t help but notice that the whole house was sealed up like a tomb. We sat down and went through all those first few minutes of formalities that you go through when you have guests. And then all of a sudden Miss Emma burst out with, “Is the resurrection real?”
It took me back a little but I answered, “Yes.”
She in turn asked, “Well, how do you know?”
We talked about the passages of scripture which deal with the resurrection. And those where Jesus foretold his own death and told us of the promise of the resurrection. We talked about how we have to accept it on faith. It was all very Biblical and theologically correct. I would have gotten an ‘A’ back in Seminary, but I could tell it wasn’t getting through.
With a deep sigh Miss Emma said, “I want a sign. I need proof.” Unfortunately, at that moment, I didn’t remember Charlie’s story. I’m not sure if it would have helped anyway.
I told her the only sign I knew of was the empty tomb. She said, “That’s not enough. I want more than that. I NEED more than that.”
As we talked the rain had been coming down harder and harder. It had gotten even darker. The day seemed to match our moods. She was grief stricken and depressed. I was depressed because I’d come hoping to help and it didn’t seem like I did a very good job.
Before I left, we prayed and I prayed for a sign for Miss Emma; something to ease her grief and to help her know the truth of the resurrection. As I walked down the hall, I felt sort of useless because I hadn’t been able to reach her. Nothing had changed.
When I opened the door, the first thing I noticed was that it had stopped raining and the sun was starting to peek out of the clouds. The sky off in the east was still dark and stormy but the western sky was beginning to lighten up. About the same time that I heard the door close, I looked up. I immediately turned around and rang the doorbell.
The door opened and I took Miss Emma’s hand. I pulled her outside and pointed. We stood there, hand in hand, in stunned silence as we looked at one of the most beautiful rainbows I have ever seen. It was a full horizon to horizon rainbow. The colors were brilliant and in stark contrast to the dark sky behind it. Miss Emma started crying.
And then she started laughing. She looked at me and through her tears and laughter said, “He’s alive!!!” She hugged me, ran inside and started opening curtains and blinds.
“He’s alive!!!” She knew her Tom was Home. God knew what Emma needed the most. And that day, God responded in a way I’ve told over and over again. And it came, “Compliments of the house.”
Home. A place of welcome, where we’re recognized, greeted, loved and supported. Home, a place where there is always room at the table. 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.
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 Home.”
The Psalmist knew what awaited him, that’s why he wrote, “And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” That’s the promise of our God. That’s the promise of Jesus. And it’s all “Compliments of the House” through the Grace of God.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), December 2000
Other References Consulted