An act of worship at home
Reading 2 Corinthians 5:6-17
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
The theme of home is a very powerful one throughout the Bible. At the very beginning, in Genesis, is the story of Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge against God’s will and being expelled from the place which was their home. And then in the story of the exile the Jews become slaves in Babylon and long to return home.
And then of course there is Jesus who comes and makes his home among us but has nowhere to lay his head.
So this theme of being homeless runs like a rich seam through the Bible and from it there comes an understanding of salvation as home-coming.
Despite lockdown in some ways we are all displaced people. In some ways we are all children of Adam and Eve, children of Cain, children of exile, prodigal sons and daughters and salvation means homecoming: homecoming to a place where we belong, homecoming to our true selves.
Think for a moment about Paul. Paul, furiously persecuting the early Christian followers who one day was on the road to Damascus but it was on that road that he discovered the true destination of his life, it was there that he met the risen Christ. And ever since that encounter his great desire was to draw closer and closer to Christ, to become completely united with Christ.
In his letters Paul uses this fascinating little phrase that is so rich in meaning: he talks of being ‘in Christ’. He uses it here in our reading in verse 17: ‘If anyone is in Christ, or united to Christ, they are a new creation’. That phrase speaks of a oneness, an deep intimacy with Christ that might also be expressed as finding ‘a home in Christ’. There ‘in Christ’ we at last find our true home. There we at last find our true selves. And here surely we find the very heart of the Gospel. In coming to Christ we come home.
Way back in the fourth century St Augustine once famously said, ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’ and he knew what he was talking about. He had lived a restless life, a life of flight from the God who was pursuing him and eventually he gave in and there found rest for his restless heart.
And maybe there was something of that in Paul’s story too. But the surprising thing is that in our reading Paul seems to be as restless as ever. If he has indeed come home to Jesus, found in him his destination, he hardly seems at rest. He still speaks of himself as an exile who has yet to come home.
Let’s read his words again: ‘we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord …
and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.’ Paul here is certainly not speaking as someone who has arrived home. His longing is still to be at home with the Lord. Is he saying that he has had enough of this life, life in this world? Is he saying that he wants to leave it and to get away and to be fully and completely with Christ once and for all? Is he longing for a home in eternity where he can leave this world behind? I don’t think so.
Just listen again to Paul’s great statement in verse 17: ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’ For Paul to be ‘in Christ’ is to be part of a new creation, a new world, a new order where everything is put right.
And so Paul is longing that a world that is exiled from Christ and exiled from its true self may come home to its true created glory. Paul’s longing to make his home with Christ is a longing to make his home with Christ
in a creation which is fully renewed and transformed. And it is that desire that makes him restless.
Augustine was only half right. Yes, in Christ we find rest for our restless hearts. Yes, in Christ we come home.
But, as Paul indicates, we will never be fully at home in Christ until the earth and everything in it, including ourselves, is transformed into a new creation. And that makes us restless and impatient with ourselves and our world. It makes us eager for change. Thanks be to God. Amen.
We thank you, God, for the mystery of life; for the abundance of your creation and for the way you are constantly renewing it; for seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, birth and death, beauty and vitality.
We thank you for the mystery of our own lives, for the gifts and graces you have given us, for the ways you have made us grow and flourish.
We thank you, each of us, for the stage of life we are at now, and we praise you that you renew our life.
We praise you for the mystery of the life of Jesus, for his goodness and power.
Thank you that he gave up his life to reveal your love, like a seed that is buried in the earth.
Thank you that he lives here and now in our lives and in the life of your church.
You have made us glad, God.
We want to make you glad, God of life and love, but we are imperfect people and we lay at your feet now the places in which we stand in the way of your abundant life.
Crack open the shell in which we hide, God. Release us into the life you wish for us. We are willing, but afraid.
And, as we are remade, our lives will deepen, and so will our praise, until there is no part of our being that does not sing out to gladden you, our loving God. Amen.
And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain;
for me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
He left his Father’s throne above—
so free, so infinite his grace—
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
for, O my God, it found out me!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.
Let us go from this time of worship surrounded and filled with the love of God and may we share it with friend and stranger and so may we and they know God’s blessings this day and forever more. Amen.