Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again

I was speaking with someone from my church today who told me I made her cry during a recent sermon. Now this happens sometimes, and it can be good or bad. In this case, I'm still not sure which it is.

The text of the sermon was John 2:13-22, Jesus cleansing the Temple. I began the sermon describing the joy I had spending so much time at my grandparents' home in small-town Texas. Then, the part that brought the tears:

"But we all moved away, grandmother and granddaddy died, and the family finally had to decide to sell the house. I went back for a visit not long ago. I click-clacked down the red brick streets—from the highway, through the town square, and down 6th street toward the park. I slowed as I approached my grandparents’ house. My heart lifted as I recalled all the memories and the family Mecca the place once was. I had even entertained ideas of buying the place myself one day, just to get it back in the family. And there I saw…the horror.

My granddaddy used to do a walk-around a few times a day, picking up gum wrappers and other bits of trash, and maintaining the lawn he always kept so delicately manicured. Now it was a mess of scrub and weeds, with children’s toys scattered all around. The fence that guarded the back and side of the house was adorned each spring with a coat of beautiful lilacs. Gone—fence, lilacs—gone, exposing the alley in the back and the street on the side. Perhaps worst of all, the climbing tree—hacked to a stump! Shutters were ragged, paint was peeling, the wooden roof was rotting. In my disbelief I circled the block for another look. My heart sank, and I never wanted to return. You can’t go home again."

I went on to set the stage for Jesus visiting the Temple:

"The Temple is outwardly glorious, but it’s lacking one important thing—the true presence of God. The heart of Israel and the heart of God no longer beat together.

And then he comes. This little carpenter, teacher, itinerant preacher and homeless miracle-worker, walks into the holy city during these Passover preparations and walks right into the Temple. Is he coming to worship, to advance his career, to grow his ministry? No, this is a homecoming. This is not some stranger or even a faithful pilgrim. This is the Son of God going to visit his Father’s house. This is the Lamb of God, whose blood will defeat sin and death once and for all. This is God himself returning to his Temple and fulfilling the long-awaited prophecy. And he doesn’t like what he finds."

I went on to discuss the scandal of Jesus' claim that he was, in fact, the true Temple of God; and how, since Pentecost, we become God's temples, filled with the Holy Spirit. And I asked how God finds his temple--your life--today.

But it was fascinating to me how broken up a few people got about the idea that we can't go home again. It is amazing to me how attached we become to places (and the people who made them special). Obviously, I'm certainly no different. The good news is that God himself is our true home and, as the psalmist wrote, "I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Nevertheless, be it ever so humble...

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