We post things on Facebook once or twice a week – maybe a 30 or so folks visit each post, some percentage of them “like” the post, and perhaps the post add a few “friends.” This Thursday we posted a simple item on the parish Facebook page letting people know there will be a tour of our beautiful church today at 1:15 pm. But this post about the tour of the church has gone somewhat viral. By early Saturday evening more than 8,300 people have viewed the post, several hundred “liked” it, and a whole bunch of people became “friends!” Holy cow! Holy guacamole! People like us! We have friends! This affirms everything we have tried to do here at the parish! …. ahhh… well….. let’s not get too breathless about it all. I don’t think all 8,300 hundred people are coming for the tour. Still, it’s good to know people find the church building beautiful. But I wish they would and they could all have the feeling of the one person who wrote: “Absolutely love this community. Like coming home every time I step through those doors.” That is what I would like to have people experience when come through those doors – people who meet them, welcome them, to fulfill what is perhaps the deepest of human desires: belonging – knowing that you are home.
I can remember coming home from 3 years of mission in Kenya, friends were driving me home, and as we wound through trees, I could see the porch light on at my home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Even from afar, it shone like a welcoming beacon. It was the sign I am home in a place I have always belonged. It is the same moment we have seen on the evening news, in newspapers, on-line in the experience of our men and women serving overseas in foreign lands. Coming home writ large is the heavy bags dropped on the tarmac, the faces of unbridled joy, parents sweeping up children in their arms, a loved one embraced, and the moment they know: I am home.
And it is not just in the dramatic moments – if we are paying attention – it is in the everyday. A college student away comes home for Christmas, the long vacation trip, enjoyed but finally home. Home, a place where, at the end of a long day at work or school, you can find solace, put your feet on the furniture, curl up on the couch, pet the dog, pause amidst the chaos of family and know you belong. The place you are accepted, loved, nourished, embraced. Home – where people wait for you, to hold you, praise you, challenge you, serve you, annoy you, delight you, and all the other facets of an intimate life joined together for a higher purpose.
This sense of belonging is what it means to be church. We are at our best when church is like family. Messy, noisy, chaotic, beautiful, hopeful, alive, and graced. Joined for a higher purpose. Belonging to a vibrant community of faith is to know the draw and gravity of the porch light, to realize you can open the door without knocking, step inside and see that you belong. It is to know the familiar, to reach over to the holy water font, to feel the familiar cool touch of the water, to renew your baptism in the sign of the cross – and hopefully you remember the words of family, hearing again God’s words to Jesus his son – personal, poignant, and powerful. “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.” These words are the blessings of belonging.
It is as though Advent is the porch light burning with anticipation in our hearts. Christmas is that recognition that the living Son of God has plunged into our world as a helpless child, now part of the human family. And today, the Baptism of the Lord, is the day the heavens are torn open, and Jesus plunges into the waters of the Jordan as sign and symbol speaking the words: I am home, I belong, this is where I have, from the foundation of the world, longed to be.
Be attentive to the gospels of the next few weeks. Jesus rises from the waters and will plunge head first into the messy, noisy, chaotic, beautiful, hopeful, alive, annoying, sinful, radiant family of humanity. He belongs to us and we belong to Him. He is our God and we are his people. As the readings unfold notice how often Jesus will call people to take the plunge, to belong to Him. It will not be a theological proposition. It was not be a moral exhortation. It will be a call, a welcome, to belong, to be at home.
Jesus is the porch light that calls, the door that is always opened. He is the welcoming arms waiting to embrace us saying, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased. You belong. Now, live as one who belongs. Take the plunge – be for others the porch light, the door ever opened, and the arms ready to embrace.” This is the mission of the community of those who believe, those who belong.
And this is just the beginning of the Gospel. This is at the core of the proclamation of the Kingdom – from Jesus the living Word of God come home. As the prophet Isaiah spoke:
“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my Word [go] forth…..; my Word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Nor shall the Living Word of God return void – but lives in the community called to achieve the end, the higher purpose, that all belong, that all be saved – this is our mission as church.