Sunday, November 22, 2009

Welcome Home, There are no Strangers Here but the Devil

I remember one time, a few years ago when we were living in Boston, we took a day trip to a zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. After a really enjoyable time at the zoo we were preparing for the long drive back to Boston, about two hours. We were in the parking lot waiting for a family to cross in front of us when the mother stopped and stared at our car. “Who is this complete stranger staring at us?” I asked Presbytera. I’m not shy by nature so I rolled down my window and said hello. “Are you from Colorado?” they asked? (At the time we still had Colorado license plates on the car) After a short conversation we both realized our “old” homes were just a few blocks away from each other. We had practically been neighbors in Colorado, but now both of us were living on the East Coast as strangers to each other until that moment. We exchanged a few niceties about what we thought of our new home and went our separate ways, no longer strangers. It always feels good to connect with someone from home especially when we are traveling or living in a strange place.

This morning we welcome members of our family whom we haven’t seen in a while back home and we welcome some new faces of friends whom we look forward to meeting and building relationships with. In a society that is constantly on the go we find ourselves always in motion from one appointment to another, from one job to another, from one client to another; we never take the time to sit back and look at each other for who we are. If that family hadn’t been crossing the street in Rhode Island, and if I hadn’t been driving at that moment, neither of us would have realized that we had neighbors so close. We may have just continued to travel as strangers to each other.

But Saint Paul writes, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2.19) Jesus Christ says, “But I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15.15) By this we can be assured that in this Church there are no strangers nor foreigners, but friends and family.

We may not be strangers, but there is something strange about us, not within us or between us, but between us the world around us. We know that Strangers are often hated and suffer in foreign lands, but sometimes we do not understand where our foreign land is. The world itself is our foreign land. Christ said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15.19) This can be the only explanation why this life is full of suffering.

Saint John Chrysostom said, “For foreigners, whatever they suffer, endure it, as not being in their own country.” (Homily XXIV on Hebrews XI, Chapters 1,4) This suggests that where we suffer is a strange place but our home is a place of peace. Saint Paul reminds us of this when he says we are “called to be saints” (Romans 1.7). We cannot forget the word “saint” (άγιος) means “not of the world” and that Jesus Christ chose us out of the world so this Church is different than the rest of the world.

This Church has been consecrated to God and belongs to God. This is God’s house, not just a place where we come to exchange baklava recipes, but a place where gather as the “household of God” to worship Him and give thanks to Him for saving us. It is a place, the place, where we come to be joined to Christ in Holy Communion and be made holy by His grace. Just as we enter our own houses for comfort and peace, this Church stands as a place of peace and comfort. As we heard in this morning’s Epistle reading, “For now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2.13-14)

I began with the story about our trip to the zoo because I feel it describes our Church today. Many of us come each Sunday and sit for a little more than an hour not even realizing that the other people sitting next to us are not strangers but members of our own family. As Saint Paul said, “we are fellow citizens of the household of God.” Would any of us if we were traveling to another state or country ignore a Florentine sitting right next to us? I’m sure the answer is no because we would find comfort speaking with someone from home, just like I did at the zoo, knowing someone from home was so close.

Well, we are in a foreign country and I’m not talking about being Greek. I’m talking about being Christian in a world that does not have God as its father. To the elite of society Jesus said, “You are of your father, the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” (John 8.44) What else could explain a society (and I’m speaking not of just the United States, but of humanity in general) that takes pleasure in the suffering of others or at the very least demands the right to kill innocent children. For over thirty years our government has been promoting the right to kill innocent children and soon senior citizens in Florida may be at risk of being removed from life support to make room for flu patients. But we are called to be different.

We have been made citizens of the household of God which has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” (Ephesians 2.20) Our peace is in Christ, “who has made both one, and has broken down the wall of separation.” (Ephesians 2.14) We no longer have to worry about being Greek or Russian or Indian or American. We are all fellow citizens in the household of God. We have been given the peace of God to worship according to the tradition of the Apostles.

Today we opened our doors and invited our friends to return home. This Church is for everyone and I am thankful to God that you have chosen to be with us this morning. Whether you are returning this morning after being away for a long time or if you are here this morning looking for a place to worship God; welcome home.

Take a moment and look around. Stare at each other if you have to like the woman in the parking lot stared at me. Stare at each other until you realize, “Hey, don’t I know you? Aren’t we both children of God? Don’t we both have something in common?” We do have something in common; Jesus Christ became a man for both of us, so both of us could worship Him in this Church. It’s good to be home isn’t it?

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