Genesis 18:1-18, Ephesians 2:19-22, Ephesians 3:14-21
I never used to think much about home, like, the concept of home. I grew up in Austin, lived in an apartment with my friend in college but still went to college in Austin. I moved to Dallas to teach but even that move didn’t really get me thinking about home. It wasn’t until I moved to Nebraska and went back to Texas for the first time after moving that I thought about the concept of home. I distinctly remember telling my church that I was going home to Texas to visit my mom and dad and friends. And then while I was in Texas and talked about when I needed to leave, I would say that I had to go back home to Nebraska. Home, home. And now my Dad is in the process of moving to Orlando-ish and the other day I was thinking about how I’d be going home to visit him in Florida. Which, like, Florida is in no way my home but my brain had a disconnect and got stuck on, where parent is home is. It wasn’t until I moved to Nebraska that I started thinking about home, the concept of home, and the nature of home. And realized that, home is about place, but it’s more than just location. In fact, perhaps, home is more about people. Home is about people and abiding love.
Today is homecoming Sunday, when, at the turn from summer into fall, we celebrate many of our ministries returning and welcome new and old friends to our church home. Perhaps some of us are here after a summer of traveling, reunions, and family. Perhaps we are here after a season of health struggles. And definitely after two years of pivoting, “unprecedented” times, loss, and change, today we make time to intentionally come home, in person or online, or even over the phone, and welcome new friends into our home. Just like Abraham did in our scripture today.
In Genesis 18, God pays a visit to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three strangers. And Abraham treats these strangers with reverence and honor. He has water brought to them so they could wash their feet; he let them rest under a tree and brought them bread, milk, and meat. With Abraham and Sarah, these strangers found rest, refreshment, nourishment, and care. These strangers were not making camp or coming to live with Abraham and Sarah, they were just passing through, and yet, during the time the strangers spent with Abraham and Sarah they found comfort, respite, and a home. Now, you might be thinking, ummm these strangers were the presence of God, of course they were going to roll out the red carpet. True. But, are we not all made in the image of God? I mean, I do not think any of us is the second coming, but are we not all sparks of divinity? This scene from scripture, three angels, three holy people, sitting around a meal together, is an icon of hospitality in Christian tradition. Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, this scene shapes a theology of welcome and hospitality across denominations and cultures. Here, these strangers didn’t find some air BnB, hotel, or bed and breakfast, they found home and were welcomed as a part of that home. Even for a short time, God’s unbounded love flowed through Abraham and Sarah out to these strangers.
Y’all, places are important. Places hold memory, meaning, and life. But it is people that fill places with those meaning and memories. People make a home. Ministry has taught me that. How I can go into your homes and feel at home. How I can be appointed to a new church and feel at home in a place I have never been to before. People make a home, whether it is a personal home or a church home. God’s unbound love flowing into humanity that people then pour out into each other with open arms, food, a smile, a hug, a ride to the hospital, a genuine and authentic, how are you doing, those things make home. My life has taught me that, years of ministry have taught me that, scripture has taught me that, and you, Hanscom Park have taught me that.
In your stories about how you found this church, I have heard echoes of Abraham’s generous, accepting, and open hearted welcome. In your stories about what this church means to you, I have heard echoes of Ephesians and the filling, grounding love of God. A love that has flowed from one generation, to the next, to the next, to the next, all in this church and, some of those generations are still able worship side by side in the same pew. It means so much, it says something about the home y’all have created here, that all in one church are generational families, people who have been here for 20 years, people who have been here for 2 years, and all lengths in between. Even from a distance people who have moved away stay in touch and still consider this, they know, this is still their home. Your values: community, acceptance, respect, dignity, welcome, nurture, inclusion, creating safe space, you live those values. Those values shape this home, and God’s unbound love moves through those values building and sustaining relationships both new and old.
The church is called to be a space where strangers become friends and family. The church is called to be a tangible presence of God’s love. The church is called to create space where all people are safe to grow, ask questions, and become the people God has made them to be. The church is called to be, a home. I give thanks for this church home that is Hanscom Park. And, whether you are new to our home or have for years helped make this home, welcome, thank you, and in this home may you always experience the unbound love of God.
Rev. Stefanie Hayes