Posts Tagged ‘going home’

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?  10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Luke 21:25-36

[Jesus said:] “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.  28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;  30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.  32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.  33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.  36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”


The leadership of the South Hills Partnership have come up with something a little different for Advent and Christmas this year. Our Advent series is not the usual book study or thematic teaching, but rather rests on an overarching concept: Close To Home.

Close to Home is a an appropriate concept for this time of year because so many people think about home over the Christmas holidays.  For some of us ‘home’ brings warm thoughts and memories; but for others ‘home’ brings painful memories. And for some, the holidays might mean being alone when we would rather not be. Advent and Christmas bring us into times and traditions that can be tender and vulnerable.


Advent and Christmas also touch on the “already-but-not-yet-ness” of our faith. We believe that Jesus has come; we believe that God’s kingdom is here; but this earth is not yet what God has designed it to be.

With all these things in mind, the authors of Close to Home have come up with some house-related and home-related discussion topics for the next few Sundays. This week we start with the concept of Homesickness. It’s a dark place to start a holiday season, but it’s appropriate for the season and for the scriptures of the day.

The season of Advent begins in darkness: we have the darkness of the shortest days of the year; and we have the darkness of the world before the Light of Christ comes. You know the old saying: it’s always darkest just before dawn. That’s where we’re starting this week.

As we head into Advent, we do so in a world that is not as it should be.  So when we feel homesick, what are we longing for? Isn’t it the hope of what Jesus’ return will bring? Isn’t it the love that the apostle Paul describes in the reading from Thessalonians, when he says “how can we thank God enough for you”?  Isn’t it God that we’re longing for – because where God is, is home?

It may not seem like that to us though, at least not at first. It might seem like home is a place we miss; or home may be a person or a group of people we miss. But we come from God – we were created by God – and we are restless until we are with God, because God knows us and loves us. As St. Augustine said around 1600 years ago, “Lord, Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in Thee.”

But it may not seem like that to us here on this earth right this very minute. We may still feel homesick for any number of reasons and for any number of things.

Personally I was feeling homesick around five or six years ago. I came down with a really bad case of homesickness for my hometown of Philadelphia. Mind you, I am a Pittsburgher. I moved to Pittsburgh in 1976 and I am a native in all the ways that matter. But I was remembering my childhood back in the 1960s, when Mom used to take us kids to downtown Philly. We would get dressed up – because one never wore jeans into the city back then – and we would take a train into Reading Terminal.

The Old Reading Terminal

Mom would hold our hands really tight because there were so many people around: it was shoulder-to-shoulder, packed, noisy, grimy, smelly, exciting! We might go shopping at Wanamaker’s (Philly’s answer to Kaufmann’s) or get food from a street vendor. And the city was just buzzing: wall-to-wall people, wall-to-wall traffic!

And I wanted so badly to be in that crowd just one more time.

So I took a train into the city from Dad’s place out in the suburbs. I discovered the trains don’t go to Reading Terminal anymore – Reading Terminal has been made into a convention center with an open-air market on the street level. So I took a taxi to Wanamaker’s – and the store was almost empty. There was, thank goodness, a street vendor outside the store who was selling cheesesteaks, and I bought one.

Philly Cheesesteak

I walked east to the old Reading Terminal building – stunned at how easily miles of train tracks could be made to disappear. I walked a little further, down to the old Lit Brothers (Philly’s answer to Horne’s) and like Horne’s the building was still there, designated a historic landmark, but with other tenants now. And like Horne’s, the store’s original brass signs were still on the outside walls. One of them over the door (which I had never noticed before) read “Hats Trimmed Free of Charge” – which made me ponder: how does one “trim” a hat?  (One of the great mysteries of life, I suppose.)

Hats Trimmed

As I was thinking about this, I suddenly noticed I was only one of maybe three or four people on the entire city block. And the blocks around me weren’t any busier. In fact the street was quiet. And even though I knew I was only a few blocks away from the groups of tourists around the Liberty Bell, I got nervous and turned around and walked back to the Reading Terminal Market as fast as I could, and found a safe place to sit down and eat my cheesesteak.

Reading Term Market

The cheesesteak was good. But what on earth had happened to my city?


I don’t think of this as nostalgia. I wasn’t looking for a ‘blast from the past’. What I wanted was a touch of home – and I discovered that home as I remember it isn’t there any more. (Except for the cheesesteaks.)

When people here in Pittsburgh talk about “meeting under the Kaufmann’s clock”… or the wooden escalators in the department stores… or Jenkins Arcade and all the wonderful people who used to work there… it’s not that we want to turn the clock back, it’s that we would like, just for a moment, to go home.

The thing is, as Christians, as people of God, home doesn’t lie behind us. Home lies ahead of us.

I do hope God in His mercy will allow us to carry a few memories of our earthly homes with us. But ultimately we are not ‘going back home,’ we are going forward home.

In the meantime we live our lives in a season of Advent. We wait together: sometimes in silence, sometimes in prayer, sometimes in sharing, sometimes in working. We walk together through life’s storms and we share life’s joys. We watch children grow; we watch the pages on the calendar flip by faster with every passing year. And we remark to each other how fast time is flying.

My old pastor used to say that the fact that we’re amazed at how fast the years go by is proof that we were created for eternity. I believe that.

Jesus’ prophecy that we read in Luke’s gospel has the effect of making us homesick for heaven. We already see people in our world fainting from fear; we already see signs in the heavens and distresses on the earth. We wonder if the time might be drawing near. We wonder just how close eternity is.

Jesus tells us it’s like watching a fig tree sprout leaves. When the leaves appear you know summer is near! And every gardener knows the joy of that sight because it means fresh fruit won’t be far behind.

In the same way, when we see Jesus’ words coming true, we lift up our heads because redemption is near.

Jesus tells us: stay awake, stay alert. Don’t get weighed down by the cares of this life.

Homesickness for things of this earth can weigh us down if we let them. They can leave us depressed, sad, and worried; and they can lower our defenses, both emotionally and physically. When I was wandering around Philadelphia that day, by myself, with no place to go and nobody knowing where I was, that was not safe.

In the same way, wandering through life with no particular goal in mind is not a safe thing. We need to stay focused. Like the people Paul was writing to, we need to stay close to others who are heading in the same direction. We need the fellowship, we need the support, we need love from fellow believers. We need what Paul is talking about. We need people who encourage us to be our best, to do our best, to keep on keeping on with God.

As God’s people, we have a home. We have a future.

Going Home 2

I want to close with this hopeful quotation from a pastor in Minnesota (David Lose, Senior Pastor, Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, Minn MN) He wrote:

“From Moses to Martin Luther King, Jr., history is full of examples of those who, because they had been to the mountaintop, had peered into the promised land, and had heard and believed the promise of a better future, found the challenges of the present not only endurable, but hopeful. We, too, amid the very real setbacks, disappointments, or worries of this life, can “stand up and raise [our] heads” because we have heard Jesus’ promise that our “redemption draws near.”

Advent is here… and we are on our way home.


Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 11/28/21

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