I gave the sermon at church this Sunday. When the minister asked me to preach, she asked me to talk about what I believe. The lectionary readings were 1 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17, and the opening hymn was "How Can We Name a Love." Based on all of that, this is (pretty close to) what I ended up saying. (Also posted on the church blog.)
I spent a lot of the past year traveling. In a new place, it was easy to feel lost, like I didn't know how to act, didn't know where I fit in, and had no idea where to begin. When I was abroad, I didn't know my way around the cities and countries, was surrounded by different languages and cultures, and had to figure out things as simple as how to use the apartment phone, washing machine, and oven. In short, I was far away from the familiar, and I had to look for a way to start to feel at home.
Christ tells the disciples -- tells us -- to make ourselves at home in God's love, and he tells us that we are at home in God's love when we obey God's commandments. Jesus follows this up by giving a command: to love one another. So it is in loving God and loving each other that we find home -- home that is always there. I believe in the church universal as, to quote the hymn "In Christ There is No East or West," the "one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide world." God is found "hid in the commonplace" ("How Can We Name a Love") through the love that we give to and receive from each other. We are all one, and we are not alone. So no matter where we are, all around the world, the church universal is our home.
But often, we need not just home but family. We need something a little more concrete than some notion of the church universal. One of the questions that a lot of people here at Christ Church have asked me is, "How did you find us?" or "How did you end up here?" The answer's pretty simple, really. I was raised in the United Methodist Church, and I don't feel at home in a place until I have a church home. So when I came to Olin I started looking for nearby Methodist congregations. On my first Sunday after classes started, I was too shy to call a church to ask about a ride, so I chose to visit the closest UMC - which was Christ Church. I came, and over the next few months, this community became home.
I have congregations that I consider to be my families of faith in each place I've lived in the past year for that same reason. I believe in the local church and the importance of belonging to a community of faith. We all need places where we are known, where our strengths and weaknesses and gifts and needs are recognized. I learned more about Singapore last summer from the guidance of the people at the church I attended than any other way. Without the choir director, I would have never tried chili crab, and that was the best meal I had in Singapore. All of you here at Christ Church are always the first to ask how my family is doing after a round of storms in Oklahoma. We need accountability and guidance and encouragement. We need a family with whom to share joy and sorrow, to gather around the table to share communion, to join hands as we say the Lord’s prayer. That is what we find in the local church. That is what we find in each other.
I spent last semester in Hungary, living and studying in Budapest. While I mostly took math classes, I learned some Hungarian, and along the way I picked up a few idioms. My favorite - my favorite Hungarian phrase at all, for that matter - is still the first one I learned. It's just two words, but I love it so much that I bought a plaque with this phrase, and it now hangs in my dorm room. The plaque reads, "Isten hozott." The best translation is just, "Welcome," but literally it means, "God brought you here."
I believe in "Isten hozott," that welcoming someone is telling them that God brought them here to us. I believe that we are at our best welcoming people when we show them that they are a gift to us simply by their presence. "Isten hozott" is an assurance, an invitation to come in, extended from one person to another. It is the statement of a person who is at home to one who is not yet. Isten hozott. With these two words, I mean that you are a blessing and God is among us -- so come in. Stand in God's love, and unite your voice together with mine.
If when we welcome someone we are telling them that God brought them here to us, then we are telling them that their voice is valuable and that we want it joined with ours. The last verse of the hymn "All Who Hunger" by Silvia Dunstan starts: "All who hunger, sing together, Jesus Christ is living bread. Come from loneliness and longing; here in peace we have been led." Sing, and do not sing alone. It is not simply we who say to each other, "Isten hozott." We are all first invited and called by God. When we accept that calling, we are led here in peace to sing. We have all come before God together, and it is corporately, each of our voices a blessing to the community and yet all in union, that we thank and mourn and lament and praise.
We sing both as a family of faith here together but also as the Body of Christ throughout all the world. Though our languages may differ, the church universal sings as one to proclaim the glory of God's name. “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.” We do not sing alone because we sing in God's love, and that unites us. That brings us home. Thanks be to God.