Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Welcome Home!” based on Hebrews 2:9-18 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, October 20, 2019
When I first heard the theme for these weeks of worship—Welcome Home—I thought that was a pretty inspired choice of words as a lead in to go a little more in depth about our church home and our Peace family. I mean, “Welcome Home!” It’s warm. It’s inviting. Who could possibly be averse to being “welcomed” somewhere? And who doesn’t like the concept of home?
But then the thought struck me that while it sounds good in theory, applying the phrase “Welcome Home” to our church setting might be like trying to fit a lineman into a quarterback’s shoulder pads. It’ll probably work, but there are a lot of reasons why it’s not exactly a perfect fit. The cynic might say, “Well, it’s hard for me to think of this place as home. First of all, it looks like church. Not home. The seating is more comfortable at my actual home. The media more interesting. The attire less formal. And I mean, if we’re going to call this place home, then the people in this place must be family. But the truth is, I hardly know people’s names, much less anything about their jobs, their family, their history, their joys, their struggles.” That’s what the cynic might say. And in every regard, they’d have a point.
Those valid points notwithstanding, there still are beautiful parallels between our everyday homes and our church homes, between our flesh and blood families and the water and Word family that we know here at Peace. Digging into our epistle lesson from Hebrews 2 will help us see those parallels and perhaps in the end, we’ll be reminded of why we can look at this place and say with joy to all those come here, “Welcome home.”
My dad has been gone for two years now, but most who knew him would agree that he was a unique individual. Most 82 year old’s don’t decide to sell the homestead that the family has called home for over 50 years, to start all over from scratch and build a brand new house. But that’s what he did in 2014. As my siblings and I regretfully said goodbye to the place we grew up, we felt the inevitable twinges of memory. This house was where we rode our bikes and hit the books. This was the only house where we’d ever celebrated Christmases and Easters and Thanksgivings and graduations and weddings. But now with a couple years of distance, I think I’ve learned something. My siblings and I still get together in a different house to celebrate Christmases and Easters and Thanksgivings and graduations and weddings. And it’s still pretty great. Because in the end, it wasn’t about the location. It was about the people. Whether we eat Thanksgiving dinner gathered around a cozy hearth or sitting on folding chairs in a hotel meeting room: wherever family is, that’s where home is as well.
All this is a way of saying that we can call this place home, even if it doesn’t look like a house. Because our brother Jesus is here. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. By every measure of logic and reason, this family should be estranged and irretrievably broken. For what breaks apart families?
Isn’t it a family member’s casual selfishness and prolonged all around jerkiness? Isn’t a family member who shows that they can’t be trusted to make good choices and do the right things? Isn’t it a family member pretending that the people around them are invisible or treating them like they don’t matter? Isn’t it at least at times a family member’s outright abandonment?
If those things are things that tear families apart, if those are the criteria, let me ask you…how should Christ, our brother feel about us? Casual selfishness? Check. Can’t be trusted to make good choices and do the right things? Check. Pretending our God is invisible and treating him like he does not matter? Check. At times ooutright abandonment? They all describe how we act toward our God. Our sins are the dynamite that endeavors to blow our spiritual family apart.
And yet Jesus still shows us his nail marked hands and proclaims the truth to us of what they mean: “You and me, he says, “we’re family.” Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. There was only one way to make payment for our sins. And that was to die. And there was only way that he could die. And that was to have a human body, to become like his brothers and sisters in every way. Love that is willing to walk in another’s shoes. Love that is constantly renewable, indefatigable and inexhaustible. That is the love Jesus has for you and me—his family. And that is the love that makes this place go. That is the love that makes this place home.
So that brings us back to where we started. Although there are reasons why this place might not feel like home for you, there are still some kinda cool parallels as we mentioned earlier, when we think of this place as home and these people as our family.
Families experience milestones together. So also in this church family. Consider baptisms. When the pastor stands here with mommy and daddy and baby and witnesses, he asks everybody present if they will pray for the child and do all they can to bring him or her up in the training and instruction of the Lord. And at that point about 300 people say “Yes with the help of God.” Why do they say it? Because we’re family.
When it’s time to get married, we gather here. When it’s time to buried, we gather here. Christmases and Easter celebrations start here. Examinations, confirmations and for some of us graduations happen here. And when you’re too sick to come here, you call me and I bring the Word to you. And when I do you smile, even if you’re in pain, and you say, “I’m so glad that you came.” When you have crisis, when someone gets hurt, when someone in near death. You call your pastors and we gather around hospital beds and death beds and we talk about Jesus, and a merciful God and a heavenly home. Those milestone moments of life, good or bad, happy or sad, so often include your church home and the people involved in it. To me, that says we’re family.
Families do things that annoy, offend, or test the patience of one another. So also in this church family. It’s especially true in a big church family. Forgiveness is so important in a big church. There’s so many people and so much stuff, that things will fall through the cracks, requests will get flubbed, words will not always be guarded carefully. There will be lots of opportunities to take offense—most of them will be totally legitimate. Welcome Home Sunday is a good Sunday for me to say, “I’m sorry for the times when I haven’t served you well.” Welcome Home Sunday is a good Sunday for all of us to repent of those time when we’ve caused pain or angst to the family of God gathered here. And Welcome Home Sunday is a good Sunday to start over with a clean slate. Because families not only do things that annoy, offend and test patience. Families under Christ thrive, grow and find life in that thing called forgiveness.
We all bring something unique to the cause.