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Home is Best
January 27, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


East or west, home is best. After four and a half months away, it's striking to me what little things become significant. I missed my shower—more than all the beds. I judge motels now by the showers they have. I missed turkey gravy and dressing. I missed tossed salads and chocolate cake. I missed our worship service with our choir and organ, and I missed all of you wonderful people. 

But after four and a half months, now that I'm back, I realize that I miss Australia. I miss the white sand, the warm ocean, the sunlight and beautiful beaches. The ocean is so warm and deep blue. I miss all the flowers. It's so barren here. The trees take turns blossoming. When one finally drops it's beautiful blossoms, out comes another tree. There's always color. I miss the meat pies. Everywhere you go, you can find a meat pie. They sell them in all kinds of stores. They are little pastry pies filled with meat and you eat them by hand.  I miss the delightful Aussie accent. I miss the cry of the kookaburra bird that woke us up every morning. You’ve never heard such a shriek! You think your kids are loud. And I miss the wonderful friends we made down there. In fact, we came to feel at home down there. 

But, in the last analysis, home is really not on this earth. Our true home is not on this earth. Every now and then we catch a glimpse or a. feeling of our true home. That feeling and that glimpse can come to us in many different places and in many different situations. Even in foreign lands, foreign cultures, foreign customs, it's possible to feel at home. 

And conversely, on the other hand, because our true home is not here on this earth, we always feel a little bit of unrest and a little dissatisfaction. We always feel just a little out of place, and so we travel. We search. The nomadic blood of our ancestors is in many of us. We keep traveling and perhaps it was that spirit that propelled Captain Cook to devote his life to exploration. On three voyages he covered that whole area of the world, discovering Australia for the British Empire and New Zealand and even up to Hawaii where he met his death. That unrest, that dissatisfaction propels us to explore and search. Perhaps in the last analysis, it's because we don't really belong here. 

After this journey that we've been on, it amazes me how little of the world surface is really inhabitable for humans. It's either too cold—no humans ought to live in Minnesota. Or it's either too hot like the jungle in the South Pacific Islands. Jungles were never meant for humans. You make a path and it closes up right behind you. And all those animals and birds shrieking at you to get out of there. The northern coast of Australia and most of the interior was never meant for humans. Uninhabitable! Perhaps we're just strangers and nomads on this earth, propelled with unrest and dissatisfaction to find our home, to find where we belong. Loneliness is a characteristic of the human situation. Everybody in the world knows what it is to be lonely and homesick. You all know what it is to be lonely. Sometimes that feeling even hits you when you're with friends, or with family, or at a party, or in church. Every now and then, loneliness sneaks up from underneath and hits you in the face, “I don't feel accepted here. I don't feel as if I really belong. I'm looking for something. I'm lonely.” 

Australians have a lot of delightful music and old ballads. One of the ballads I liked was about loneliness. To understand this ballad, you need to be told that a dingo is a wild dog. Maybe the aborigines brought this dog 40,000 years ago. For 40,000 years, aborigines have been living on the Australian continent. Perhaps the dog got wild over those years. Anyway, that's the Dingo. This is the ballad. 

Oh, its lonesome being away from kindred and all 

To sit by the campfire and hear the wild dingoes call. 

But there's nothing so lonesome morbid or drear 

Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer. 

There’s a certain amount of charm to that I must admit! Paul says in Philippians 3:17+ that this urge, this desire to be at home drives people in search of all kinds of things. He writes with tears about people whose living, dreams and search takes them in ways that lead to the lost and lonely and to hell. He calls it bodily desires. They think only about things that belong to this world. In search to fill that longing and loneliness, they try to fill their lives with things that are transitory, that belong to this earth, and that will perish with this earth. To try to find our final and eternal home on this earth is to end up in destruction. He writes that many whose living make themselves enemies of the cross of Christ. How sad they sell their souls for homes that will perish. 

Then Paul goes on to remind the Philippian Christians that their home is in heaven. We are citizens of heaven, our homeland is in heaven. In the last analysis we are not Yanks or Aussies, we are not black or white, we are not Eastern or Western, we are not rich or poor. All divisions fade and crumble. All man-made divisions crumble in the face of heaven. Our true home is in heaven and our true brothers and sisters are Christians. In the context of the gospel and Christian fellowship, is where we find the closest approximation to heaven, what our home is really like. The closest approximation on this earth is in Christian fellowship. How blessed we are when the fellowship is deep, when the Holy Spirit is present in the fellowship. Then all divisions fade, and we find ourselves at home. 

The most impressive worship service we experienced was in Fiji. We walked one Sunday morning to a nearby village, only about 30 huts upon stilts. At the top of the hill in the center of the town was the Methodist Church. British Methodists were the first missionaries to Fiji and most of the Fijians are Methodist. An average Methodist minister in Fiji has 17 churches. He travels around on his circuit and has lay people perform most of the ministerial functions. A lay minister was there that day. It was a very simple barren wooden building with plain wooden pews without any pads. The pulpit was in the middle, an old simple wooden pulpit like British Methodists have. At 10 o'clock the worship service was supposed to start and the drum beat outside. There were a handful of children and one old lady who started a responsive reading. That's what I think it was. It was in Fijian. She was sitting in the congregation. She started talking and the kids answered her. Soon the people came in and the church was pretty well full with probably 50 people by the time the service was over. The elders of the village came in and the minister. There were three or four elders—the old men of the village, the respected people. They were dressed in black coats with white shirts and black ties. I suppose that was what the early missionaries wore and that became the garb of the righteous. Underneath and below the black coats was the Fijian skirt and bare feet. They merged their world with the Western world in that one costume. We didn't understand any words, except for the word “Jesus” through the service, but we knew exactly what they were doing. And the singing! You've never heard such singing! No piano or organ, they just started singing hymns. Some of the tunes I recognized, most I didn't. Some were Fijian, some were British. The whole congregation sang in four part harmony and filled the building to every corner, filled every heart. It was moving, and I felt at home. 

We are home in Christ. Language doesn't matter, color doesn't matter and customs don't matter in the last analysis. All those divisions fade. The author of Hebrews wrote in 11:13-16 that we are strangers and nomads on the earth in search of our real homeland, the heavenly homeland. Therefore, as strangers and nomads on this earth, the stance of a Christian is to be restless, agitated, dissatisfied. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21-25, “I would much rather die. I'm in prison now. I would rather be put to death. I would rather die and go home with the Lord than to remain on this earth. But, I will remain on your account. I will remain for your sake, but I would rather be at home with the Lord.”

In this restlessness, therefore, the stance of a Christian is to be dissatisfied with our earthly homes and continually be judging and evaluating our lives by the standards of God's kingdom, by the standards of heaven—to be dissatisfied with the way we humans live and treat each other, to be constantly hoping, praying and working so that we will more closely approximate the kingdom of heaven, that this world will become more and more like our true home. That's our task and we are restless until that happens. 

I found that to judge American society and to judge the way we live, it really becomes clear in a foreign land. Being away four months and looking back at our country through the Australian news media is a very interesting experience. Australia is very supportive of the United States. In fact, their foreign policy is that whatever we say, Australia says, “Me too.” So they're very supportive. But, the news that's in the newspapers and on TV comes through that we are a violent people, we are crime ridden, hostile and warmongering. I remember vividly how one newspaper told what had happened in New York in one week. It listed some of the muggings, murders and a baby being chewed by a rat. That's the kind of picture they get of our country. When Time magazine first reported the Iran situation, when the hostages were first held, and there were several riots back here and demonstrations, Time magazine reported—at least the Australian version— that one American youth hollered at an Iranian youth, “Why don't you go back home and see if you don't miss having booze, sex and drugs?” Is that what our country stands for? Is that the picture we want to give to the world that the benefits of living in America, the benefits of democracy, the benefit of Christianity, is so we can have booze, sex and drugs. 

A Christian looks at that, and says, “That's not the kingdom of God.” We've got to work to make our society more like the kingdom of God where our true home is. A Christian is dissatisfied with our earthly life when we get that kind of media. A Christian is likewise dissatisfied with the church because it's not like heaven and because it could be more like heaven. Because our fellowship could be more, we should be dissatisfied. The greatest enemy of the church is complacency and satisfaction with what we have, and what we've done in the past. 

There are some tremendous enemies of the church in the world today like the Islamic revival, and the American and the Australian churches are complacent, self satisfied, and lack vitality. But, all around the world Christianity is coming alive. In Korea, for example, the movement is tremendous. One Presbyterian Church in Korea has 3,000 people in worship on a Sunday. Another church is gaining 1,000 members a month. Around the world, the church is alive as we experienced in Fiji, but the great temptation of Aussie and Yankee churches is to be complacent. The challenge to us is as Paul wrote, “I run straight toward the goal. I do my best, I strain to reach what is ahead.” And what is ahead is a vision of the kingdom of God, the vision of heaven. 

Let's make our church as close as possible to the kingdom of God. St. Paul's is at a turning point. You've done so well in this exchange. The numbers are here today. I went through all the Sunday School classes and saw new children in every class. I see new people here today. What a tremendous feeling of joy that gives me! We are in good shape. We have no debt. We have two ministers. We're ready to go. Let's go. Let's not be satisfied with what we have. Let's move. 

As I look at our church, I see a concern for children and youth, and I see a way to meet the needs of children and youth in our church is through music. The Lord placed tremendous people in our midst,. One year and a half ago, we did not have Bill Chitwood. We did not have Gloria Vallarta. We did not have Kayla Snyder, and the Lord put them all in our midst, to supplement Glen and Pam Costa. Look what we could do with music! Kayla comes as an expert in handbell ringing, which I've seen in previous churches can be a tremendous attraction to children and youth. O, what we could do but we are too short in the budget. We don't have enough money. The next two Board meetings are going to be very important as we decide what can we do and where can we go. The Lord has given us a vision and a direction to go. As we continue to make our facilities in top condition a challenge, we now have the challenge of our children and youth ministry. And let's go. 

Home is best. But our true home is in heaven and it makes us restless and dissatisfied with what we have. Is your home in heaven? Do you know your home is in heaven? Have you that peace? Have you that confidence that you are with Christ and that when Christ calls, you will be in union with him? Is your home in heaven? If not, you had better make some decisions and get on board. 

And let's together make our church as close to heaven as we can. We've got the vision. We've got the goals. Let’s go!

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris