On Earth, As It Is In Heaven
First United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge, TN
United Methodist Women’s Sunday
May 17, 2009
Psalm 24: 1-2
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
What an honor it is to be standing in this pulpit today! There really is something to Dorothy’s hopeful chant, “there’s no place like home.” The last few years have been full of change for me, I’ve lived in four different cities, and my parents moved out of Oak Ridge after 30 years. I’ve hung my hat in a lot of different places, and the phrase “I’m going home,” coming from my mouth could mean any number of different things. But as I began to anticipate being here at First, Oak Ridge, for this very special United Methodist Women’s Sunday, I could hardly contain my excitement. And I’ve realized in recent weeks that excitement grew out of the fact that I felt like I was coming home. More than that, I knew I was coming home. I think that more than any other place in my life, First, Oak Ridge, is my home. And indeed, it is good to be here again. So, I want to thank the United Methodist Women and especially Cara Weigel, for the invitation to be here preaching today. I’d also like to offer my thanks to Stella for opening up this pulpit to me. It truly is an honor to be home, with each of you, celebrating this occasion.
So it sure is nice to be home. Do you all know that feeling? Home can be so many things. It might be a physical location. Or maybe it is wherever our family is. Or perhaps home is the place where we are comfortable, where we are most at peace and can find true rest. In the past several years, I have lived in a few different places, and as I have moved from the coast of South Carolina to our Nation’s Capitol and now back to the mountains of East Tennessee, home has come to have a different meaning for me than it once did. Or, at least now it has a slightly expanded meaning for me. Until just a few years ago, home was a house here in Oak Ridge where my family lived, and that was my home sheerly because that’s where my family was. After three years living in an amazing community in Washington, DC, during my seminary years, home is something broader. The true community that I was a part of at Wesley Seminary was full of a diversity of perspectives that both challenged and nurtured me in my faith development. Some of my now closest friends were a part of that community, where we were completely vulnerable with one another and yet at the same time totally loving. I had never experienced anything quite like it before or since. But what it did was open my eyes to what it means to “be at home,” and I came to see the other places in my life where community had played an important role in my life and faith development. I came to see home as that community where I was nurtured. One such community was this one here at First, Oak Ridge, my home.
I don’t know if any of you remember this or not, but when I was 21 and about to head off to begin my Senior year of college, and my sister, Lindsay, was about to launch her college career, my Mom stood before this congregation one Sunday morning and thanked you. She offered gratitude to you and to God for fulfilling the covenant that you had made at our baptisms to surround us in love and help us to grow as Christian disciples in service to others. Indeed, this community has had a profound impact on my Christian journey that I will not soon forget, an impact that has first opened my eyes to God’s love in my life and has since broadened my horizons and connected me with amazing communities in many different places. As part of a Christian community, we are responsible not only for nurturing those among us here as you did for me, but as a part of a vast Christian community on this earth, we have a larger task beyond even nurturing just in this one place because “the earth is the Lord’s.”
You see, as Christians, we are part of a worldwide community that professes Christ, and if we are truly to be the community that God would have us to be, we cannot just sit idly by. The way that we work as a community empowered by the Spirit to spread this gospel will impact lives, just as my life and certainly many others have been impacted by this specific faith community in Oak Ridge. We must work such that the community that we are a part of here on earth is built so as to reflect the heavenly community. This is why we pray regularly that God’s Kingdom would come “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This Psalm of David that we have shared together this morning opens with a profession of faith, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” David and all who proclaim this Psalm know that the earth is the Lord’s because God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. When we profess together that the earth is the Lord’s, we are affirming God’s sovereignty. And in affirming God’s sovereignty, we are also proclaiming our obligation to follow God’s will as we live on this earth. Our lives are to be shaped by the claim of the sovereign God on the earth and its people. We have a responsibility to continually build our relationship with God and to offer love and care for the people around us. This is where community building becomes so crucially important. In God’s sovereignty, God desires that one day the community on earth and in heaven might be one and the same. We do not exist as a church such that we might serve only our own needs, but so that we might serve the lost and the lonely; so that we might not just build a house, but a home, where all feel comfortable. In truly professing and recognizing that the earth is the Lord’s, we are identified in relationship to God, and we are also enabled to discover what it means to live in harmony with God, with other people, and with the whole creation. Suddenly, we experience “home” in a whole new way.
And yet, we are not quite there yet. We live in this kind of crazy in-between time. Here’s what I mean: the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated God’s Kingdom, but the Kingdom of God on earth has yet to be fully realized. So, when we lift our voices to say, “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it,” we are both professing God’s sovereignty over his created order as well as our hope that God’s reign will indeed one day be known “on earth as it is in heaven.” We have seen Christ, we know Christ in our hearts, and we know the direction in which the world is moving because of Christ. We should be encouraged by our experience and knowledge of Christ’s salvific work, and it should also guide the way we live out our faith. I’m going to step out on a limb and say that this is one instance where knowledge is power, but it is power for God’s Kingdom, not for ourselves. What we choose to do with our knowledge of God’s will for this earth, and all who live on it, can make all the difference for one person or for many, and everyone is important. I celebrate with you this day the difference that the lives of the people in this community have made in my own life. I know the same is true for so many others, and still there are even more out there. More who have yet to find their “home,” more for whom the profession “the earth is the Lord’s” is an empty or meaningless cry.
In his book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller tells of his experience of church-hopping as a young adult seeking out a faith community he could call home. Miller shares that the common denominator he found in all those churches that just didn’t seem to be a fit for him was the fact that there was room at the table for him, but he wasn’t part of the family. If the earth is truly the Lord’s and we are working to that end, then not only will everyone have a place at the table, which isn’t even the case now, but everyone will feel at home like we are all with family; no one will be left out, or lost, or lonely.
On this earth, there are many who are lost and lonely. People wake up every morning knowing nothing in their lives but hatred or grief or illness or hunger. For far too many people, love is an empty word. But when we make the claim that “the earth is the Lord’s,” we are painting a very different picture. Because God is a God of love, as evidenced in so many ways, most especially in his Son, Jesus Christ. So as a community of Christ-followers here on earth, we are called to reveal God’s love all around us such that all feel at home, and the Lord’s reign is truly known. This comes by sharing the love that we know in Christ. As Donald Miller says, “We learn that we are loveable or unloveable from other people. That is why God tells us so many times to love each other.” If we as Christ-followers around the world cannot love one another as Christ loves us, then neither can we lift the true profession that “the earth is the Lord’s.”
Indeed, the “earth is the Lord’s.” And because this is true, because God is the creator of all, everything that God made, and most especially humanity, has as its sole purpose the reflection of the unconditional grace and love of God. We as a community of faith have as our task to witness to the world that God really is busy redeeming humanity and reconciling the world to him in Jesus Christ. God’s will for this earth is that the community of believers is not just a part, but the whole. I am so excited to be “home” today, and God desires that all on this earth would be excited about being “home” to God’s presence. We are to not only set a place at the table for each of our neighbors, but we are to work at establishing the true “home” which God desires for all people. We are to work for that day in which when we cry “the earth is the Lord’s,” we know it to be true here on earth as it is in heaven!