“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” CS Lewis
Recently I have been thinking a lot about home.
On the news: images of homes reduced to piles of rubble. Two weeks ago a friend, posting updates on Facebook, evacuated his family from Houston, but stayed behind in his house to do what he could against rising waters and potential looters. Who knows how many people evacuated Florida ahead of Irma. How did they feel about leaving? What does it take to leave behind the home you brought your newborn into, the bedrooms you have painted in your child’s favorite color-of–the-month, those drawers stuffed with grandma’s recipes and wedding photos, the tree you planted in memory of a loved one, knowing it may all be gone when you return? Why, given the danger, did some people choose to stay? What would I do?
What makes home, home?
On the news: the uncertain future of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status illegal immigrants, also called “dreamers.” These young people were brought to the United States as children in the care of their parents. Recipients must have a high school diploma or GED or be working on one, and they have to have virtually spotless records with law enforcement. Troublemakers don’t get DACA status. DACA gave them protection from deportation and work permits, but now that protection will be revoked unless Congress can come up with an immigration bill that allows them to stay.
Regardless of anyone’s opinion of DACA, the fact is nearly 800,000 young people are registered with the program. Estimates indicate the average DACA recipient came to the US at 6 ½ years old. They grew up in American neighborhoods, attend American schools, and work American jobs. They speak English without accents, and many have virtually no memory of the country their parents came from. Many did not know they were here illegally until it came time to apply for jobs or college.
If this is not their home, where do they belong?
It’s well and true to say that home is wherever our loved ones are, but God knows we not only need people, we need place. Adam and Eve were given each other, work to do, and a place to live. Eden was unspeakably beautiful, a garden planted by God Himself, carefully designed to meet every need of human bodies and souls. After the fall, Adam and Eve were exiles. We can only imagine the bitter longing that filled the rest of their days on earth. We too were made for Eden, only we long for a home we have never seen, created for us to rest and work and live in. We were born homesick.
God plans not only to redeem us, but also to bring us home. He promised Abraham that if he would leave the home and family he knew, He would give him a land of his own and a family to fill it. Centuries later Joshua led Abraham’s descendants to claim that home, finally, and yet they lost and reclaimed and lost again that place God desired to give them. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, God’s own people were exiles and wanderers and captives far more than they were actually at home.
Most significant of all, Jesus said of Himself, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20)
In this passage Jesus is talking about more than lack of earthly comforts; He is teaching His disciples that following Him will be very costly. But our Lord and Savior was a homeless man. He only asked of Abraham what He was willing to do Himself, for our good. He left His rightful home in heaven with His Father (Philippians 2: 5-8) to identify with the very poorest, loneliest souls on earth.
And this is exactly what Jesus wants you and I to do: identify with the outcast, the homeless, the stranger, because we know how it feels:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV)
“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 NLT)
Even if you have never left your hometown, you know what it feels like to be a stranger in this world. The helplessness we feel when we are confronted by a 400 mile wide hurricane, or a dying child, or the senseless cruelty of one human being to another, makes us long for home. The loneliness of rejection and misunderstanding makes us yearn to know and be known. The isolation of illness or disability or a shattered family leaves us pining to belong. This is what it means to be human outside of Eden.
Jesus left heaven to become a sojourner and foreigner in the world He created for us. He knows what it feels like to be homeless and betrayed and misunderstood. He actually knows all these feelings in a more profound and more painful way than you or I ever will, and He suffered that on our behalf. And so when He tells us to “love (the stranger) as yourself,” He is reminding us that He did that for us.
We reach out to others in need because Jesus did that for us, and we are grateful. But there’s more. Loving the stranger draws us into community too. We are all displaced persons who ought to be living in Eden. If we remember where we truly belong, and who we truly belong with, heavenly hope will make our temporary home on Earth a place of beauty, warmth and light.
But our citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3: 20 NIV
For this world is not our permanent home: we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name. And don’t forget to do good and share with those in need. (Hebrews 13:14-16)
In my Father’s house are many mansions…. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)