The Heart of Christianity: The Heart of the Matter

November 20, 2016


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Nov. 20, 2016

“The Heart of Christianity – The Heart of the Matter”
Psalm 122

“Home is where the heart is.” I’ve been thinking about home this week and where the home of my heart is. Maybe it’s because we are ready to start the holiday season and Eric and I will be at our daughter’s apartment in Kansas City for Thanksgiving. What is the place where your heart feels at home? I think there are at least two meanings of this phrase: home is where the heart is:

“Home is where the heart is.” Your home is the place that you love the most – with all your heart. It is not necessarily your house. A house can be any building made of bricks and mortar, or stone, or wood, or concrete. But without getting too corny, your home is the place which is filled with your family and/or friends and where you feel loved and most comfortable. i.e. you feel most at home. So the first meaning of this phrase is: You love the place best which you call your home. That is where your heart lives.

The other meaning of this phrase is: “Home is where the heart is.” This version means that where ever you feel most at home is where you feel you belong. This can be anywhere. It is that feeling that when you get somewhere, you feel like you have arrived. It does not necessarily have to be your home, where your family is. You may feel most at home at a friend’s house, or you may feel most at home hidden away in the library. Where ever it is that you feel most content, that is where your heart is.

Perhaps this sense of home is what inspired the psalmist to write:

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good. Excerpts from Psalm 122

“Religions are homes, and Christianity is home for me,” wrote Marcus Borg. He continues, “The Christian tradition is familiar; it is ‘home’ for me. Its stories, language, music, and ethos are familiar. It nurtured me, even as I have had to unlearn some of what I was taught. I appreciate its extraordinary richness: its antiquity and wisdom; the beauty of its language and music and forms of worship; its passion for compassion and justice; the sheer goodness of its most remarkable lives. Its worship nourishes me; its hymns move me; its scripture and theology engage my imagination and thought; its practices shape me. For me, it mediates the good, the true, and the beautiful; and through all of these, it mediates the sacred. I know other religions could have been home for me; had I been born a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Jew, for example, I am quite sure that I would still be one. For me, the ethos of Christianity – its vision and way of life, it scripture, worship, language, music, thought, vision and so forth – is home. Religions are homes, and Christianity is home for me.”

What would it look like for your faith to actually be your home – the place of your heart? This is the final sermon in our series of conversations about The Heart of Christianity.

It has been said that we Christians have generally been pretty good at proclaiming God’s love for us, but that we have been less good at emphasizing the importance of our love for God. (Dorothee Soelle) Paying attention to our relationship with God matters because we are by nature, relational. You could say we are actually constituted by our relationships. They shape and form us.

Take a moment to consider who you are – make a mental list.
• Are you a dad or mom? A husband or wife? A son or daughter?
• Are you a hard worker? An honest, ethical person?
• Are you kind to others? Generous? Loving?
Now take a moment to realize how many things that define you are based on relationships. The obvious ones are the familial relationships. But even the personal attributes you list – kind, generous, loving – are something about how you relate to others.

To be a Christian is to have a relationship with God and with others. According to Sojourners Magazine this week, following Jesus is not the easiest way to live because the interests of Jesus are usually the exact opposite of mainstream culture.

Stephen Mattson in Sojourners wrote that a Jesus-centered Christianity is “illogical in that is requires inordinate amounts of self-sacrificial love — to the point of being absurd: absurdly gracious, hospitable, kind, patient, peaceful, self-controlled, and giving. And doing all of this — following Jesus — is hard.”

Humbly serving others, defending the powerless, fighting for the oppressed, and radically loving the world around you isn’t for the faint of heart, and it rarely results popularity. If Christianity is the home where our heart lies, we must remind ourselves of the old adage: “What Would Jesus Do?” The problem is we already know what he did, and it’s our responsibility to do the exact same thing.

Jesus was a compassionate person who advocated for social justice. These are two key words to describe Christian relationships: compassion and justice. Compassion is the primary virtue that shapes our relationships. Justice is the social or systemic form of compassion. To work together as a congregation toward compassionate action and to be advocates for justice in our community is our highest calling.

Since a median family income in the US is about $40,000 a year, imagine if we had a class at our church who literally researched what it would take to support a family on that income. Mortgage or rent payment? Car payment? Day care costs? Food costs? Clothing? Imagine what an eye opener that could be! And since $40,000 is the median family income, we could repeat the experience at $20,000 annual income because some families live on that. And it is illuminating to be asked to imagine living on what working full-time at minimum wage generates in a year: a bit over $10,000.

The group from UCC going to Nicaragua is going to experience something similar. They will be introduced to the marketplace in town and asked to plan for meals on the average budget of a family in Nicaragua. This is a powerful religious experience.

I remember going to a retreat when I was in college. It was to raise funds for a food bank. At first, I went because I was invited by a friend. I have to say that I thought it was a bit ridiculous to ask a bunch of poor college students to help, though. Many meals I ate during those years were on a shoestring budget already. They had us busy all day at this retreat. As we were finishing the last activity of the afternoon, we saw that they were setting up banquet tables for our dinner. I was a bit surprised – there were tablecloths, candle operas, nice china, multiple glasses and plates – not usual college fare.

When we were called in for dinner, we were given a piece of paper with a number on it. They explained that we had several options for dinner and that the numbers divided us into groups. Much to our dismay, the lovely long table only sat two people. Other tables had been set as well – but with much less pomp and circumstance. Several people were assigned to those tables, which had bowls and cups, but no tablecloths, candles, or majestic ambiance.

The rest of us were literally tossed some hot potatoes to eat with our hands while we scrambled around to find even a single potato. There weren’t enough potatoes for the whole group. It didn’t take long for the majority to start fraternizing with our friends at the tables. We begged for some of their more appetizing food. We pushed them off their chairs. We yelled insults.

The final straw was when a small instrumental group showed up to quietly serenade the couple at the luxurious table. Mutiny followed. Food flew. Friendships were on the line. Riots were close at hand.

I will tell you that this experience – from so many years ago – was a religious experience for me. I learned something about myself and about others that day. I learned something about fairness and equity and compassion. I learned about systemic injustice and how not getting your needs met could make a person angry.

If Christianity is your home, compassion and justice are your foundation. The psalmist said it succinctly:

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates,
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.

“Christianity is a way of life; that is its heart. At the heart of Christianity is the way of the heart – a path that transforms us at the deepest level of our being. At the heart of Christianity is the heart of God – a passion for our transformation and the transformation of the world. At the heart of Christianity is participating in the passion of God.” – Marcus Borg

As you eat your Thanksgiving meals this week, I ask you to consider your faith as your home. And I ask you to consider how you might share the heart of your faith with another who is literally or figuratively hungry.