By Paul Black
PEORIA – When it comes to the topic of home, Rev. Cynthia Jones speaks from experience. As a daughter of an itinerant pastor who became an intinerant pastor herself, Jones believes she has lived in about 20 different places.
As one of 30 retirees in the Class of 2014, she’s moving again.
“I have often found it difficult to answer where home is,” Jones said during her sermon at the retiree recognition service. “The easy answer is the address to where mail is sent and where I presently live. But home is also the rooms of my family of origin….We know deep inside us home is not a place, but a relationship!”
While the early writings of God’s faithful were nomadic and wandered, they carried the tabernacle with them – a visible reminder of the presence of God where they could “meet” God – offering worship and sanctuary. Temples followed when the Israelites settled and then God did a radical act – Jesus as Emmanuel – meaning “God with us,” where God abides with God’s people.
“If we truly believed that Jesus – God IS with us – might we be more inclined to laugh (especially at ourselves), to take some matters less seriously because we could glimpse them from God’s perspective,” Jones asked.
The retiree recognition service included snippets of interviews with the Class of 2014, offering wisdom and insight from their coming 788.75 years of service. For many the task of packing once more has become common place.
“While packing books, I recently re-found this little book, If Jesus Came to My House, my grandmother Esther Jones gave me when I was 3 years old,” Jones said. “…It is an invitational book – to imagine that Jesus as child could come and visit…it asks questions about where would I take Jesus and what we would do.”
And although the book acknowledges that Jesus would never call on a child that way, the book explains how someone can kneel and pray, sing and worship and making others welcome for Jesus said, “when you do it for them, you do it for me.”
“In our churches, we can sometimes get too caught up in seeing ourselves as the guest who is to be pleased (with MY kind of music, worship and the convenient time for me, people meeting my needs) than seeing ourselves as hosts in God’s name to others,” Jones said. She cited an example of such hospitality last Christmas Eve in which a large church was expecting a crowd so its regular members came early, greeted the folks and then chose to sit in the fellowship hall in an overflow room, utilizing a large TV screen, allowing others to have the best seats for the service.
“To help another feel at home – accepted and loved – is our mission as we love because God first loved us,” she said. “As we experience God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness we have, love, forgiveness and acceptance to offer others.”
To the laity, Jones said, “you have a sacred place to welcome and help your assigned, appointed pastors feel at home.” She mentioned an invitation on July 4, wonderful meals, a thoughtful gift of two huge boxes of diapers and a coupon for free babysitting when the pastor moved in with two babies as examples of hospitality.
“How very different than the call I receive from a church long ago when I was a DS in a foreign land – the dear soul on the other end of the phone called to ask if it would not be OK to serve the same cake to the leaving and newly-coming pastor,” Jones said. “This dear soul wanted to use leftover for the new pastor’s party to save money.”
“We should not be surprised that the most common request I have heard from pastor-parish committees, when asked what was important about their next pastor has been that they want to be WITH us; that they will be at home with us… in other words, that they will make their home here and serve among us…. And as retirees, I believe that we will have a very special place to serve in the church – often being a bridge for interpreting laity and clergy to each other.”