Bible Reference: Psalm 84
Have you ever felt homesick? It’s a common experience for many people. Perhaps as a child at camp, on a trip, or even on an overnighter at a friend’s house you longed to be home with family, in your own bed with familiar surroundings. You felt a little sick. You may have even called your parents and asked them to come get you. My little sister did that now and then when she was growing up.
I remember, I was very homesick when I went off to college. I had moved more than 1,000 miles from my familiar surroundings in the mountains of Montana to the fields of Iowa to attend Luther College, and I was so very homesick!
We had no cell phones in those days, and I plugged many quarters into a payphone. When the quarters ran out, I’d call home collect until my mom and dad finally said one day, “You’re calling home too much. You need to settle in and quit calling so much.” I couldn’t wait to get back home on that first Christmas break.
Now as I’m older, I still get homesick now and then. When I’m off on a trip for a week or more without my wife, Julie, I find myself missing her so much, and wanting to be with her. I’m homesick for her. Even when we travel together, I get a little homesick for my house, my select comfort bed, and my daily routines.
Some of you maybe have experienced homesickness in your life. When I visit with people in nursing homes, they oftentimes speak with longing in their voices for their homes where they raised their families. They’re homesick.
I’m talking about homesickness today because it is written all over Psalm 84. This songwriter has longing and yearning in his words as he describes homesickness! What’s interesting is what he is homesick for – going to worship. He’s telling God that he can’t wait to get to church.
Those who are homebound are familiar with this sense of homesickness for church. They miss the fellowship, the good feelings, the familiarity, the good memories of going to worship, the elements of worship. If this describes you, let me assure you, God is with you right where you are this moment, and He knows your heart. As you worship with me today, you are with Him.
Listen to the emotional description of the psalmist’s homesickness. First of all, he really misses the building. He says, “How lovely is your dwelling place. In my mind, it is one of the most beautiful homes I can imagine.”
Then he talks about his inner feelings. “My soul longs, yes faints, for the courts of the Lord, the Church.” Lord, I’m just dying to be there! “My heart and my flesh even cry out for the living God.” I’m so homesick, I hurt emotionally and physically. I long to be there. I think of the sparrow and the swallow. They get to make their homes near the altar in your courts. I envy them.
I’m envious of the happy worshipers who are blessed when they are singing your praises. I consider a day in your courts so much better than a thousand elsewhere, no matter how good they may be. Nothing compares to being home at worship. This guy really has homesickness, doesn’t he? He just has to get to worship!
Why do you suppose going to church for worship is such a big deal to this guy and to so many other people? We find out in verse two. “(When I come to worship you Lord,) my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” When you come to worship, you are coming into the presence of the living God. It is a big deal! You are meeting with the great God of the universe. An encounter takes place. I would dare to call it a joyful homecoming. Let me explain why I say that.
Have you ever heard the saying, Home is where the heart is? Many years ago, a great Christian named Augustine said to God in one of his writings, “God you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” There you have it! God has placed a homing instinct deep in our hearts to be with Him. Coming to worship is coming home to rest with God.
I’m reminded of a humorous story I heard years ago. One Sunday, a Sunday school teacher instructed her class to write a letter to God that afternoon and bring it back to class the next weekend. One little boy wrote,
We had a good time at church today. Wish you could’ve been there!
Little does he know, God is there! When we come to worship in the Lord’s house, He is present in a variety of ways. He inhabits the praises of His people. He is filling every nook and cranny of the space we are in. As we praise Him, as we hear His Word and He speaks to us, as we pray to Him, as we say the Creed together, or come to the Lord’s Supper together – He is there with us. As I draw near to God, He has promised to draw near to me. There I will commune with Him! I am given the privilege of being with Him, and He breathes new life into my dry and thirsty soul.
I am reminded of a story told by Gerhard Frost, a Lutheran writer, in one of his devotional books. He wrote, “Yesterday, as I walked down the airport ramp to board a plane, a family of four was in front of me – mother carrying the younger child and father holding the other by the hand. The older girl appeared to be about four, and her every step was a bounce. She radiated expectancy, joy. It was obvious that this was THE day – the day that had been talked about and planned for – and she couldn’t wait. Her father looked down at her and asked, ‘Where are we going?’
“‘To Grandma’s!’ she shouted, punctuating her words with a higher bounce than usual. She didn’t say, to Bismarck, or to Billings, but to Grandma’s. As far she was concerned, she was going to be with a person, and the place didn’t matter at all.”
When we go to church to worship, we are going to spend time with our heavenly Father. That’s all that matters.
Our songwriter goes on to give us another reason why worship is such a big deal. He says, I am blessed as I’m blessing God. In the reading, when the writer talks about those who are blessed, he means happy. Happy are those who dwell in the house of the Lord. Happy are those who find their strength in God and journey to Zion for worship. Happy are those who trust in the Lord, who build their lives upon Him, spend time with Him, reach out to Him in a variety of ways including worship. You see, worship re-awakens me to who I am and who God is. I am reminded that I am not God. (I thank God for that, for what a mess this world would be in if I were God! What a mess my life gets in when I start believing that I am like God.)
I also learn how great my God is, how much I need Him, and how much He cares for me. The psalmist, for instance, reminds us, “He is my sun and my shield.” In the Old Testament, the sun was a symbol for restoration and healing. The shield was for protection. He is the God who takes care of me and is present. He builds me up and helps me face these days as I walk in this world of mine. I am blessed with these things in worship.
God also bestows gifts upon me in worship. He calls these gifts, favor and honor. A better translation is grace and glory. I don’t know what favor and grace and honor looked like for that songwriter, but I do know what it looks like for you and me. In worship I’m again and again pointed to the cross and told I am sinful, but loved. Jesus died for my sins and rose so I could be with my Father who created me. I am forgiven in Christ, and nothing can separate me from God’s love in Christ, not height nor depth, nor sickness, nor suffering, not even death!
As I come in to God’s presence at worship, I am reminded that one day my homesickness will be taken away once and for all as God receives me into His eternal home into eternal joy.
C. S. Lewis, a wonderful writer from the past century, said this in regard to the Psalms, “These poets (the Psalmists) knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence (to spend time with Him).”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, how much more do we have reason to love God and want to spend time with Him after all He’s given us?
I came across a very moving and inspirational story a while back about a fellow named Christian Wiman, and the blessing he received from church. He said, “I got the news that I was sick on the afternoon of my 39th birthday. It took a bit of time, travel, and a series of wretched tests to get the specific diagnosis, but by then the main blow had been delivered, and that main blow is what matters. I have an incurable cancer in my blood. The disease is as rare as it is mysterious, killing some people quickly and sparing others for decades, afflicting some with all manner of miseries and disabilities and leaving others relatively healthy until the end. Of all the doctors I have seen, not one has been willing to venture even a vague prognosis.”
“Then one morning we (my wife and I) found ourselves going to church. Found ourselves. That is exactly what it felt like, in both senses of the phrase, as if some impulse in each of us had finally been catalyzed into action, so that we were casting aside the Sunday paper and moving toward the door with barely a word between us; and as if, once inside the church, we were discovering exactly where and who we were meant to be. That first service was excruciating, in that it seemed to tear all wounds wide open, and it was profoundly comforting, in that it seemed to offer the only possible balm.
“So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely.”
“I go to church on Sunday, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world. How charged this one hour of the week is for me, and how I cherish it.”
That is why we have this worship service – to cure homesickness. Worship is for the homesick, for you and me, because the truth is every one of us needs to come home and spend time with the living God who loves us through Jesus Christ. Every one of us needs this time to reconnect with the sunshine of His life-restoring grace, and be touched once again by His love for us.
So weary, homesick pilgrim, let me welcome you home. I invite you to keep coming to worship with us. And feel free to bring your friends, by the way, who need God every bit as much as you and I do. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer