This sermon was preached at the Church of St. Michael and St. George, on July 3, 2016: the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, “Proper 9.” It was my first Sunday back from vacation, and Independence Day was the next day. The previous week’s news included the ISIS attack in Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, the death of Bp. Edward Salmon, and several other deaths in the parish. It was a difficult week for many, especially here in our church community.
Collect: O God, who hast taught us to keep all thy commandments by loving thee and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to thee with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen:
Home. It’s a powerful symbol for many of us. It’s the Fourth of July weekend, and many of you are either going home or are welcoming family back home for the holiday. I’ve just returned home from vacation, though it might be a little ironic that I left here in order to go home too, sort of: I was at a family reunion, something we do in my family once every ten years or so, where I saw lots of aunts and uncles and cousins in Colorado, a place I’ve often visited with my family. The fact that this is an election year also has many of us thinking about the kind of home we want our country to be, and what hopes and fears we might carry about its future. One way or another, home is something close to many of our minds at the moment.
And so it’s fitting that our readings today touch on home in many ways. The prophet Isaiah reflects on Jerusalem as Israel’s home, even its mother. St. Paul reflects on different domestic attitudes within the community of the church, how we ought to help one another, hold one another accountable, what criteria we ought to use to articulate our membership in this family in the first place. And Jesus sends out the seventy to continue his work in the world, living as guests wherever they go, not counting their accomplishments as anything to stand on, but dwelling only in the mercy of God to have chosen them for their work.
What strikes me about each of these passages is that home — for Israel, for Paul, for Jesus, and for the disciples — home for all these people, the home they describe, is not there yet. They do not yet experience it. Isaiah writes to a people under threat of conquest and exile. Paul writes to the Galatians that what matters for them is neither their beliefs nor their obedience, but their being made a new creation: begun in baptism, but not yet complete. And Jesus tells his disciples, the things you might be tempted to rest in provide only a false confidence, a flimsy dwelling. Rejoice only in your name being written in the book of life: a book that will not be opened until the end, when he returns to “judge both the quick and the dead.”
It may seem strange to hear Scripture refer to home — the one place at the beginning and end of every one of our earthly days — as something far off, yet to be established. And yet to a degree, this is something whose effect we can all see in each of our lives. “Home is where the heart is,” we say. And we know the heart wanders where it will amid time and space. Where is home when a beloved spouse dies, or a parent, or a child, as too often happens? Where is home if we are under constant threat of danger, or when we live day by day with mental or physical ailments, which undermine our peace or security? For that matter, where is home when things are good and everything is satisfactory? I’ve lost count now of the number of people who have confided in me, that despite all the good things in their lives — a happy, healthy marriage, successful careers, confident, well-behaved children — that despite all these things, they are still lonely, their heart still longs for something more that it can never quite grasp. Home may be where the heart is, but the heart is always at least a step or two beyond wherever it is we find ourselves at any given moment. Isaiah knows this, and so does Paul, and so does Jesus. They are all pointing beyond the present, trying to articulate for us to learn just what sort of home our heart is really pointing us towards.
And what sort of home is that? For Isaiah, the home we seek goes well beyond any present sense of security or danger, and has more to do with the promises and purposes of God, to establish his people for ever, a people for his own, by whose prayer and praise the glory of God grows to encompass the whole earth, every living thing, and every stage of life and growth. For Paul, the true home of faith is not a possession that any of us can acquire, no status or fortress we can fall back on. Rather for Paul, the true home of faith is a posture, an attitude, starting first with receptiveness to God’s mercy: mercy for ourselves and for each other. There is no pride in faith, no personal glory to be gained or exploited. There is only glory in the cross of Christ, and his mercy to each one of us. For Paul, home is not a place but a posture, of humility and gratitude for mercy; just as for Isaiah, home is not present security but a promise, the purposes of God to create life and infuse it with joy.
What about Jesus? What sort of home does he suggest in his words to the seventy this morning? The disciples obey his instructions, and they are astounded at the authority of his name, even to cast out demons. And yet Jesus reminds them that even Satan himself once made his home in heaven. Authority, residence in high places, great respect, is not enough of its own to make a home, not enough finally to belong somewhere. Jesus tells these disciples not to let their enthusiasm or their pride get the better of them, not to let authority go to their heads. He teaches them that their principle source of joy should rather be that the God in whose name they have done these things, that this God knows their names. That he knows their names. Great teaching, miracle working, casting out demons; none of these mighty works are shelters or foundations or homes, but rather simply that God knows their name. God knows their name.
God knows your name too, and mine. And this is the beginning of what it means for you and I finally to have a home in this world. Isaiah teaches us to have confidence in the promises and purposes of God to create life and infuse it with joy. Paul teaches us the posture of humility and gratitude as the way we respond to it. And Jesus shows us that power and might do not avail for giving us peace or security at home, but only the confidence that God knows our name, and does not forget his kindness towards us.
So what about home? How do we understand it in this world? How do we build it, how do we give thanks for it, how do we protect it? Our Scripture lessons this morning remind us that home is not something we can totally possess in this life. If we seek it as a reward for good behavior, or the final end of all our work; if we want it to carry the freight of all our dearest emotions, or if we flee from it as the scene of trouble, we will always be disappointed. Why? Because for Christians, however we experience our homes in this world, they are finally not possessions or citadels in which we are safe from trouble or harm. They are never as permanent as we’d like them to be, never as strong as we might need. Rather they are the beginning of hope.
Our homes are what teach us to long for completion in the kingdom of God. They are what give us glimpses of its perfection, its peace, always at the end of the long road which wends past the cross and through the grave, on its way up the mountain to the house of God. That home takes root in this one, and by its own way it grows like Jack’s beanstalk up to the new Jerusalem, our “dear native land.” So hope adorns our homes, making them shine with the light of that kingdom, growing now but not in flower yet.
And so, this weekend, as many of us go home or come home or celebrate home, let us thank God for our homes. Let us live there in joyfulness. And let us look forward in hope, all the more expectantly to our final, true, and lasting home, in the glory of God for ever.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.