January 5, 2020

Bounty of Home

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Each of the lessons today provides us with a view of God’s people and their relationship to home.

In the first lesson, Jeremiah prophesies the Israelites' joyful homecoming from exile in Babylon. Jeremiah (or his scribe Baruch) describes their recovered home to be like a watered garden, filled with grain, wine, and oil. The people are radiant, the women dancing and the men merry. In a parting reminder that “the people shall be satisfied with God’s bounty,” there is a suggestion that perhaps at one time people were not so well satisfied with their home, and that there was a lesson to be learned while they were away.

In the Psalm, we are welcomed to God’s dwelling place. Though the term “dwelling” often is used to describe a modest home, here the sparrow may safely raise her young, deserts have become pooled with springs, and residents climb from height to height to view God’s glorious world. Those who reside there have hearts set on the pilgrim’s way and walk with integrity. They journey even within their home, a journey with a purpose, one of searching, one to practice living in truth.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, there is an even more expansive definition of home, a rich inheritance promised to those adopted into God’s family. These children inherit God’s kingdom simply because God takes pleasure in opening His home to everyone. All that is asked of those he adopts is that they show love to His people. Through His love and through the love they practice, they will come to appreciate the inheritance He bestows.

Finally, today’s gospel tells the tale of three seekers on a pilgrimage, traveling far from home looking for truth. They have left their homes far away, following a sign, unsure of what they will find, faithful and hopeful for a new kind of kingdom. Herod, trying to protect his home and position, tries to trick them into revealing where this potential rival to his power can be found. Perceiving that this would not be the best course of action, they go back home by a different route. They literally change their ways.

Leaving home and homecoming also appear in the two other gospels that are appointed for today. One story is about Joseph and Mary immigrating to Egypt to keep Jesus safe from Herod’s fears, and the later story relates how Joseph and Mary frantically retrace their steps to Jerusalem looking for their lost child. Each story gives us additional interpretations of the word “home.” Jesus, who if He had been any other child would be regarded as a rather sassy 12-year-old, even asks Joseph, “Why have you been looking for me?” (“What’s the big deal?” “Wow, Mom, take it easy!”) and then, “Don’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” That must have been a punch in the gut to Joseph, who had, after all, adopted Jesus as his own son, and had fled the country, changing his whole life, to protect him. For those who have had such experiences with teenagers, or who have been that teenager, the good news is that Jesus does go home with them, and “is obedient to them,” which I think means he doesn’t worry them too much, or leave home. Yet.

Each of us has a differing experience of "home." When I think of home, I think of a place where I am safe, where I feel comfortable, where I feel supported either by others or by my surroundings. Home is a place for favorite meals, company, games, fun, and comforting routines. Home is not necessarily an easy place to be; there is often a lot of work that goes into keeping it warm, clean, and paid for. Our roommates/family may make demands on our time, our hearts, and our know-how. And sometimes, they can make our lives a lot easier, too. Knowing we have their love and their skillset makes it easier to get up and leave in the morning. Even those who have never shared a comfortable home often carry an ideal of home within their hearts, a place of safety that they hope to inhabit one day.

Church homes are much the same. They are places for sisters and brothers, for joy and laughter, celebration, and feasting. Here at Saint John’s, we even have the watered gardens. Jeff Barrell climbs from height to height seeking leaks in the church tower roof. Mothers shepherd their fledglings under their wings up the aisles to the communion rail. We take care of housekeeping, and teach ourselves how to repair a light, or drain the furnace. It is a place for contemplation, ideas, decision-making, memory building, tradition bearing, and for sharing sorrows and concerns. We have adopted members and lifelong members, we welcome doubters, travelers, and all who seek God. All are welcome at God’s table here. It is the place from which we go out into the world, and the place to which we return for strength and support. Sometimes the bounty of our community is not enough for our dissatisfied hearts, and other times, a handshake of peace is all we could wish for.

Most of us have left our childhood homes. As youths, we left home maybe dissatisfied with our power, our opportunities, or our lack of freedom. Perhaps we went in fear that we would never “be more” than our childhood self, than the smallness, or even small-mindedness of our hometown, or just Fear Of Missing Out. We left home to make something of ourselves, “to learn to stand on our own feet.” Many of us have watched as children left home - to school, camp, even to another home as they’ve grown older. When they go, we hope that they will seek and learn, walk with integrity, take the pilgrim’s road to wisdom, build warm homes for themselves, and most of all, to return to us, at least for visits. Too often, we remember the missteps we took in our own youth, and we fear their leaving. I’m sure there have been times when some of us couldn’t wait for that empty-nest day to come, while other days, we wanted to hold on forever to a house full even of chaos or strife. That’s the thing about homes – they evoke the deepest of memories and emotions, often polar opposites.

Some of us have also left church homes over the years. These leave-takings may have coincided with an exciting opportunity, or they may too have been driven by dissatisfaction, or lack of faith. We may have followed a new star we’d heard about just over the horizon. We may have searched for leadership, or acceptance or comfort. We may have believed that we could figure out God on our own, stand on our own two feet. Some may even have been driven by the fear that we are fools to hang our hope on a story about a baby king in a manger saving us from disappointment, despair, and death. Wherever any of us have been or what we have sought, we have been welcomed at St. John’s. The table has been set for us. We have set the table for others.

Some say you can never go home again. The lessons today say that’s not true. Our itchy feet may carry us away at times, but wherever we go, we remain within God’s dwelling-place, within God's home, and His dwelling place remains within us. We never truly leave His home. When we walk a difficult and windy pilgrim’s path, we are led by stars shining brightly in the sky. With the strength of this home behind us, we can seek and discover and climb heights. We can tend to those who need our time and energy. We can trade ideas, tell our stories, offer counsel and comfort, and extend to all the travelers we meet an open invitation to share the bounty we know in God’s home.