Sunday, April 20, 2008

Easter 5A

Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Where is home for you? wondered our Presiding Bishop in the sermon she delivered at her investiture. Where is home for you? And how do you get there? People had traveled from all over the world to be at the National Cathedral for the investiture, many of them now miles and even oceans away from where they had started. Where is home for you? And how do you get there?

Perhaps home is a house just a little ways down the road from here. Perhaps it is a house in a more distant town, where family still live even though you have moved on. Perhaps it isn’t a house at all but instead a feeling of rootedness when you see mountains or hear a pounding surf or look out across a rich and fertile land. The journey home may take you down dirt roads past cotton fields, or it may take you halfway across the country. Wherever home is, however we get there, home is what we long for when we are weary or wandering, what we head for when we need security and succor. In the very least, as Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

As a preacher’s kid and a preacher’s wife and a preacher myself, I have had many homes, but of course right now my home is in Jackson. With a seven-year old son and a rockstar-hopeful husband, it’s not always a peaceful house, but it is without a doubt home. For all three of us, home is filled with what is most familiar to us, the people and the things that we love most. Some of those things have come from other homes in which Charlie and I have lived, so that our roots are intertwined, strengthening our household and widening the walls of what we call home.

One of those things is a dollhouse that my grandmother, Mamama, made for me when I was little. It recently traveled from South Carolina to Jackson, and something in me became that little girl again as I opened its doors and saw the walls she had painted, the wallpaper she had hung, the furniture she had glued, and the pillow covers she had stitched. Mamama had set the table with little glass dishes, muffins that could really come out of their miniature tin, and a baked chicken so golden you could almost smell the melted butter and paprika as if it had come out of her own oven. Mamama had prepared all those rooms for me.

As I unwrapped the delicate furniture and placed it back in the dollhouse, my heart wandered back to Mamama’s house where so much of who I am today was shaped and formed and nurtured. I loved that house, from the musty pool table in the basement to the boxes of my mother’s old dolls in the attic and every room in between. And yet, when I think about that house, what I think about most is Mamama – her lap, her smile, her embrace, her voice, her smell. Mamama was who made that house home for me. When my heart was restless, I found rest in her rooms, I was at home in her presence.

Where is home for you? And how do you get there? Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

Our gospel reading this morning is one that has comforted countless aching hearts, including my own when Mamama died, offering us assurance that there is a home waiting for us, a home in God’s presence. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

When Jesus first spoke these words in a room far from his home in Galilee, his disciples were deeply troubled. All that had become familiar to them in the short time they had followed Jesus was crumbling like the unleavened bread of their Passover meal. After dinner that night, Jesus knelt on the dusty floor and washed their feet in the manner of a servant, not, surely, a messiah. Jesus himself was troubled in spirit, John writes, as he next turned to Judas and said, do quickly what you are going to do. Then he told the disciples that he would not be with them much longer, and that before it was all over, even Peter would deny he had ever met Jesus.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. I wonder if Jesus said these words as much to comfort his own aching heart as to comfort the hearts of his disciples. In my Father’s house there are many rooms… Perhaps Jesus wanted to assure them all that they would be reunited one day in a place they could all call home for eternity.

I humbly submit to you, though, that the Father’s house of which Jesus spoke that night was closer than any of the disciples could have imagined, that the place prepared for them in the presence of God was as near to them as the one who was preparing it. I am the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus said. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?

Since the very beginning of John’s gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, we have been told that the relationship between God and Christ is one of mutual indwelling, that they are at home in and home for one another. And that is not all. Just a few verses after our reading this morning ends, Jesus assures his disciples that their relationship with him will take on a new life when he has gone. They will continue to experience his presence through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and on that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.

I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Through Jesus Christ, sisters and brothers, who showed us the way and the truth and the life of God’s household with room enough for all people… through Jesus Christ, our relationship with God right here, right now is one of mutual indwelling. Right here, right now, we are both at home in and home for God. And so like Dorothy waking up from her dream, we begin to see that the home we believed we could only hope for has been sheltering us all along. We may leave home, but home never leaves us, for at all times we are carried in the vast roominess of the heart of God, our true home

“O God, you have made us for yourself,” wrote St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” And so it is that we can find ourselves at home even when we are on the road, when we are in the midst of the changes and chances of our daily lives, even when we are oceans away from the places where we started. We are at all times surrounded by the household of God, with whom we are called to be in a relationship of mutual care. We are at all times at home in God’s heart. And if we will prepare the room, God will be at home in our hearts as well. If we will prepare the room, God will be at home in all the world. Indeed, our Presiding Bishop concludes that our final homecoming is wrapped up in our willingness to prepare a room for others, to feed them at our table, to cover them with our garments, to comfort their restless hearts. “For none of us can truly find our rest in God,” she writes, “until all of our brothers and sisters have been welcomed home.”

Let us pray in the words of a service of house blessing: Almighty and everlasting God, grant to this home, to all of our homes, and to ourselves as homes for the life that is in us, grant to these homes the grace of your presence, that you may be known to the inhabitants of these dwellings, and the defender of these households. We ask this through your Son, in whose name there is room prepared for us and for all your people. Amen.

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