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(I'm the one filling in while a colleague is at @unitedchurch General Synod. Text is Ephesians 3:14-21.) bible.oremus.org/?ql=428220152
My wife and I have been thinking about houses again. This latest round has a simple cause: we'd like a little more space.
Or, rather, a little more above-ground space. I work in the basement these days, in an area I jokingly refer to as "The Bunker." It's not terrible, but it is a basement: cold, dark, damp. It would be nice to have an office upstairs.
And then we start to think about all the things we could get with a house upgrade: a two-car garage, a master bathroom, a little outdoor living space.
But one thing after another defeats us. Many houses are poorly maintained or haven't been updated in decades. Or they're too big or too awkward or too expensive or not in the right neighborhood.
The latest intervention of God's grace to save our bacon? A lack of central air. It's a beautiful home, too! See for yourself: klapperichrealestate.com/property/580-E…
At long last, I think we have come to the sane conclusion. We chose our current house well. Because this house has something that very few houses do: it feels like home.
Well, no, it more than feels like home. It *is* home, in that elusive sense that only the proper place can. @dianabutlerbass gets at the mystery of it in her book Grounded: dianabutlerbass.com/books/grounded…
She writes, "The place we come to know as 'home' involve an intangible flash of recognition, a soul connection that brings forth a different sort of knowing about God, nature, or oneself. Home is a place where God somehow meets us—where we belong."
But of course there's more to it than that. Diana, again: "A house may be a physical place, but home is 'inhabited space.' Home is the location that shelters our lived experiences, but also holds our memories and shapes our desires.
"[A] house is also a metaphysical thing, the realm of spirituality, dreams, psychology, and poetry—the place where we center ourselves."
Even that doesn't exhaust the idea. When Diana was developing the ideas for Grounded, I mentioned to her the very common image of home running through old R&B, gospel, country, and right into rock and roll.
There's even a great book by Peter Guralnick on the idea: Feel Like Going Home: amazon.com/Feel-Like-Goin…
Point is, American musicians dealt with social dislocation in the South and the black diaspora by expressing a longing to go home. Sometimes that meant a desire to die, to find one's final resting place. Sometimes it just meant going home.
In the same way, veterans speak about bringing one another home, a phrase I didn't understand until recently. It doesn't just mean bringing servicemen and women back to the US, or finding MIA's. It's a figure for finding healing or reintegrating into society.
[Side note: it's both fascinating and immensely saddening to listen to vets talk about serving changes a person. Some say they can never feel completely at home again, in or out of the armed forces.]
And of course many of us remember fondly the home they grew up in, or grandma's home where there were always cookies waiting for you. Not all of us, but many.
That his listeners find a home is Paul's surprising wish in Ephesians. He speaks of God the Father, "from whom every family takes its name," using a pun on "father" [pater] and "family" [patria].
(Yes, this is gendered language. It's the way Greek works, don't @ me.)
Paul continues with a prayer that the Ephesians might be strengthened by the Spirit so that Christ might live in them, literally, that he might find a permanent house in their house.
So Christ finds a home in Christians, but they also in him: they are to be "rooted and grounded" in love. Home is our bedrock, our foundation, where we center ourselves and build the meaning of our lives.
Er, find a permanent house in their *hearts.*
As Christ finds a home in us and we in him, Paul says, we learn the "breadth and length and height and depth" of Christ's love, and we are filled with the fullness of God.
The other day, the strange thought popped into my head that I ought to say thank you to my house more often.
Despite our occasional temptation to be unfaithful to it, this is the first house—the first home—I have lived in my adult life that didn't feel temporary. It has been neither a stepping stone on the way to some other place, nor dependent on a job that eventually came to an end.
I cannot say that times have always been good while we've lived here. I can't even say that my faith has always been strong in this place. But while I have lived here, I have never doubted that I could be myself, that I could grow into myself, and still be loved by my family.
I have felt secure here, in other words. This place has given me a place to live in the love of my family, and for that I am very grateful.
The ability that home possesses to grant the literal grounds for love is a gift of the Spirit. God, the love behind every love, lives with us in our homes.
In saying that, I am sharply aware, as we all must be, that "home" is not a gift that everyone receives.
There are those who are what we call "housing insecure": not just people living on the street, but who hop from couch to couch or from one temporary apartment to the next.
There are displaced people, around the world, and right here in the United States. There are Native Americans dispossessed of their lands, and people who have had to move off the Louisiana bayous because of climate change.
Yes, believe it or not, we have climate refugees in America.
There are those who can no longer live at home because of disability or aging or dementia. You can call it a "nursing home," but it doesn't often feel that way to the people who live there.
And there are the spiritually displaced, whose childhood homes were places of violence or neglect, or who were and are not accepted for themselves.
I want to say to you very simply that it is the responsibility of the church not simply to be a cozy home for the community that presently fills its pews, but to build a home for those who have none.
You can take that literally if you like. If your church doesn't participate in Habitat for Humanity, maybe consider it?
Or you can take the responsibility more theologically. Diana Butler Bass one more time: "The people who make up a household, those who create a home, are not always related by blood, nor do they always form customary legal or religious bonds.
"But making a home together is intended as a grace, a place of sacred habitation, a sign of God's intent to dwell with all humankind."
Here again, the work is not to make a home for the people who are already here. God comes to the people of God, searches them out and adopts them. So should we.
In doing so, we will discover that "the love of Christ surpasses knowledge" except in this: that we come to know God's love by building it, brick by brick, for the others who need to live in it.
We also will find that despite our best protestations, we are able to carry out this work, because God's power, "at work within us is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine," and thanks be to God for that.
With that, I will stop being the long-winded uncle who dominates conversation at the dinner table. God bless this congregation. May you always have cookies ready for those who come to visit.
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