A House Is Not A Home

A House Is Not A Home

(Most people assume the sermon title references the song by Luther Vandross, but it’s actually from a quote from Ben Franklin: “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”)

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On the way to visit Dee at St. Christopher’s this week, I ran into one of the men from our shelter last winter. He was also riding on the 57 bus north, heading home!

Glad to know he got permanent housing, I asked him where his apartment is. He responded “way north, right below Cheltenham Road, almost in Montgomery County.” I asked if he minded being so far from Center City, and what the homeless guys refer to a “the Jewish Park,” that brick pathway between 4th and 5th Street alongside Mikveh Israel where I have seen him with friends often enough.

He laughed and said, “Michael, it doesn’t matter where it is. After you’ve been on the streets, once you get an apartment, you know you got to make it your home.”

Will you pray with me? … (a prayer asking God to open us to hearing a new word)

We all know that feeling when all you want is to get home. (I suspect a difference for us may be whether we believe such a desire can be realistically realized.) Remember for me sometime when all you wanted to do was get home. Maybe something has been delaying you. Or you just need the restoration that can only come from walking through that door.

A long trip. Some separation within your family. A bad day. Maybe you’re just hurting to see or be with someone that bad. But some challenge has occasioned your desire, almost a desperation, to make it home.

And at last you finally arrive. You back home. Through that door. Inside. Your place to relax, let down your guard and feel safe. Take off your shoes. Sit in your favorite chair. Listen to your music. Fix food just the way you like it…

HOME — capital H.O.M.E.

It’s a powerful concept in our imaginations, perhaps because home is so a part of our longing when we feel far off or without a home…

Maya Angelou put it this way: the ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

Or, Dorothy’s “There’s no place like home.” (The Wizard of Oz)
Or the proverb’s “Home is where the heart is.”
Or Robert Frost’s “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

After my bus ride with my friend this week, I’ve been thinking that “home” is made more powerful by the reality of homelessness in our world and in our lives. Not everyone has a home. Homeless people sleep in our city’s doorways. Refugees live in camps some times for year, even generations.

Many of us, at one time or another, know other insecurities of place, homelessness. Dislocations and separations, fears and insecurities that make us feel as if we are without a home. Unemployment that threatens one’s home. Or a change in family make-up. Or growing up and realizing we’re leaving home or growing old and not sure where home will be. There can be an alienation of not feeling we have a place in the world. Or that we’re still searching for that place that feels just right, where we feel right.

In mobile modern America, many of us end up far away from where we started out geographically. Or far way from where we started figuratively. Often far from family. And to end up sort of alone– well, that’s not unheard of in our society either.

A friend of mine describes himself as an orphan in time.

Recently someone told me that he was more of a gypsy than rooted, a settler. For him, the road and constant moving were the only home he’d ever known. This started out as an army brat; he says that he was hardly every in the same school two years in a row. But as an adult, he still seems to move from city to city every few years.

It sounds exciting at first. But when I talked to him further, it seemed his constant moving is more about dissatisfaction and searching — worrying that he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. It sounds more like restlessness and discomfort than what we usually mean by “home.”

Which brings me to the second experience I want to ask you to call to mind this morning. I hope it’s not as familiar as “coming home” for most of us. But I’m pretty sure that some of us have known this experience.

…When you realize, all at once or over some period of time, that the place that has been your home no longer is. You may or may not know how this has happened. But once you realize it… well, it’s the experience, I think, that has made the title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel “You Can’t Go Home Again” so haunting.

Home is no longer home. It can be a terrifying revelation. Or one with great loss and sadness. Leaving you feeling as if you’re in a free fall. Or completely lost without ever finding your way back to found.

I’ve known a few folks who find within themselves some cautious excitement… maybe not at first, but as they gently tip toe ahead, beginning to wonder where they will end up, what the next chapter will look like… But even for them, there is also, or at least first grief and loss of transition, realizing that the place and the people that offered support and shelter, trust and place no longer can or do.

You are left — can you hear the sense of abandonment in that phrase? … you are left figuring out where to go, what to look for, and who could provide what others had provided in the past.

Our Samuel passage is about brings up these questions. And more…

What do we need in a home?
If you haven’t found it, where might you look… Can you act to help create a place for yourself in the world?
Are you correctly understanding what your needs might be?
It’s most interesting to me that the text gets at these sorts of questions by bringing up the question of what would be an appropriate home for God in our world. And this, for us Christians, who say we know God through Jesus, who was essentially a homeless man.

David’s journey has been long and difficult, from pasture to palace, from shepherd boy to prince, from tenacious warrior to powerful king whose reign promises peace for the people at last, peace, and a place of their own.

However long and however difficult the journey, David — at least in his deepest spirit, in his clearest moments — he must have sensed God’s presence and help every step of the way, wherever he was.

There’s something very, very special in recognizing how God has obviously set you apart, chosen you from among many for a specific purpose, anointed you with the talents, energy, even ambition to attain your calling. Do you have that recognition?

David, King of Israel by the grace of God, surely has this sense of God’s actions in his life. Now he sits safely enthroned in Jerusalem. Comfortable in a grand house of his own.

And it occurs to him, perhaps innocently, even naively: “Here I am in a beautiful cedar home while the ark of God is still sheltered by a tent.”

This vignette always makes me smile. Often enough in church life, we do just the opposite. At a Trustees meeting (I deliberately chose Trustees since we have Elders!) you’ll hear someone figuring the church can get by with superglue and papermache. That we can just duct tape it together and hope it holds. This from folks whose homes are all the latest granite and stainless.

But that’s not David idea. David decides that God needs a house. A splendid house. A home for the presence of God in the midst of the people. David has big real estate plans for God.

But what happens? You’ve heard the saying, “Humans make plans, and God laughs?”

God, through the prophet Nathan, responds to David’s construction plans by asking, essentially, “Hey you, when did I complain about living in a tent? Actually,” God continues, “I sort of like camping out. I prefer the openness to the elements, and being flexible, responsive, free to move about — not fixed in one place.”

God then turns the tables on David and ups the ante: “You think you’re going to build me a house? No, no, no, no. I’M going to build YOU a house.”

I love that the Bible captures God making a pun. This play on words about the meaning of “house” as either a building or a lineage or tradition. God’s using a different meaning of “house.” “A house that will last much longer and be much greater than anything you could build yourself with wood and stone. A house that will shelter the hopes and dreams of your people long after ‘you lie down with your ancestors.'”

Beloved, here’s God’s promise to establish the line of David. As Christians, this is an important promise. We trace it right down to the birth of Jesus.

It’s God’s promise “forever” and “no matter what.” It’s a house to live out the all of our lives in. A house big enough for all of us who are not quite right.

The promise of “chesed” in Hebrew. Or in church English, the promise of grace not of our own earning, of Divine mercy, of steadfast faithfulness. A house for the lame and the blind and the sick. A house that will still be there for us even when we run away or fail to live up to the offer. Because this is a house that’s built forever on God’s prerogative and love, not what we can manage, muster or earn. A house we can always count on, where we are always welcome, especially when we need to come home.

Be careful here, Christians. This is no assurance that God’s going to bless and prosper every cockamamie idea and plan we come up with. It’s rather that God stay with us despite those bad ideas and ill-conceived plans. God will continue forgiving us no matter how far we stray or how bad we are. God will remain present to us, keep the door open, and welcome us back home again when we return.

God building us a house of our own, a dwelling place for all generations. Where peace dwells with reconciliation. Where too we will find security and unity living together with the last and the least likely of the people we might expect to find their home their.

Yes, the promise that begins with David, in Jesus grows into a vision of bringing together Gentiles and Jews, of the the uncircumcised and the circumcised living together, and whoever we cannot imagine making a home together. It’s a vision with no more ethnic neighborhoods and no more ghetto of neglect. No more banking red lines.

Strangers and aliens become housemates with the saints when they come home to the house that God builds in Christ. The house built with the cross — in whose sight all are judged, all fall short, and all are shown mercy. I love it when church folk admit some little sin only so they can make it clear “it’s no big sin like others are guilty of!” In God’s house, there are no such distinctions any more.

Instead, everyone is a member of the same household built on a Cornerstone who is the fulfillment of God’s promise of peace and healing and reconciliation.

Haemon read the Ephesians passage as the 2nd reading. Hear it again, in a different translation, as the promise Paul shares as the fulfillment of God’s response to David:

“It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this,
didn’t know the first thing about the way God works,
hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ.

You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel,
hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large.

Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
 
The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this,
both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders.

He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance.
He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes
that it hindered more than it helped.

Then he started over.
Instead of continuing with two groups of people
separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion,
he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

Christ brought us together through his death on the cross.
The Cross got us to embrace.
That was the end of the hostility.

Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders.
He treated us as equals, and so made us equals.

Through him, we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Creator.

That’s plain enough, isn’t it?

You’re no longer wandering exiles.
This kingdom of faith is now your home country.
You’re no longer strangers or outsiders.
You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone.
God is building a home.
God’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here or how long we’ve been here—in what God is building.

God used the apostles and prophets for the foundation.
Now God’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone,
with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together.

We see it taking shape day after day—
a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it,
a temple in which God is quite at home.” (adapted from The Message)

What house do you want to live in?
Where to you want to make your home?
Are we ready to make our way truly home yet?

Amen.