Passage: Isaiah 49:8-16a; Matthew 6:24-34
Date: May 25, 2008
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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Scholars tell us that probably three different prophets' writings make up the book of Isaiah. Our reading comes from "second Isaiah." He worked between the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of Israel's leading citizens to Babylon in 587 BCE, and the fall of the Babylonian Empire in 539. Today's words were addressed to those forcibly uprooted from their homes and resettled in a foreign land. In the midst of their despair, these are words of amazing hope. Listen to the heart of God: 49:8-16a.
We can tell by the change to green paraments that we have moved to what is called "ordinary time" in the church calendar. Especially during the spring/summer months, the suggested lectionary readings shift away from common themes toward new opportunities. For example, there are twelve consecutive readings from Genesis, and sixteen from Romans. This affords the opportunity to dig more deeply into a particular book, rather than jumping around as the lectionary so often does. Because Easter came so early, today's readings are not part of that order. Our gospel lesson is found in Matthew 6, the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier in that chapter, we find the Lord's prayer, and warnings about being too public with our piety. Jesus' teachings continue. Remember, Jesus is speaking to peasants, often in desperate poverty, victims of plagues and droughts and Roman oppression. They often lived at near subsistence levels. Listen for God's life-giving word to your spirit, to your life: 24-34.
When I began working with the poetry of the prophet, one word repeatedly emerged: home. What comes to mind, to heart, when you listen to the word, "home?" Getting past a particular building, does it touch a nerve, a complex set of emotions? If you were to define home, what words would you use? If you were to paint or sculpt home, what colors, shapes would emerge? If you were to set home to music, what would it feel like?
My "home"" ponderings have led me in many directions. The Greek writer Homer's The Odyssey wonderfully describes the hero, Odysseus. The whole classic writing tells of his monumental journey home. Mythic, his last forty-two days of arduous dangerous travel still command our attention all these centuries later. Near the end of the play, Les Miserables, Jean val Jean sings to God, "take me home, take me home." Remember the American western folk song, "O give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play?" At the end of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy clicks her heels together three times and says what? (There's no place like home.) In the musical Oliver, the orphaned and run-away children greet newcomer Oliver with, "Consider yourself at home, consider yourself one of the family." That cute curly red haired girl in Annie only wants to have a real home. Our schools have home rooms and homecomings. At times, we talk about "broken homes." Baseball has home runs and home plate.
Feel what your heart does as you view the devastation in Myanmar and China, the millions of homes destroyed. We are not really able to go there emotionally. We have trouble getting our minds around just one tornado's destruction of homes, let alone an earthquake's or a cyclone's. Several years ago, I got to know a woman whose beautiful view home was totally destroyed in the Berkeley hills fire. She came to Portland with nothing but the clothes she wore as she ran from the blaze. In the deepest sense, she was homeless. I continue to be impressed that our denomination is committed to four more years of work restoring homes and lives in the hurricane Katrina devastated south. There is something elemental that is touched when our youth and adults work on Habitat for Humanity projects, building homes for people who could otherwise not ever have one. The service club I belong to works with two to three hundred foster children in our area. As we get to know the kids and their foster parents, one of the things we learn is their greatest wish: to live in a family, a home, to really belong, not temporarily but permanently. Most of them are great children. Their "homeless" situation is not of their doing.
When my sister and I helped our father move out of the family home into assisted living, we tried to surround him with all sorts of "home" things, which would help him adjust to a radically different residence. Even though he was wonderfully cooperative and supportive, after 50 years in the same house, the move was traumatic. And I think about how many thousands are losing their foreclosed homes, so often because of mortgage scams.
I saw a photo essay this week about the Acholi people of northern Uganda. Two million people in Uganda have been displaced as a result of that nation's two-decade war. A few thousand Acholi people have returned to their ancestral villages. They have started to build traditional family huts, to start life again, home again.
Part of the excruciating pain for me last October in Israel/Palestine was listening to stories and visiting places where ancestral homes and entire villages had been destroyed, forcibly taken. For Palestinians, and for a number of Israelis, the conflict is about home.
Our nation has set aside this weekend, especially tomorrow, to remember women and men who have served in the military so that we might have this place we call home. While it is not completely clear, Memorial Day observances probably began in the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Women here and there paused on certain days to remember fallen confederate soldiers, those who fought that they might enjoy a particular way of life, of freedom from northern oppression. After the war, northern states picked up the idea, until it became a national commemoration. The day evolved from remembering those who died in the Civil War to those who died in all of our wars, and now includes those who serve or have served in our armed forces. Regardless of how we feel about any particular war, the tribute is to their service so that we can live in this nation, our home.
As I thought about it, it amazes me how often "home" appears in literature, movies, music, the arts, and in our shared experience. Home seems to be an elemental part of the human journey, an archtype, a level in which we are all connected even unconsciously. A few moments ago, I asked how you would describe "home." I thought about an address, but in my life I have lived in several places, and all became "home," single or married, with and without children. Surely home is deeply related to place, but coupled with it is a state of being. "Home" denotes security, welcome, groundedness, safety, emotional-spiritual well-being. The Cubans we know have less than half the stuff that we do. Yet, many are more joyful, more "at home" than we are. Home concerns our relationships, our families, our communities, our places of belonging. Some can live in families, but not be home. Others can live alone, and find themselves very much at home. Many of us spend our whole lives journeying like Odysseus toward some illusive home.
Remember Isaiah's context: exile. They had been shunted violently off to a foreign land, with foreign gods-obviously more powerful gods than their God, Yahweh. The destruction of the nation seemed to signal the end of Yahweh's action on their behalf, like God was finished with them. Not only were they ethnic orphans, living in an alien culture, but they found themselves spiritual orphans as well, homeless in all ways. It was into that bleak context that God's passionate intense word appeared. We know it during Advent, when we hear the first of this Isaiah who proclaims: "Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem." Never before had they heard a prophet speak in such terms. Personal, without judgment, only words of healing, of hope, of home to the exiles: "Come out of your exile prison, show yourselves," he invited. "This is a new exodus, this time from Babylon, and from far away, and from north and west, and even south to the Ethiopian border. Come home all of you who have been scattered everywhere. Even though you lament: ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me,' know that I have not. Can a woman forget the child she is nursing? No. But even if a woman could do that, I can never forget you. I have tatooed you on the palms of my hands so that you will always be present before me. That is my commitment to you. Come home. You know that deep longing you have for home, real home? I planted that in you when I created you. I wrote that on your heart. Home is my intention for you and for all people. Come home."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently proclaimed:
God has a dream for all his children. It is about a day when all people enjoy fundamental security and live free of fear. It is about a day when all people have a hospitable land in which to establish a future. More than anything else, God's dream is about a day when all people are accorded equal dignity because they are human beings. In God's beautiful dream, no other reason is required. (Cornerstone, Spring 08, Sabeel, p. 5)
Home. Thank God for this dream, this holy intention. No wonder it is so deeply ingrained in us. It is of God, this profound desire for home. Jesus invites us, "Seek first the reign of God, the kingdom of God, God's home." St. Augustine observed: "Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee." Home. Thank God for the wonder, the mystery, the desire, the journey, in Christ our Lord. Amen.