July 22, 2012

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Ephesians 2:11-22

I don’t really know what it feels like not to have a home.  When I think of people who are homeless, my mind jumps to scenes of people waiting in line at a soup kitchen. I think of the folks that sit outside the grocery store and ask for small change. I think of the man that I often see downtown, who even on the hottest day in July, is wearing his winter coat, and carrying dozens of shopping bags. All that he owns, he’s carrying with him.  When I think of the homeless, I think of young people who have run away from home – from abuse, from neglect, from broken or breaking families. I think of alcoholism, and drugs, and mental illness – the reasons why many homeless people have ended up that way.

What I rarely take the time to think about is the feeling of having nowhere to call “home”. An old friend of mine, and former resident at the home where I used to work, lives with the debilitating illness of schizophrenia. She is one of the fortunate ones. Although her illness is severe, and she cycles up and down between severe episodes including depression and paranoia, and relative good health, she does not live on the street.

I remember having a conversation with her one day about home. She was in good health at the time and thinking clearly, and she was rejoicing in the fact that she had a place to call home. She actually had two places to call home at that time. She had the residence, where she lived most of the time, and she had the home of her best friend, where she spent every weekend.

Both of these places were home to her. They were not just houses with a bed for her to sleep in. They were “home” – places where she was accepted for who she was, where she could be herself, where she could laugh or cry, where she could be well or sick, where she could give of herself and receive in return, where she could be at peace.

Right now, home for me is a house on Preston Avenue where I live with my husband and my cat. But this summer we’ll have the opportunity to go home to some other places. We’ll go to visit Nick’s Dad on the island in BC, and that will be home as well. Neither of us have actually lived there before, but it’s a family place, and a place where we are welcome and we feel at home. And then later we’ll fly off to Ontario to visit my parents, and once again we will have arrived at home. It has been nearly twenty years since I lived in that house on 2nd Avenue in the Glebe, but it is still home.

Home is where you can be at your best or at your worst – where you can laugh or cry or shout.  Home is where you gather strength to face the world. Where you rest, where you get encouragement, where you seek consolation and comfort when things do not go well. Home is where you participate in providing these things for your family members, no matter how big or small that family may be.

In the chapters leading up to our Old Testament reading, David is anointed the king over the united kingdom of Israel and Judah. His people respect him, and the Lord is making him greater and greater. He is successful in battle, because he listens to God, and does what God tells him. If you remember, last week we read about David’s celebration before the Lord. He goes and brings the ark of God from the house of Obededom to the city of David with rejoicing, and after making sacrifices, he dances before the Lord with all his might.

Now David loves God, and is clearly trying to be faithful to God’s will. He has just gotten settled in his house, and finally he has a chance to rest. Just think, he’s been at war for ages, and then he had the long celebration of victory. Now he finally has the chance to relax and to sleep.

But all of a sudden, David has another problem. Perhaps he is feeling guilty. He’s a great king, living in a great palace, probably with all kinds of servants and people waiting on him. He suddenly realises, that while he is resting in luxury, the ark of God is outside in a tent. That can’t be right. God in a tent, while I’m in this nice, cedar house? So he tells the prophet Nathan that he’s going to have a house built for God too.

Well, you’d think that God would be grateful to David for thinking of him, but of course he’s not. The Lord says: “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” 

Perhaps it’s kind of like going into the forest, and building a bird house – as if the birds didn’t have a place to live in all those trees. Maybe it’s like a tenant saying to her landlady, “I live in this great apartment. I think you deserve one too.” – As if the landlady didn’t already own the whole building!

Sometimes we, in the Church, try to build a house for God also. We are genuinely thankful for all that God has done for us. We have honestly rejoiced in the good news of Jesus Christ. Like David and the people of Israel, we have danced and sang and worshipped God.

And we really do want to honour God, so we build him a house… we make beautiful stained glass windows, and we decorate with banners, and we build wooden pews, and choose just the right coloured carpet for the floor. We come to visit God in his new house every Sunday morning, and then we go home to our houses for the rest of the week, and enjoy what God has blessed us with. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about, because we’ve made a house for God.

Those who gather for worship in less formal or permanent spaces – like house churches, or Sports Centres, or multi-purpose rooms in care homes, or outdoor chapels at camps – they might be able to explain how we’ve got it wrong. Maybe they understand that God is crying out “You’ve got it backwards! You don’t have to build a house for me out of wood and nails and brick. Wherever my people gather, I’m there. I don’t need walls or a roof or any of that. You’ve got it backwards! You don’t need to build me a house, because I am making a home for you.”

God says to David: Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Not only a house, not only a home, but a family – with a parent, and a son, and many, many adopted children.

At the time that Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, the dividing line of concern was “Jew or Gentile.” Differences in cultural and religious practices between these two groups of new Christians made it difficult to understand one another and get along. Paul was trying to explain, in our reading, that in Christ, these differences don’t matter anymore. People who once hated each other, who once mistrusted and misunderstood each other, were now becoming part of the same family, according to Paul.

Paul writes: So Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God… 

I believe that Paul is talking about the same home that the Lord promised David would come. God raised up an ancestor of David, Jesus, and through him, established the Kingdom of God. A kingdom – a household – in which both Jews and Gentiles are welcomed, accepted, and even unified, in Christ.

Suzanne was 24 years old, and she’d been moved out of her parents’ house since high school. She was an only child, and grew up in a big house in a nice neighbourhood. The last year had been difficult for Suzanne and her mum. Suzanne’s father had had a stroke, been hospitalized for some time, and then after another small stroke, he died. Now the two of them were alone, and Suzanne’s mum especially, was alone – rambling around in the big old house that they had shared together.

Finally, Suzanne’s mum decided it was time to move. The memories in the house were too much for her, and it seemed silly for one person to be living alone in such a big house. So she announced to Suzanne that she was moving into an apartment. Suzanne was devastated. It seemed like her family was falling apart. First, her father was taken, and now her home was disappearing too. It was upsetting at first, as Suzanne helped to go through the things in the house.

Together, she and her mum decided what to keep, what to give away, what to throw away. It was hard work, because they had a lot of stuff, but it was emotionally exhausting work, as the memories came back with every item they packed away. And the process took a long time. The two of them spent days together – working, and remembering, and laughing over the things they remembered. They hadn’t spent this much time together in years. They had both forgotten how much they liked doing things together.

When everything was finished, it was still a little hard for Suzanne, as they stood and looked back at their empty house. But she knew that her family wasn’t falling apart – that she wasn’t losing her home. Her family was her mum, and home was wherever they were together. It didn’t matter about the building that they had lived in. That was just a house.

The Kingdom of God, the household of God, the home that God has made for us through Jesus Christ, is not just a house or a building. It is a group of people – Jews & Gentiles – unified in Christ. Perhaps, like Suzanne, we need to lose the house in order to realize that the house is not the home – the house is not the family.

The interesting thing about this home, this Kingdom of God, is that it is not only a true home for us. It is also what David was trying to create – a home for God. We cannot build a house for God, and tell God to stay put. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the buildings we make, or how many crosses we put up, or how often we read our bibles there, or how many songs we sing. God will not live in our buildings. But God will abide in the home that he established. God will be our parent in the household that was made through Jesus, the Christ.

In Christ, the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. “We are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” God would not live in the house that David wanted to make for him, but the Lord will dwell in the household of God, in the people of God.

We have a home and a family if we want it. As we gather together as God’s family at the family table to share a holy family meal, may we know that God is with us, and in us, among us and between us, and may we know that we are home.