A Sermon Preached by Elaine Breckenridge
Easter 6A 2014
Listen to this…Sermon 2014.05.25 EHB
This past week I went to visit my parents in SLC who recently made the transition from their home of twenty years to a new home in an assisted living facility. As I was preparing for the trip at one point I said to someone, “I am going home to see my parents.” Later I thought, “Why did I say “home? I haven’t lived with my parents or lived in Utah for decades.” Suffice it to say that my week has led me to think about home.
“There’s no place like home.” as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz. But where and how do we define home? What does the word home mean to us within the context of this morning’s Gospel and our lives as Christians?
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them in human form. He assures his disciples that even though their relationship is changing, it is not ending. They will not be abandoned nor left as orphans. They will remain connected. And of course the great connector is the Holy Spirit which as the Gospel says “abides with them.”
Now the deeper meaning behind the word “abide” means to make a home. And so a better way of understanding our passage would be to render it like this.
“You know the Spirit because the Spirit makes a home in you and stays with you.” Biblically speaking then, our true home, is not a place, not a house, not a church building, but a relationship. It is a relationship with God made possible by the Spirit of Christ in our hearts.
What a wonderful metaphor we have for describing our relationship with God. “To be home” is to know that we are accepted and loved unconditionally by God. Yet where and how do we experience God’s unconditional love? One would hope that the church points the way.
In her memoir, called Traveling Mercies, writer Annie Lamott told a story about a time a seven year old girl got lost. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where she lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, ‘You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.’
This my church. I can always find my way home. I love the fact that a child could make a literal connection between church and home. But the story also points to a deeper truth. The defining characteristic of the Church is that it is called to be a home by embodying the enduring love, power and presence of God voiced in the commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” The church is called to practice love, not love as an emotional sentiment, but love as Scott Peck defined it- “the will to extend oneself for another’s spiritual growth.”
Once upon a time. There was a twenty-seven year old depressed and shy loner man named Lars. Avoiding contact with people, as much as possible, this man lived in a garage apartment behind his childhood home which was occupied by his older brother, Gus and Gus’ wife Karin.
Gus and Karin did everything they could to try to bring Lars into a relationship with them. But Lars shunned all of their attempts to be-friend him.
Then one day a large package arrived and out of it came a life-size, inflatable a girl doll which Lars had purchased. Lars then took the doll home and introduced her to his brother and sister-in-law as Bianca, his new friend.
Now Bianca, (in Lars imagination of course) was a half-Danish, half Brazilian missionary who’s mission was to “be on a sabbatical to experience the world.” She had to be pushed around in a wheelchair. And, because as Lars said since she was very religious, Lars asked if Bianca could move into the home of Gus and Karin. Lars is eventually diagnosed as delusional, but the family doctor, recommended that Gus and Karin, play along with Lars’ fantasy.
Gus and Karin do play along, they give Bianca her own room and a place at their dinner table. They reach out to the Lutheran pastor in town to see if that church can be of help. The church council meets with the pastor to decide what to do if Lars brings Bianca to a church service. At first the council is nervous and reject the idea until the minister says, “What would Jesus do?” Consequently, when Lars brings Bianca to church, the congregation makes room for her and even welcomes her with a gift of flowers from the altar. Bianca was welcomed and in that moment, Lars for the first time begins to see that he has not been abandoned. The Church spoke the message loud and clear, neither Lars nor Bianca would live as orphans.
Soon the whole town becomes engaged in the project of welcoming and accepting Lars and Bianca. Pretty soon, Binaca, this life size doll is asked to volunteer at the hospital, and at school and she was even elected to the school board!
Now as the community helps Binaca develop a life, so too does Lars, developing a relationship with his brother for the first time and becoming more engaged with people at work. For the first time in his life, Lars begins to see that he could have a normal life like other people.
Some of you may know that my story is actually the plot-line of a movie made in 2007 called Lars and the Real Girl. And as you heard, the movie chronicles the spiritual growth of Lars as he becomes less and less depressed– all because the community loved him back into health. The local church lead the way as they both practiced and modeled hospitality and inclusion- reaching out to this odd couple in their midst, making sure that Lars would eventually understand and accept that not only did he have an address but that he was home. He grew spiritually, expanding his ability to be in relationship with real people–all because a community had the courage to extend itself in quite a creative and compassionate way.
Now we don’t have to go to the movies to understand how the church is called to be the hands and heart of Jesus. I know that St. John the Baptist has practiced love through real concrete acts of compassion both within and outside these walls. You understand that when Jesus says, “love one another” it is not just a values statement, it is work and it takes commitment.
I know that this church has provided a home for many, many people. To return to Annie LaMott, many of you would agree with her statement, “No matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened; when I see the faces of the people at my church, when I hear their voices, I can always find my way home.”
The church’s job, our mission is to help people find their way home. But did you hear that? I did not say that the church’s job is to give people a home, or to become a home for the community already present. The church exists to help people find their way into making a home with God.
We are here to help people discover or live into the unconditional love of God, and the spiritual practice of both giving and receiving love. Of course we need to do it for one another, but if the Gospels model anything, they model that the friends of Jesus were always on the road, serving the world in Christ’s name. They walked two by two, healing, teaching and preaching just like Jesus. But in today’s culture–it just might look different. We have the capacity to evangelize (oo I said the naughty “E” word) using a website, social media and good ole fashion e-mail. We could think outside the prayer book and try some different services but still within our liturgical tradition of using fixed forms. We could do a lot of ministry that would call for some thinking outside the box. I suppose I thought of the movie, Lars and the Real Girl because I think being a church home, a real spiritual home takes courage and creativity. It takes creativity to revison our worship and theology for the sake of the Gospel. It takes courage to think about how we can use this space and the chapel in creative new ways to meet the needs of new generations looking for a spiritual home. It takes compassion to stay in relationship with one another when we disagree. Yet these are the hallmarks of a Christian community based on love and friendship.
No small job. But let us hold fast to the words of Jesus when he says that we have not been abandoned. We have not been left as orphans. The Spirit has been given to us already, empowering us to be the church whose job it is to show people the way home. Can we see ourselves as a spiritual home for the lost, the misfits, the seekers who do not know that what they are looking for is really a whom named Jesus? Can we build a new spiritual home based on the principle of love where all belong?
Let us pray. Come Holy Spirit. Breathe is us the wind of your life. Set us on fire, on fire with your love. Come fill the hearts your people. Amen.