Home. Home is where the heart is, they say. Home is where you hang your hat. Or, as Robert Frost wrote:
"Home is the place where when you have to go there they have to take you in."
When I was a child, our family made a bi-annual, hot-August trip in the Studebaker from the West Coast to southwestern Wisconsin and back. We often sang together in the car. One of my favorite songs included this refrain:
"Wherever I may roam/O'er land or sea or foam You can always hear me singing this song, Show me the way to go home. Show me the way to go home."
This is the song of every human heart. The song sung by the lonely and the forgotten who long for a place of warmth and welcome; it is the song of the refugee and the exile who hope for a place to rest their heads and raise their young in safety. This is the song of those trampled by poverty and war who cry out for a place where justice and peace are at home, and the song of the rejected and the abused among us for whom "home" has become a place of harm.
This is your song and mine, whenever we are filled with doubt or tempted by despair. Whenever we have wandered far afield and fear we've lost our way, you can always hear us singing this song, "Show me the way to go home." During our first three years of marriage, my husband and I lived in six different places. We unpacked our books onto six different sets of shelves, spread our quilt on six different beds, and hung our hats behind six different doors.
Yet for all the packing and unpacking, all the changes of address, we shared but one home, the home built upon our promise to be faithful to one another, a home made in the heart of the other. No longer was "home" a place, but a person and a promise.
Human promises, as you well know, are imperfect. They are smeared by sin and bleared with struggle. They often are broken and mercifully mended, but do not always endure. Yet, in an imperfect way, they speak to us of the great and perfect promise of Jesus, the promise we hear so clearly in John's Gospel today:
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love."
Do you hear the promise? "I love you." Now. Already. Before you can respond, "I love you." First, Christ loves us. First, he promises never to abandon us, but always to abide with us. Only then does he invite us to love him, to abide in him, to dwell in his unending love, and to make his promise our only home.
Do you hear the invitation? The love of God is deep enough and wide enough to welcome you and all who are longing for home. Oh, but this can be hard for us to believe. Greg, a single man, had his whole life turned upside down and inside out when he became the foster father of two young boys, brothers whose own household had become chaotic and deadly. Greg took them into his heart and into his home and made a place for them. They thrived, drinking in the love for which they had long thirsted. In time, they learned to trust Greg's promise that they would not be abandoned again and they relaxed into the peace of a safe and stable place to live.
Then their lives were thrown into turmoil when Greg was approached about taking in a third foster child. He talked with the boys about the prospect. The little one just smiled; all he could imagine was another playmate in the house. But the older one had many questions. Where would the new kid sleep? Which chair would be his at the table? Where would they put his stuff?
Even though Greg had a good answer to each question, he could tell it wasn't enough to calm the fears in this usually brav little boy. "What are you afraid of?" Greg asked. The little boy cried, "You only have two hands!"
True, he had a place in Greg's home and Greg's heart, but he could count. Greg had two hands and two little boys to care for. If a new kid came, would he, the bigger and more responsible one, be asked to let go of the hand that guided and protected him and connected him to Greg?
Like this little boy we often think of love as a limited commodity that needs to be doled out carefully. We imagine that God's embrace is not large enough to receive everyone who needs a home, and we fear that we will lose our own cherished place in God's heart if too many others come looking for a home. Take heart, you whose lives are in turmoil and transition; You who live amid the shards of broken promises; you who long for a place of safety, a place to belong; you who have wandered far from home and fear you have lost your way: Take heart!
Christ Jesus has come to make a home within you. He has come to dwell among us and to be present for us in the gifts of his Holy word, in bread broken and wine poured in his name,and in the community of pilgrims who walk by faith, whose home is not a place but a person and a promise.
To be at home in Christ is to abide in his love. We are grafted on to the vine, who is Christ and his love courses through our lives like the sap of the vine runs through the branches. We are able to love one another not with our own meager love but with the very love of Christ running through us. Jesus says, "Love one another as I have loved you. You can have no greater love than this, that you lay down your life for a friend."
Love and suffering walk hand-in-hand across the human heart. Joy and pain cannot be separated from one another when we abide in Christ, the crucified and risen One.
After his mother's death, Henri Nouwen wrote about his last trip home to be with her as she lay dying. When he came into her room and sat beside her bed, he saw his mother's face as if for the first time. "She was looking at me with the same eyes with which she had so often looked at me-- eyes expressing a love that could never be separated from pain. Maybe that was what always touched me so deeply-- her eyes, in which love and sadness never were completely separated. How often had I seen tears in her eyes when I left again after a day, a week or month at home! How often had I looked into that lovely face, which expressed so beautifully that love causes pain."
After first reading Henri Nouwen's lovely book, "In Memorium," I went home to visit my own parents and looked at their faces as if for the first time, faces that had been but a breath away from mine since the day of my birth. One who has eyes to see can discern in their faces the story of their lives, the map of the journey they have taken in loving one another, their children, their neighbors, their Lord. Their faces reveal much more than the passage of time and the fading of youth; they reveal the passing of the many people who have walked in and out of their home and their hearts, including various, unrelated boys who needed a safe and stable place to live and grow, for a little while or longer.
Jesus says, "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete" (John 15:11). I could see deep joy in my parents' faces, complete joy. But that is not all I saw. Visible, too, was the pain of promises broken and trust betrayed. Not all whom they received loved them in return. Some stole money from them, abused their hospitality, broke their hearts, but none could break their spirit, the spirit of Jesus alive and at work within them. They trusted Christ's promise never to abandon them, even when they were abandoned by others.
When we trust this promise, we cease living in fear and are set free to live extraordinary lives, lives of delicious daring. We can risk everything, including failure and heartbreak, in order to open our doors and our hearts to those who in one way or another have no safe place to call home. We can hear them singing this song: "Show me the way to go home."
Jesus said, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus laid down his life for us, for all whom he called friends. Believing this, we can love others with reckless abandon, even laying down our lives. But "laying down one's life" does not only mean dying for the sake of another. It also describes an on-going way of life, the practice of self-giving love. We are called to lay down our lives day after day by setting aside our personal desires and petty differences, by letting go of our self-centered agendas, and by dying to our self-serving, self-protecting ways of life. There is pain in this, it is a dying of the daily kind, but there is also joy.
Dying to ourselves and rising into Christ's life, we can take the chance of loving those who will never love us in return.For joy and pain walk hand in hand across the human heart, yet God's all-embracing love is love enough and Christ's promise to abide with us is sure.
Filled with the abundant love of Christ, we can spend with wanton extravagance the gifts God has lavished upon us, sharing with others all that we have been given-- our time and our attention, compassion and mercy, our talents and our wealth, our hope and our joy.
Christ calls us and sends us to bear the fruit of his love, the only fruit that will endure. "Beloved branches of mine," Jesus says, "you who abide in the life-giving Vine, bear a fruitful harvest of love for the sake of the world. Love one another as I have loved you."
This is no sentimental or romantic love, no warm and fuzzy feeling, but the steadfast and suffering love of God poured out upon us in Jesus. The grapes of God's vineyard will be pressed down and crushed as Jesus was. The juice of the grapes will become wine, both bitter and sweet. The wine will taste of betrayal and death as well as Cana's wedding feast. It will be poured out, as the life of Jesus was, upon all who thirst for a life made whole.
Following Jesus on the way of servant-love will take us where we would not choose to go. He will lead us to people whose deeds anger us, whose presence fills us with fear, whose lives make us weep. And he will say to us again and again: "Love one another as I have loved you." Jesus will open our eyes to that which we do not want to see, the depths of human suffering and the suffering of the earth itself, its waters and land and sky. And he will say, "Love as I have loved. Go and bear fruit."
We are not sent out alone, but we go with one another. We travel together, you and I, with other pilgrims, other branches who are clinging to the Vine for dear life. And together we will sing the pilgrim's song: "Show me the way to go home."
And we will hear the voice of Jesus say, "My self-giving love is the way; my promise is your only home." Amen.
Let us pray.
Hold fast to us, O Christ our Vine, and fill us with your life, That we might bear the fruit of love and always and only be at home in the heart of God. Amen.