John 14:1-6a, 8-14
Preached at Parkminster United Church, Sunday, May 10, 2020
Rev. Heather Power
In our reading from John’s gospel this morning, we heard the beginning of what is known as the “farewell discourse” of Jesus. Jesus’ words to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” emerge stridently from the center of the text. I don’t know about you, but hearing these exclusive sounding words in the midst of a beautifully diverse spiritual world makes me a little uncomfortable and even squirmy. But there was something nudging me in this reading, so even if you’re feeling a bit squirmy about it too, let’s stick together and explore this challenging reading from Scripture.
The disciples were also feeling squirmy – but for a different reason. “Where I am going,” Jesus tells them, “you cannot follow now.”
“Needless to say, the words sting, and fill the bewildered disciples with fear. What is Jesus talking about? How will they survive if he leaves them? Where will they go? What will happen to their cherished plans? Why is the ground shifting under their feet? Why is everything changing?
As we shelter in our homes during this time, compulsively checking the news for latest updates on the pandemic and fearing what life is going to look like for the next many months or years, we can relate to the disciples’ questions. Why is the ground shifting under our feet? What’s going to happen to our families, our cities, our nations, our world? Will the center hold?” (Adapted from thoughts by Debbie Thomas.)
And yet, in the midst of all of this uncertainty we are blessed with the privilege of having a place to shelter this storm. Home. Home Sweet Home. There’s no place like home. Home is where the heart is. Sure, it is understandable that being home can have its moments right now, but for those of us who can call home a safe and welcoming space, we are incredibly lucky.
I wonder what the word home conjures up in your mind. I wonder if the pandemic has changed how you feel about home. When we think of a place called home, we are often lifted up into memories, perhaps of places in our lives where we feel we belonged, the place, that in some sense belongs to you. It may be the home of your childhood or a special house that is part of the history of your family. It could be a one room studio where you lived during university, when you realized the possibility present in your life, or the first place that was a safe landing spot after moving to a new city for work. Home is always that place that we go where we feel we are welcomed and have a sense of belonging. Chances are that if you do not have such a place, you have visited something like it in your dreams and visions.
Of course, it is in some sense hard to talk about homes in a time when many do not have an adequate place to call home or are struggling and feeling overwhelmed by the pressures and costs of living. And we share the pain of those for whom home is not a safe place right now. But it is also necessary to identify the deep desire in the human spirit for these places in our lives, both physical and spiritual, that we call home. For without that sense of belonging to someone or belonging somewhere, we are left vacant and bereft, lonely, with a sense that we are just passing through.
For some of you, perhaps the word “home” conjured images of the Parkminster building. Parkminster is home to so many of us. We have a feeling of belonging when we walk through the doors to the sanctuary. We love looking at the stained glass and hearing the swell of the organ from the balcony upstairs. The gym calls to mind coffee hour conversations, LGBTQ potlucks and a space for our children to run and play. And of course there are the beautiful gardens that surround our grounds and the Community Labyrinth that beckons as a peaceful spot.
It’s been difficult not to be in the church building together over these past 8 weeks. But there is something else that goes on at Parkminster. More than memories, more than experiences, more than the physical space. In God’s house, there are many rooms, Jesus says in John. I feel that way about this church. In this community of faith, there are many rooms, not just the rooms we inhabit at the church, but there are rooms for everyone and everyone has a place.
Our time worshipping together even though we’re apart has proved that each week. We at Parkminster have always extended ourselves in extravagant welcome; it’s another way of saying how open our arms are called to be. In this congregation there ARE many rooms and many different ways of expressing the Divine, and part of our calling is to open all the doors and windows so that others may enter and enjoy the deep welcome of the Holy One for all of us.
Wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here. If you’ve found your way here in recent weeks as we’ve come together online for worship – you are welcome here. Part of being extravagantly welcome is trusting in God’s willingness to accept us all, where we are and how we are. God welcomes seekers and doubters and everyone in between. God welcomes those who love to study the Bible and those who wonder if something new can still be brought forth from those ancient words. God welcomes into the house those with aching feet from the long walk and those who have burst through the door in wonder and awe. What matters to God is that you find a home for your soul and spirit and that somehow you know you can always come home.
Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian minister and writer, has spent much of his life writing about the journey home and what it means to find a home. In his memoir, Longing for Home, he reminds us that the word longing comes from the same root as the word long, in the sense of length in either time or space, and also the word belong, so that the full richness of to long for suggests a yearning for something that is a long way off, something we feel we belong to and that belongs to us. The longing for home is so universal in each of us, that there is even a word for it: homesickness.
Some of us who are here this morning have felt spiritually homesick in our lives. We might wonder if there is actually a home for us where we are deeply welcome, quirks and all. Others of us have left a home or two and have been wandering through the world, not stopping long enough to call anywhere home. Still others have been longing for a place to hang our spiritual hats and there hasn’t been a hook yet. It is my hope and my prayer that this community might become the sort of home that welcomes the spiritually homesick and the seeking spirits. That we might continue to become the sort of home that opens all the doors and windows, but also offers a roaring fire of passionate hope and a living feast to all who are longing to come home to community.
I have been one who has felt this great homesickness. I have felt the deep longing to be welcomed home; in spite of my unconventional faith, in spite of all of my flaws. No matter our age or our accomplishments, there is a true ache in the human spirit to be welcomed home again. Perhaps this feeling is part of being alive, the sense that we are all looking for home, in our blood and in our bones. Perhaps all of us know this deep down ache for a home to return to, where you are unconditionally welcomed in.
Let Parkminster be a place where we can be homesick together. For in a deep sense, none of us is home yet. The world is not all that we long for it to be; it is still struggling to come to terms with love and justice, compassion and equality. Part of being homesick together is getting to work in community for all we are longing for the world to be and become.
For me, the words “In God’s house are many rooms” are what quench my soul from this reading. Meaning: God is roomy. God is generous. God is hospitable. God can handle our doubts, our fears, and our questions. And God’s offer of belonging extends far beyond the confines of this life… We have a place with God. We have a place. (Adapted from thoughts from Debbie Thomas)
So welcome home. Welcome to a place where we can be homesick together, a place where we are accepted and even celebrated just as we are. A place for the lovers, the dreamers….all of us.