Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Homily on Home

A reading from the fourteenth chapter of the gospel according to John: “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”(John 14:2)
Welcome back! I am assuming most of you went home for some portion of the break, and I am sure that each experience was different, and that to try and make generalizations is rather difficult, but I want to tell you about my break.
I only was home for one week of the break as for the first portion my family and I went on a vacation to the Caribbean, and the last week was spent in Iowa, but my experience at either place isn't what I want to tell you about, I want to talk about home...or rather where my parents live.
I say where my parents live because I can no longer consider it my home. Pastor Jim likes to describe this experience by forming two categories. One is that your parents essentially enshrine your room, leaving everything in place including the dirty laundry and the half eaten pizza, the other is that they change the locks and turn your room into a sewing room. Either way, or even in between what you once knew as home is no longer home. Some of your parents may let you know that it isn't home anymore by turning your room into a sewing room, or they may not let you know and clutch onto the idea that the child coming home, is the child who left for college months before.
My parents chose the middle path. They left my room the same, and just changed everything about the house. The kitchen in which I learned how to cook was remodeled, the front yard where I used to play they redid the landscaping, and my grandmother's room--in which I spent many a nights hearing stories from my grandma--they turned into a study.
The house that used to be home was different, and that was just the empirical loss of home. When I returned for the first time freshmen year I found that my parents expected me to have not changed. They treated me the same as before I left, and this caused much hostility. I felt more responsible since I had lived for several months away from them, but my parents did not treat me as though I had matured, and thought me still an irresponsible high schooler. While my experience may be an extreme example, everyone who grows up goes through some level of this angst. No matter how good of a parent, parents always have some amount of desire for their children to stay their children and not to grow up and go out on their own. For some of us it is a very painful experience becoming free, for others it is not that hard, but everyone who grows up experiences the tension.
The loss of home hinges on this natural result of change. If we consider home to be more than just our household, and let it incorporate the town in which we grew up in, we see even more the loss of home.
In a disgusting display of white flight, and consummerism my town destroyed several forests to raise up condos and strip malls. Trees and the natural landscape which I was used to was wiped out for cold lifeless concrete structures. What had brought me joy was wiped out by the bitter juggernaut of American capitalism. Along with the loss of landscape came the loss of friends. I do not mean loss of friends in a negative sense of the word, but loss as in a distancing because we are growing up. My friends went to other schools and met new people, and I met new people, and while we were still able to hang out it was no longer like it used to be. Our friendship had changed. Along with the nature of friendship changing, came a change of necessity. As we grow older, we need more money, and so we had to work more. No longer were we able to hang out like we used to because work interfered.
My parents house, the town I grew up in, my friends, all had changed in such a way that it was no longer home for me. So where is home? I could say valpo is now my home, but I know that once I graduate the same thing will happen. It is the nature of growing older and change that what we think of as home ceases being home over time. So why do we care so much about where is home? Why is it such a big deal to us?
“In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”
The second verse of the Hymn “I'm but a stranger here” reads like this:

What though the tempest rage,
Heaven is my home;
Short is my pilgrimage,
Heaven is my home;
And time’s wintry blast
Soon shall be over past;
I shall reach home at last,
Heaven is my home.

Well we have found the answer to where is home. Heaven is home. That's nice but what does that mean? It means we weren't built to stay, we weren't made for here.
The author of Ecclesiastes says “God has placed eternity in the hearts of men”, we are not made for here, we are made for eternity. There is a cliché saying that “Home is where the heart is” and how true it is when we realize that eternity is within our hearts. Our home is in eternity, our home is in heaven. We long for home here so much, and look for home but we will never find it here, we can only look forward to that day when Christ calls us home, when Christ comes and takes us to the place he prepared for us.
So we are left with a desire for home, we are left for a longing that cannot be met. While this may sound hopeless, there is hope. I would like to read you something for CS Lewis' novel The last Battle as the Narnians enter the new Narnia:
It was the unicorn....

What we find here on Earth reflects the eternity, which is in our heart. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
With a platonic reminiscence we are presented with a reflected image of reality. What we see, feel, touch, taste and smell is nothing but an image of the real, and a vague shadowy one at that. We cannot see the real, for to see the real is to escape the image, to see the real is to either be utterly destroyed as the truth bears down upon our sin, or for us to be taken up into the deity and become truly human for the first time while also transcending humanity and becoming sons of God. The Gnostics taught that spirit was good and matter was evil, but what we teach is that this matter here is but a poorly formed image of real matter, matter which if we but touch it we are also pulled into the real. And here is hope, that here on Earth, while strangers in a foreign land there are signs pointing our way home. All the Earth, the universe, everything we know points us towards the ultimate reality, the ultimate truth. That burning fire which withers away all that is sin, all that is sorrow, all that is death and imbues the life which does not end, the light which casts no shadows, and the reality that makes us children of God.
If you find joy and happiness in something here on this Earth, do not cease with just that object, but realize what that object points too. Also in this way, if you look at what used to be your home, and feel sorrow over the loss, rejoice that the mere trinket of happiness you may have experienced is but an image of the joy which you will find in Heaven.
These words of hope are not just platitudes; they are not a call to mercenary Christianity, which seeks only pleasure and security. No these words condemn us for every time we ever were content with what we have. If ever we were content with what this world offers. We are condemned for stopping at the image and not moving onto the object. If we would but hold lightly the things of this world, accepting that they are merely signs, then we would find that they become more. If we clutch onto what we think is happiness, if we clutch onto our idea of home, and do not let go, we will kill the happiness that we once found. The sweet wine will turn to vinegar, and you will be left with neither the real nor the image. But if we do not accept the image, if we strive for the real, the odd thing is that the image will begin to grow more clearly, the thing we thought beautiful at first will blossom and show us new beauty. If we but merely hold loosely what we want, what we think will bring us happiness, and allow God to sanctify those things around us through the painful process of change we will find that we not only do we have the images, but that we have the things themselves.

A homily on Death

It is a pleasure to stand here before you, to experience what it is like to be down here rather than up there. I am going to speak to you today about a subject which some of you may have experienced, others of you have not but one day will. I am talking about that experience common to all mankind, death.
My grandmother is dying. I am seeing death steal her away before my eyes, and I see the horror of that wretched result of sin. Her eyes lull unaware, her mind is dulled as the icy clutches of that ancient foe, slowly entangle her. A woman once vibrant, loving and energetic turned to lay in bed, weak, defenseless and helpless. How I long to share a conversation as I once did with her? How I long to come home and see her cooking dinner, and feel her embrace? How much I long for things that will never be again, for things that are now only memories? For those of you who have experienced this, you know the pain, for those who have not yet experienced, you one day will. I hope to give those already suffering some comfort, and those yet to face a loved one dying—some advice.
I would like to read you a verse, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” In Christ we need not have to fear death for we know that it is not the end. Instead we know that death is a beginning, the beginning of perfection, the beginning of a new life with God in which we ever see his face.
This knowledge is comforting for those of us who have had, or someday will have loved ones dying slowly and painfully, for what God promises us after death is no more sorrow, and no more pain. In Revelation 21:3-4 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." There will be no more death, no more pain, what comfort it is to know that those whom we love and see slowly dying are going to a place where they will no longer feel any pain?
But what about us? What about those of us left here on earth, hurt, aching, and longing for sweet moments to be spent with those gone? Well its not really about us, its never really about us, it is always about other people, because that is how we are called to live as Christians. But just because we are called to be loving does not mean that we will never be sad. If you are sad about a loved ones death, than you are in very very good company, perfect company to be exact. John 11:32-36
“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35Jesus wept. 36Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
Jesus loved Lazarus, he was the son of God, and easily raised Lazarus from the dead but a few moments later, yet Jesus wept. Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death even though he knew perfectly well Lazarus would rise. Sadness over a loved ones death is not a sign of weakness, nor a sign of a lack of faith, instead, it is the mark of the sinful world in which we life, one that even our creator cried over. Jesus knows the pain of losing a loved one, Jesus understands what we go through, and he is there for us. We are not alone to suffer through difficult times such as a loved ones death, we have the company not only of all sinful humanity, but also the company of the one perfect human to ever life. Sorrow over death, and our own dying characterizes what it means to be human, rising from the grave is what it means to be God. Praise be to Jesus that he was both God and man—that he may know our sorrow, and provide a hope for tomorrow. I would like to read you a poem before closing. It is titled Oh Lazarus:
Oh Lazarus
Oh Lazarus how wane and pale,
Thy face has slowly grown,
As thy breathing began to fail,
And you uttered your funeral groan.

Weep Mary, Martha Weep,
Thy lord has stayed to late,
Life has from Lazarus already seep,
And set his dire fate.

Lord how easy would it be to heal him,
At thy word lepers clean and blind see,
Yet you let his health wear too slim,
And his life has ceased to be.

Rush Mary rush to the Lord,
“Lord if you had been here,
If only you had been here,
My brother would not have died.

Cry Martha, Wail Mary,
Weep the Jews all in sorrow,
For Lazarus four days buried,
he will ne’er see tomorrow.

And sympathy and sorrow fill the Lord,
The creator of all life eyes turn to tears,
Sharper than any doubled edged sword,
As he mourns the result of sin through the years.

In sorrow Jesus move to the tomb,
Where dread death had held Lazarus cold,
In the foggy mist of time’s gloom,
“Lazarus come out” shout Jesus bold.

Slowly from the rotten grave,
Lazarus four days dead arrives,
Covered in funeral clothes,
Breathing as well as perfect health.

Mary Martha weep no more!
Thy brother lives, he lives again,
Jesus reigns over life and death,
He lives he lives!!

When Over Sin I Sorrow

When over sin I sorrow,
And look to God for hope to borrow,
I weep at my wretched state,
And pray that God’s grace not be to late.

When buried under loads of work,
Within hideous doubt always lurk,
I sigh in bitter defeat,
And you lift me up off my feet.

As I strain to stave off sin,
I hopeless, see the devil’s grin,
And submit to sin commit,
But through it your love transmit.

When all the world seems to wail,
Under sins crushing weight flail,
I remember your love and grace,
And in evil I now see your face.

I see your face, tears in eyes,
For one who sins dies,
But gracious you are,
And you announce it by a star.

Two-thousand years ago a son born,
Who everyone would scorn,
Strip, beat, and hang upon a cross,
Gawking as his life loss.

But then with triumphant cry,
The son of God die,
To hell descended,
And finally to heaven ascended.

And so no longer sin be a crushing weight,
Because of God’s love great,
We can live as mean reborn,
Not as shells forlorn.

In Christ

When I lay under sins crushing weight,
With no rest into the nights hours late,
I ponder a love so great, so divine,
That I weep to think one day it will be mine.

When I struggle to live sanctified,
And find no hope in that I am justified,
I look to God with weeping eyes,
And see that all hope at his feet lies.

When all the world around me crumble,
And my life through time a hopeless tumble,
Upon the hill which my lord had died,
I sacrifice all my vain and heavy pride.

When death and decay surround me,
And everything disappears except for thee,
In thy quiet Easter morning hours,
I rest assured in thy resurrected powers.

Then with you in my heavenly home,
Experiencing for the first time a love I had known,
All my life falls beneath my thought,
As I experience the joy I had sought.

Ash Wednesday

What is Man, O Lord, that you came and died for him? Was there beauty that you sought to save, was there capability, or grace or joy that needed thy salvation? No! There was nothing! For out of the dust we came and to the dust we shall return! We are nothing but dust, there is no beauty, there is no redeeming grace, there is only sin, desolation and loathesome selfeshness within the heart of man. We sin against you, and against one another daily, we are slaves to our own inordinate desires, we are purely selfish beings who do nothing for Other, and everything for Self. It would be best if we had never been born, but we have been born, and so it would be better for us to be cast into eternal damnation then to continue on in our wretched sinfulness.

But for some reason that cannot be comprehended by reason you came to earth and died upon a cross! You, the infinite good, came to earth and became sin, tainted thyself in a disgusting display of the consequence of our sin. You, O most Holy and Precious Lord, were nailed to the tree by my sin, by my own most grievous sin. You had to die because of me. The immortal had to become death, the sinless had to become sin, hope had to become sorrow, and love had to become selfishness so that my own wretched soul should not perish in the fires of hell. But that it would! That this wretched soul be cast into the fires of Hell where it belongs, and that you my most Holy Savior and God would not have to die! But you have died, and so I show my gratitude by accepting your grace....but how little this means! I daily turn from you and enslave myself to that which you bought me from, I return to the vomit of my youth, and I daily forget thee and thy grace, and yet you still continue to grant me grace! Why O God hath thou shown such imcomprehensible, infinite love to such a wretch as I? Glory be to Jesus! Thou art all, and none but thou art!