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.