going home – a sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost

preachinga sermon, based on Mark 6.1-13, preached with the people of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on Sunday, July 5, 2015

Going home. A universal metaphor for that human want, need for connection, communion. Going home to that people and place we knew and those who knew us first and best.

Going home is the heartbeat of the parable of the prodigal son.[1] After rashly and rudely demanding, then recklessly squandering his inheritance, he comes to his senses, heading for home to beg his father to take him back as a slave. But the father, whose love is as prodigal, as wildly extravagant as his son’s ethics and economics, rejoices at the return of his long lost child. Here is the unconditional love that we pray to receive in going home.

My mother, I believe, longed for this. In the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, still capable of thought and speech, yet no longer recognizing the house in which she had lived for fifty years, she often cried, “I want to go home” to her childhood residence to be with her mother and father and sister.

In Christian theology, that yearning to which my mother gave urgent voice ultimately is fulfilled when life and labor are o’er, trial and tribulation no more, as we cross the threshold of death, entering the fullness of eternity. So some religious traditions refer to the burial rite as a homegoing, that final stage of the pilgrim journey of return to God. So the Apostle Paul wrote: “Now I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I will know fully as I have been fully known.”[2] So William Arms Fisher, a pupil of Antonín Dvořák, penned these words to the second movement of his mentor’s Ninth Symphony:

Goin’ home, goin’ home, I’m a goin’ home;
Quiet-like, some still day, I’m jes’ goin’ home.
It’s not far, jes’ close by, through an open door;
Work all done, care laid by, Goin’ to fear no more…

Mother’s there ‘spectin’ me. Father’s waitin’, too.

Lots of faces gather’d there. All the friends I knew…[3]

Going home. Again, that universal metaphor for that abiding human hunger for connection, communion, love and acceptance unconditional.

But sometimes, at least in this world, it doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes going home can be disappointing. Terribly.

Recently, I read an article in a summer travel journal about going home to visit family. The author offered advice about how to have an enjoyable experience by avoiding being caught in the family dysfunction of unresolved hurts, bad memories, even historic enmities. Aside from the helpful counsel, the article itself was an open acknowledgment of what we know intuitively. As much as we long for home, going home doesn’t always work out well.

So, for Jesus. He had inaugurated his public ministry, proclaiming the nearness of God’s kingdom, calling his disciples, teaching and preaching, healing and miracle-working; the news spreading about him as a prophet possessing plenipotentiary power, enabling him to speak and act in God’s name.

Now, it was time for Jesus to go home. To be with those who knew him first and best. To share with them who he had become, and the gifts and graces of his new life.

All began well. His teaching astounded the people, for he spoke with authority; not in the familiar scribal style of rote-memorization and repetition, but in a way paradoxically primal and original, breathing new, deeper meaning into ancient words.

But then the spell was broken by familiarity’s contempt. That self-satisfied confidence, complacency that locks people up behind the inescapable bars of previously accepted details, assumed facts about them. The crowd, once amazed, now dismissive, “We know you, Jesus!”, rejected him.

There are common life-lessons to be gleaned from this homegoing tale, and not coincidently, in their particularity, pertaining to the coming of Jim Trimble,[4] your new vicar and your new life as a community of faith with him. The most profound lesson?  Power’s inherent powerlessness.

Power. That capacity to do something, to have an affect on a person or thing so to yield an effect. Jesus possessed immeasurable power, enabling him to intervene and control the course of nature, saying, “Talitha cum,” “Little girl, get up,” raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead,[5] saying, “Peace! Be still!” silencing the blustery winds, calming the billowing waves of a stormy sea.[6] Yet, in his hometown, “(Jesus) could do no deed of power” because of the people’s unbelief. (Let us take close and clear note. The text reads not that Jesus would do no deed of power, as in Jesus chose not. Rather that Jesus could do no deed of power, as in Jesus was not able.)

Power to be exercised effectively, faithfully for the common good must be complemented by our welcome. From the divine viewpoint, our welcome is necessary, for God, who is love, does not coerce, force us kicking and screaming into the kingdom, but rather invites us and awaits our choice to accept. In human terms, our welcome is our benevolent exercise of our power in our capacity to choose to accept the one who comes, granting, in this case, Jim, the freedom to exercise his power, as articulated in his role and responsibilities, again, for the common good.

This welcome is what the people, in their unbelief, denied Jesus. Yet there is a lesson to be learned from his response.

Jesus, after being rejected, “went about among the (surrounding) villages teaching.” This is not self-righteous indignation. No turning on his heel huffily, hastily leaving town with the proverbial trailing cloud of indignant dust. No “I’ll take my gifts and graces elsewhere and to others who will appreciate them and me!”

Taking the gospel narrative at face value, Jesus, the incarnation of God’s love, respected his people’s right to choose their own response to him. Even more, not tarrying long over his defeat, he continued the work he had been given to do.

Jesus, in his being and doing, is the way, truth, and life of going home. The way of our comfort with ourselves just as we are, the truth of the necessity of accepting others just as they are, and the life of our continuing to become who God created us, called us in Jesus, and confirmed us by the Spirit to be. For going home, in this world and ultimately, is about seeking and finding peace with ourselves, with others, and with God.

[1] Luke 15.11-24

[2] 1 Corinthians 13.12

[3] 1922

[4] The Reverend James Trimble’s first Sunday as vicar of St. Christopher’s Church is August 9, 2015.

[5] Mark 5.41-42

[6] Mark 4.39

2 thoughts on “going home – a sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost

  1. Paul,

    I hope you don’t think I am beginning to sound like a broken record regarding my love of your sermons, but this one really hit home for me. As you know, my mom also no longer remembers the home she lives in, YET whenever she’s in a place that is not the group home she currently lives in, she always ask to go to “her other place”. The place where she feels comfortable, though it’s usually the place where she grew up as a child, and not either of the two places she lived as an adult. Just as in the article you read. believe that though my mom always tried to put on a brave face, she had some very unresolved feelings about the homes she lived in as an adult.

    Accepting the one who comes, and using the Power to choose to do so can be very difficult in some cases. Jesus had it right and the rest of us hope to get there! What hit home most for me about this sermon has everything to do with my mom. I’m great at welcoming new people, and accepting who they are, and what they are. What I have difficulty doing is always “accepting the one who comes” when I visit my mom. I typically sit outside and prepare myself for who she will be on that day. If I’m honest I’ll say that I still love whomever comes out of her room on that day, YET every now and then i just WANT her to be my mom of old. I accept what and where she IS because I have to, but on some days (many days as of late) I’m not always thrilled to “accept who comes”. I hope your sermon will help with that, and allow me to use my power to choose more effectively.

    Thank you for allowing me to think more deeply about this and to come “home” to a better place about my mom’s situation AND how I choose to use my power. I’m grateful and hopeful. Much love to you my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loretta, thank you for reminding me – and most eloquently – that the truest power, verily value of a sermon is the meaning that the listener/reader brings and bears. Your reflecting, through the lens of my words, on your relationship with your mother matters greatly, indeed, most greatly. Much love

    Liked by 1 person

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