Homemaking In Troubling Times Dr. Brian Walsh

This sermon was delivered on Sunday, May 10th, 2020

Psalm 31.1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2.2-10
Acts 7.55-60; John 14.1-14

Good morning St. Margaret, New Toronto. It is good to be with you this Sunday morning, even if we have to worship together in such an odd sort of way.

I am actually sitting in a friend’s workshop
in Fenelon Falls because his internet is better
then what we have at our farm outside of town.

But it is interesting, isn’t it,
that we can sort of get a glimpse
into each other’s homes through this technology.

While I don’t know if you are still in your pyjama bottoms,
I can see at least something of the room in which you are sitting.

Now if we were in fact in the same room this morning
and we had the freedom to easily talk altogether,
I would have done a free association exercise with you today
that I have done with many groups over the years.

You know what a free association exercise is, right?
I say a word and you say the first thing that comes to your mind.
If someone in the room just said what you were going to say,
you say it again.

You can use any word at all.

For example I could say “cat”
and you might immediately think “dog”
or “kitty litter” or “videos” or maybe “grandma”
because your grandma always had a cat.

Or it could be “laughter” because of the antics of your cat,

or “sorrow” because you remember a beloved cat that died,
or “home” because you always associate a cat with being at home,
and that your home wouldn’t quite be home without your cat.

Now the word that I generally use for these free association exercises
is in fact

… are you ready for this? … I want you to free associate on this word
… what is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say …
Home

I say “home” you think … what?

If we were in the same room right now I’d get you all calling out your words,
thoughts, emotions, free associations, around the word … home.

And when I’ve done this kind of free association around the word, home,
I often get people calling out things like …
mom
warmth
family

safety
food
love
welcome
security

but then, at some point in the process,

usually after a number of these kinds of positive things have been said,
someone will say something like

 

rejection
hurt
broken
hunger
danger
anger
abandonment

You see, for some folks, home might make you think of your mother,
but that isn’t always a positive image.
For those people, mothers day is kind of painful,
because they had an abusive or addicted, or perhaps absent mother.

For some folks home was not a place of security but abandonment,
or even abuse.
For some people, home is not a comfortable image,
but something that engenders anxiety, or anger,
sorrow or fear, or maybe even deep, deep grief

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,”
Jesus says to his disciples in that upper room.

There’s trouble afoot in at least three of our four scripture readings today,
a trouble that has everything to do with home.

Recall our psalm this morning.

Three times in the first five verses
the psalmist calls God his “refuge.”

Once he sings, “you are … a strong fortress to save me.”

A refuge, a fortress.
This psalmist is looking to God to provide
the security and safety of home.

Something, or someone is threatening the life of the psalmist.
There has been a breach in the walls of home
that has undermined the security of home.

So our psalmist cries out for rescue, to be saved.

And if you read the whole psalm you would hear the psalmist
in deep distress – “My eyes waste away from grief,” he cries.
There is sorrow, misery, sighing, dread.
“There is terror all around.”

Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Aren’t we self-isolating in fear?
Aren’t we living in dread of this coronavirus ?
Hasn’t this pandemic undermined our sense of security?
Doesn’t this virus bring misery in its wake?
Can’t you hear the sighing of those most deeply impacted by it all?
Maybe that is your own sighing.

And when we lose that deep feeling of security,
when we are forced into self-isolation,
isn’t this all a threat to our sense of home?

I mean, it is true, that there is a beautiful sense of
us all coming together in the midst of this pandemic.
We have seen communities reaching out in support
and appreciation of our front line workers.
And maybe we are just a little more gracious at the
grocery store check out counter these days
because we appreciate the work that the staff are doing.
And we all want to bang our pots to say thank you to
the hospital, pubic health, retirement home and other front line staff.

But make no mistake, this coronavirus comes as a threat
to our homes, our families, our most fundamental sense of security.
And it puts us in a situation where we can’t
extend hospitality to each other in our homes.
It puts us together worshipping on a computer screen this morning
rather than face to face.

We are living behind closed doors
so that the threat won’t get through our walls,
won’t attack our bodies,
won’t tear apart our families,
won’t enter our homes to destroy them.

Now what does the psalmist do with his
anxiety, distress, grief and fear?

How does he respond to this threat to the security of home?

Well, he prays to the God who is his refuge.
He prays to the God who makes home with us,
and he hangs it all on trust.

“But I trust in you, O Lord.
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand,

deliver me from the hand of my
enemies and persecutors.”

 

And, if you read the whole psalm,

you would see that that trust

is rooted in the steadfast love of God.

I am threatened to my very core.
My home is under siege.
And so I seek my security,
I seek my salvation,
I put my trust in the one who is rich in steadfast love.
After all, isn’t love the very foundation of any home?

 

More briefly, let’s consider the story we read from Acts, chapter seven.

Stephen has just preached the sermon of his life,
and it proves to be a sermon that cost him his life.
Stephen is in deep, deep trouble.
And his trouble has everything to do home.

It’s too long a story to tell this morning,
and our reading only gives us the end of the tale,
but the heart of the matter is that Stephen

has just told his listeners that God doesn’t live
in the house that they built for him.

The Temple is not the home of God.

Well that undermines everything that
the people of Jerusalem thought about God,
themselves, and their sense of home.

If God is not in the Temple,
if the Temple is not the house of God,
then the covenant people are themselves left homeless.

So they do the only thing they can do.
They kill the messenger.
If he is going to threaten their sense of home,

then they will render him ultimately and finally homeless,

by dragging him out of the city,

– out of the city of God,

out of the city where God supposedly made his home –

and stoning him to death.

But as Stephen is dying he has a vision of heaven opening up
so that he can see the glory of God
– residing not in the Temple, but in heaven –
and Jesus at home at the right hand of his father.

Now this brings us to our gospel reading.

There is trouble afoot.

It is Thursday evening of Holy Week.
Jesus is about to be betrayed, denied,
arrested, beaten, humiliated and hung on a Roman cross.

But that is not the trouble that the disciples are facing.
They still don’t understand that the story is going to take
such a tragic turn.

No, the disciples are disturbed, anxious and deeply troubled
by something else.

They may not have understood all that was about to transpire,

but they understood clear enough that Jesus had just told them
that he was about to depart.
He was going some place where they couldn’t follow him.

And this gives them deeply troubled hearts.

The word here is the same as when Jesus is at the grave of Lazarus
and he is troubled in spirit, torn up inside.

It is the same word when Jesus contemplates
the betrayal of Judas.
He is troubled in spirit.
He is disturbed and grieved to his very core.

And that is how the disciples are feeling.
They are troubled in spirit.
They are shaken to their core.
They are wracked by anxiety and distress.

Everything on which they had hung their hope,
the source of their deepest security,
the one who had made them into a community,
the one who had created a new family,
the one who gave them a radically new sense of homecoming in God’s world,
was being stripped away from them.

They might well have reached for Psalm 31 and sung,
“my eyes waste away from grief.”

Knowing the depth of their grief and anxiety, Jesus says,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Don’t get lost down that hole of grief.
Don’t let anxiety rule your lives.

Then, echoing the psalmist who says that he will trust in God,
Jesus says, “Believe in God, also believe in me.”

And when Jesus says “believe” he isn’t talking about
affirming the Apostle’s Creed (as important as that may be),
but he is calling them to faith, to trust.

Throughout the next four chapters of John,

we will hear Jesus return to this theme over and over again.
Repeatedly Jesus returns to themes of reassurance,
and repeatedly they are somehow connected to home.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. (14.1)
I will not leave you as orphans. (14.18)
Abide in me and I will abide in you. (15.4-10)
Those who love me, will keep my word, and my Father will love them,
and we will come to them and make our home with them. (14.23)

Not orphans.
Not homeless.
Not bereft and alone.
Abiding, dwelling, making our home in Christ.

It has always been about home.
It has always been about God taking flesh in Jesus,
moving into the neighbourhood and making home with us.

So it is not surprising at all that Jesus says,

In my fathers house there are many dwelling places.
If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself,
so that where I am, there you may be also.

Knowing that their soul-gripping anxiety is about being left alone;
knowing that they have had their deepest sense of home and security shaken;
knowing that they are feeling bereft of home,
Jesus goes directly to the heart of the issue with a promise of home.

God’s house is expansive.
God’s house has many, many rooms.
God’s house is a home for all.
God’s house is rich in hospitality.

There is lots and lots of room in God’s house.
There is room for everyone to be welcomed home.

So if there is a silver lining in the departure of Jesus,
it is that he goes to prepare this place,
he goes to get ready the rooms,
he goes to prepare this home for our welcome.

And, he promises his disciples, as he promises us,

that he will “come again and take you to myself,
so that where I am, there you will be also.”

Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Do not let your hearts be ruled by anxiety of such deep homelessness.
I will not leave you homeless orphans.
I go to prepare a home that is more than you can ask or imagine.
And I’ll return to make that home with you.

Now friends, I don’t want to upset things too much here,
and I know that this text is read in the funeral liturgy,
to provide a comfort in believing that the deceased have
“gone home” to be with Jesus.

But you need to notice that nowhere does Jesus says
that he will return to take us home to heaven.
In this wonderful passage Jesus tells us that he prepares a place for us,
and we are right to believe that he prepares that place in heaven.
But heaven is not that place.
Heaven is not our home.

You see Jesus may go “up” to heaven to prepare this home for us.
And Jesus may well come “down” from heaven when he returns.
But the deepest Christian hope of homecoming is not that we go up,
but that Jesus comes down.

Recall again how Jesus puts it just a little later in John 14:
“Those who love me, will keep my word, and my Father will love them,
and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

The same Jesus who took flesh and moved into the neighbourhood
at the beginning of John’s gospel,
returns in the flesh to make his home with us,
still in the neighbourhood.

So if Jesus has prepared a place for us,
and Jesus will return with that place, that home,
then how does this work?

Again, notice that it never says that Jesus will make a home for us in heaven,
then return to take us with him to that home in heaven.
No, it says that he will return and take us to himself.
He will make home with us.

Well, to get this clear we need to go to another book by St. John.
The book of Revelation.

And right near the end of Revelation, we read this in chapter 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

 See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away. (Rev. 21.1-4)

Now remember what Jesus said:

In my fathers house there are many dwelling places.
I go to prepare a place for you.
I will come again and I will take you to myself,

so that where I am, there you may be also. (14.2,3)

This is that place, friends.
This is that home of hospitality.
This is that house with many dwelling places.
This is the New Jerusalem “coming down”
as a bride adorned for her husband.

Stephen, like his Lord Jesus, is taken out of the city,

out of Jerusalem,
to be murdered,
to be rendered finally homeless.

But Jesus turns it all on its head,
not only through his resurrection,

but by returning with a New Jerusalem,
a new home of God amongst his people,

a new home in which God dwells with us,

a new home of security and healing
where every tear is wiped from our eyes,
where there is no longer mourning,

where crying and pain will be no more,

where there will no longer be distress and misery,
where pandemics no longer tear homes apart,
where there is safety and peace in this home city,

where there is room for everyone because the gates are always open.

Friends, these are troubling times.
We are in the grips of a threat not only to our own health,
but to our very understanding of what it means to be at home in this world.

We feel exposed, under siege, anxious and fearful.
There is misery all around us, and for some of us
that misery has come very close.
Indeed, for some of us that misery, that threat, has come home.
And we may well feel abandoned.
We may well be deeply troubled of heart.
If we are honest, some of us are torn up inside.

And Jesus comes to us, as he came to those first disciples,
and says:

Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father
s house there are many dwelling places.
If it were not so, would I have told you
that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself,
so that where I am, there you may be also.

And that, my friends, is why we pray,

Amen. Come soon, Lord Jesus.
Amen? Amen.

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About Brian Walsh

People, potatoes, prophetic faith and pastoral care. Brian Walsh finds his life somewhere in the mix of these four. When he isn’t tending to potatoes, other crops and raising cattle, pigs and ducks at his Russet House Farm home, Brian can be found in deep conversation, shaping liturgy, teaching, or writing as a staff member of the Christian Reform Campus Ministry since 1996 and founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community in 2001.

He is an adjunct professor of theology at both Wycliffe and Trinity Colleges within the Toronto School of Theology and has authored or co-authored numerous books at the interface of biblical theology and contemporary culture. He is married to Sylvia Keesmaat and they have three children, one daughter-in-law, and one rather amazing grandson. He still can’t quite believe that he gets paid for what he does in this ministry.