Rev. George N. Miller
“The Answer of Home”
June 1, 2014
Last week I received an e-mail from Mel with an update on Maureen’s post-surgery status, telling us that the doctor had signed the paperwork for Maureen to be discharged.
In the e-mail Mel wrote: “Home is a happy four letter word.”
Or as Dorothy would state “There’s no place like home.” Or as cowboys would sing “Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.”
Home. Not just a house; more than where we lay our head and eat our meals.
Home is a happy four letter word.
Allow me to share a story of when I experienced the difference between where we live and when we are home.
The story starts in Feb 2006 when I lived in Grand Rapids, MI. I was at Petsmart checking out the cats available for adoption, and there he was- Martin.
While all the other cats were sleeping or looking depressed, he was in his cage playing with a toy, knocking it back and forth, a furry mass of energy.
Not a cat person, I took the chance and asked to see him. He was friendly; a bit wily. I took another chance and adopted him, purchasing a cardboard box to transport him back to my apartment.
The first sign of Martin’s personality came when I was driving: he broke out of the box in a ball of fury and clawed his way to the top of my shoulders. It’s amazing that we didn’t get into an accident.
I got Martin to my place, letting him wander around while I took a nap. I woke up 20 minutes later to find that he had crept under the bed and that was where he stayed for 2 weeks.
“Great” I thought, “I just spent all this money for a cat I can’t even see or pet.” But later that night when I went to bed, he dashed out into the living room and explored, his name tag and collar bell making playful noises.
I felt safe that night and drifted off to a pleasant sleep. Thus began our relationship.
Martin would hide under the bed all day, coming out only at night, or when I was in the shower. He decided that was the best time to use the litter box, releasing a stink bomb that permeated the place.
Eventually Martin stopped hiding under the bed, but he had very clear rules: I could pet him, but not near his head. He’d show his belly but he did not want it rubbed.
When company was over he’d plop himself in the middle of the gathering to be seen, not held. He’d not sit on my lap or snuggle during naps.
And he made it very clear: every day at exactly 7 a.m he was to be fed. For the longest time I never got to sleep past 7, even on my day off.
I felt as though I had none of the benefits of owning a pet, but all the responsibility, except that at night I continued to feel safe when I drifted off to sleep, hearing his bell jingle jangle as he played.
So the months passed: winter into spring, spring into summer, summer into fall. Martin was all over the place, playful, napping, bird watching, going outside on his cat leash.
He became more accessible. He allowed me to rub his belly. We began a welcome home ritual: when I came in, he’d run up to the door, I’d pick him up, he’d head butt me, and the two of us would rub our foreheads together.
Still, he would not lay in my lap, or take a nap with me, but then in November of ‘06 disaster struck the place I lived in. An early morning fire ripped through the apartment complex; angry flames brightened the dawn sky.
A person died, many were left homeless. I spent the day providing pastoral care for my neighbors, working with the fire department, Red Cross and the landlords.
That afternoon, exhausted, emotionally spent, sad and in shock, I laid down on the couch...and Martin jumped up and slept right beside me. As if he knew that’s what I needed.
From that point on, my lap became his bed; my couch was where we cuddled. Whenever I had a tough day, he was there for me: when my heart was broke, when my previous church closed, during the search and call process, moving to Sebring.
Eventually we got to the place where Martin would let me sleep in late, sometimes waiting until 8:30 before meowing or poking me with his paws.
Martin was not perfect: he stunk the place up, he was super fussy when it came to canned food, he shredded any cardboard box, he assumed that every blanket, every paper bag, every can that I opened was his. He meowed for hours to be let outside. He clawed up all the screens.
But Martin did some things I never expected: he taught me about patience. That love and trust is something you earn. He taught me to not give up on a relationship even through the difficult times.
Also, even though I thought that it was I who had given him a home, it was Martin who took the place I lived and through his presence and his love, turned my dwelling into a home:
a place where I was greeted at the door, the place where I could snuggle after a long day, the place where I could fall asleep feeling safe, listening to the scurrying sounds of a cat bell.
Sadly, due to a heart condition, Martin only lived to age 5, but even in that short span he made my home a happy four letter word.
Home is a place that stirs up a mixture of emotions in all of us. For some, home was a place of safety and love, for others home was a place of abuse and neglect.
Whenever we reflect on the home we grew up in, no matter how fond the memories are, there’s always a touch of melancholy because those days are long gone.
Most likely the childhood friends we grew up with are no longer there and development has changed the shape and look of the neighborhood.
For some of us home no longer exists because our parents have either died or moved to a different location, so homecoming to the exact spot we were raised becomes a thing of the past.
So we work on creating a new location in which we can call home. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try, the new location just never feels right, and we long for where we once were.
Our spiritual ancestors often wrestled with what home meant to them. Adam and Eve were not only the first humans, but they were also the first to be homeless.
The Israelites wandered the wilderness for forty years clinging to the promise that God would lead them to a new home of milk and honey.
40 years later when they finally did enter the Promised Land they had to deal with their homes being under repeated threats and attack.
During the exile, they watched as their homes and their community was destroyed, and many of them were taken into captivity, forced to live as aliens in a foreign land.
And when they did get to return home, they discovered their fields, their streets were in rubble and disarray.
Even Jesus himself experienced home-related issues by being born in a stable and spending most of his life wandering from town to town, having no steady pace to rest his head.
When we read the Bible it may seem that these stories are so long ago and far away, and therefore have no bearing for us. But how many here today know what it is like to not have had a permanent, safe place to call home?
How many have had their houses robbed or struck by tornado, hurricane or fire?
How many know what it’s like to face foreclosure or to move or to downsize?
I wonder how many of us feel displaced or know what it’s like to live as a stranger in a strange land, longing to return to the place we grew up and where people knew your name.
What would the answer be if I was preaching this morning at Royal Care, the Palms or Kenilworth?
Life changes; family changes. And, as the biblical stories testify, almost all of us at one point or another are looking for a place to call home.
We’re tired of feeling like wanderers, exhausted of walking through the wilderness of life. Our feet hurt from all the stones we’ve walked upon, we need relief from going through the fire and being up against the wire and the wall.
How many would love nothing more than to go back in time and have home be the way it was?
If this is you, listen to the words of Psalm 68:
Sing to God, Sing praises to his name...
Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation
God gives the desolate a home to live in.
Psalm 68 present many images of God: God as a cloud rider, God as King, God as warrior. But the image that always strikes me about this psalm is this notion of God being the provider of a home.
The needy, the desolate, those who have lost their parents, the mothers who have lost their husbands, the men who can’t find a bride, they all have a place they can go: to God.
All of those who wander through life feeling weary and feeling lost can find refuge in knowing that God is the ultimate resting spot.
God is the ultimate home where the lonely find a family; a community they can belong to.
God is the ultimate home where the languished are restored, where the weak gain power and strength.
And home is where God’s children gather to sing, to bathe and to eat.
In God, we are always welcome because God is home.
What that means is that no matter what your home life has been like, you will find love and safety in God.
No matter how restless you find the outside world, in God we find a home that is rest full.
No matter how bad we have cut our feet on the stones in our path or burned our fingers on the flames we have faced, in God we have an eternal home in which our wounds are bandaged and our hurts begin to heal.
And in this home we encounter Christ, who pays special attention to our voices, who reaches out to those who are sick.
In Jesus Christ we find someone who is willing to bath us; to invite us to a heavenly meal made up of the most basic of ingredients: some bread, some juice, the gift of grace, of forgiveness and a welcome to all.
As Christians we discover that not only is there rest and comfort in God, but we are gathered to become a home for all the other weary travelers who are tired and dirty from wandering the wilderness of life,
who have scraped their feet, who have burned their fingers, who seek refuge from the week before and strength for the week ahead.
And when a congregation like us does what is right, and what is faithful, then we too become a home were the orphaned find a family, the hungry are fed, the sick experience a sense of wholeness and healing, and the prisoner finds freedom.
Home is where survivors learn how to thrive, and those who thought they were without discover that in Christ they will indeed have enough.
And like any home, there’ll be jubilation and good times, sad times and loss. There’ll be dashed dreams, disagreements, and there will be death.
But as members of the same home we are called to watch over and to care for one another.
Like the ancient Israelites, we are wanderers of the land where everything changes; trials and tribulations take place.
When others try to hurt us, when people let us down, when the past slips away and things change at too fast a pace, God remains and God is our home.
No matter where we have been, no matter where we are going, we are always welcome here, and in God we will always find a place to rest our heads.
All thanks be to the Son who welcomes us to the table, to the Holy Spirit that washes us in the waters of baptism and to God who softly, tenderly calls to you, calls to me, calls to us all: come home.
Amen and amen.