It takes a long time to make a home. Making home requires us to invest ourselves in a place and a people for years, for a lifetime, sometimes for generations. It’s a process that never ends but is always growing deeper and richer. Yet the fullness of home can be present in a place from the beginning, like the crisp taste of a good MacIntosh is present in the seed of a previous generation of apples. And so it is with the home not made with hands but eternal in the heavens, the land flowing with milk and honey, the reign of God.
Sheryl and I have finished our basic settling into the parsonage and have started getting acquainted with the parish. We’ve begun meeting people and have located the grocers and our favorite hardware store. But we’re a long way from being home. After sixteen years of marriage, Sheryl and I are still learning to make home together, wherever we are. And for me no place will ever be home like Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, where some of my family has made home for at least six generations. But something new has begun here in North Rose. The promise of what will be is already showing itself.
That’s the first point I want to make. I don’t expect to find anywhere else the kind of home I have in Cape Girardeau County, though the longing and search for it is never far from my mind, like those pilgrims who search for the experience of the sacred in places like Lourdes, Iona, the Holy Land, Machu Picchu, or Tibet. I don’t expect to find that kind of home out there because it doesn’t exist out there. In the end, the experience people seek in those great pilgrimage destinations is an experience we have to find in our hearts, here and now or never at all.
Like Dorothy said at the end of her pilgrimage, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!” Or as Carl Jung said, “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
God’s promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey, the “more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message) – these places are never at the end of a journey toward a piece of geography. They are right under our feet all the time. The kingdom of God is spread out on the earth, Jesus said, and we don’t see it (Gosp. Thomas 113).
But sometimes we do glimpse it, if only for a moment. I’ve caught glimpses of it in a maze of highways in Elizabeth, New Jersey; at a campfire in the Shawnee Forest of Illinois; at a Boy Scout camp in Southeast Missouri; at a departure gate at Kennedy Airport; at a graveside in Ripton, Vermont. I wasn’t seeking any of those experiences. They found me when I was ready, they appeared in the briefest flash of insight, then they disappeared. You’ve had that experience. Those glimpses are God’s gifts to us, and I’ve found them enough to keep me going through all those long stretches when I don’t see them at all. The holy we seek, the land flowing with milk and honey, is all around us and right here under our feet.
My second point is the other half of a paradox, that while the holy we seek is here and now, God doesn’t call us to a settled home; God call us to a journey, or to a particular quality of journey through this life. When Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), he wasn’t inviting us on a physical journey to a different geography. He was inviting us on a spiritual journey to a different way of being in the world, the same geography we have inhabited all along. He was inviting us on a journey of personal and social exploration by which we might come to see the reign of God, the new thing of God that was already in his day breaking from the bud and bursting into flower. And the way the early Christian writers spoke of that spiritual journey was in terms of a physical journey.
Sometimes the spiritual journey takes us through wilderness. That’s the journey Jesus took before he announced that the reign of God was at hand and began his ministry. Forty days he spent in the wilderness, tested by God’s advocate to see if he was ready for what lay before him. Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jacob, Jesus, Peter, Paul – the way for all of them lay through a wilderness experience before they were ready to begin their defining ministries.
Part of my journey in the wilderness was after a failed marriage, but I’ve known others. Wilderness is the season of life where there’s nothing familiar, no clear pathway, no map or signs to mark the way, nothing by which to get our bearings in life. It’s the time between what we’ve known and what is not yet, between the losses and the gains, between Good Friday and Easter morning. Wilderness is that place where we’re tempted to give up the journey to the Promised Land and return to Egypt, where at least we knew how life worked and what was expected of us.
Like it was for Jesus in his wilderness, our wilderness is a time of cleansing and testing in preparation for something new; a place in life where the old is purged, sometimes painfully, before the new is born; a time when we are called to make life-defining choices that clarify our values and priorities and prepare us for what God has in store for us. Wilderness is the season when we “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” when God “is about to do a new thing – now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – and, no, we don’t perceive it, at least not yet. Maybe that’s the time when we finally hear our true vocation and have the freedom to say “yes” to it.
On coming to North Rose, Sheryl and I have been blessed with some wonderful gifts. The support, encouragement, and friendship of Dan Corretore has been worth more than I can say. The affirmation of your leaders, the refreshments in the refrigerator when we arrived, the name badges (and your continuing to use them), the gifts of hospitality presented to Sheryl and me on our first Sunday here, the invitation to dinner in your homes – all of these things are important to us and meaningful beyond words.
But two gifts are most important of all. One is God’s gift of something brand new – new life and relationships that are unburdened by the past, unbound in the present, unscripted for the future – the opportunity to see new things through new eyes and craft new responses in partnership with a God who is creating and always recreating.
The second is a congregation of people with whom to share the companionship of faith, with whom to wrestle a new identity out of the challenges of life, with whom to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is working in us as we continue the journey that is our home.