Yesterday was Homecoming Sunday in our congregation, time to come home again from all the places where life scatters us, time to gather in that place where, as the saying goes, when you go there they have to take you in. A day for reconnecting with a place where some important roots have been sunk and always will be, where we’ve been nurtured at critical times in our lives and where we still draw strength.
The mythical giant Antaeus was invincible in battle as long as he stayed connected with his mother Gaia, the earth. Hercules was finally able to defeat Antaeus by lifting him off the ground, severing his connection with the source of his strength. Our connection with our true home serves us in the same way. As long as we stay connected with the source of our strength, life can do us no serious harm.
My home is Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. Walking those Ozark foothills never fails to renew me – along the red clay bluffs of Indian Creek where it flows into the Mississippi near Neely’s Landing and where the smell of sycamore and pungent backwater fills the summer air; through the hills where five generations of my family lived and died and are buried and where some still live; sitting on the grass in front of the band shell in Capaha Park on a summer evening, listening to the music of Sigmund Romberg, and Rogers and Hammerstein, and John Philip Sousa.
I hear you talking about places like that of your own, not places you simply passed through but places where you’re connected like you’re connected with your DNA, places where you have history longer than your own years, places that make you who you are, places that bring you closer to God. And this little church is one of those places. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a little poem about something like those places, places like what you have here in North Rose.
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
The strange and beautiful flower from heaven that feeds our souls and brings us closer to God is not this building, of course. You know that. And it’s not the people whose faces you see either in this room today or in memory. It’s not a building or a social network or a station in life where we think we’ve got it made, not something that sets apart from others that we have to treasure and protect and preserve for another generation.
The strange and beautiful flower that is our token of heaven is the place where life no longer goes according to plan, where foundations are shaken and favorite illusions dispelled, and where we are mystically united with others in crafting life around a higher reality, the kind of reality about which the prophet Joel wrote, where “your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28) – and women shall, too.
This fragrant flower, this common church, is not heaven. It’s a messy, rough-around-the-edges suggestion of heaven. It’s a place where Christians are swayed by powerful personalities, and engage in extra-marital sex, and practice questionable business ethics, and live in broken families, and are too influenced by the culture, and don’t know how to behave in worship, and have doubts about core doctrines like the resurrection.
But every one of those problems was also a problem for the first-generation church, taken right out of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And every one of those problems is a little laboratory where we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is at work in us, even in those problems, for God’s good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). And every one of those problems of ours is a sign that church must not be about us at all. It’s about something greater, something of the ages that’s far beyond our petty comprehension, something the hem of which we touch and are mysteriously healed. ▪