Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
There was a man I once knew, back when I was an even younger pastor than I am now. I’ll call this man Gerard. I always thought he was a man straight out of a John Updike novel: he was too young for World War II or Korea, but too old for Vietnam. He remembered church youth groups in Brooklyn and learned how to smoke and drink at Rangers games. He had a hereditary smattering of German and the habit of going to the bakery for German treats on Sundays. In fact, his church was basically a way to remember to be German in America. He wore thick wool socks when it was cold. He wasn’t a steady church-goer, but came to help every year with the church bazaar. He had been a mechanical draftsman and illustrator until the computers took his craft away from him in the nineties. Since then he had struggled to get work, a man too old for the new world, and too young to benefit from retirement. He was a wool sweater and wooden skies in a fleece and fiberglass world.
Maybe you have heard somebody you love say this. It was really the first time I had ever heard someone say it, and now, after his death, I know more about what he meant. I had thought, like a fool, that he wanted to get out of the hospital. Of course, he did mean that. But it also meant he was done with the struggle against cancer. He wanted to go home, home. He wanted the kind of rest you can only get when you die. And a few weeks later I threw dirt on his coffin.
I want to go home. I don’t want to romanticize what he said. He didn’t say it out of hope. He said it out of profound weariness and weakness. All the chemo and the injections and the beeping and whirring gizmos had ground out every last bit of light in him. But home is what we want when we are tired and worn out. Home is where we rest our hearts. It’s where we feel safe, secure, where we feel like we can rest. Not everyone has a home—but I think it’s fair to say that almost everyone wants a home. It’s why being homeless is so hard—you can never rest. When Clare and I were going through premarital counseling, our pastor advised us to make our home our resort, the place we wanted to be more than any other place. I still think it’s the best marriage advice anyone has ever given me.
“I want to go home.” Maybe Gerard really only meant that he wanted to get back to his own bed and eat food out of his own kitchen. But he had never spoken to me so honestly and directly. It makes me wonder if he expressed something more—a desire for a rest that cannot be fulfilled in any home, a desire for a final connection, a final rest, the end of the tale.
There is a strain of thought in Christianity that we are resident aliens on Earth, pilgrims here on a weary way, never truly at home on Earth. There are days I believe it, especially when I think on the weariness of Gerard’s voice. That weariness will come one day for me, I know, and one day I will want to go home. But there is another strain of thought that says we are at home now, that this Earth is the home God made for us, and that this Earth is where we shall stand in the presence of the living God, when God makes all things new. In either case, the point is the presence of God. Old Uncle Augustine said it best when he wrote, “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” When we go home, when we truly go home, that’s where we go—to the presence of God. As the apostle Paul proclaimed, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. The Lord is our home.
Today we hear Jesus tell us that he is going to the Father, whose house has many rooms. But he also says, “where I am, there you may be also.” It’s almost as if Jesus is purposefully taking our notions of space and time and collapsing them. And since this is the Gospel of John, it could also be that Jesus is also winding his words into the fabric of the Old Testament—whenever Jesus says, “I am,” John reminds us of the revelation of God to Moses at the burning bush, when God said, “I am who I am.” More to our purposes today, in the first chapter of this Gospel, John says that the eternal Word of God came and “pitched his tent” among us—perhaps a reference to God’s presence in the Old Testament, never fixed to one place but traveling about with the people of Israel in a tent. Or, perhaps best put, Israel traveled around with God. But it means God makes his home with us. Jesus today continues that proclamation to say that God made his home with us, and that Jesus will take us to make our home with God. It sounds like a relationship, because it is a relationship. Jesus is trying to keep us from thinking of a home as a place, but rather to think of it as particular person.
That’s why he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” It’s a lot like the burning bush, as a matter of fact. When Moses hears God order him to deliver the people of Israel, God says, tell them I AM has sent you. He does not give an address or location. Jesus tells his followers that they do not worship on a particular mountain, or a sacred space, but in Spirit and in truth. I am the way, the truth, and the life. As the Psalmist says, if I go the top of the mountains you are there. If I descend to the depths of Sheol, you are there. If we lie in a palatial bed in a South Pacific resort, or if we lie on the cold floor of a dungeon, God is there. We do not worship a God circumscribed to a place or a time, but a God who is with us in our place and time, and summons us into eternity. We are never fully home until we are at home in God.
We hear Peter use an extended metaphor today of living stones, built upon one another, all resting on the cornerstone that is Jesus. This is a living home, one that moves in the world, one that speaks, built in order that “you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” This living house is our home. We are living stones that our master builder has laid, each in its right place, all resting on that cornerstone that is Christ Jesus.
You are home right here because God is here to make a place for you. God’s house is both a living house and an open house. God’s doors are open for you. God invites you to rest a while. Christ invites you here, to rest on him, to rest on all these other stones built on one another by the great master worker.
Reverend John Flack