In the name of God, from whom we come; in the name of Christ, through whom we go; and in the name of the Holy Spirit, our comfort and strength. Amen.
I have always felt the spiritual power of music. But as a preacher, one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that it is through music – through that catalog in my mind of songs that have meant things to me through the years – that I often most clearly feel the nudge and hear the subtle direction of the Holy Spirit. It can certainly happen through sacred music and hymns – it very often does. But just as often that still small voice comes through some popular song that gets stuck in my head. I hear snippets of it over and over again, and I’ve learned that it means I need to pay attention. I need to listen to the song to see what message the Spirit is trying to beat into me.
This week, that song was “Homeward Bound” by Simon & Garfunkel. It tells the story of a traveling musician, “on a tour of one-night stands” as he says, yearning for a place of comfort and relief. In the midst of all around him that is perpetually both familiar and foreign, he yearns for home.
From the Gospel that we read this morning, in the wider context of the tradition of Jesus in the post-resurrection days, the thrust of this story is driving us toward the Feast of the Ascension – that time when we commemorate the ascent of Christ into heaven. Jesus had already risen from the dead. But now, after the work of the Resurrection had been accomplished, and after the message had been fully and faithfully shared with the disciples, Christ would rise again – this time, into heaven.
There is a tradition is some corners of the African American Christian tradition to refer to funerals as a “homegoing”. For the life of me, I can’t think of a better way of talking about the Ascension than that – it’s Christ’s homegoing. The resurrected Christ is rising from life on the road, and at last, is homeward bound. But the home to which Christ goes is not just some distant mansion in the skies. The promise that we hear here, in this piece of Good News, is that the home of God the creator and of Christ the Savior is with those who love Christ and keep Christ’s word.
To be a part of this community means finding a home for ourselves, but a part of that that we rarely consider is that to be a part of the family of Christ means making a home for the Holy – being at home with the Holy. We talk about following Christ, and that’s good and true, but just as true is our calling to invite Christ into our own lives – to make our own lives a home for God.
Last week, at our Vestry meeting, one of the things that we talked about was how to make St. David’s appear more welcoming. The truth is, we are a welcoming community. We are a port of safety in a world that often feels quite stormy. So the topic was about how to convey that truth more faithfully. We don’t need to strive to be welcoming – we already are – but we do need to work harder at sharing that with the wider community beyond these walls.
Now, of course it’s true that a part of that is because we want to grow. We want this church to be strong. But sharing the truth of our welcome – our inclusive nature and our open invitation – is not just about serving ourselves. It’s also because it is a part of the truth of who we are. As a congregation, we are genuinely warm and welcoming people. As Episcopalians, we serve as a beacon of hope for people of faith who have felt excluded by some other institutions. And, as Christians, we are called to keep opening our arms wider. Just as Christ kept drawing the circle of inclusion wider and wider – making space for all kinds of people who were previously left out, so, too, are we called to model our lives after that same aspect of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
God is making a home in us. Not in any one of us, but in us. Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word, and [our creator] will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” I can’t imagine that Jesus envisioned squeezing into some tiny home where every space was already claimed. We have to reach out and work together keep Christ’s word – and in the community that grows from that common purpose, there will be made a wide and expansive home for God. There will be room to move freely and to grow into our truest selves. There will be room to bring others who are yearning for home into the fold, too.
Sometimes following God’s calling can be hard. Sometimes it can leave us feeling like foreigners, even in familiar places. Paul Simon said of his “tour of one-night stands” that “each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories, and every stranger’s face I see reminds me that I long to be homeward bound.” And, in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of another Paul on the road, in need of a home. The Apostle had been awakened in the night by God’s call to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in a foreign land. Traveling from town to town, eventually they made their way to Philippi, where they stayed for several days. On the Sabbath, when they went out to a place to pray, they met Lydia. She had been learning from them and worshiping God with them. And she opened her home to them.
“Those who love me will keep my word… and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
The hospitality of opening a home is a driving force of the Christian experience. The touring life for Paul Simon felt perpetually familiar and foreign, and the same must of have been true for Paul and the other early Christians. I suspect that, because it’s also true for us.
For many centuries, up until very recently, Christianity and culture were deeply intertwined – for better or for worse. There were certainly times when the influence of Christianity made a positive impact on the wider culture, but there were also times when the driving forces of the culture muddied the waters of our Christian vocation. These days, people often bemoan the broadening separation between Christianity and culture, because faith is a little harder if you don’t have the weight of the dominant culture behind you, pushing you through. But one of the gifts of this new reality is that it can unite us again with the roots of our tradition – roots that place us squarely in the intersection between all that is familiar and the back-of-mind, dawning realization that it’s also quite foreign. Faith in Christ is meant to push us, and even to challenge our comfort in ways that make us grow.
The closing verse of “Homeward Bound” says, “Tonight I'll sing my songs again, I'll play the game and pretend, But all my words come back to me, In shades of mediocrity, Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me…”
We can’t do it alone. We need each other, lest our faith become “emptiness in harmony” – beautiful and true, but still somehow lacking. Somehow not full, and not fully realized. We need home in each other. The gift of countercultural Christianity is that we can no longer delude ourselves into believing that we can do it on our own. We can no longer delude ourselves into believing that community just happens. We have to face the reality that it takes work. It takes a commitment to loving God and keeping God’s word.
That’s how we make a home for this faith – a home into which we can invite Christ. A home that will comfort us, and those others we find on the journey with us. As we watch Christ ascend into heaven – as we see the promise of the Resurrection realized in homegoing, let’s not forget that the promise of the Resurrection is still real, even for us. Let’s not forget that we, too, are homeward bound – a home that we build with hearts focused on loving God and welcoming Christ – welcoming Christ home. Amen.