First, of course, a Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. When the staff was meeting earlier this week we mused about starting off worship today with each of us sharing some cringeworthy memory of our own mothers. We decided against that, of course. So don’t worry, Mom – I won’t tell that story of you knocking out my brother’s tooth. It was going to come out anyway. And besides, he deserved it.
We can sometimes get a little ooey-gooey about Mothers Day. Our impulse was to step away from the treacly side of Mother’s Day and laugh more about the reality – after all, God is in what’s real, not in what we wish were real. But those wishes come from somewhere. When I was a child I used to love watching Mister Rogers. I’d settle in in front of the TV and there would come Fred Rogers, walking cheerfully in the door singing his song, ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…’ And he would greet me with a smile and a kind voice, as he took off his jacket and his shoes and slipped into his house sweater and comfy sneakers. I loved this, partly because the show aired right about the time when my own dad came home, and he would also take off his jacket and tie and put on his soft old cardigan with the holes in the elbows. And Mom was in the kitchen, making dinner. Everything was ok, we were all home and dinner was about to be served and I was safe. Of course, that wasn’t the whole story of home, and when I look back, I know I’m casting it all in a rosier glow than it had at the time. But the desire for it to be real, especially now that I’ve lost my dad and we’ve sold that home, tells me something. We all long for home.
And now, of course, we have a lot of time being… at home. Wearing our house sweaters and our comfy slippers. Making ourselves dinner. Every day.
As you listened to the gospel today you might have noticed that it’s one we often read at memorial services, sometimes in the familiar translation, ‘in my Father’s house there are many mansions.’ The idea there is that the Father’s house with all the mansions in it is heaven, the place we all hope to get to when we die. That’s one way to understand it, and it is what we need to hear at a funeral, that our loved one will find a home with God. But I think Jesus is talking about more than heaven. The Father’s house is his image for the relationship between Jesus and God – a relationship that has a lot of room in it for us to dwell in too. Echoing this, our psalm today talks of God as a castle to keep us safe, a stronghold, a tower of strength; and the epistle describes us as living stones built together into a spiritual house. God is our house, we are a house for God, we are invited into the house Jesus and God live in together. It’s not a place with a street address, but home, the experience of truly being at home. ,Jesus says, Mi casa es su casa.
When we are at home, we let down our guard. We can be ourselves without worrying about what others think about us. We eat and sleep, being nourished and rested from our labors out in the world. Our most cherished possessions are there; our favorite people are there. We are safe, in that way that we all need to feel safe and secure. That’s the ideal of home, of course, but hopefully something like it is what you experience at home in your life now. Even as the weeks wear on, I have heard many of you delight in your homes, taking time to clean and organize them and enjoy the way the light moves through the day. And in this strange time, we’re getting more of a peek into each other’s homes, scrutinizing even the messy shelves of celebrities as they broadcast from their homes. That’s an intimacy happening that we didn’t expect, a sweetness in this time of loss.
That’s the kind of home Jesus is inviting us into as well. Come into my Father’s house, he is saying – there are plenty of rooms, there is plenty of space. You don’t have to put on your best clothes and your best public face – that resonates right now, right? as you worship, you’re at home, maybe even in your pajamas. Jesus is inviting us to come into the experience of love and intimacy that is at the heart of God, between God the loving parent and Jesus the beloved child. We’re drawn in to come and find rest and be nourished, be completely ourselves, find our treasure here.
But for some of us, and on some days all of us, home may not feel so happy. For some, home is not a safe place to be because there is violence there, or there is not enough food, or we are sick and alone. Or stuck in our homes right now, we may be finding ourselves face to face with demons from the past or demons altogether new to us: the temptation to substance abuse and addiction, the dark sadness of depression, consuming fear and anxiety. And for those on our city streets, of course, there is no home at all. For those in a hospital bed, home may feel like a distant dream.
And yet, still, Jesus invites us into our true home. We don’t have to be right now in a perfect home to find our home with God. Wherever we are, God is there with us. We can open the door inside ourselves to feel that – after all, prayer, the awareness of God, can happen anywhere, in line at the grocery store, or in a hospital bed, or in a messy, cramped room. We are invited into God’s home, and to be ourselves a home for God, in every situation, in every place, here and now. God is always wanting to nourish and feed us, to touch us in the deepest level of our being, no matter where we are.
And we carry God’s love, that experience of being at home, to others, wherever we go. At the end of Mister Rogers’ show, he would go back to the landing by the door, take off his sneakers and put on his dress shoes, change his cardigan for his jacket, and say goodbye as he went out the door, back out into his neighborhood to live out the things he had been teaching us – making everyone feel at home when they met him. Just as Jesus invites each one of us to do. We too invite others in – because there’s a lot of space in God’s house, after all.
Being at home right now doesn’t mean walling ourselves off, shutting the door and hiding from the world. Being at home in God means allowing ourselves to be nourished in prayer and love, from God and through other people. And offering that love ourselves in ways that help others to be at home as well – practicing spiritual hospitality, the hospitality that has tangible, real-life effect on others. We reach out to others who are isolated or in pain and speak words of deep love and comfort to them – a phone call that, I guarantee you, will make you feel better as well. We make our own homes places of prayer and compassion, even on those days when we’ve all gotten on each others’ nerves. And we work to make sure that everyone really does have a home to live in that is safe, where there is food to eat, where life can be fully lived – taking action now with our financial resources and support, and planning action in the future in more hands-on ways, for our neighbors close by and around the world. There is much to be done, and there will be more still as this year goes on.
In God’s house, there are many dwelling places. My home is your home, Jesus says. May God open our hearts to be home for all.