This week, most of us will celebrate the fourth of July in some fashion or another. Though the holiday is filled with words like independence, patriotism, liberty, and fireworks, mostly we are celebrating a sense of “home.” Our celebration of the Fourth is really a celebration of the place that millions of us commonly call home. Our songs celebrate this theme: “God bless America, our home sweet home”; or “and the home of the brave.” This is a day that we celebrate our home with a sense of pride, of belonging, and of identity. Like any home, our country has faults and drawbacks, but our country is our home, and nothing else can replace the sense of comfort that home can bring.
Perhaps what we forget in our celebrations is that our “home” did not always feel that way. Centuries ago, when the original settlers came to this country, the country felt nothing like home. In fact, those settlers left what they knew as home, with all the comforts home offered, and came to this foreign place. This was a place of newness and discomfort. Nothing was familiar, and in fact much of what the settlers experienced was downright scary or dangerous. Though settlers came here to establish a new home, that home-like feeling took a very long time to create.
Here at St. Margaret’s we have made a similar transition in the last fifty years. I was just reading the rough draft of our fifty-year history this week, and I was thinking about the contrast of those early years with our experience of St. Margaret’s now. Fifty years ago, St. Margaret’s was merely a group of people gathering. We had no building, no clear identity, and certainly no sense of the familiar. In fact, the story goes that when we would gather for Sunday worship in the American Legion Hall, the smell of smoke and beer lingered from Saturday night events at the Hall. When people left their church homes to join St. Margaret’s, I am pretty sure smoke and beer on a Sunday morning was not exactly what they were dreaming of for their new home.
So as we Americans prepare to collectively celebrate our home, and as we at St. Margaret’s, in our fiftieth year of ministry, continue to celebrate our home, we find Jesus saying some pretty funny things about home in our gospel lesson today. When someone along the road says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus says to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Then, when Jesus calls others to follow him, and they first ask for some basic things, like burying their father or saying goodbye to their loved ones, Jesus refuses. In other words, Jesus basically tells anyone considering following him that they will lose all sense of home – not only the literal place to lay one’s head, but also all the comforts and familiarity of home. Following Jesus is a calling into a homelessness of sorts. Jesus’ calling into homelessness is pretty scary. Following Jesus means giving up control and trusting that all will be well, which is a lot to ask, considering Jesus has already told them that all will not be well. Their new “home” will be a place of suffering, persecution, pain, and homelessness. Jesus’ new home sounds a lot like the home those founding ancestors of our country and those founding members of St. Margaret’s faced years ago.
To be honest, I am not sure I would have been able to follow Jesus as those men and women did so many years ago. I am sure you already know this about me, but I am a pretty big fan of control – or at least the illusion of control. I do not like the feeling of things being out of my control. So when Jesus asks me to let go of control – of a sense of home and familiarity – I am not sure I would have said yes.
The good news is that I do not think Jesus is actually asking us to cede control to him. Jesus is not really offering the choice of either us being in control or him being in control. As we well know, Jesus did not head to Jerusalem with the mission of taking control or charge. Instead, he set his path to Jerusalem to throw himself fully and completely into our out-of-control lives and to come out on the other side. That is the promise of this Gospel – “not that we can be in control, or even that God is in control, but rather that God in Jesus joins us in our out-of-controlness, holds onto us, and brings us to the other side.”[i] This is the homelessness Jesus is really inviting us into – this commitment to giving up the illusion of control, to take some risks, and to throw ourselves into this turbulent life and world, trusting that God joins us in the adventure, holds us through the ups and downs, and brings us in time to the other side. When Jesus offers his hand out to others to journey with him into homelessness, this is the underlining promise – that he is with us in the journey into homelessness and out-of-controlness.
On my mission trip to Burma, we had a day when we were supposed to go see working Elephants in the forest. We loaded up our truck, crammed in way too close, as usual, and began the bumpy journey. But an hour into our ride, our truck had some mechanical issues. We pulled into to what seemed to be a local mechanic, although our version of a mechanic shop and the Burmese version of a mechanic shop are very different. Sensing that this stop would take a while, our tour guide suggested our team take a walk. The seven of us followed, happy for a distraction. During our walk, we came upon a rice paddy, and could see workers out in the field. Although the team was content to observe from a distance, our guide recommended crossing the dikes to get a closer view. We found his offer shocking. We worried about trespassing, encountering swarms of disease-carrying mosquitoes, or falling off the dikes, which looked quite tenuous. Most of the team looked at the sturdy ground on which we were standing and decided that we should not test the swampy paddy. When our tour guide realized most of us were not following him, he came back to the place where he jumped to the first dike. First, he pleaded with the group as a whole. Then, he called me by name. “Jennifer, please come with me. It’s okay. You can trust me.” I looked into his dark brown eyes, and saw a sparkle of adventure and joy. I looked back at the dirty – but dry – road wistfully. Then I turned back toward our guide and his outstretched hand. His smile conveyed a sense of confidence and encouragement that warmed my heart, and I found myself jumping across the water to the dike.
We all know that sense of crossing into Jesus’ homelessness. Certainly our country this week has at many times felt out of control. Though we call this place home, we have been bitterly divided about Supreme Court decisions and Congressional bills this week. Those decisions have left us wondering what sort of home we are creating now. The same could be said for St. Margaret’s. Though many of us know this place as home, our home seems to be ever changing. There are new ways of operating, new projects underway, and new invitations. There is an ambiguity about who we will be and how we will change. But the promise in all of this, especially in the emerging sense of homelessness in our country and in our church, is that God is right here with us. God continually promises to be on this crazy ride with us. That reassurance by God today fills us with hope, and a renewed sense of courage and joy as we journey forward. Today, as we look into Jesus’ sparkling eyes, he calls us by name, and says, “Come on. Let’s go be homeless!” Amen.
[i] David Lose, “Out of Control,” as found on http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2614 on June 28, 2013.