Last week, Boko Haram militants in Nigeria released 82 schoolgirls out of a group of more than 200 whom they kidnapped three years ago. In midst of the excitement of daughters returned came the realization of the question – can these young women return to the life they once had? It has been noted that the girls had been brainwashed. Many came back with children whose fathers were Boko Haram members. After all this time many believed they were still the legitimate wives of these rebels. Further, many members of the towns these girls came from are slow to receive them back. Weren’t these girls now affiliated with Boko Haram? Would they be a danger now to their villages? Where did these young women belong? What was their place now?
Let us stop and think. What is the place of the estimated 100 million homeless worldwide? What about the 1.6 billion people who lack adequate housing? Is there no place for them to call home in this vast world of ours?
What is the place of the over 65 million displaced persons on our planet? Is there no place we can carve out for them other than crowded tents in refugee camps?
What about the 9 million in prison and their families? What place is there in society for their permanent rehabilitation?
What about the 20-30 million slaves, and 800,000 annual victims of human trafficking around the globe? Is there no place they can ever be safe and call their own? Do we not have the determination to see them set free?
What is the place of the troubled teenagers watching the controversial show, “13 Reasons Why”, a program about an adolescent who completed suicide? Where is the home for teenagers and children bullied, lonely, who feel they don’t belong and are better off dead? Is there a place for them?
In every human heart beats the desire to belong. To be a part of something. We join clubs, fraternities, gangs, even. If we are fortunate, we have a loving partner, a close-knit family, a circle of friends, special colleagues we can hang out with. In addition we crave a significant place, a house or dwelling we can go to every night. A place with familiar mementos, the same comfy couch or bed that gives us stability and comfort. Ultimately however, we know a house is not the same as a home. It is the stable, enduring relationships with people, even pets or plants that we live with that transform the house into a home. Taken together, we truly have a place to be ourselves where we find acceptance and renewal. It reminds us of John Howard Payne’s famous saying:
Mid pleasures and palaces,
Though oft I may roam;
Be it ever so humble,
There's no place like home.
For people of faith, home takes a level deeper, wider, broader. Although Jesus considered Capernaum his home town, his ministry led him across the countryside and villages and he found himself depending on strangers and disciples for temporary lodging. Jesus even replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Luke 9:58). Even so, going from place to place, not knowing where he would sleep at night, Jesus found a home. He traveled with his disciples. He lived the Gospel. He created what Peter describes, that each of us is a “living house,” a “living stone.” Jesus wants us to dig deeper in our beings and find that we have a spiritual home that doesn’t depend on a physical house. It is our connection to our faith in Jesus that lays a foundation that transcends any house we reside in. This faith connection binds all the circles of people and places we belong to – and holds it all together. It anchors us as Jesus declares there is a place for you-not just in heaven, but reflected in this world God created. A place for you no matter what human society dictates. No matter how alone we feel, out of place we feel, Jesus insists that we hear the Good News – and Peter reminds us:
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;
You are chosen. You are God’s people. Because of this, Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and believe also in me.” Jesus assures us of a heavenly home --- where Jesus is preparing a place, and where he will personally take each of us on that day, we are called to our eternal home. There is a place for us. It is prepared. The disciples are terrified that once Jesus is gone there will no longer be a home that they have known, because Jesus has been their home. They are losing their anchor, their compass. What will they consider home now? “They echo the sentiments found in the words of poet Maya Angelou: “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself."
Jesus knows this. So Jesus tells them all they need to know: He says: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” They have Jesus, even when he is not there. That is because they have been with him for three years. They have crisscrossed Galilee, Samaria and Judea with him. They have listened to him, ate with him, watched him heal, confront, comfort, teach. Now, they too, would take the fateful journey – a journey that is home. A journey that gives them a place of belonging – the journey is home, as the saying goes, because it brings them in deeper connection with one other. It turns strangers into friends, and makes creation the housemates to treasure. And this would continue to live within them. The way was etched into their hearts by love. It was the way of truth. The way of life. It was a place that transcends whatever house we find to live in – and calls us to make strangers into friends. We may call this the “homing instinct” the Holy Spirit has placed into our soul, to find our place in the world.
Consider this. "Taken from its hive, the bee knows its way home and makes a `bee line' back. An eel travels down the Rhine to the sea and keeps right on till she reaches the Azores, lays her eggs, and dies. Her progeny return to the Rhine and the process is repeated. Terns were carried in a hooded cage from their nesting grounds off the coast of Florida to Galveston, released, and in less than a week returned... Salmon... leave the sea, enter fresh waters, and ascend far inland, deposit their eggs and die. . . .Young salmon return to the briny deep, grow up, and then find their way up the very same river to pay their debt to their kind and to nature... In the spiritual nature of humanity there is that homing instinct. Something within says, `Not here, not here, but back to God.'
We all have a “homing instinct” – to embrace the multi-faceted layers of home rooted in us. We dedicate time to create a home in this earth. As people of faith we find our spiritual home in many ways. Not only where we lay our head to sleep at night. But our home and sense of security is within ourselves because that is where the Holy Spirit resides. Our home is with each other on the journey of faith that Jesus leads on us. So there comes a time in the journey when it’s time to go house hunting on the inside.
Peter, in his letter, tells us what the disciples learned from their life with Jesus: that we are each living stones, chosen and precious in the sight of God, and our journey in this life is to create a spiritual home together. That may be church or a Fellowship. A company of faith. That’s just the start – where we come together to worship, pray, learn to grow in faith through study, service and developing our faith together, discover that in Jesus we have the blueprint to create true home. A home where everyone feels safe. A home where everyone is affirmed and loved. A home where there are real connections between people and among creation. Because we are a living building, Peter says, home spreads out to our neighborhoods, our cities, our country and the world. That is Jesus’ vision: there are many dwelling places that encompass heaven and earth. It is our task as home builders to forge heaven on earth as the way to heaven.
So we assemble the tools of building, the saws, the axes, the hammer and nails as we advocate for homes for the homeless, we speak up for people in need of employment or health care, we visit prisoners and their families. This is how we make home on earth. It is a mirror of what Jesus says “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so would I not tell you that I prepare a place for you?” Jesus, the Way, was at home wherever he was on earth because -- as in heaven, earth has many dwelling places. Places that Jesus shows us how to prepare. Yes, God has a place for us here as God does in heaven.
Our greatest strength lies in this: home is in our hearts, in the love Jesus poured out on the crossed as he claimed each of us. Henry Longfellow tells us:
"Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest."
All great movies, myths stories tell us this. Life is a journey whose destination is home, and is home along the way. We need to gather and make this journey together because none of us has all it takes to get where God is calling us to be. And this is a blessing. We don’t have to be alone. As we help another we help ourselves further along the path. Together we voice our concerns. We face the dangers. The longing. The fear. We discover a capacity to care for each other, to lean on each other, to leave no one behind – to build an open house on the cornerstone, Jesus. As we build this home we discover you have found a glimpse of heaven, here, in this place for you. Amen.