Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sermon: "Let Us Build a House: Homesick", Genesis 12:1-9/Luke 21:25-36 (November 28, 2021--Advent I)

(This is the first sermon in our Advent and Christmas series, "Let Us Build a House", based on the Advent theme from A Sanctified Art.)


Think about the last time you moved. The searching, the haggling, the financing, the packing, the scheduling, the physical and emotional energy expended, and after all that, the unpacking and updating documents and settling in. All that work is multiplied tenfold if you’re building a house from the ground up. And if you’re moving across the country? Forget about it. No matter the circumstances, I think we can all agree that moving house is a monumental task.

And yet, we still do it. People move from one place to another all the time. These days, it’s rare for anyone to live their entire lives in the same house that they grew up in; in fact, the average USAmerican moves more than 11 times over the course of their life.[1] People move in good times and in hard times—many even moved during the worst parts of the pandemic last year. Even though finding a new place to live can literally be a full-time job, even though fitting everything you own into boxes can feel impossible, even though leaving an old home behind can be painful, moving is still a near-universal human experience.

So why do we do it? Why do we uproot ourselves from one place and relocate to another—whether across town or across the country? There are lots of different reasons, of course. A new job opportunity has opened up in a place too far to commute; your current living situation is no longer right for your family; you can’t afford your mortgage or rent anymore; you need to be closer to a loved one in order to care for them; maybe you just feel like it’s time for a change. But I would argue that all of these reasons for moving, from the terribly pragmatic to the deeply personal, have the same basic motivation at their core. At the end of the day, every move is inspired by a sense of homesickness.

Now, I know it sounds strange to suggest that a person might feel homesick for a place that they don’t even live in yet, but hear me out. What is home if not the place where you feel most safe, comfortable, and like you belong? Every time we relocate, we do it because we believe, in one way or another, that there’s something better on the other side of the move. Something that will make us feel more settled, more at home: better job satisfaction, more space to spread out, fewer rooms to clean, the satisfaction of fulfilling a familial obligation. We believe that something about the new location will meet our needs better than our current living situation does. We feel a yearning for the potential of this unknown place, this not-yet home, that’s strong enough to overcome our sense of home where we are, and so we uproot our lives to go in search of it.

Strangely, we’re often more responsive to this sort of homesickness in our physical living situations than we are to homesickness within ourselves. We’re more willing to rearrange the “things” in our lives than to rearrange our lives themselves. Even if we know there’s something better out there, we human beings tend to stay in situations that we know aren’t right for us if it means that we don’t have to deal with change: manipulative workplaces, abusive relationships, unhealthy habits. We hate change. It’s intimidating. It takes EFFORT to address the homesickness within ourselves, and so, whenever given the choice, we don’t. We explain it away and make excuses to stay where we are.

But the thing is, when it comes to our lives, God doesn’t accept our excuses. God isn’t willing to let us settle when God knows what our hearts are longing for. God has a way of pulling us out of our complacency, forcing us to acknowledge our homesickness, and pushing us to do something about it. When we begin to believe that this house, this job, this life is the best we’re gonna get, God steps in to remind us of what COULD be—if we’re only willing to move ourselves for it.

From the time of Eden, God has always been seeking ways to relieve our homesickness by calling us home to God’s kindom. Abram was the first to respond to this call. Like the rest of us, Abram was perfectly content where he was. He was 75 years old and had lived in Haran for a long time. His family was “settled” there. It was where his father was buried. It was the closest thing to “home” that one could imagine. And yet, when God told him to leave his land and his father’s household for the land that God would show him, Abram didn’t hesitate. He recognized a yearning within himself for all that God promised, and he was willing to start all over again for the chance to find THIS “home”: one that had a little to do with location, but even more to do with his relationship with God.

The fact that Abram was seeking his “home” with God doesn’t mean that his journey was easy. Indeed, he lived as a self-described immigrant for most of his life, making questionable choices in order to appease foreign kings, and he was almost required to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. But once he recognized the homesickness within himself, it never even occurred to him to turn back from the path that God had set before him. He found that there was only one choice he could make, and it was to seek his home with God no matter the cost.

As we stand at the beginning of a new liturgical year, we, too, are called to recognize our own homesickness. We’re called to remember that, no matter how comfortable this world has become for us, it is not our home. Like Abram, we are nomads living in a foreign land, seeking the home with God that will bring us the joy and peace that has been God’s intention for us since the very beginning.

But the reason that the liturgical year begins with Advent, instead of skipping straight to the part where God dwells with us on earth, is because this home doesn’t just happen, no matter how strong God’s call is or how much we may want it. In the same way that moving from one physical house to another takes months of planning and hard work, finding our home with God also requires a great deal of preparation and effort, partly because we have to put the work in to build it. Building a house out of brick and mortar is a process that inevitably comes with disappointments and setbacks. Building a home with human lives and divine love is no different.

It’s because of this that the first Sunday of Advent always includes an apocalyptic reading from the gospels. This “revealing” or “uncovering” of God’s plans can sound intimidating and even frightening, but it’s not intended to scare us into obedience. Rather, it’s to remind us that there’s a great deal of preparation to be done before we can finally dwell in our home with God. The *decision* to make the move isn’t enough. We also need to deal with the inevitable difficulties that arise when building a divine home in a fallen world. Jesus tells us that there will be conflict, there will be uncertainty and fear. If we’re not prepared for these challenges, we’ll be more likely to give up when the going gets tough. And we simply can’t afford to let that happen.

That’s why our homesickness isn’t something to be ignored or denied. Our longing for a home with God is what inspires us to keep going even when we “faint from fear and foreboding.” It’s what helps us to “stand up straight and raise our heads” and insist on change, because it assures us that there *is* something better to come. Our homesickness for God’s kindom is what motivates us not to settle for this world that has been “good enough” for so long. It’s what gives us the hope and faith that it’s possible to build something better.

In spite of its familiarity, this world is not our home. Our home is the kindom that God intends to build with us. God believes in this home so much that God is willing to join us here, to get God’s own hands dirty alongside us, in order to make it happen. Building this home will be hard work (in every sense of the word), but it’s the only thing that can ease our holy sense of displacement.

So this Advent, let us build a house. We won’t be the first to attempt this endeavor, and we won’t be the last. The work won’t be finished on our watch, either, but every brick we lay, every message of love we share, every room we furnish, every person we welcome, will bring all of us that much closer to dwelling together with God forever. When we experience homesickness for our home in God’s kingdom, we should embrace it as the inspiration that we need to engage in this tough work. It will keep us from forgetting why we do this, why it matters, why we celebrate God’s coming to earth as one of us in the first place. Because together, we will build a home better than any we’ve known before, one where there’s room for all of us, one that can never be destroyed—one that’s fit for a divine king and his beloved family. Amen.



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