2 Corinthians 5:1-21
As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. has said, we are not in fact physical beings on a spiritual journey. Rather, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I think we can see this to be the case at times. I remember when we first got the three kittens that are now my kids’ cats. I remember watching them “try on” their bodies. At least that was how it looked to me. They were figuring them out: figuring out how to make them work, how to walk, how to balance, how to use their paws. I remember moments when they would do something and it would startle them – as if they were saying, “oh, so this is what happens when I do this!” We’ve seen this with our human babies too, but I think because cats develop and grow into adults so much more quickly, it was all the more obvious to me with the kittens. I saw that they were beings wearing cat pajamas and trying to explore the limitations and gifts of those pajamas as they navigated this new world for them.
In many ways we hear this echoed in Paul’s words. He talks about God’s house as the real house, the house where we want to be, ultimately. He talks about our human residence as a tent that weighs us down, a place away from “home”. These feelings too are familiar to many of us. I have lived in other places besides the Bay Area in my life, but each time I was in these other places, I felt this strong pull, this strong yearning within me, “I just want to go home” I would say. But the reality is that whenever I would then move back here, back “home”, those yearnings were ever only partly answered. There is still a strong desire within me to “go home”, to “be home”. A spiritual being seeking for a physical home in a physical world.
What is “home” for you? Have you ever felt those yearnings to go home or be home, and if so, what did you mean by it? What are the feelings that you associate with “home”? If you were here, I would ask you to tell me, but since we are apart, I’m going to have to guess what some of those feelings are. When people tell me about their “homes” they talk about warm fires and food, good conversation and music. But the two feelings that I hear most are unconditional love/acceptance and safety. Home is the place where you feel safe. Home is the place where you are loved and accepted as you are, where you can be fully and wholly yourself without fear of pain or rejection.
I’m part of a clergy group here in the Bay Area that meets for an hour every other week. Most of the other people in this group are people of color. The African American man who leads the group asked us this last week when and where we felt safe. To a tee all of the black or African American pastors and faith leaders in our group said that there was no place here where they felt safe. No place where they felt free to be themselves without threat to their person. Can you imagine what that feels like? I can’t imagine what that feels like in terms of physical safety. I usually feel safe in my house or car, for example. But I do know what that feels like emotionally. There have been times in my life where there is no place that I have felt safe emotionally. There have been times in my life where I felt I had to be “on guard” every hour of every day, not knowing where the next “hit” would come, where the next slam would hit, where the next demand on my time, energy and personhood would be exacted. And again, in all of those moments, I found my soul crying out “I just want to go home!” And I knew that what that meant for me was that I just wanted to find that place that felt safe, where I would be loved and accepted as I am, where I would no longer be the spiritual being on a painful, intense, long and difficult human journey; but where instead I would be seen in fullness for all of who I am, and loved not just in spite of it, but because of it.
I think that because of this deep-seated desire for safety and unconditional love that some people describe another human being as their “home”. My home is where YOU are. My home is where THEY are. But, as Meg Ryan said in the movie French Kiss, “There is no home safe enough, there is no country nice enough, there’s no relationship secure enough.” And no matter how romantic and wonderful it is when two people stay married and in love their entire lives, those of us who’ve been divorced can tell you that every relationship has conditions. “Unconditional love” in romance isn’t real. There are conditions. And if your partner has met them for the entirety of their life, then you are one of the lucky ones to have found that. For most of us, the conditions have been found and named and fall short in human beings. And I would say that even for those who’ve been married their entire lives, there have been moments with your partners that have not felt good, that have not felt emotionally safe or loving. That’s part of being human. No one is perfect and when you get two imperfect people together, there will be disagreements and times of pain.
So in the midst of that, where do we find “home”? Where do we finally look for that place of unconditional love and safety?
Many people look towards heaven for that. This ties back once again to the idea of us as spiritual beings on a human journey. The number of people who have said to me towards the end of their lives, “I just want to go home” is too many to count. For them, “home” is that place after death: heaven, or rest, or a kind of Eden where there is no more pain, emotional, physical or spiritual; there is just love and safety.
But what I would challenge you with today is the idea that when we call the ones we love “home,” and when we talk about heaven as home, and when we see something beautiful in nature, or hear an amazing piece of music, or visit a country that touches us, or have those mountain-top experiences that feel like home – that all of these point to the same reality. And that reality is that “home” is where God is. This home isn’t created or limited by space or time, by life or death, by the people we are with or those we are missing. And while Paul says, “we live by faith and not sight”, I would say that God’s presence is here for us to see as well as to have faith in, in every moment of every day.
And that brings us to the gospel lesson for the day. Jesus is trying to withdraw. He is tired, he is wanting some space to himself. But the people are following him, and despite his personal needs, we are told that “Jesus had compassion for them and healed those who were sick.” Evening came and his disciples tried to get Jesus to send the people into the village and buy food for themselves. Once again, I want to point out, God here, Jesus here, is not a good business person. He could have sent them into the village to buy food for themselves, to “boost the economy” and to support local trade. But he doesn’t. He also does not “fix it” for everyone. We tend to change this story in our heads into one of Jesus passing out the food which multiplies and multiplies in abundance. That is how we tend to hear this story because that is how we’ve been taught to hear this story. But that is not what happens. Instead, Jesus says to his disciples, “There’s no need to send them away. YOU give them something to eat.”
The disciples did not want to do that. They did not want to share. “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.” So, Jesus prays over the food and then, giving it back to the disciples, asks them to give it to the crowd, which they do. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know if the food did in fact multiply – the story does NOT tell us that. What we know is that once people started sharing what they had, which began with a small group but grew out into the crowds, that there was more than enough for everyone. And THAT is where we see God, and that is heaven, and that is the safe and loving place that we call home – it is all around us at all times. But we do not see it because we do not truly believe in it, we do not act on it, we do not live it.
I’m reminded of the stone soup story from our childhood. A man comes to town and, though he is very hungry, no one will help him, no one will feed him. They feel they don’t have enough to share, they don’t have enough to give. So he takes out his pot, gets some water from the local stream and begins to cook it with just a stone inside. People are curious and come out. He says to them, “I am making a wonderful, magical, amazing soup! I will share it, but it surely could use a carrot.” One of the villagers thinks, “well, I have a carrot I could add” and he returns with carrots to throw into the soup. Then the stranger says, “Hm. It surely tastes good now, but it could use a potato or two,” and one of the villagers remembers that she has some potatoes to throw in. This continues until the stew is an amazing soup of everyone’s ingredients which the stranger is then able to share with all. They didn’t think there was enough. But together, there was more than enough for all.
There is always more. There is always enough, if we could choose to trust in it and share it. Did you know there was a study out recently that was looking at how people use money? No surprise, the more money you have, the less you share it. What was so interesting though is that the poorest of the poor really were the first to share what little food they had. Greed is a spiritual illness that grows along with how much people have. The more a person has, the more they are afraid of losing it and less likely they are to share it. We see this through our country, we see this not just as individuals but as groups, too. We forget how to see God’s kingdom. We forget to be “home” for one another. The bottom line, we forget how much we have been given and how much we have to share. This does not just apply to money, either.
I remember a time when my youngest child, Aislynn was just a baby of about 6 months old, Jonah, my son was 2 and my eldest daughter was 5. I would not have been winning any parenting awards on that day, and at one point I even considered shipping off at least one of my lovely three children to someone who I knew would be much better capable of managing what I came to think of as my own personal monkey cage. I had come to expect help on Fridays, but this particular Friday I was completely on my own all day. The kids had been in rare form; all demanding things in temper tantrum format all afternoon. By 7:00 I was a stressed-out mess. With Aislynn in her bouncy chair, and Jasmyn in the shower, I was trying to get Jonah dressed for bed. But when I tried to put his pajama top over his head I was greeted with yet another temper tantrum. He would not tell me what he wanted, but instead ripped the shirt off and started to scream at the top of his lungs. At that moment, Jasmyn called me to help her wash her hair and Aislynn decided this was the perfect moment to put in her two cents as well and she started crying like there was no tomorrow. I explained to Jonah that if he was going to fight me I couldn’t help him, I left him in his room, went and picked up Aislynn who continued to scream, took her into the bathroom with me to help Jasmyn with her hair with my one free hand that wasn’t holding Aislynn, and I tried to take a deep breath. When Jonah came running into the bathroom after me, it was all I could do to not snap his head off with a “What is it now, Jonah?” But instead of crying, or screaming, my two year old boy walked up to me, wrapped his arms around my legs and with a look of deep compassion said very simply, “I’m sorry I was fighting with you, Mama.” In that moment I saw him again – my little, caring, sweet boy who needed my attention, who needed my love. Yes, I could give it. I had reserves that I didn’t even know I had, just for him, just for then.
A friend of mine told me the story this week of his sister-in-law who is a doctor-of-all-trades whose primary job it is to fill in when other doctors can’t go in. She’s basically on-call all the time at a particular hospital, for wherever she is needed and in whatever capacity. Well, her husband died recently. The day of the memorial service, she not only hosted the service, but hosted the party afterwards at her house. Before everyone had even left, she received a call that one of the doctors who was supposed to give a lecture that day to a class of medical students just hadn’t shown. The lecture was supposed to have started already and while the person calling understood she had just lost her husband and that the service was that day, she just didn’t know who else to call. My friend’s sister-in-law thought for a minute and then realized she, too, had “more than enough”. She chose to do the class because she had it to give. That energy, that choice to share what we have whether it is resources, time, energy or money – that is where the kingdom of God, that is where “home”, that is where God, God-self is to be found.
It’s not that faith isn’t important. It is faith that tells us that there is enough for everyone. It is faith that tells us to share and to give. It is faith that hopes, trusts and believes that if we give what we have, there will still be enough for us.
We are, right now, in a time of increasing need. While some people’s rents have been “put off”, they will have to pay them eventually and many simply won’t be able to. The increase in numbers of homeless is growing exponentially. The number of those who don’t have health care during this terrible time is growing. The lines at the soup kitchens, the food pantries, the need-based agencies is growing exponentially. This is a time when we need those loaves and fishes to go a long way. But God gave us the ability to make that happen as God has given us the ability to share what we have, and not from our abundance, but from our recognition that these people are our brothers and sisters, our community, our family, who are in need. The choice to believe that Jesus alone turned the bread and fish into a feast is a choice to abdicate our responsibility here. We are not off the hook. It was to his disciples that he said, “give them something to eat” and in this story from today it is the disciples’ own food that they are being asked to share. Can God take that and make something amazing out of it? Of course. But it must start with our choice to share, to give, and to trust that there will be enough for us all.
“We walk by faith and not by sight” Paul tells us. But that faith becomes sight, and the world becomes “home” when we choose to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and to love fully, remembering that we are spiritual beings on this human journey together, called to live that out as the people of God that we were made to be. Amen.