Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




 “When You Can’t Go Home”

Sunday, July 22, 2007



John 1: 10-14


Dean Snyder

Rev. Dean Snyder


Where is your home? What do you think of as home?


Is it the house you grew up in? Forty-five years after I moved from there at 15, I still have dreams that take place in the big old farmhouse I grew up in. In one sense it will always feel like home, I suspect.


Is home the house or apartment you live in now? Or a house or apartment you once lived in? Does everywhere you have lived feel like home?


Or is home for you the part of the country or world you are from? Sometimes people refer to their native land or the town they grew up in as their home.


Sometimes home is a dream. Biblically, ultimately, heaven is home, and home, I suspect, – wherever it is – is something of heaven.


Fred Buechner says that home is “a place where you feel you belong and which in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment.”[i]


Where is your home?


We are looking at scriptures about home this summer. One reason for this is that the Washington Interfaith Network – WIN – of which we are a member congregation, is working with Mayor Fenty to create 14,000 affordable housing units in Washington over the next four years, including 2,500 units of supportive housing for chronically homeless people. Mayor Fenty made this commitment publicly at a WIN meeting this past Monday evening. Five hundred people, including a group of more than 20 of us from Foundry, were there to hear him make the commitment. We will be working with the mayor and his staff over the next months to figure out where the units can be established and how we can provide the supportive services that can help homeless people find stability…and a home.


Where is your home? Fred Buechner says there are two kinds of homeless people – the people living on our sidewalks and in our emergency shelters and then “people like you and me who are apt to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them.”[ii]


Sometimes we are homeless in the sense that we can’t really be at home in the place we think ought to be our home.


The Gospel of John says this was true about Jesus. John 1: 11 says, in the New Revised Standard Version, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”


But, in the New Revised Standard Version, this verse is footnoted, and when you read the footnote, it is an alternate translation that says, “He came to his own home, and his own people did not accept him.”


The expression “come to your own” in Greek is a common idiom for coming to your home. Jesus came to what should have been his home, the place where he belonged, and his own people would not receive him.


Rudolph Bultmann thought John was referring to humanity in general. Jesus came to earth, the home of humanity, and humanity would not receive him.


But most biblical scholars agree that John is referring to Judea – the community of the Israelites. John is the most gentile of the Gospels and has a tendency to speak negatively about the Jews, and this may be an unfortunate instance of this, but I think it is also something more.


I think John is trying to speak a comforting pastoral word to a generation of early Christians, many of whom lost their families and sense of home because of their decision to become Christians. It was commonplace in the early days of Christianity for new Christians to be shunned and outcast by their families and by their communities. I think John is helping these early Christians who have lost their sense of family and home to see that it was the same way for Jesus. He was helping them find comfort in knowing that they were sharing in the estrangement that Jesus experienced.


It still happens, you know. I’ve spoken to Christians from around the world who became outcast in their homes, and families, and towns when they became Christians. Something, however, drew them to Christ in spite of what felt like losing their home.


Of course, it is also true that I have known people here in the U.S. who have become Buddhists or Hindus, and it has resulted in them not being really accepted by their families here, not being able to feel anymore that they can be at home where they think they ought to belong.


It happens sometimes – too often – to gay and lesbian people who come out. It happens even more tragically to lesbian women and gay men who feel that they can’t come out at home, and who lose a sense of being able to belong there. They can’t be themselves at home. People tell me that at the Gay Pride Parade no one gets louder cheers than PFLAG – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – because all too many gay and lesbian folk know the pain of having to choose between self-affirmation and losing their home.


And there are other reasons we can lose a sense of home. Perhaps the homes we came from were racist or sexist or violent or unloving or insane. And we know how Jesus must have felt when, as John says, “he came to his own home and his own people did not accept him.”


So John is being pastoral in sharing with those Christians who have paid the price of losing their homes by becoming Christians, and he is doing more. He goes on in the next verses to suggest that Jesus’ losing his home, his rejection by his people, was actually salvific. It became a part of salvation history. It was redemptive for humanity.  


The next verses, John 1: 12 and 13, say: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (Matthew 1: 12-3)


Not being accepted at home opened the doors to all humanity to become a part of the family of God – not by birth or by blood – but by the accepting love of God.


I think one of the basic themes of Scripture is that God takes human acts of resistance or even evil and uses them for the sake of a larger purpose. You remember, in the book of Genesis, when Joseph’s older brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous of him. Joseph becomes the king’s right hand man in Egypt. Years later Joseph’s brothers have to go to Egypt to get food when there is a great famine in the land, and they discover the official they are dealing with is the younger brother whom they had sold into slavery years earlier.


They are ashamed and afraid. But Joseph says to them: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”  (Genesis 50:20)  In another translation, he says to them: “Even though you meant it for evil, God intended it for good.”


One of the themes of Scripture is that when we experience rejection or harm or evil, we ought to look for the good that God intends to do through it.


But there is also something else here, I think. We all want to belong. We all want to have a home. We all want a sense of a place where we belong and that in some way belongs to us.


But homes can also swallow us. They can suffocate us. They can infantilize us.


Sometimes it is salvific, saving, for us to be thrust out of our homes.


It is not good, I suspect, when life is too comfortable, too secure, too easy.


In a couple of weeks Jane and I are going to Nashville for the annual Reconciling Ministries’ conference and then we are going to spend a week on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Last year we rented a cottage there as well and the person who owned the cottage had a crab shed where he grew soft shell crabs. He let me visit the shed to watch the crabs shed their shells, which was a slow and steady process. It was the first time I’d ever seen this. Crabs form shells to protect themselves, but then when they grow they have to shed that shell and grow a larger one or they won’t be able to grow. They would suffocate to death.


It reminded me of my friend who used to be a pastor on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He told me the story of one day when he was sort of frustrated and fed up, and he told his wife he was going fishing the next morning. He left early in the morning and drove for an hour. When he stopped for a cup of coffee, he happened to run into a friend and he ended up spending the entire morning talking instead of fishing.


On the way home, he decided he should stop and get some fish for dinner, so he stopped at a fish store that happened to have a soft shell crab tank in the store.


He says he stood there watching the crabs while he waited for his fish to be cleaned, and as he watched them he heard a voice inside himself saying, “You’ve got to shed your shell or you will die.”  


We all want a place where we feel at home, but home can be a shell. This may be why we can never really feel totally at home in this world. Anytime we feel at home it is a hint of heaven, but this world is not finally, fully our home because we are always meant to feel enough discomfort so that we will continue to grow…so that we will continue to work for change.


We are not meant to be too much at home. No one can be really at home until everyone can have a home. No one can be fully at peace until we all have peace. No one can really fully belong until we all can belong.


Jesus “came to his own home and his own people did not accept him, but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”


Our true home is in the home of Jesus where everyone is welcome to be at home. May we be a bit uncomfortable until we are at home with him.








[i] Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home (Harper San Francisco), 7.

[ii] Ibid., 140.