Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

 “When God Is Homeless”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

 

 

John 14: 18-24

Dean Snyder

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

We are looking at a passage this morning from the Gospel of John…from the part of the Gospel that scholars call “The Last Discourses.”

 

It is Jesus’ last teachings and his last conversation with his disciples before his death. The other Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, tell us about the last supper briefly. In John, the Last Discourses go on chapter after chapter.

 

And, for me at least, Jesus seems vague and esoteric and oblique, especially compared to the Jesus we see in Matthew, Mark and Luke who is so direct and concrete.

 

So I’ve found that I need to read the Last Discourses very carefully and deliberately to try to understand what is going on in this conversation between Jesus and his disciples.

 

In the 14th Chapter, where our lesson is located this morning, Jesus is talking about his relationship with God, whom he calls “the Father.” His disciples are having a hard understanding what he is saying. You can almost see them looking at each other out of the corner of their eyes trying to figure out if they are the only one not getting this.

 

So finally Phillip takes the risk of asking a question. His question is: “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”

 

Give us something concrete here, Jesus. Show us God.

 

Jesus responds to this by scolding Phillip. “Have I been with you all this time, Phillip, and you still don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14: 8-9)

 

Jesus goes on talking. You get a sense that the disciples are still having a hard time understanding him. So Judas, not Iscariot, but another disciple named Judas, takes the chance to ask a question.

 

The question is: “How can it be Lord, that you will reveal yourself to us but not to the world?”

In other words, how is it that we believe that you are from God and are a messenger from God and the Child of God but that other people don’t see it? Why don’t you do something to make your identity plainer to those who don’t believe in you and your teachings?

 

And it is Jesus’ answer to this question that I’d like us to pay attention to this morning.

 

Jesus says: “Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

 

It would hardly seem at first glance to be an answer to Judas’ question. You’ve got to sit with it to figure out what Jesus is saying.

 

He is saying something about the way God is in the world.

 

Judas is asking, like Phillip had before him, Why don’t you make it plainer? Why doesn’t God just write it in big letters in the sky? Why doesn’t God just push it in people’s faces? Why doesn’t God just compel people to believe?

 

Jesus’ answer is, in effect, that God doesn’t compel us to do anything. That’s not the way God works in the world. God invites, God teaches, God woos, but God doesn’t want to force God’s self on anyone.

 

God wants to be welcomed. God doesn’t want to conquer the world. God wants to be wanted. God wants the world to be not a conquest, but a home.

 

So he says: “Those who love me will keep my word and my Parent God will love them, and we will make our home with them.”

 

We want to be at home in the world. We want hospitality, not accommodation. We want welcome, not surrender.

 

Our theme this summer is home: “A Place like Home.” We have been thinking about what it means to be “at home” and what it means to be homeless.

 

Fred Buechner, in his book, A Longing for Home, points out that a home is more than a house or an apartment or a place. A home is where we have a sense of belonging.

 

A home is hospitable.

 

I think that what Jesus is suggesting in response to Judas’ question in John is that God’s chosen way of being in the world is be received with hospitality. God and Christ come to make their home with those who will receive them with hospitality. God is not intrusive, but only invitational.

 

This tells us something about God but it also tells us something about the meaning of home. Home is where we are welcomed.

 

One of the reasons we are focusing on the theme of home this summer is because of our ministries with and to the homeless.

 

One of the most devastating aspects of homelessness, I think, is not just the obvious hardship of having no place to be but the sense that you don’t belong anywhere. That you are always intruding.

 

I have been a city pastor for most of my 39 years in ministry. My ministry has roughly paralleled the emergence of homelessness as we know it today. One of the dynamics that has been fascinating to watch is to see homeless men and women systematically squeezed out.

 

I was the pastor of a church in the late 70s and early 80s that housed an emergency shelter on our first floor. At one point homelessness so exploded that we had to turn people away. I wrote an article entitled “Thank God for the Train Stations,” and the point of the article was that, when we turned them away, at least people could avoid freezing by sleeping on the benches in the train station. 

 

Then the day came, a few years later, when the train stations began evicting homeless people unless they had a ticket. Then, in response to that, signs began appearing on restaurants and shops that their rest rooms where for customer use only.

 

Just about every place homeless people tried to be began to send the message: “You don’t belong here.”

 

The same is true here in Washington with few exceptions. One exception here is the public library – the MLK Memorial Library, which has made a real effort not to be inhospitable to homeless people.

 

I think one of the gifts of Foundry’s Walk-In Mission is that it is a hospitable place. People are treated as those who belong here. (In order for that to happen, there need to be some expectations of the way people will treat one another, so that hospitality does not mean anyone can act mean or disruptive to other.) But people are treated with dignity and respect and welcomed and wanted.

 

I used the provocative title for this sermon this morning “When God is Homeless.” What I meant to say is that when we do not welcome God into our world, God does not force God’s way in. God stays homeless.

 

I like the image from Revelation 3: 20 in which the resurrected Christ says to the church – “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

 

God is homeless in our world until we make a home for God.

 

The first book I ever read by Henry Nouwen remains my favorite. It is a book entitled “Reaching Out – The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.”

 

One of the movements Nouwen talks about is the movement from hostility to hospitality. I think all spirituality is hospitality – what Nouwen calls “making space for strangers.”

 

God wants to live with us if we will make space for God. God wants to make us God’s home if we will give God room.

 

One of my early mentors, Bill Matthews, who has been gone more 15 years now, had a core message. His core message was that the way we treat God is the way we treat others and the way we treat others is the way we treat God.

 

We can not be an inhospitality city to our homeless brothers and sisters and be spiritually hospitable to God. I noticed in reading the sermon Jana preached a couple of weeks ago that she connected our ministry with day-laborers to the theme of home. I know the immigration issue is complicated, but at the heart of it is the question of hospitality.

 

Inhospitality is a spiritual process. Homelessness is the physical manifestation of a spiritual problem. And the spiritual and the physical do not work in isolation.

 

When we make room in our lives and our world for God to be at home here, then we will make room for our brothers and sisters to be at home here, and when we make room for our homeless brothers and sisters to be at home here, we will be making room in our loves and world for God.

 

Foundry is taking the lead along with other Washington Interfaith Network churches to work with Mayor Fenty to create supportive housing with supportive service for the most chronically homeless people of our city. We will succeed at this only as we ourselves also create supporting housing in our lives and our congregations for God. 

 

 

 

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