Sermon: Home Sweet Home
Texts: Ezekiel 20:5-6; Isaiah 65:21-22; Proverbs 3:27-33
Date: June 30, 2019
©Rev. Dee Eisenhauer, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church
1.Where in the world is God? God is at home. “Home” is a rich, round word, instantly evocative, as complex as a fine wine. Just as a fine wine is made of earth and sky and human creativity and time, home is a composite of place and people and history and promise and experience. I am blessed to have more than one place I genuinely call home—here and my family’s Montana farm. I’m going to reflect on the one more distant—Paradise, Montana—to frame a mediation on the promise of home. It’s part of the bedrock of me, which is why I’m beginning with this photo close to home with a rock in the foreground and the promise of Big Sky on the horizon.
- Home is a promise, a lure. This photo on the road home speaks to me of the lovely attraction of going home. The promise of a homeland is woven into our sacred stories in the Hebrew scriptures. It’s a thorny rose of a tradition, since the glorious land flowing with milk and honey promised to the Chosen People by Yahweh was inhabited by other people at the time the wandering Israelites came to make good on the promise. Exodus and Joshua, which contain the stories of conquest, include promises to drive out the people—the “enemies”—that were there already. That thorny tradition of conquest became part of our American history, with a convenient religious story to provide cover. But the fragrant rose in the homeland promise is still a thing of beauty—the assurance of a place to call home is something humans yearn for. The line in “Softly and Tenderly” (the schlockiest hymn I adore) “Come home, come home, ye who are weary, come home” gives a musical voice to that yearning.
- A river runs through my homeland, and whether we approach from east, south or west we follow a river home. Valerie Andrews, writing about leaving a country home for the suburbs, wrote about her realization that “the land is always with us. The world as we first knew it remains imprinted on the body and the brain like tiny fossils embedded in a piece of shale.” The sight and sound of the river shines up those tiny fossils in my soul as we follow the river’s curvaceous way home.
- We turn in from the highway at the oldest building on the property, a barn built by past generations to hold hay, silage, farm equipment, and dairy cattle. Made it home again! No matter how many times I make the 450 mile trip home the pleasure of arrival is fresh. I know someone’s watching for me, and feeling relief and joy at my appearing. Surely that comforting feeling that someone is watching for your arrival is one reason why Christian folks often speak of dying as “going home.” We sense the watchfulness of God, the welcome, when we get where we’re going at the next place.
- This particular place on God’s green Earth has been inhabited by our family for four generations thus far. Here and there you can find material reminders of earlier inhabitants like these antiques dug up and relocated to my Aunt Kay’s garden. I don’t know the story of how my great-grandparents acquired the 250 acres, or who might have been displaced with the arrival of the first generation of European immigrants. The land was inhabited by clans of the Blackfoot tribe before the white folk got there. Once in a blue moon someone finds an arrowhead in the dirt. My ignorance of the history is, I think, pretty typical of the cultural amnesia of conquerors.
- This is a view of the barn from the porch of the home my parents built when we settled in Paradise in 1972, a homecoming for dad and a new place for me and my siblings. Having our ancestors there since 1916 makes some “instant roots,” but it took some time for the place to be home for me and my siblings.
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- What makes a place on the planet a home? Seasons passing in the yearly round make a place home, especially if you’re attuned to the plants, animals and weather around you.
- A place becomes home as it literally keeps you alive. One of the features of our family’s Montana home that makes it special is the mountain spring that provides our family with delicious clean, cold water. We’ve kept this access point public, right next to the highway, and thousands of people bring jugs to fill so they can have earth’s finest water in their homes. People be peopling there, so some of them graffiti the well head, dump their trash, and pee in the ditch. It gives my resident family a taste of what God must experience as some cretinous people feel free to trash a beautiful gift freely given while they take what they want.
- A place becomes home as one eats what the land produces—one of the great advantages to having a farm as a home place. Here’s our daughter Karen harvesting some apricots a couple of years ago on a summer visit. My dad, more or less an atheist in the last half of his life, nevertheless was always moved to wonder and gratitude as he watched what grew as a gift from the earth at our home place. His gratitude was deeply spiritual even if he didn’t specifically call upon the name of God. Hearing him talk about the miracle of harvest is one of the factors making me believe God is at Home.
- My dad, Norman Hermes, planted this little fruit orchard behind our house. He knew he was signing himself up for a lot of work keeping the trees alive until they could mature and bear fruit, and more work harvesting. He did it with an eye on future generations, leaving a food legacy for his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. I see this beautiful orchard as a joint project of Norm the father and God the Father–another reason I find God at home. Dad died in 2006, dropping dead while taking care of the property he stewarded. It’s good to have this tangible reminder of his collaboration with the Creator.
9/10/11. Home is where your family is, where your family’s memories accumulate. Here’s my family of origin—Mary Lou, my mom; my sister Jill, and my brother Steve.
Scott Russell Sanders answered a question about how a house becomes a home with these words: “The short answer is that these walls and floors and scruffy flower beds are saturated with our memories and sweat. Everywhere I look I see the imprint of hands, everywhere I turn I hear the babble of voices, I smell sawdust or bread, I recall bruises and laughter. After nearly two decades of intimacy, the house dwells in us as surely as we dwell in the house.” We’ve been together in that home for heartbreaking moments as well as moments of joy and peace. If the house burned down tomorrow, it would still dwell in us. And God is in the space between us, and God remembers what we forget in the times we have had together. The thyroid dysfunction that runs in our gene pool seems to dull our ability to remember the detail that some people can, so it’s important to me that God remembers all of it.
- Home is created by the meals we’ve prepared and eaten together in Mom’s hospitable kitchen. Mom’s table is God’s table, and it’s palpable when we eat in harmony, with gratitude. 12B. Home is created by the songs we’ve sung together; it’s hard to imagine any angel harps sweeter than the sound of family sharing songs. Our daughters Emma and Karen have been to the farm at least one week every year since they were born, and their love of music, baking, playing outside and all kinds of other good things has been nurtured there.
- Home is embedded in and shaped by the surrounding cultural habits and mores. Here’s a picture of my little cousin having her 4H interview after she showed her 4H calf. The agricultural traditions on showcase at the Sanders County Fair shape how people experience life in this corner of the world. She’s learning some good values as she participates in the activities available to her there. There’s a little more 4H and a little less yoga in Western Montana.
- Our home places certainly become a lens through which we see the Divine, for good or ill. I’m a Christian mainly because I was born in a Christian family, in a largely Christian oriented country, and certainly in a Christian county, where God-talk tends to be pretty orthodox and there is very little space between faith and patriotism. The night we attended the Sanders County rodeo where you can see smoke billowing in the background from a nearby forest fire, the rodeo announcer urged us all to point our cell phone flashlights to the sky to get God’s attention. Then he prayed most sincerely for God to send rain to douse the fire before it got any closer to town—all this in a public arena where we had just sung the national anthem while the pretty cowgirls rode around on their horses carrying the flag. I participated in the prayer, with some unease. It was a good reminder how much Home infuses our thought processes.
- Our home place got even sweeter when our granddaughter Frankie was born there with the assistance of an excellent midwife. She came into the world in the house my dad and mom built, in the bedroom I once occupied, as our daughter Emma leaned against a couch that had come from my grandma’s house. Now that’s a home birth! We got there about twelve hours into her first day to take this picture.
’II 16. Here’s Frankie again, last summer at not-quite-two years of age. She’s standing
- Here’s Frankie again, last summer, at not-quite-two years of age. She’s about 100 yards from the room where she was born, standing where my Dad is buried in our family plot in the yard—a tiny graveyard that also contains my grandparents and brother. Frankie and Dad didn’t get to know each other but they’re connected nevertheless. They both have roots in Paradise, both the Montana and the heavenly Paradises. God, the Ancient of Days, is occupying the space between them as if it were nothing at all.
- Things have changed since I lived at the Montana home place. My sister Jill put in countless hours of labor to build this labyrinth up between her house and her massage studio, using shale rock she and her husband hauled down off the mountain we also get to call “ours” for the time being. Here’s Frankie leaving her footprints in the pathways—she thought the labyrinth was the world’s most intriguing giant sandbox. We leave our footprints on the places we call home, hoping the marks we leave will be as benign as a toddler’s little indentation on a path. That is, we hope that our love for a place will improve it, and not destroy it.
- My sister Jill is inviting the community to come and walk her labyrinth at regular intervals. I think it’s a splendid way to honor the gift of having such a beautiful place to call Home. Seeing this ancient pattern of a meditative walkway laid onto our home place reminds me that all our walking on the earth is a spiritual journey. The way we view our home is significant, and the way we care for it is part of our vocation. Jill built this labyrinth on top of what was our forebears’ garbage heap, judging by what was unearthed while she and our neighbor tried to level the place. Who knows what future generations will put in this same place? Our family has been living here for four generations, but there’s no guarantee the next four generations will be in this same bloodline. We don’t really possess this place, though my family has legal claim to it. We—and by that I mean my mom and my siblings—are caretakers and stewards.
We’re all collectively caretakers and stewards of our larger homeland, the United States of America. The way we view our homeland is significant, and the way we care for it is part of our vocation. This place is our home, but we don’t exactly own it, even though we hold legal claims to this piece and that one.
- Who belongs in this homeland of ours? The wave of migrants knocking at the door has kept this question front of mind for many months now. As I’ve been thinking about Home, and about how deeply I love both of my home places, my heart breaks for all the folks who have chosen to break ties, uproot themselves, wrench themselves away from homes they love. Their homes may not be as lovely and comfortable as the homes I have enjoyed in my privileged life, but I know their homes are saturated with memories and sweat, imprinted with the work of their hands, fragrant with favorite dishes, echoing with their family’s songs. We must know that nobody leaves home—the place we all become ourselves—without a good reason, especially when the journey is fraught with danger and uncertainty.
Why are so many Central Americans leaving home to seek a new home? Research by Bread for the World folk states the case succinctly: “Nearly half of Guatemala’s children are chronically malnourished, along with nearly 20 percent of children in Honduras and El Salvador. Malnutrition kills many young children and causes irreversible damage to many who survive, including lifelong health problems, difficulty learning in school, and stunted physical development. In a World Food Program survey of migrants from [Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala], the majority cited “no food” as a reason for leaving their countries. [Further,] the region’s brutal civil wars have come to an end, but continuing high levels of violence mean that, for many, home still resembles a war zone. The 2016 murder rate in the three Northern Triangle countries was more than 10 times the U.S. murder rate.”
- As you know, we who already call the U.S. home have not exactly been offering a warm welcome to the current generation seeking to make this homeland their homeland. The way children are being treated is utterly appalling, according to reports from the few who are able to enter the places migrant children are being kept to witness the situation. Those few witnesses are forbidden to take pictures or videos, or to speak directly to the children. Volunteers are forbidden to donate things like diapers, toothbrushes, soap and blankets. This is what’s happening in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I’m well aware that immigration policy is enormously complicated, and there are good reasons to have secure borders. I don’t have a plan to fix it; I don’t pretend to know more than the agencies involved with immigration.
Yet I believe we all have the privilege and obligation to help define and shape our homeland. Most of our families have called this country home for only as many generations as we can count on our fingers. Many of our ancestors displaced others in order to stake claims here. Our claim on our “home” is not permanent, not ordained or predestined.
- There’s a difference between calling a place home and claiming to own it forever, to do with it exactly as we please. Descendants of migrants have a special duty to resist the amnesia that erases the past and enthrones us as lords of all we survey. We have a vocation as caretakers of our shared homeland that supersedes any post of gatekeeper. One of countless falsehoods uttered by our President is this one, spoken at the California border in April: “Our country is full,” he said. “Turn around. That’s the way it is.”
Beloved, we have a say in the “way it is.” God dwells in the space between us, whether neighbors are near or far away. The verses in Proverbs 3 we heard earlier contain wisdom for how we deal with our migrating neighbors:
27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.
28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
29 Do not plan harm against your neighbor
who lives trustingly beside you.
30 Do not quarrel with anyone without cause,
when no harm has been done to you.
31 Do not envy the violent
and do not choose any of their ways;
32 for the perverse are an abomination to the Lord,
but the upright are in God’s confidence.
- Here’s an “upright” youngster, so deeply beloved. Every child is loved by Grandmother God as much as this little blond and blue eyed munchkin is. In this picture Frankie’s casting a shadow over her great-grandfather’s grave, a symbol of the brevity of our time on earth. While we’re here, standing in the sun shining on our homes, our homeland, may we be compassionate and hospitable. May we build a society, a homeland, that reflects our spiritual journey on this earth and leaves our homeland better than we found it. We are still building the home we inhabit, a place where God dreams of peace and security for all. “God blesses the abode of the righteous,” the scripture says. May it be so.
 Andrews, Valerie quoted in Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life Frederic & Mary Ann Brussat, ed. New York: Touchstone, 1996, p. 107, 110
 Sanders, Scott Russell quoted in Ibid. p. 95