When I think about my late grandfather, images of him come quickly and vividly to my mind. I see him sitting on the front porch of my grandparent’s home – surrounded by potted annuals – a cigarette between his fingers and an ashtray on the table beside him. I see him on another occasion leaning over me on that front porch as I painted the floor in typical front porch grey – he was a housepainter by trade, so there was advice concerning my technique. I remember him standing at his painting easel, also. If he was a house painter by trade, he was an artist at heart. I see him walking through the greenhouses that he and my two uncles owned and operated together, never doing much better than breaking even. I remember sitting beside him on his hospital bed, thin and weak, not too many days before he died.
My grandparents immigrated to Canada from The Netherlands, with many others, in the post World War II context. In 1951 they came as a family, my mom a 14 –year-old young woman at the time.
Whenever I think about my grandfather – whenever I think about his life and identity – there are so many rich memories. But when I think about him today I also do so in the light of words spoken about him at his funeral in 1989 – words spoken by my dad at that time. An important aspect of my grandfather’s life and identity was that he was never really at home here in Canada. From these shores he looked back on his life in The Netherlands, and there was so much he missed:
He missed his friends, with whom he put on plays as a youth and played checkers as an adult.
He missed being surrounded by the sounds of his language.
He missed the Dutch culture, and the familiarity of his hometown.
For him there was large gap in his life here… But even when he travelled back to The Netherlands, he wasn’t at home there, either. His children grandchildren were here; his culture and language and memories were there. He wasn’t really at home in either place – and he felt it.
Most of us have, at some point, had the experience of being at home. Most of us have had that experience of being surrounded by the familiar,
that experience of being loved,
of feeling protected and safe,
of purposeful living in a particular place.
It is quite something to realize and be confronted with the fact that someone we know and love has spent so many years not feeling at home. There is a certain grief in knowing that in some real sense my grandfather lost the experience and reality of home in the years he was in this country.
But perhaps that loss of home is also a familiar experience for us. Yes, we have had the experience of being at home – we have had that experiencing of dwelling comfortably with the familiar – yet most of us know what it is like to have the experience of home slipping through our fingers.
What does it mean to be at home when the children who made it a home have moved on to their own lives?
What does it mean to be at home when your husband or wife begins to change, and you discover they aren’t who they once were, or who you thought they were?
What does it mean to be at home when the culture around you has changed dramatically – when the music and aesthetics and values of the surrounding culture are no longer familiar and meaningful?
Most of us have had that experience of being at home, yet most of us know very well the parallel experience of not being at home.
The idea of home carries with it a feeling of nostalgia. The very idea of home carries with it a longing for something that we don’t have right now. It carries with it an almost visceral longing for an experience of belonging – an experience that seems always just beyond our grasp. The idea of “home” is like the idea of horizon – it is there; it is always there; and yet by definition it also always recedes into the distance – we move toward it, and yet it remains at a distance from us. The notion of home carries with it a sense of longing for home.
In our reading from John’s gospel today, the notion of home is important. In some ways it’s a complicated little passage we have read – a passage that draws different of Jesus’ words and thoughts together in a way that’s a little difficult.
The passage begins with Jesus talking about the fact that he is going to his Father – with Jesus talking about the fact that he is going to God’s house to prepare a place for his disciples. Jesus is saying that within the house of God – in the presence of the God of covenant and creation – there will be a place, space for all of his disciples. One day we will be at home with God, and with his Son. In other words our lives have a goal; our lives have some meaningful end; and the goal or end or our lives is to ultimately be at home with God and with Jesus.
This suggestion of Jesus causes a problem for Thomas and causes a problem for Phillip – neither one of them is terribly satisfied with what Jesus is saying.
Perhaps you’ll remember how Thomas expresses his concern. He says: We don’t know how to get there, Jesus. You say we’re going there, but we don’t know the way.
But this morning we want to focus on the problem that Phillip sees. Phillip expresses his problem this way: Jesus, can’t you just give us a glimpse now? Do we really have to wait? Can’t you show us God’s face now; can’t you show us right now what it means to be at home with God – to dwell with God – to see God’s face.
In the questions of both Thomas and Phillip – but particularly in the question of Phillip – we discover a certain tension in the life we live with Christ.
At my grandfather’s funeral, my dad didn’t only point out that my grandfather was never at home again after immigrating; after leaving Holland behind. He also pointed out that my grandfather’s faith played a role in his response to this. Gerrit Baak, my grandfather, understood his life in Canada, in some sense, as a call of God. For his family and his children, he felt they had been called to a new and different place. And although he would never be fully at home in this new country, or perhaps because he would never be fully at home here, he offered this prayer to God: “Not my will, but yours be done.” Those words, in fact, are on his gravestone.
Gerrit Baak understood that listening to the voice of God sometimes means not experiencing home in the ways we might like. As with missionaries who experience the call of God to go to some other country or culture; or like anyone whose faithful exercise of their vocation calls them away from home; there is a sense that when we are faithful to Christ, we may not get to experience home in the way we wish. And the appropriate response in such a situation, to such an experience of loss, is to offer that difficult prayer: “Lord, not my will, but yours be done.”
Lord, not my comfort, but your kingdom.
Not my plans, but your purpose.
Not my rest, but your requirement.
Not my leisure, but your love.
This all fits very well with the call of Jesus.
Leave behind your nets; come and follow me.
Let your dead bury their own dead; come and follow me.
Your family will survive without you; come and follow me.
Sell everything you have, leave your home, and come follow me.
Phillip wants to see God’s face, now. Phillip wants to be at home in the presence of God, now. Phillip wants the deep assurance of being with God now. He wants that experience of home.
Phillip, in a way is like Peter at the transfiguration of Jesus. Do you remember what Peter said there on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus and Elijah and Moses? He said: “Let’s set up tents and stay here.” Peter, too, wanted to bask in the moment of glory; in the presence of God; in being at home with God.
As disciples of Jesus, as those who long for the experience of home, for some real taste of home – we simply have to wait. To use language of the Apostle Paul: “For now we see only dimly as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Peter wanted to set up a home with God on the mountain.
Phillip wanted to see God’s face, now.
But in each case there is a sense that they must wait.
“I go to prepare a place. You must wait. You aren’t home yet.”
Having said all of this:
Having said: Lord, your will, not mine be done.
Having said: We must wait to see the face of God.
Having said: We walk by faith, not by sight.
Having said: We see now in a mirror dimly.
Having said: We aren’t home yet.
Having said all of that, Jesus adds another word: “Phillip, don’t you get it. Phillip, how many times do I have to repeat it?”
Or maybe it is equally the gospel writer John, saying to his particular community of Jesus-followers: “My sisters and brothers, don’t you get it? My sisters and brothers, how many times do I have to repeat it?”
Here are the words of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel: “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak of my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe in me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
Here we have the other side of this tension. The disciples want to know the presence of God; they want to be at home with God; they want to see the face of God, now. What they continually forget, is that being in the presence of Jesus means being at home with God.
Yes, we wait for that dwelling place; yes we wait to be at home; yet in another sense we do not have to wait. The impulse that drives our spiritual lives is not only an impulse that drives us toward some full and future encounter with God – rather the impulse that drives our spiritual lives is an impulse that seeks Christ now – because with him we are at home.
As we saw last week, Jesus is identified as the good shepherd. The women and men of John’s community have experienced him as one who calls and leads and protects and strengthens – as one who calls them by name. In his presence, with him, we are at home with the God who gives abundant life.
Again, in some sense we have to wait for the final and full experience of home. Yet in Christ there is an experience of being at home that does not wait – an experience of being at home that is now – an experience of being at home that comforts and strengthens and gives purpose and joy, today.
When we spend time in prayer, we are at home with Christ and in the world.
When we gather at his table, we are at home with Christ and in the world.
When we live in his compassion, we are at home with Christ and in the world.
When we seek his justice, we are at home with Christ and in the world.
When we offer our gifts to him, we are at home with Christ and in the world.
When we care for creation, we are at home with Christ and in the world.
Sometimes in the middle of our day or the middle of our week, no matter where we are or who we are with, we may experience that longing for home – for comfort and familiarity and belonging and love. It is appropriate to dwell with that longing and that grief, not pushing it aside, as we await a full experience of God’s presence.
Yet in such moments we may also open our hearts and minds and lives to Jesus in prayer – the one who calls us by name and calls us to his way. The one with whom we are always at home, who always makes us at home with himself along his journey.
And now to the one God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, now and always. Amen.