This is a sermon I wrote some time ago, but seems pertinent in this no good week of very bad news. Prayers to all in the midst of the tragedies.
1st Samuel 15:34 to 16:13
2nd Corinthians 4:16-5:17
I am a home body. I am perfectly happy to be surrounded by my family, my friends, four walls and my stuff. You should know, that as a child, my favorite place to be was home. I didn’t like to travel.
But when I was in first grade, my family drove from Spokane, WA to San Diego, CA to visit family. While much of my childhood is lost to the fog of history, I remember amazing details of this trip. In San Diego, my family went on a day trip to Tijuana, on the border with Mexico. I’m sure they had a delightful day there. But I threw a fit and refused to go.
They were unable to convince me or physically place me in a car for the trip, so my grandmother and I spent the day in my aunt and uncle’s house. I had a boring day. Me and grandma in an empty house. They had a fabulous day. I knew they would. But I still couldn’t bring myself to go somewhere I thought would be dangerous. If I couldn’t be at my home, I could at least stay in my home country. Had I even heard of Mexican jails at age 7?
Ever since that experience, I have continued to struggle with my fear of leaving home. Some times I win. Some times I lose. In college, I left home. I went all the way to Texas—talk about a foreign country. But I refused to consider studying abroad—too scary.
I think one of the many, many reasons I married my husband is because he is not as tied down to the physical nature of “home” that I am. I grew up in one home until I went to college. My parents still live there. Justin’s family moved every couple of years—to live in different places, see new areas, get new jobs. Home for me was my parent’s house. Home for Justin was where ever his family happened to be. He is perfectly content to have just what he can carry on his back. Everything else is just stuff for him. I admire that. I’m slightly horrified by it.
What is home for you? How closely does this world claim you as your home?
In our Old Testament passage today, the prophet Samuel is at his home, grieving for Saul. And then God calls. “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
God calls. And, amazingly, Samuel does not hang up the phone. He talks back. He argues with God. “You know that is a crazy idea, don’t you? You know that it is dangerous out there? And God, you may have rejected Saul as king, but he is still sitting on a throne, commanding an army. How wise, is it, for me to anoint a new king? And anyway, didn’t Saul just teach us both that this king business was regrettable. I believe those were your words?”
God reveals the Divine plan to Samuel and Samuel leaves home and sets out on his journey. After seven of Jesse’s sons are paraded before Samuel, the King for whom Israel has been waiting is revealed. We meet David for the first time. Samuel anoints him, the king God has chosen for God self. The spirit of God comes upon David.
And then Samuel goes home to Ramah. That’s my boy—go home as soon as possible. He doesn’t even stick around for the reception. But Samuel, by trusting God’s word, leaving his home and venturing into Bethlehem, is a witness to God’s revealing of Israel’s ultimate king.
Because once David arrives on the scene of Israel’s story, things are not the same. Israel ceases to be a backwoods nation and becomes a military and political power—or at least a legend in their own minds if not in the historical record. David is whom they have been waiting for. The whole narrative has been building toward David and it is David upon whom they will look back and remember.
Like Samuel, Paul receives a revelation as well. His revelation, however, is in Jesus Christ, crucified. For Paul, once you receive this revelation, you can no longer see things the way you did before. Your vision is changed. Your understanding of the world is changed.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East. I was very excited about this trip. I knew it would enrich my education and my ministry. I knew it would give me a geography to go with the stories of the Bible. It would give me opportunities to meet people. To eat with Muslims, Jews, Coptic Christians. To lounge on the beach on a Greek island.
But no matter how I define “home”, the Middle East was not it. Every thing foreign. Every thing scary. Every thing different, is the Middle East. It is not my home. It is not where my family is.
And for a month or so before the trip, I had trouble sleeping. It started when I went on a weekend trip. I was excited to go to my friend’s wedding, but I didn’t want to leave home. I was going to miss soccer games and other family moments. I didn’t sleep well that weekend, but attributed it to jet lag. Same thing for the first few days after I got home.
I figured that eventually I would sleep. Then, about two weeks into my sleeplessness, I took a psychological profile exam required by my denomination for ordination. One of the questions was “Do you ever have trouble falling asleep?” After two weeks of not sleeping, I still managed to honestly answer that question, “no.”
But later, I thought about it. Because I am normally the girl who is asleep the minute her head hits the pillow. And I wondered, “why am I not sleeping?”
And, in a moment of horrifying clarity, I realized that as excited as I was about the upcoming trip during the day, by night I worried about it. I was terrified that I might end up in the middle of world politics and I might not ever see my family again.
And in the midst of my anxiety and worry, I read this passage from Paul. And I felt a peace come over me that I cannot describe with words. That night, for the first time in weeks, I slept.
“So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith and not by sight…”
When we try to order our worlds by the things we can see and touch, we are unable to trust in God’s ability to order our world.
Like Samuel, we question God’s call to walk away from the fortress in which we protect ourselves and call home and we remind God of the dangers out there, suggesting perhaps that God doesn’t already know about this world.
When I first encountered the text from 2nd Corinthians, before my anxiety had surfaced, I must confess that I dismissed it. I read Paul’s words about wishing we were with God and away from our bodies and thought, ‘speak for yourself, Paul.’ Maybe someday. But I have no immediate desires to leave this earth. Quite frankly, I wondered just what kind of weirdos the Corinthians were that Paul would have to remind them to live their lives.
I do not know what the situation was in Corinth in the first century. I am not sure why Paul wrote them that letter. But I do know that when I read that passage from a moment of pain and great anxiety, it saved me. In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
In this passage, Paul sets up a dichotomy between God’s eternity, which cannot be seen, and our mortal existence, which we can see, touch, and hold. Interestingly, all of the descriptions of permanence, weightiness and stability belong to God’s realm, which our society would describe as ‘ethereal’. He says that this world is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. Eternal weight of glory. Also, God is making us a building “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” while we live in here on earth in a flimsy tent.
What the revelation of Christ, crucified does is change where we place our permanence. The world tells us we are “safe” when we take proper precautions. When we lock our doors. When we stay home. But Christ, crucified tells us that is not the point. Because this world is not our home.
We who have received the revelation of Christ, crucified no longer place our security in the powers of this world. Sure, I still will wear my seatbelt and look both ways before I cross the street, but I am no longer under the illusion that any power of this age is my protection or my home. I was hit with anxiety because, in my attempt to keep myself and family safe, I was crashing into the reality that I am not in control. I cannot keep myself safe. I cannot keep my kids safe. I cannot control world politics.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians reminded me how this is good news, and not reason for anxiety. My attempts at control only end in anxiety and frustration—it is like trying to keep sand from falling through your fingers.
Trusting in God’s control, on the other hand, allows me to leave my home. Allows me to venture into God’s beautiful world and know that God is in control. My life, the lives of my children and family, the world– are all resting in a home not made with hands.
Thanks be to God.