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Welcome home ya’ all. Welcome home to our congregation at a time in our world where we aren’t so sure if we even want to be home. Leave aside the fear of our current state of the world, and be reminded of a moment of all those who have lost their homes, those in Texas, in the Caribbean and in Florida, those, mostly poor who have nowhere else to go. Or the fear that the Dreamers, those children who were brought here without documentation don’t even know if this country is their home anymore. Home, whether it is physical or theological can change in a heartbeat.
We come out of many singular rooms, over branching streets to arrive at this place, not only from our journeys as varied as they have been but from the many places in life. We have flowed down over rocks, through dangerous rapids, and through becalmed waters, deep and dark into this basin, this church, this sanctuary and this time. Some of you have come from relationships just ended, shattered and searching for something or should I say someone new, and you are home. Some of you have come here having lost a loved to death and are aching for the waters of life that will restore you and you are home. Some of you are struggling now with a disease, an emotion, a trouble, unable to simply stand but you are here and you are home. Some of us come here with joy and expectation having been away and yearning for that warm familiarity that our church community brings and it feels good to be home. And some of you are here for the first time wondering what this place is, who these people are, and how you can ever fit in dealing with the unanswered questions, the hardened doubts, the numbing mediocrity. I would venture to say even you are home.
But being welcomed home is more than a place. Most often I have found that what welcomes us home is how we see the changing nature of our lives. And often not of our own choosing. More often than not I have journeyed with people who have had an illness, a destroyed relationship, a job loss, or death, completely change their sense of who they are; suddenly no longer feeling welcome in your own skin. Who here hasn’t felt that happen to them?
My home, spiritual and otherwise has changed often in my life. Up until a few years ago, as most of you know, I lived in California. In Los Angeles, public pools don’t have lifeguards—[they] have life coaches. If they see you struggling in the water, they say, “Are you happy with the decisions you’re making?” and give you a pamphlet for a yoga studio.
The Buddhist Teacher Tara Brach tells the story of another Buddhist teacher in California, renowned for his wisdom and practice, who suddenly found himself forgetting things, where he was, what he was doing, even who he was. Early dementia. The first time this became serious for him was at a retreat he was leading. He arrived late, because he had forgotten how to get there. Once there he found over a hundred of his students sitting on cushions expectantly waiting for him to impart his wisdom, he climbed up on the dais, sat down and his mind went totally blank. He was panicking, his hands were sweating and everyone was staring at him. And then he did the only thing he could think of. He put his hands together, bowed his head slightly and with eyes closed started naming what he was feeling, “scared, anxious, confused, embarrassed” and as he named these feelings he began to relax and his memory started to return “calmer, teacher, students, dharma, here, now”. Finally, he was centered enough to open his eyes and continue his teaching. As he spoke, he noticed that almost all his students had been crying. (From Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach)
The teacher’s willingness to welcome what he was feeling both negatively and positively allowed him to be at home in his own body in the midst of great fear. Many of his students said that they had never experienced the teaching of mindfulness as fully as that before. Buddhist training is ultimately about welcoming yourself to what is home for you. And in welcoming the fearful and painful into your home, they cease to have power over you.
It is my hope that we will live into our own selves individually and collectively this year. To learn to name and accept that which has wounded us and in that naming to imagine a better life, a better congregation. To welcome the stranger into our midst, whether someone new or that which we would rather not face in our own lives. This is the calling home I think really matters to us here today. In the words of G.K. Chesterton: To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.
I would hazard a guess and say that most of us want our hearts to feel at home more than even our comforts. By journeying in and journey out, we journey, towards a vague but compelling sense of wholeness with ourselves. Christians call this atonement at one ment with God/Spirit/All that which permeates all life. The vital truth is that going home is not about where you end up so much as that you get there.
It is good to be back together again.