Welcome home

RCL Year A, 5 Easter

When I was a child I used to love watching Mister Rogers. I’d settle in in front of the TV and there would come Fred Rogers, walking cheerfully in the door singing his song, ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…’ And he would greet me with a smile and a kind voice, as he took off his jacket and his shoes and slipped into his house sweater and comfy sneakers. I loved this, partly because when my own dad came home a little later, he would also take off his jacket and tie – back when men still wore such things to work – and put on his soft old cardigan with the holes in the elbows (and pour himself a drink of cheap Scotch and water). It meant that everything was ok, we were all home and dinner was about to be served and I was safe. I still think about this when I come home myself – nearly always the first thing I do is go exchange my shoes for my slippers, the ones my husband hates, and I wash my hands (a habit left over from New York) and I am home. (No Scotch and water, but maybe a beer sometimes.)

Today we have the pleasure of welcoming new people to our home here, new members to our congregation. They’ve been here long enough that we think we need to make it official, committing ourselves to them as they commit themselves to us. Welcome. As the saying goes, mi casa – nuestra casa – es su casa. Literally. This house belongs to all of us together.

That’s the message I think Jesus is giving his disciples today too: Mi casa es su casa. We often read this gospel at memorial services, implying that the Father’s house with all the mansions in it is heaven, the place we all hope to get to when we die. That’s one interpretation, and it is what we need to hear at a funeral. But I think Jesus is talking about more than what will happen after we die. The Father’s house is his image for the relationship between Jesus and God. And the other scriptures we have today talk of houses too in this metaphorical way, that God is a castle to keep us safe, a stronghold; that we are living stones built up together into a spiritual house. God is our house, we are a house for God, we are invited into the house Jesus and God live in together. It’s not a place with a street address, but home, the experience of truly being at home.

When we are at home, whether we take off our shoes or not, we let down our guard. We can be ourselves without worrying about what others think about us. We eat and sleep, being nourished and rested from our labors out in the world. Our most cherished possessions are there; our favorite people are there. We are safe, in that way that we all need to feel safe and secure. That’s the ideal of home, and hopefully something like it is what you experience at home in your life now.

That’s the kind of home Jesus is inviting us into as well. Come into my Father’s house, he is saying – there are plenty of rooms, there is plenty of space. Come into the experience of love and intimacy that is at the heart of God, between God the Father and Jesus his son. Come and find rest and be nourished; be yourself completely; find your treasure here.

But it’s a home that isn’t only located in one place. Being in this home doesn’t require that all our external circumstances are familiar. Some of you in this congregation are learning this right now as you literally change your external houses, moving from the houses you have lived in for years. Although you miss the particulars of your house, the view and the way the light came in and the corner where you sat, you are able to be at home in a new place as well. You still have the important relationships you had before, you keep your most treasured things, and you are able to be at home elsewhere – wherever you go, there you are.

So too, not everything has to be perfect or just the way we’d like it around us for us to find our home with God – practicing prayer, the awareness of God, can happen in line at the grocery store, or in a hospital bed, or in traffic. We are invited into God’s home, and to ourselves be a home for God, in every situation, here and now. God is always wanting to nourish and feed us, to touch us in the deepest level of our being, no matter where we are.

Which means also that we can carry God’s love, that experience of being at home, to others wherever we go. At the end of Mister Rogers’ show, he would go back to the landing by the door. He would take off his sneakers and put on his dress shoes, change his cardigan for his jacket, and say goodbye as he went out the door, back out into his neighborhood to live out the things he had been teaching us for half an hour. But I imagine him out there with that same kind smile and greeting for everyone – and from all the stories about Fred Rogers, that does seem to be how he really was – making everyone feel at home when they met him. There’s a lot of space in this house, Jesus says. A lot of room to invite everyone in, sharing the love that is more than enough to go around. We might not wear our sweatpants and slippers everywhere, but we can still let down our guard. We can talk about what is real. We can reach out to others who are isolated or in pain and speak words of deep love and comfort to them. And we can work to make sure that everyone really does have a home to live in that is as safe as the one we have – taking action towards that for our neighbors close by and around the world.

Being at home doesn’t mean walling ourselves off, in other words, rolling down the garage door and hiding from the world. Being at home in God means allowing ourselves to be nourished in prayer and love, from God and through other people. And then offering that love out ourselves in ways that help others to be at home as well. This week, I invite you to do just that: think of someone who needs that experience of home – someone you know who is lonely or homesick, or someone you don’t know who lacks a safe home, and needs your help. Let what Jesus says be true for you – trust there to be enough room, enough to go around, for you to share with them of your time or your treasure or your skill. Do what you can to make them at home. Mi casa es su casa. Be welcome here in the heart of God. Amen.