Sunday May 5th – Claim

Debbie and I are blessed in oh so many ways. We have found each other, which is no mean trick to judge from the number of advertisements for the online matchmaking services. Don’t they sometimes make you wonder how anybody ever got together before without being perfectly matched on twenty nine scientifically determined characteristics? After that we stayed together long enough to be blessed with a lovely daughter in whom we have invested much love and have reaped some pretty good rewards.

We have been blessed to live in a country as bountiful as this one, a place that taught us to aspire to things like Justice and Liberty and other words that look good when you carve them into marble. We have families that taught us things; Debbie had a church growing up that taught her things. we had good educations, fine colleges to go to, and we have been called to live here in Sonoma County and let me tell you how much better that is, how great a blessing it is to not have been called to Fresno where it is really, truly far too hot for us to be happy.

And we are blessed to have been able to buy the house that we live in and have Audrey Gerard as our neighbor.

No kidding, some of our blessings are just that specific. Audrey is one of them.

Because we have the best neighbor in the whole wide world. And, strikingly enough, according to her, so does she!

We just get along. We have complimentary attitudes on a wide range of issues, we have fun in each others company and we have mutual concern for each other’s well-being. It has been great to be her neighbor and I hope that it is a situation that continues for many, many years.

One of the unique facets of the relationship is, however, that we have been encouraged to treat Audrey’s two spare bedrooms as if they were in our own home when it comes to having guests. We have been heard to say, on a number of occasions, “Yeah, you should come and visit us, you can stay at Audrey’s!” without so much as consulting with Audrey first because that is what we have been encouraged to do by Audrey.

Some of the thanks for that goes out to you guys. None of the friends we have invited thus far has been terrible, or even a little off putting, mostly family and the like and Audrey has liked them all and that has given her the confidence to trust that we have nice friends and she’d probably like them anyway.

But it is not a normal, everyday kind of love that she shows for her neighbors in this way. It is exceptional, especially in this day and age when few of us have close bonds with the people who live closest to us. We have our interior lives, with our televisions and our iPods and tablets and all of the other devices that allow us to lose ourselves in worlds that we design for ourselves and so we spend less time in the company of those people who share only physical proximity to us.

It allows us to live our own lives, rather than being asked to live as a part of theirs as well, and who wants that?

Except that when you are a part of someone else’s life, when you know and love your neighbors, even the occasionally unlovable and certainly unlovely, then when you suffer, they bring soup, or flowers, or comfort. When you celebrate, they bring cake or a nice bottle of wine. When they see you taking your groceries out of the car, they come and lend a hand. When they see you sitting on your front porch, working on your hanging flower baskets, they come over and talk, about the weather, about the government, about whatever.

You many never have to host them I your own home, or host one of their friends the way that Audrey has opened her life and home to us, but still, you have made a place in your home for them, they are a part of your life and home and you are changed forever by that. Not always for the better, but usually, typically, we are rewarded when we open ourselves up, at the very least we learn something, at the very best, you get to live next door to Audrey.

Jesus makes the promise in this morning’s gospel which is not to be lightly dismissed as an abstraction. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” He says, and we are to be forgive if we think that He means that in anything other that a real and concrete way, after all, some of us do not have a spare bedroom for the Lord, or for anyone for that matter.

This is all in the context of Jesus trying to calm the fears and worries of the disciples before he is betrayed. Yeah, I know it’s kind of a sneaky move, the lectionary spending its time after Easter with scriptures of Jesus coming back and giving final instructions to the disciples and then sneaking this one piece in, from before the crucifixion, but it tells the same story, of Jesus telling them and us how it will be when he has gone on to the Father and how it will be with the Holy Spirit among them.

The ones who love Him will keep His word, and His Father will love them, and they will come to them and make their home with them. But I do not suppose that what Jesus means is that they will need new bedroom to be built, maybe over the garage. But what I do suppose is that, much like having a houseguest, or a neighbor that you know well, it will be a transformative event for you, no ordinary hotel stay, but a life-changing, soul shaking change in your life.

Because it makes a claim on you. Doesn’t it? Having even a mortal houseguest makes a claim on you. Audrey has declared herself open to having that claim made upon her on our behalf and that is a great blessing. But in order to have someone stay with you, you have to make adjustments to how you live, when your bathroom or shower are available, lots of things.

You are their host. In many cultures throughout the world that is a special kind of responsibility. Hosting is protection and food and healing for those whom you accept as your guests, you become responsible for them, they make a claim on your hospitality and you have an obligation to fulfill.

Maybe that’s why we seem to do it less nowadays. We don’t want the entanglements.

Is that what it means, what Jesus means when he promises that He and the Father will come and make their home with you? Are you responsible for them now?

That’s the difference, to me at least. When Jesus says, “we will make our home with them” He is not saying that they will be needing a guest bedroom, or some time in the shower, a portion of the hot water, or anything like that.

Jesus and God will make their home with us, by making our home with us. As we build the home, they will be with us, in each decision that we make, they will be present. They will be present in our children and in our work and in our barbeque and in our sleeping. Their home will be with us.

If we keep Jesus’ words, says the Gospel.

Which is way more like a threat than I’d like my savior to speak because the other end of that sentence would then read, “those who do not love me do not keep my words and the Father and I will withdraw from them, and dwell elsewhere.”

But it does not say that. It does say that those who do not love Him do not keep His words but it stops there.  It stops there because making their home with us is not simply the reward for keeping Jesus’ words, we’d be hard pressed to ever have the Lord dwelling with us then, I myself have likely as not kept Jesus words about six or so times in the past year, and only fleetingly, and only in part, and maybe I’d better not brag about it at all.

Making their home with us is also how we keep Jesus’ words. We hear the words and we know that they are right and salutary, righteous and true and we cast our lot with Jesus and Jesus and God the Father dwell with us and we are reminded; reminded again and again, when we are working, and when we are playing, and when we are barbecuing and when we are sleeping, the Holy Spirit reminds us of all truth, of Jesus words. From Jesus dwelling with us the Holy Spirit is never far away, with Jesus words at the ready, waiting to speak for us when our own tongues fail, waiting to guide our feet onto the paths of righteousness, ready to remind us of all that Jesus said.

It is self-reinforcing. It is grace from God. It is the calling of the disciple of Christ.

Plus, it’s not like God has to make a special place in our lives, in our homes in which to dwell. From the very beginning, that place has always been there and God has been trying to dwell with us all along.

All we need to do is recognize that fact. Surrender to the notion that god has been seeking to dwell with you since long before you ever knew what that meant. Love the God who sought you out over the vast gulf between life and death, between heaven and earth and you will find that Jesus is dwelling with you and the words that He spoke will sing in your ears and you will never be the same.

It will still make a claim on you, however. You may not need to make a space for the Lord in the morning’s bathroom schedule, or make an additional couple of scrambled eggs in order to feed the Lord, but you may be called upon to go somewhere you never thought you would. You may be called to love someone uniquely unlovely. You certainly will be called upon to trust the voice of the Spirit.

Because that voice, the voice of the Spirit of God? The promised Advocate is not just going to whisper sweet nothings into your ear, the words of Jesus that say how beloved you are, and how saved you are, and how the Kingdom of God is open to you.

The words we are asked to love are also the ones that say “when your child asks for bread, you must not given them a stone” and “sell everything you own and give to the poor” and “follow me” knowing full well that he was going to the cross. They might not say “cross over to Macedonia” but they may well say “seek justice for the sojourners in your land, have pity and love them” or heaven forbid “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Having God the Father making their home with you, loving Jesus words and having the Holy Spirit as your Advocate are all conditions that speak to openness, the way that Lydia’s heart was opened to hear the word, and that is a vulnerability.

But like Audrey has enriched our lives by being our neighbor, and we do hope that hers has been enriched by us as well, none of that would have happened if we were not willing to open ourselves a little, be vulnerable a little and learn to love each other.

That is the Lord and God the Father dwelling within us and the Holy Spirit reminding us daily that while we are the children of God, we are still children, and there are still lessons for us to learn. Surrender to the knowledge that god is already with you and you will find the Lord everywhere, in all that you do and you will be reminded of His words, and they will be your treasure as well as your power.

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