We
heard in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Epistle today references to one of the foundational stories for three major world religions.

Abram
and Sarai began their journey in the land of Ur. They travel around a lot in the book of Genesis leading us through all sorts of stories, and eventually they arrive in the land of Canaan. The main theme of God’s promise to Abram is that Abram will be blessed
with children, which is surprising because he and Sarai have not been able to have any. The promise God makes is not just a promise of children, but so many descendants that they will become a great nation. Over and over God makes this promise to them. Sarai
even gets a little tired of hearing it. She hears this promise for the umpteenth time and accidentally laughs out loud because she believes she is too old to have any children, much less to have a great nation come of her and Abram’s descendants.

But
Abram and Sarai, now Abraham and Sarah, are blessed with a child, Isaac. Isaac and Rebecca’s children were Esau and Jacob, and Jacob will be renamed Israel. With his wives Rachel and Leah they give birth to the twelve tribes of Israel who will go on a long
journey through slavery in Egypt and wilderness in Exodus before returning to Canaan. Canaan will become the land of Israel, and it will be a promised land and home. Just before our Genesis passage today, God tells Abraham that it will take 400 years and
four generations of living away before the long-awaited gift of home will be found. There will be a blessing, but it is not going to be instant.

The
theme of faithfully searching for home is not unique to Genesis. Over and over again in the story of the people of God, there is a theme of searching, of waiting, of looking for return; of longing for home and of having faith in restoration. Over and over
again, there is exile and return in the Hebrew Scriptures; there is a sense of looking for a way home.

The
author of Hebrews points out how much faith it took for Abraham and Sarah to persist into having Isaac, and then for Jacob and his descendants to endure during many long years away to find home again; the faith required to continue “seeking a homeland,” “desiring
a better country.” It is easy to fall into despair while looking for home, and some Psalms remember that too. Psalm 137 laments the challenges of being unable to experience joy while being cutoff from home; of being unable to sing the Lord’s song while not
being close to God’s temple: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

I
have to say it has been interesting to think about these themes during this week, as we prepared to leave our administrative offices and be in some transition for the next several years, although we will have a temporary home in the basement of the Great Hall.
I don’t know if coming home to the new building will be quite as big a deal as crossing the Jordan to return to the promised land, but this week it has felt a little like that scale of celebration would not be out of order when we get there.

But
while the church buildings are a wonderful luxury and important to our faith life, they are not our real home. We call this place a nave, a term whose origin means ship, similar to navy or naval. Many times the roof of a nave is designed to look like the
bottom of a boat. And that is because the church is not our home, it is a vessel. We are on a journey; a journey together. We are wanderers in a foreign land; we are seeking together the kingdom of God.

We
wander in a land now beset by gun violence, where killers perpetuate mass murder, sometimes based on racial hatred. This land- not just this nation but this world- is divided by flames of rhetoric designed to titillate and tear apart. We wander in a land
where governments divide children from their parents, where the dignity of humanity is trampled while children weep and parents angst.

How
can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land like this?

We
think the answer is to get busy. If we just work hard enough, things will be better. Of course there is work that needs to be done. I wonder sometimes, though, if busy-ness can be a response to our Puritan work ethic to help us
feel
like we are doing something productive. How can we measure if we are creating an actual and effective response that changes the systems, powers, and provinces that generate alienation? Sometimes it feels to me that our busy-ness just plays right into the
polarization that already exists; it feeds the same hungry machine that will only take and leave us empty.

The
gospel today says: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The kingdom, the home we seek, it is a
gift.
It is not something we accomplish by working harder. Remember that old bumper sticker: “Jesus is coming, look busy!” That is the opposite of what this gospel says. The kingdom is a gift. It is not only a gift, but it is God’s good pleasure to make it a
gift.

What
is this home for all of creation as we understand it as people of God? How can we see what we are looking for in the midst of all this… stuff out there, and what it does to us in here?

There
are the old stories of the kingdom of heaven, and streets paved with gold, of course. Those images may have made sense when they originated. They do not resonate for me in this time and in this foreign land where gold can be a sign of excess rather than hope.

A
quote from Kenneth Kaunda resonated with me this week: “Let the west have its technology, and Asia its mysticism! Africa’s gift to world culture must be the gift of human relationships.”

Being
aware that it is very easy to unintentionally appropriate another’s culture when trying to understand or communicate from outside of it, I wonder if two African terms might inspire us in our culture to consider what the kingdom of God, or home, might look
like.

The
first is the word Ubuntu, which has been widely used around the church. Ubuntu means roughly “I am because we are.” The spirit of Ubuntu helps us to understand that we can only arrive home when we all arrive there together; that our humanity exists not individually
but because we all share in something together. It helps us see that acting cooperatively is not simply a moral goal. Acting cooperatively has its own beauty, and grace— aside from the ethical imperative us progressives like to use as justification for it.
Going home to Ubuntu, where “we are,” is less about what is right, perhaps, than it is about the flourishing of all in a beautiful and harmonious dance.

The
second is a Zulu concept: ekhaya. It means home, but not to place as much to people. It is neighborhood; community; and the longing to be a part of that. Perhaps it is a longing to be a part of a shared space where one regularly receives explicit messages
of empathy, sharing, and belonging.

My
idea of home; of the kingdom of God; is something very akin to ubuntu and ekhaya: it is a people, not a place; it is a web of interconnected relationships; maintaining individuality but building community with empathy and compassion. It is a safe space where
the priority emotional messages are said out loud: You are important. I understand. I may not agree with you but I want to be in relationship with you.

If
it is God’s good gift to give it to us, how do we prepare together on this journey of faith to receive it? If it is a gift, shall we just sit back and do nothing? That defies a little common sense, too.

Occasionally
we receive really large, generous gifts at the Cathedral. The floors in the Cathedral, the AV system, and so forth. When we do, we receive them gratefully. And we have work to do to get prepared; scheduling the space for work, ensuring the specifications
are correct, and so forth. Being prepared to receive those gifts in gratitude is an important element of our stewardship of those gifts. Jesus in this gospel says that preparing for the gift of home yields surprising results. In the story he tells he compares
it to servants who prepare and then have a role reversal- their master, finding them prepared, turns the tables and serves the servants instead of expecting to be served. Surprises are in store if we prepare for home.

Could
preparation for home then, involve looking at the world in a new way? We have preparations to make. But I wonder if preparing for the journey home is less about how busy we can make ourselves, but more about how we can adjust our orientation; less about how
much responsibility we can put on our shoulders to accomplish tasks than it is about how we can open our eyes to see and hear in new ways. How do we connect with each other to share strategies of hope and connection? How will we prepare for a gift that is
unseen, requiring faith in a way of being that is strange to this foreign land?

Do
not be afraid, flock of the great shepherd. It is your Father’s good pleasure to lead you home.


The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Proper 14C, August 11, 2019
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Gen 15:1-6, Heb 11:1-3,8-16; Lk 12:32-40


Sources
Consulted:

Feasting
on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3.
Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.

http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222017000400003#back_fn2

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