Monday, September 26, 2022

Heading Home


Luke 16:19-31

Proper 21 / Year C

I am trying to get my head around the fact two weeks from today I will be crossing from Portugal into Spain… on foot!  This will be the third pilgrimage I make with friends from our diocese and it has been three years in the offing; postponed in 2020 and 2021 by the pandemic.  On previous pilgrimages I have learned how, in this age of interstate highways, jet planes, and space travel, we humans are still hardwired to engage the world at a walking pace.  Anything more than this, while efficient, is not natural to who we are.  So I look forward to being with friends and living for nine days at a speed for which we all are ideally suited. 

I am not looking forward to the process of getting to Portugal or returning home.  Maybe it is due to limited travel since the onset of Covid, or maybe I am just getting old and set in my ways, but the flight itinerary – along with getting to Dulles Airport and going through customs – feels daunting.  There is a part of me that just wants to stay home.

We get why Laura Ingalls Wilder held “home is the nicest word there is.”  And now, with the days getting shorter, our homing instinct is becoming stronger.  Home is a place which can be both a safe haven and stifling, all at the same time.  Home, at its worst, is a place to hideout, disengaging from challenge and growth.

An author once wrote this after witnessing a bald eagle swoop down and take a fish out of a lake:

That magnificent bird had emerged from its fragile shell, as helpless as we were at birth.  But it survived, because of the nest.  Then feathers grew.  The eyes brightened.  The talons strengthened.  One day the bird stood poised upon the nest and all the future of its life lay before it, the vista vast, the glorious rivers and forests and fountains of the earth.  To take possession of it, however, he had to stretch his wings, take the daring leap, trust the air, have faith in whatever great eagle gods there are and go!  The instinct to fly and the instinct to nest met in that moment.  There comes a point in everyone’s spiritual life when that issue is joined and must be faced.

“Home,” T.S. Eliot observed, “is where one starts from.”  It is not necessarily a place to stay.  Bob Dylan once said, “I was born a long way from where I belong and I am on my way home.”  I was born a long way from where I belong.  Warsan Shire, a Somali-born British poet, posits, “At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from.  Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been.”

Walking pilgrimages have only served to reinforce for me this possibility.  It is why the metaphor of pilgrim and pilgrimage is one of the most popular ways to think of the Christian faith and life.  “Life,” Paulo Coelho holds, “is a long pilgrimage from fear to love.”  We are on a journey from where we are from to where we are going. 

We here this morning come from different places, backgrounds, and experiences, but we are all on a pilgrimage to the same place.  We are all headed toward our heavenly home.  And we hope, over the course of our pilgrimage through life, our lives will become more and more reflective of the way life will be lived when we are at home in God.  Our hope for this life, so beautifully expressed in today’s collect, is by God’s grace we who are running to obtain God’s promises may become partakers of God’s heavenly treasure.  Or, as Paul admonishes his protégé Timothy in today’s second lesson, “take hold of the life that really is life.”

I share all of this with you as a way to enter into this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke – the parable of the Rich Man (who feasts ‘sumptuously’ at every meal) and Lazarus, a poor, ailing beggar who day after day lays outside the gate of the rich man’s house, hoping for just a scrape of food to fall his way.  We can say of the rich man he is ‘home’, which is to say he is certain there is nothing more beyond what he already knows and has.  He estimates he is where he belongs.  He is on his way to nowhere.  There is nowhere he wants to go, which is a way of saying there is no one he feels a need to become. 

But, no matter how much he fails to consider the possibility, there is a home beyond his earthly home.  And even though his present home has its pantries stocked with the finest foods and its closets stuffed luxurious linens, there is a heavenly home which far surpasses this; not because it has grander material possessions, but because it is steeped in the glory of God and teems with pure affection for one another.

The Rich Man in the parable misses out on this not because of his wealth, but because of his indifference.  He displays none of the qualities Paul encourages Timothy to cultivate: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  And some of Timothy’s flock must have been fairly well-to-do, because Paul writes this to the young pastor:

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.

None of this is possible until you leave the secluded privilege of your present setting in order to move toward the place and the person God would have you become; until you become aware of what is happening outside the door of your sheltered environment and respond to it.  Ernest Kurtz, author of the wonderfully titled book A Spirituality for the Imperfect, writes “A journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the distance traveled is less important than the experience gained.”  May you, day in and day out, experience something of your heavenly home and may it more and more become who you are, how you live, and what you have to offer to others.