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Very Special Home - Sermon, 2/2/2020
February 4, 2020, 9:31 AM

As some of you may know, my last surviving grandparent died last year. When my Pop Pop died, he left behind a lifetime of memories as well as a very special home. My mom and her sisters are getting ready to put this very special home up for sale, so I went up to Westchester County to say good-bye to the house.

 

It seemed sort of strange, driving up to New York to say good-bye to a house. After all, no one had lived in the house for more than a year. Even when someone did live there, it was never me. I never officially lived there, but that didn’t make this very special home any less special.

This very special home was never my address, but it was the home of my first memory. I remember walking down the hallway steps, turning into the kitchen, and hearing my Nana talking to my Dad about my newborn baby sister.

This very special home was never my address, but it was the home of safety. I remember threatening my parents that I was going to run away to my grandparents’ home with all the seriousness that a ten-year old can muster – never mind the fact that I had no way to get from New Jersey to New York.

This very special home was never my address, but it was the home of celebrations. I remember spending every Christmas Eve for decades in my grandparents’ home, introducing the other 11 grandchildren to the Santa window, and listening for the bells on Santa’s sleigh.

I hope I’m not unique for having a very special home in my background – a place of memories, safety, and celebrations. It may not have been a grandparents’ home for everyone, but I hope that at least most of us here can identify a place like that – a place of memories, safety, and celebrations.

The concept of “home” comes through very strongly in three of today’s four readings. Malachi introduces the idea of God’s “suddenly (coming) to (the) temple.” The temple was understood, especially at that time, as God’s very home on earth.

The concept of “home” comes through even more clearly in today’s Psalm. The psalmist includes words like “dwelling,” “courts,” “house,” “altars,” and “threshold.” These words show how dear the temple was to people of faith. Indeed, the psalmist cries in gratitude that “one day in (God’s) courts is better than a thousand in (their) own room.”

In the Gospel lesson from Luke, words about home do not necessarily appear. Instead, God’s home – the temple – is presented as a place where God lives and God’s will is revealed. Imagine if Jesus could remember his first experience in the temple! Imagine if his encounters with Simeon and Anna were his first memory! Jesus enters the temple in the arms of his mother. We know what it is like when a baby comes into our church. Everyone coos at the baby and looks lovingly at the baby’s family.

But, instead of being greeted with coos and oohs and aahs, the Holy Family is greeted with a strange prayer and prophecy. The family encounters Simeon, who Luke says is a “righteous and devout” person who receives a promise that he would live until seeing the Messiah. Simeon sees in Jesus, even as an infant, that Jesus has been set apart by God for something special. Simeon sees in Jesus the one who will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Imagine if this strange and unique encounter is Jesus’ first memory!

Later in the Gospel story – although not in a section we read today – Jesus finds himself back in the temple and provides a shocking interpretation of a prophecy from Isaiah. Jesus reads a portion of the Isaiah scroll about proclaiming release to the captives, rolls the scroll back up, and says, “today, this is fulfilled in your hearing.” I believe that Jesus can only make this shocking announcement if he feels the temple is a place of safety.

In the temple, Jesus is surrounded by familiar faces, the faces of the people he grew up around, the faces of people he knows as fellow travelers on the road to God’s heart. There, in the temple, Jesus feels safe – just as safe as I felt in my grandparents’ house.

Although Jesus does not celebrate the Last Supper in the temple, he instead turned the upper room into a very special home for a very special celebration. In teaching his disciples about the depth of his sacrifice and his love, that upper room becomes the very special home for a very special celebration. Jesus transforms the upper room into a sacred space for a sacred celebration. It is there that Jesus institutes the Holy Eucharist and commands us to celebrate it throughout the centuries – all in remembrance of him.

We use language of “home” in our own vocabulary when we ask, “what is your church home?” Church is meant to be a very special house – just like my grandparents’ house, just like the temple. Church is meant to be a place for memories, safety, and celebrations – just like my grandparents’ house, just like the temple.

Just as my first memory is in my grandparents’ house. Just as Jesus’ first memory might be his encounter with Simeon and Anna in the temple. Our first spirit memory might be our baptisms when we became part of the Christian family.

Just as my safe place was in my grandparents’ house. Just as Jesus’ safe place might be the temple. Our safe place might be this church where we are surrounded by familiar souls – even if we are new here, hopefully we can recognize in the people fellow travelers to God’s heart.

Just as my grandparents’ house was the site of Christmas Eve celebrations. Just as the upper room is the site of the Last Supper. Our site of celebrations might be this church where we celebrate the Holy Eucharist as a community most weeks when we gather as a community.

It is my prayer that this space, among these people, would be a place of holy memories, sacred safety, and meaningful celebrations for those who gather today and for generations to come. Amen.

Candlemas Explanation:

Today, as you can see on the readings insert, is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. That is a really long name for a feast! For centuries, this long-named feast has been combined with the celebration of Candlemas. Candlemas is not exactly a wildly familiar feast for many folks, but on Candlemas, we remember Simeon’s recognition that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” It is the tradition to bless candles on Candlemas as a reminder of our own call to become the light of Christ to the world. Please take one of these envelopes as they are distributed. The envelopes contain a candle and a prayer to bless them in your home. May we always live out our call to become the light of Christ!

 
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