“There’s No Place Like Home”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
We all remember those familiar words spoken by Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” She clicked the heels of her ruby slippers together three times as she said her incantation, and she found herself transported back home to Kansas.
As magical as the Land of Oz had been, there is no place like home. And as magical as Oz had been, it was equally terrifying and deadly; a land filled with lions, and tigers, and bears ... oh my! Oh, yes, and witches and flying monkeys!
But, there is truth to those words, “There’s no place like home.”
Consider the phrase, if you will. In these next few moments, think of that place that comes to mind when you think of “home.” Where is it? Who is there with you? What do you feel? Safe. Comfortable. At ease. Loved.
I remember when Renee and I used to live in New Hampshire. There was a particular point along Route 89 as we drove north, that I would always sense a noticeable change in my physiology. There was a bend in the road that curved to the right. As we made the turn, we had a clear view of the mountains off to our left. Every time we were returning from a trip, I could feel me breathing relax, and my pulse slow. I knew that we were getting close to home.
There are still places that feel like “home” to me. Driving into little Ocean Park in Maine, smelling the ocean air and the pine trees makes me feel at home. Of course, that is where my parents live, so there is also a physical place called home. Driving into Norfolk after a trip or visit elsewhere always feels like home. Being here at the church with you feels like home as well. Home is a place, and it is a feeling.
Recently, I have been having dreams about one of my childhood homes, our house in the Berkshires. Growing up, we moved around a lot. My brother and I kept track by describing the color of the houses. (We were too young to know what towns they were in.) Remember the green house? Or the white house? The brick house or the gold house?
Eventually, we moved to our house in the Berkshires ... Chesterfield, Massachusetts. It was not anything fancy, it was nothing more than a cottage really. But it was home. On Palm Sunday, I talked about the quaint little Fourth of July parades that we had in Chesterfield ... a few decorated bicycles, a couple of pickup trucks, a tractor pulling a wagon, and our one fire engine. It was small town fun … quaint and folksy!
We lived in our cottage next door to my grandmother’s cottage. Both cottages were on Damon Lake. My grandmother’s cottage had been there first. We built our cottage when I was a child. I remember “helping” my father build it. My father was a carpenter and a handy man. He and his friends built the house themselves, with the able help of this five year old boy! I handed him the nails as he put the pieces of the house together.
As I contemplated the message for this morning, it occurred to me that the house for which I have the clearest memories is that house in Chesterfield. Initially we spent our summer and winter vacations there. At some point, we decided to move up there and live there year-round.
The cottage was built upon a ledge, and sat upon the side of a small mountain overlooking the lake. We had a galley kitchen, a banquette seating area where we ate our meals, a small living room, and bathroom. My parents’ bedroom was downstairs off of the kitchen, and there was a loft where we slept. We had to climb a ladder to go to and from our bedroom.
There was not a paved road to get to the house. It was a dirt road that the town graded and oiled every year. Our Saint Bernard, Brutus used to sleep in the middle of the road in a nice sunny spot. There were half-moon tire tracks in the grass from people driving around him.
Across the road was a meadow with an apple tree. The meadow rolled gently down to the lake. We lived at the end of the lake that had the beach, and the raft for the advanced swimmers. Every summer, there would be a big bonfire to kick off the season. The lake was controlled by a dam, and across from the dam was the mill building where we had community dinners, dances and other events.
Next to our house, on the other side from my grandmother’s cottage, was a farm. The manure smelled awful on the humid, summer days, but the little ice cream shop at the end of their driveway made it all worth it. All of the kids would run up the hill from the beach to buy our ice cream bars. My favorite were the ice cream sandwiches. I loved the way that the chocolate stuck to my fingers.
Of course, every house on the lake had a dock. We did too. My brother, father and I would fish off of the dock every summer. I hated fishing, but I loved that time on the dock. My grandmother had an old row boat at her dock, and we had a wood-hulled sailboat. In the winter months, before we winterized the cabin, we turned off our water, so we would hike down to the dock and lug back jugs of water.
During the winter vacations, we would ride the toboggan down the hill. Once we got the path packed down, we could make it all the way down to the lake! One winter, my father bought some crazy bike-ski contraption that was probably dangerous, but sure was fun!
We tapped the maple trees and made our own syrup. We raised bees and made our own honey. When we expanded the house, we built a greenhouse and grew our own vegetables.
It sounds magical ... like nirvana ... or heaven on earth. It was simple … nothing fancy. And it was home.
A few years ago, my brother and sister went out to Chesterfield to check out the old homestead. Sadly, it is pretty much gone to wreck and ruin. After my father died, the bank foreclosed on the property and it sat vacant for years. I was in college, and in no position to do anything about the house. There was no one in the family to save the house. It exists only in our memories now. I am not sure why my dreams keep bringing me back there.
Perhaps I needed the comfort of home. And the reality is that we all do. We all long for the comfort, safety and security of home.
The words that Jesus spoke to his disciples in our passage from John’s Gospel are words of comfort. As Jesus was offering his farewell to them, he was assuring them that they had nothing to fear. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He assured them that he would always be with them, and also that a place had been prepared for them in God’s house ... their eternal home.
As long as they believe. “Believe in me, believe also in God.”
The world is a troubling place. The world offers fear, violence, hatred and decay. The disciples knew that. They had experienced it in their lives and in their ministry with Jesus. And Jesus also knew that the world may also chip away at their commitment; their fears and doubts might overwhelm them. Jesus admonished them ... believe ... keep the faith ... remember the things that I told you ... pray. These things will give you strength. These acts will give you the comfort that you desire. These things will bring you home. And these things are imperishable.
The trappings of this earth do not last. Houses crumble and return to the earth. Wealth and status are false gods, they wither and fade. But God’s house is everlasting ... eternal. God’s house is built upon the firm foundation of love and grace. Believe, and know that there is a room in that house for you. During times of difficulty, uncertainty and instability, we draw strength from those words. We are comforted by the knowledge that there is a place for us prepared in the very Presence of God.
Of course, within those words of comfort was also a charge. Jesus also reminded them that they had a call to which they must respond. If they know Jesus, they know God. And they must continue to do the things that Jesus did ... and more. Those who know God will do greater things! Those who follow Christ will continue his ministry and do greater things!
How? We are but mere mortals, flawed human beings.
Precisely. We are poor, flawed mortals ... but, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, we can do great things! We can proclaim the Gospel message. We can offer comfort to the comfortless. We can feed the hungry. We can offer shelter to the homeless. We can welcome the stranger. We can create a place called “home” for the displaced, the orphan, the widow. We can do all of that! The first disciples were called to do so, and so are we.
Think back to the beginning of this message, and the feelings that you conjured up when you thought of a place like “home.” And now, consider what it must be like to be someone who does not, or has never had that feeling.
What does it feel like to be abandoned?
What does it feel like to be rejected by your community? Or your family?
What does it feel like to be hated?
How does it feel to hunger desperately for companionship? A place to belong? A place where they can feel loved and accepted?
My family cottage has crumbled into the earth because of time and neglect. But I still have the memories within me. I know what it is like to carry the gift of “home’ in my heart. But there are those out there that have never had that feeling, or have had it taken away from them. Answering the call of Jesus Christ means that we offer them a home.
There is no place like home. The house of God has many rooms, and Jesus Christ has prepared a place for us ... for you and for me ... and for them ... the unloved, the abandoned, the alone.
If we follow Jesus Christ, we can do no less. If we believe, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. If we ask, Jesus Christ will help us to great things. Every child of God longs for a place called “home,” especially the unloved, the outcast, the broken-spirited. Let us prepare a place for them as well.