“This world is my home!”

A Sermon for the
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 19, 2020

Preached at
Trinity Episcopal Church
in Easton, Pennsylvania

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the
needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for
your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the
account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards
of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with
you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

This World Is Not My Home

This world is not my home by Brumley

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

This song has been attributed to the famous Southern Gospel composer Alfred E. Brumley. However, it has been suggested that the origin of the song is far older, going back to that amazing genre of the African-American Spiritual in the Southern United States.  It seems to have been first published just after the end of the First World War, and then was popularized in a succession of Stamps and Baxter Hymnals. Outside of churches, it came to some renown, due to a recorded version by Jim Reeves in 1962.

It is a song which I remember hearing sung in church in my Baptist childhood, and of hearing it sung with great longing and sadness—often accompanied with tears, and perhaps with shouts.

It is a fascinating song, a song of the oppressed, and seems to have been especially loved by the poor, the weak, the needy. For them, it is a song of hope-trust that though God’s reign may not ever be accomplished in this wounded and damaged world, it will not be overcome. There will be a new world, a world of justice, peace, and equality.

Sadly, this song reflects a sense of defeat. Those who sing it most compellingly have given up. They have decided that this world is—and can never be—their true home. In this world of violence, hatred, bigotry, and injustice, one is forced to endure for a season. They have abandoned any hope that change is possible or will ever come. They have decided to put their eggs in the heavenly basket. For centuries, those who were oppressed: Black Persons, Indigenous Persons, Persons of Color, Women, LGBTQIA Persons, and those viewed as “other” because of their place of origin, the language they spoke, or the faith which they practiced dreamed of a real home. They dreamed of a place in which they would be welcome, loved, valued, and accepted. They dreamed of a world of peace and harmony and beauty. That world, with its hope, and not this one, was their true home.

Clearly, they never stopped struggling to make this world a better one. And the progress which was purchased at such a painful cost bears witness to that struggle. I suppose that if they had ever been able to unite, and to concentrate on this world, there might have been a bloody and violent revolution. That remains a possibility, even today. If ever those who are oppressed truly loose hope, they are not afraid of violence–there is no other option remaining for them to pursue.

It would be irresponsible to fail to mention that, and I say this to our shame, religion was often used by those in power to control and to “keep in their place” those who were oppressed. There is truth in the saying of Karl Marx that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

That is, of course, ironic, because that kind of reigion is the worst form of distortion and abuse. At our very best, we are called to have a “preferential option” for the poor, and for all who are oppressed. We are called to work for peace, justice, healing, reconciliation—change and transformation. Here and now. If we fail to do that, we transform the blessing of the one home God has given us into a gated community for a privileged few—a paradise, here-on-earth—and a work-house, a debtor’s prison for the majority—a hell, here-on-earth.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learned in the Torah, in the Pentateuch, in the Five Books of Moses, is found almost at the very beginning of the Book of Genesis. We encounter the first humans-Adam, “created from the Earth” and Eve, “mother of all the living.” We see their inseparable connection to creation. They are formed and fashioned from the living earth. God molds and shapes them from soil, from dust. God perhaps makes a kind of paste from water, a kind of clay. Then, as at the dawn of creation, when the breath of God breathed on the water, God breathes life into them. They are one with the earth, one with creation, at home in the beauty of the Garden which God prepared for them as a home.

As the story unfolds we discover the sad consequence of human sin—not just error, or mistake, but sin. We human beings so often choose to manipulate, to attempt to control, to dominate, to oppress, to exploit, and to injure. In doing so, WE—and not only our ancestors who have gone before us, WE damage the three primary relationships which are part of God’s plan for us: a relationship with God, human relationships, and our relationship to creation. WE disconnect ourselves and distance ourselves from God. WE choose what it wrong, evil, and sinful, and then hide to avoid accepting responsibility for our actions. WE hurt, wound, and even kill others. Their blood cries out from the ground for justice. But WE claim that they are “other,” and that they are not our very sisters and brothers. WE pollute, trash, and devastate creation. WE view it is an object to be exploited for our pleasure and wealth. WE fail to love, to nurture, and to wisely serve as caretakers and stewards of creation. WE have collectively set our house on fire. No wonder WE would like to claim that this world is not our home. That would let us off the hook. That would exonerate us. That would take away our responsibility. That would mean that we wait for someone else to put out the fire which WE have kindled!

There is a haunting line from the Psalm 11:3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” I completely understand why some argue that it might be better to just let our house burn down, and to build a new one! If constructed on a foundation of love, justice, and equality, such a new home might well have room for all. Such a home might have a banquet table with a seat for everyone, and such an abundance of food and drink that everyone would feast. Everyone would eat to their fill. No one would be hungry, and no one would be excluded. All would be servants and none would be oppressed.

Lest we be tempted to think that this message is not also at the very heart of the Christian Scriptures, please let us remember the powerful words we hear today from St. Paul the Apostle, in his Letter to the Church at Rome: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Scholars can debate whether St. Paul thought that this new creation would only come with the return of Jesus, or whether this was something that God had planned for the here and now.

What might happen, though, if we served as midwives? What might happen if we struggled through this painful childbirth and brought to birth the creation which God intended? What might happen if we allowed God to bestow on us adoption, redemption and new creation? Perhaps the Gospel of Matthew provides the answer we long to hear: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Loving God, please help us to realize that this world is our home. Please help us to realize that we do belong here. Please help us to feel at home in this world which you have lovingly created—both now, and forevermore.