Sermons

Isaiah 25:6-9 – Psalm 24 – Revelation 21:1-6a – John 11:32-44

We imagine that we can know something about people from looking at their homes, and on some level it’s probably true. Our homes can reveal our taste, our priorities –that is, if we’re lucky enough to be able to afford to furnish our homes as we wish. The location of our homes says something as well – not only our priorities and our aspirations, but also our financial means or lack thereof.

But imagine you could live wherever you wanted, in whatever kind of home you wished. Money is no object. There are no physical or ethical or social barriers to your choice. Where would you live? Who would be your neighbors? I know where I would live – I have in my mind’s eye the ideal, convenient, interesting, safe, and aesthetically pleasing neighborhood, and if I had the means, I would go right for it.

This says a lot about me, about what I value, what I long for. And so I find myself pondering the loud voice from the throne in Revelation calling out, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (21:3). The home of God is among mortals.

What, then, does this tell us about our God, that God is at home with mortals, those who walk through the valley of the shadow of death – which is of course why we’re called mortals – we are those who die. The home of God is among such beings as we are, those who toil and weep and, yes, like Lazarus, die. God is at home with us.

What is even more remarkable about this is that God, we know, has a choice in terms of where to pitch a tent. Now, there is actually nowhere that God is not, for God is the essence and sustainer of all that is – we, and the cosmos and everything in it, would not even exits without God at our center. But to say that the home of God is among mortals says far more than that – it reveals not only God’s activity but God’s intention – God’s desire, if you will, to be in communion with us and to bring life out of death.

This is no Unmoved Mover, no distant clockmaker who sets the world in motion and leaves it to its own lonely devices. This is a God who could dwell anywhere and nowhere, and who chooses to be here, with us. This is a God who, as Isaiah writes, is both guest and host, banishing death and making a feast of rich food and drink. The God whose home is with mortals is a God who feels the stabbing pain of people’s grief, and who weeps at a grave.

On this feast of All Saints, when we are considering what it means to be holy people and bringing three beautiful young children into that great cloud of witnesses, it matters in a particular way that God’s home is here among us. It matters at least in these ways:

First, we come to understand that it is not a bizarre or unnatural thing that human beings are called to be in union with the Most High God, for we have been created for just this purpose. This is our destiny, our truest identity. God does not need some go-between, some lesser messenger to make a home with us. That is why the Church in its early centuries taught, and still teaches, that Jesus Christ is fully God as well as fully human. God and us humans – we belong together. The Incarnation of the Word in Jesus tells us so.

Next, we recognize the saints of the Church as those who have understood and lived the truth that when God makes a home with human beings, fear and death no longer have power over us, and we are free to be the people we have been created to be. Saints are those who have given each day to holy surrender, to allowing God to infuse and transform them. They are those who have understood that the only way to joy and peace and life is to walk through the sorrow and pain and death with God at their side.

Finally, we bring these persons to baptism, as young and innocent as they are, knowing that the gift of the Holy Spirit in this sacrament will not preserve them from suffering, but will kindle in them the grace to hear and follow the voice of Jesus: Dana, come out! Harper, come out! Emerson, come out! This grace, this holy and abiding Spirit, will never leave you; it means that the grave and the fear of death cannot hold you, and that God has covenanted to work in and through you for the rest of your life. It means that you have been unbound and let go, released as Lazarus was to be who God has created you to be.

It is God who does this to us, in us, as the waters of baptism flow over us and as grace begins its healing work in us. Our life, the choices we make, the work that we do, is only possible because God has made God’s home in us. We do not earn God’s approval, we do not have the power to convince God to enter us and make us new. That is already done, in baptism, in the bread and the wine made flesh and blood.

Yes, there is a part for us to play: we give ourselves to a baptismal covenant, declaring our intention to be faithful in worship, in repentance, in respecting human dignity, working for justice, and caring for our fragile earth. But let’s be clear about the order of things here: God does not make a dwelling with us because we have promised these things. Rather, we are able to promise these things because God dwells with us, because the voice of Jesus has empowered us to come out of the tomb.

Some time ago I had a flash of insight about our baptismal liturgy – the order is all wrong. I realized that the baptismal covenant, with all its promises, should really come after the baptism, not before, to make it clear that we can’t make these promises, for ourselves or for others, apart from grace. The covenant is not a precondition for baptism, but is our joyful grace-filled response to the love of God. I had forgotten about that insight until I was writing this sermon – but it’s probably too late to change it, unless the rector is feeling really wild and crazy this morning!

This great cloud of witnesses that surround us today, they are the ones who have let themselves be unbound and let go. They are the ones who show us how to receive the amazing grace of a God who is utterly home among us, and yet who has the power to vanquish fear and death. And these little ones among us who will soon be washed in the waters of baptism, they are signs of God’s promise that grace continues to wash over and through us, that the saints are not deluded in their faith and their courage.

See, the home of God is with mortals – this is the God for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation.

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