July 4, 2021
"There’s No Place Like Home"
Rev. Scott Landis
There’s a tried-and-true formula in literature and film that is archetypal of the human experience. Often referred to as “The Hero’s Journey,” the myth or story is always that of an individual (typically a man – but women travel the same path) who leaves home in order to discover who he/she is. On the journey, they either slay dragons, or seek a prized possession such as the ark of the covenant or the golden chalice. As they fight battles or seek undiscovered treasure, they typically come to the lowest point in their lives before realizing that what they were truly seeking was right back where they started. As a much wiser person – than I – said it this way, “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”
You’ve seen this story again and again. It is the longing of the Prodigal Son as he wants nothing to do with his two-bit home and demands his share of the wealth as sets out to grab life for himself. It’s the story of Dorothy who can’t wait to get out of Kansas, believing that there is a much better place somewhere “over the rainbow” as she leaves her boring home in search of something more. And it’s the plot of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey which you may have seen popularized in the film based on this epic myth – “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” as the hero sets out to find both treasure and life itself. It’s archetypal. It’s repeated again and again. It is OUR story.
Each of these journeys take a predictable path of initial excitement and adventure only to be stymied by a greater reality – opposing forces that bring the hero to a deeper sense of self. Suddenly they “get it.” They have an “aha,” and know what they now have to do. We see this as the Prodigal “comes to his senses” and says, “I will return to my father and say, ‘Father I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Or, after liquidating the Wicked Witch of the West and returning her broomstick to the “Great and Powerful Oz,” Dorothy realizes that what she is seeking cannot be granted by anyone else. It has to come from within – as she clicks her ruby slippers and says repeatedly, “There’s no place like home.”
In the hero’s journey – the hero must come to this important realization. That no matter what you do, where you go, or how much you achieve – none of that will define who you are. And more often than not, you have to return home in order to complete the journey and arrive at a fuller understanding of who you are. [Pause]
We have a beautiful example of that in today’s story from the gospel of Mark. Jesus has been on a journey of his own. Having left Nazareth (his hometown) he acquired his band of disciples and taught them how to heal the sick, caste out evil forces, and teach others about the way of God – that is, the way of love. When he returned to his hometown, those who remembered him were duly impressed with his abilities and silver tongue. That is until they came to their senses and chided him from being all “uppity.”
“He’s just a carpenter.” Mary’s son, they said, “Where does he get off thinking he is any better than any one of us?” So much for coming home. I wonder – is it possible that sometimes you have to come home to realize it’s not where you belong? A different kind of “aha.” It’s sort of like the hero’s journey in reverse. But notice Jesus’ response.
He doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t try to show them or to prove to them that he is someone they ought to be paying attention to. In fact, it’s clear that Jesus couldn’t do much of anything there – in his hometown. Because they wouldn’t let him. They wouldn’t allow him to be – himself. He understood that. So, he didn’t have to blame them for their lack of understanding – but he knew he had to move on.
He demonstrated that by using this situation as a teaching moment for his disciples. He granted them the same authority that HE embodied. He sent them out in pairs, giving them very specific instructions on how they were to travel and to listen carefully to the responses of others as they sought to teach God’s way – the way of love.
“If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw.” [In some versions is says, ‘shake the dust off your feet.’] “Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”
An important part of the “Hero’s Journey” is discovering, I suppose, where you belong – and more importantly – where you do not. [Pause]
During the past two weeks I had the opportunity to “go home.” But, as I imagine for many of you, home (for me) is complicated. I first went to my home of origin – outside Philly – to visit with and celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. I’m glad I made the trip. I spent most of my time with dad, visited with my sister and her family, returned to some old stomping grounds including the pool I swam in as a kid, my first parish, and the college where I served as chaplain for 12 years. It was beautiful. The landscape was just as I remembered – rolling hills, farms quickly being swallowed up in urban sprawl, and an unmistakable accent that only folks from there immediately notice. But – it’s no longer home. I no longer belong there.
The second week I went to Denver where I lived for about 7 years and where I served a large urban congregation. I stayed in the home of my oldest son, spent lots of time with his family, my grandkids, and other family members. I love Denver. The omnipresent mountains are stunning. There are parks everywhere. Rivers run with fury from the mountains, through the foothills opening the door to picturesque hikes and bucolic settings. It’s the place where most of my family lives. But it was clear, they all have their own lives, schedules, growth points that don’t really include me. I enjoyed being with them. But – it’s no longer home.
We currently live in Maui which we love, and I have the privilege of serving this remarkable congregation that despite the encumbrances of Covid, I have come to love deeply. But this was designed and agreed to as an “intentional interim.” I have a specific job to do here – to guide our church from its beloved former Kahu to the one who will love and serve among you hopefully for many years to come. So, in many respects – neither can this be home.
I was quite sad when I thought about all that until I reread this simple yet amazing story of Jesus life and teaching. In essence, Jesus is demonstrating, that home isn’t a place. No, home is a relationship – of which there are many throughout our earthly journey: our parents, our friends, our spouse, our children, even our fellow parishioners. And I’m sure you can think of many more. These folks all nurture us and influence us along the way and they give us a glimpse of home – but ultimately home is in our relationship with God. Each one of these others along the way – along our own “hero’s journey” help us to see the face of God – experience the presence of God – and help us to realize anew that God lives within us.
We can go out and seek for years that which seemingly eludes us: the ark or chalice, fame or fortune, beauty, or the perfect body, a house by the lake, ocean, or mountains, but none of that will satisfy. None of that will ultimately welcome us home.
Perhaps it was best said by Augustine of Hippo, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” [Pause]
Wherever you are on life’s journey – whatever it is that you are seeking. If you are like me, you may have forgotten. Home cannot be found in any physical place. Oh, we may find a place we think we will never leave – one that seems just perfect for us. If that is your lot in life – then, God bless you. But home – your true home – will ultimately be found in the one who gave you Whole and Holy life.
We rejoice in that gift today – as we receive reminders through a simple yet meaningful meal. As you eat and drink today – know that it is the Holy One who invites you to the table – who invites you into relationship. Who invites you – home. And – there’s no place like home.Amen.