Sunday, May 10, 2020

Phil Kniss: Housebound: Living and loving the tension

Easter to Pentecost: Following the Light of Resurrection
Easter 5 – “While being house-bound”

1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

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I think there are many people these days,
    maybe you are among them,
    who have kind of a tense relationship with their house.
Peyton talked some about that with the children.

It would be an overstatement to call it a love-hate relationship.
    Because I think, for most of us, we love our house.
        It’s more than a house.
        It’s more than a precision-built structure that meets code.
        It lives. It breathes.
        We have poured ourselves into it.
        We have attended to it lovingly,
            helping it express our personality
            and reflect our sense of beauty.
        In some cases, we’ve even blessed it and prayed over it.
        So we could say our house has spirit—
            the same as saying it breathes.

    But in the last two months
        some have become restless in their house.
    In it’s most innocent form, it’s a condition we all get in winter.
        Cabin fever.
    But what I am seeing these days
        is a more insidious form of cabin fever.
        Many have lost a sense of what home is about.

    If home is a place where we are grounded, secure, and safe—
        not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, relationally—
        then there a huge population of people right now,
        who are not at home in their houses.

    For some, sadly, the reason is something they have no control over.
        Either the house isn’t doing it’s job to protect them,
            because it is poorly built or dangerously in need of repair.
        Or the people in that house with them are dangerous.
            Domestic abuse is on the rise right now.
        Or, they have no house of their own.
        In all these cases, we who have houses and resources
            have a moral obligation to help, and advocate for justice.

    But others with adequate houses should be at home, but aren’t,
        because they are not at home with themselves.
        At one extreme, some are packing protest rallies,
            or carrying guns,
            or breaking into fights over wearing a mask.
        But in much milder forms,
            many of us struggle to be at home with ourselves.

Today, our lectionary readings help us examine
    our spiritual state of affairs, through the window—if you will—
        of life in a house.

As I looked at these scriptures,
    I couldn’t help but see the contrast between
        what many housebound people
        are feeling and experiencing now
    and the high view of house we have in the scriptures.

To be house-bound is assumed to be a negative state.
    It restricts us. Limits our freedom. Reduces our options.
    And too much of that can create anger and resentment,
        especially among those who
            value individual freedom and autonomy, at any cost.

But there is more than one way to look at being house-bound.
    I see one in 1 Peter 2, and another in John 14.

But first, what does the word “house” mean?
    It can refer to the building,
        the structure that protects and shelters what’s inside—
            whether it’s people, or a greenhouse, or carriage house.
    It can be a governing body—
        house of representatives, house of delegates
    It can be a business establishment—movie house, fish house.
    It can be a long family line, like the House of Windsor,
        or a biblical example, the House of David.
    But in all these examples, in fact, the house contains something,
        keeps it from spilling out everywhere.
        It helps give definition, helps protect, shelter,
            create continuity, preserve a value or a tradition.

So in the example of 1 Peter,
    we are told that God the builder is taking us, like living stones,
        and constructing a container for the living Good News.
    God is creating a “spiritual house” it says,
        a “holy priesthood,”
        in order to faithfully represent the divine,
            to be a conduit between God and the world, to (quote)
            “declare the praises of him who called you
                out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
        And as members of a household of God,
            we are not alone, not at all!
            We are bound to each other.
            Linked for life!
            We are house-bound, in the best sense of the word—
                we find our purpose, our identity, our best self,
                when we bind ourselves to this household of God.

    This is not an odious restriction of freedom.
    In this house we are free to be all that God ever intended us to be.
    Being house-bound in this sense,
        actually prepares us to live fully and gratefully
            with the kinds of physical restrictions
            many people are angrily rebelling against right now.
        Being bound together in God’s household,
            nurtures our love for all God’s people,
            it helps us love people the way God loves them,
                especially the most vulnerable.
        With love and compassion,
            we take up our cross and follow Jesus,
            choosing the servant’s place at the table.
        This is what puzzles me most
            about churches and church leaders who are strong and able,
            who resist the physical distancing
                that protects the most vulnerable people that God loves.
        In a church of Jesus,
            having our lives linked to the lives of others,
            should come natural,
            because we are bound to the household of God,
                because we are house-bound.

And then there is John 14.
    Here we see another take on the word “house” and “bound.”
    Here, Jesus encourages his disciples about where life is headed.
        Jesus is naming the trajectory of a disciple.
        So here, the “bound” is directional.
        We are bound toward a house where God lives.

In the translation, The Voice, Jesus says to his disciples,
    “Don’t get lost in despair . . .
        My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you.
        I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.
        I will be there to greet you . . . welcome you home,
            where we will be together.
        I am the path, the truth, and the life.”

In other words, relax.
    Life is challenging here.
    It always will be.
    But one thing you don’t have to worry about, now or ever,
        is where it’s all heading.
    You don’t need to worry about where you are bound.
        You are bound to a house where we will be together, always.
        You and me and everyone else who I will welcome.

This passage has unfortunately often been misused.
    This is not an excuse to check out of life here and now.
    This is not the escape clause,
        so we don’t have to invest in this life.
    This is not an explanation about who’s in and who’s out,
        so we can make those determinations now,
        and know who to love and accept, and who not to.
    No, this is a deeply encouraging and life-giving word.

Jesus is saying to us,
    “Stick with me, and I’ll get you there.
        There’s not a whole lot more to worry and fret over.”

Now, believe me,
    leaning on these scriptures today doesn’t resolve the tension.
    In any house, including our own beloved homes,
        the place we live.
    There is a benefit to being inside a closed-up house.
    And there is a cost.
        We gain protection.
        We lose connection to the outside.
        We gain security.
        We lose some freedom.
        The walls give us definition and stability.
        The walls also keep out the sounds of the birds,
            and the refreshing breeze.

    Same with a spiritual house.
        On the plus side, we know where we belong,
            our household gives life a definition and purpose.
            Our forebears in faith worked out a lot of things for us,
                what was good, and what was not good,
                and passed that down through the generations.
            That gives us a sense of who we are,
                and the values that shape our existence.
        But it also means we know who we are not.
            It can distinguish us from others.
            Keep us from being someone else.
            It can even create some distance from others.
        Not saying that’s always bad.
        I’m saying that’s a cost.
        That’s part of the tension
            of living in any house—
                either a spiritual house,
                or a house like the one we live in
                    on College Avenue in Harrisonburg.

So my prayer today is,
    “Thank you, God, for the houses we live in—
        the physical ones and the spiritual ones.
      Thank you for the protection and shelter they offer.
        Help us extend that shelter to others.
        Thank you, also, for the definition they give our lives.
    May we always live in our houses with grace,
        with compassion, in hope, and in love.

—Phil Kniss, May 10, 2020

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