Sermon preached at Mattins on the Fifth Sunday of Easter (19 May 2019) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

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12:30pm Eucharist
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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached at Mattins on the Fifth Sunday of Easter (19 May 2019) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

The Dean reflects on our desire to call somewhere home. 

I just want somewhere to call home. That’s the cry of people who are homeless on the streets, refugees fleeing disaster or violence who want a safe place to be, many young people and others who sofa-surf or live in short-term rented accommodation: where is their home?

Wanting a home isn’t only about physical shelter. We have an emotional need for a safe place, for security; we want to settle – not only a statement about housing, but a metaphor to describe psychological health, or the opposite state of being un-settled. Not having a home makes us mentally as well as physically vulnerable.

And we also want a place in the world, a home in society, to be part of a network of relationships and achievements. We want to belong, to be accepted, from our earliest experiences in the school playground up to the day we die. Even though we know that one day we won’t have a home in this world anymore.

Human beings have always wanted a place, a home. Our Bible readings this morning begin and end with a house. King David wants to build God a house, a temple – he’s built himself a Grand Designs luxurious house and wants God to have one too, and not to worship God in a tent as if the Israelites were still nomads wandering in the wilderness.

God replies to King David that he hasn’t asked for a house, that God is a traveller who’s been with the people of Israel on all their ways and journeys. 

But God also recognises our human longing for a place in the world: he says that he will plant the Israelites in their own place, in the land of Palestine, a place which would give security and prosperity. 

And God turns it round by saying that God will build David a house, by which God means that David will have descendants who will remember him.

God goes even further by saying that David’s son would build a house for God’s name: not a place which God needs for security, not a house where the Israelites could keep God tied down, but a physical sign of God’s presence among his people in a settled place, as the tent of worship had been the sign of God’s presence with the Israelites on their wanderings through the wilderness.

You and I know that human longing for a house, for a place, for belonging to a community; God recognises that longing in us – but also challenges us. In the ancient world, tribal groups worshipped a god who they believed was their special god, the god of the place where they lived, a territorial spirit who owned the bit of land they occupied, and who they had to be on good terms with. 

The Jewish scriptures however are clear that there is only one true God who isn’t tied to a place; the God of heaven and earth doesn’t belong only to Palestine. The Exodus from Egypt isn’t about God acting like a frustrated landlord who throws out one group of tenants and replaces them with another; but all people everywhere, Jewish or not, occupy space belonging to the only God. 

We see that too in the reading from the book of Acts: on the day of Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit is poured out on disciples and people from all nations – this is the God of everywhere and everyone, not just of the Jewish people.

Peter’s speech in Jerusalem on that first Christian Pentecost picks up the themes of our first reading: the promise of God to David to build a house; Jesus is a descendant of David, a member of House of David, and inherits the promises made to David. And Peter concludes with a reference to ‘the entire house of Israel’ – Jesus has come for all the Jewish people, and for all those beyond them too…

We all need a home, a place. So we need to address our current housing crisis, and the scandal of homelessness on the streets alongside empty flats built for investors where the builders don’t even bother to fit the kitchens because no one is going to live in them. We need to address this in British society, as God addressed it for David and the people of the house of Israel.

But we also need to take seriously our longing for security, to find where we’re at home in the universe, in life and in death. Any home, any place, any house in this world is temporary. In the end, as the apostle Peter reminds us, our home is in God alone. We journey through this world as spiritual nomads, and God journeys with us. 

King David dies and is buried; but Jesus Christ is risen and alive with God – that’s our ultimate security, the place to call home. Here and now we’re called to find our home with God; to have a place of our own in the company of Jesus’ followers and friends; to set our hearts, not on a Grand Designs house built in cedar, but on being in the company of the God who alone can finally bring us home.

In words from an old Afro-American hymn: 'This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through, My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue, The Saviour beckons 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?'

As St Augustine said: 'Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.' So may we rest at home in God, and share the hope and reality of a home with those who have no place in the world.