Sermon: A Place Called Home

Where, I ask you, is home?

I’m not asking for your address here, though if you’d like to have my wife and I over for dinner sometime we can talk about that later. No, where do you feel at home? Where are our homes?

This question about home has been on my mind for a while. A year ago, I got married. A month before that, my fiancé got a job offer. The job was in Boston, which is a long way from where we were living in Texas. So in the course of a few weeks, we moved across the country, got married, I switched seminaries, and she changed jobs. I felt a little out of sorts. I wasn’t sure where home was anymore.

A year later, I’m starting to get some roots here, though moving to a new, much better apartment, in a different part of the city felt like quite a large move again. It’s difficult to feel like you don’t know where you belong, even if only for a moment. We humans have a desperate need for home. We need to belong somewhere.

Home is that place where we belong. But where is that—and what does that mean? Is it a house, a building, or something more or different than that?

In other words, where is home? There is this place that I call home. It’s sort of a building thing, four walls, a ceiling, a few rooms. It’s that new apartment I was telling you about a minute ago, just a few blocks from the beach in North Quincy. It’s already beginning to feel like home for me.

And there’s my hometown, Austin, which will always be home for me, no matter how far I go, as I was reminded when I met someone who recently moved to Austin. That’s home. And there’s my parents’ house, though I haven’t lived there for a long time, is still home. These are all places I can claim as home. They feel like home, whatever that feeling is.

These are all places I call home. And place is important. This is one thing I learned very powerfully this summer. Thanks to a generous scholarship, I had the chance to visit a historic Shinto shrine in Japan. At Tsubaki Grand Shrine, which is a faith partner of the Unitarian Universalist Association, place really matters. The shrine is built at the foot of that mountain where the kami Sarutahiko met the grandson of the sun goddess. Indeed, the original shrine, which is still there, is at the top of Mount Udo, a two-hour hike from the current shrine. The shrine today is located in a sacred grove of cypress trees, ancient trees that stretch more than 100 feet up into the sky. Even Sarutahiko’s earthly body, legend has it, is buried under a mound on the shrine grounds. And today, Sarutahiko lives in a sacred waterfall next to the shrine building, where people go to stand under the water and be purified.

In other words, place matters. Sarutahiko is inextricably tied to this place. It is his home, and one struggles to imagine how it could be any other way. Some of us probably feel this way. No matter where I live, I’ll always be a Texan. This church building will always be home to some of you, I imagine. Home can be many places, but most of us have that place, or we have at some point in our lives.

But maybe home isn’t a place at all—or not just a place, but more than that.

As important as place is—we need a place to live, to sleep, to eat, to be – home is more than that. Home is a feeling, a relationship, a place and state of mind. Robert Frost puts it well: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I like that. But I like even more the way a UU minister friends of mine put it when I asked her what home was. I had put out the call on Twitter a few days ago, and she responded with this: She said that “Home is the place you don’t have to deserve.” She was paraphrasing that Robert Frost quote, or perhaps it’s a different Frost poem I’m not familiar with. In any case, her words are powerful. “Home is the place you don’t have to deserve.”

My friend, who sent me her understanding of home based on the work of Robert Frost, also gave me an important reminder of the power of online community. You see, I’ve never actually met her in person. We’re friends only through the magic of social media.

Some people question what the Internet has done to us. Perhaps we’re less connected to people, they say. I always wondered about this. I feel more connected through social media. I can easily keep up with friends across the country and around the world, friends from many years ago and those I’ve just met. I know others who tell similar stories, and perhaps a few of you have felt the power of the ability to connect through technology.

But this, too, can be a home. I’ve seen that from too many people, for whom online communities and friends provide a very real, if not physical, home. The state of mind, the connections, indeed the relationships that are made in online communities are real. Did I mention I was first introduced to my wife through a mutual friend on facebook?

Belonging is a powerful thing. Home is where you belong, where you don’t have to do anything to deserve what you have. It’s a place where you belong, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of who you are.

I worry about people who have never known a place like that, or who don’t have one right now. The homeless, as we call them, are one of the groups I’m talking about. I worry about those who lack shelter, who lack a physical place to live, or at least one that has any stability or security. They lack a place called home.

But I fear they are not the only people today who lack a home, because for me home isn’t some building. For me, home is about so much more. There’s a song by a group called Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes—I’d never heard of them until I heard this song on the radio recently. Let me sing a bit for you:

Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my Ma & Pa
Not the way that I do love you
Holy roly, me, oh my, you’re the apple of my eye
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you
Man, oh man, you’re my best friend, I scream it to the nothingness
There ain’t nothin’ that I need
Well, hot & heavy, pumpkin pie, chocolate candy, Jesus Christ
There ain’t nothin’ please me more than you

Ahh, Home, Let me come Home
Home is wherever I’m with you

Home is whenever I’m with you. This is what home is for me. It’s not some place where I go to sleep. Home is whenever I’m with my wife, with my friends, with my parents. Home is when we are with those we love, whether they are our family by blood or by choice. That’s what home is for me.

And that’s what I hope to find here—a home. I will be with you as intern minister for two years, through June 2013, which seems like a long, long time from now. I hope this place, this church, this community, will be a home for me, as I know it is a home for so many of you.

Where is your home, friends? Where is the place that you get that feeling, where you are in that home state of mind? I hope you feel that today.

Everyone deserves a home, even if in my friend’s words, you don’t need to deserve that home.
I hope you find the home each of you deserves. Welcome home, friends.

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