The poet Maya Angelou says, "The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."
I like to be home. I'm comfortable in our house and feel at peace there. If I'm seated at the kitchen table, I can see trees in blossom, birds come and go from the feeders. Horses are pastured in the fields below and every so often I hear them whinny, flick their tails, and race around the perimeter of the fields.
When I think of the word home, pleasant images come to mind. I was fortunate to spend my early years growing up in Central Park in a safe, loving comfortable home, within walking distance to school, half a block away from my best friend.
At the age of 15 years, I was shattered by the news that my family would be moving onto a dairy farm ten miles up the WynoocheValley. I was in tears. I knew no one up the WynoocheValley, I knew no one in Montesano. I was leaving my whole world behind. My parents tried to console me, tried to prepare me for the transition to a new place, tried to cheer me up with a positive outlook of living in a different place.
Obviously, I survived, even quickly finding Montesano to be a very welcoming community. I was soon at home in this new house, this new neighborhood.
In the Gospel story from the book of John, we find Jesus talking with his disciples, his closest friends and companions. Jesus knew his time on earth was nearly complete. As more and more people were attracted to his teaching and preaching he was perceived as a serious threat to the leaders and authorities in Jerusalem. The time is short, the hour is near. This scripture passage is part of a long section referred to as Jesus' Farewell Discourse. Essentially he is saying good bye to his faithful friends. He knows they will be facing hard times as they will be charged with carrying on his ministry without him being physically present with them.
Jesus begins by offering these comforting words. "Don't be upset, don't worry. Trust me. There is plenty of room in my Father's house. If that were not so would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you. I am leaving but I'll come back and get you so we can all be together. And you all ready know the way to the place I am going."
What do you suppose the disciples were feeling at that moment? Their home had been with Jesus for nearly three years. What would happen to them if Jesus were to leave? He had been their center, their rock, they followed him everywhere he went, he was teacher, Lord, friend. How could he speak of leaving? None of this made sense to them.
Thomas said, "Lord, we have no idea where you are going. How could we possibly know the way?" Thomas wants a road map so as to find the way back home to Jesus. He wants life to be the same as it had been in the past years.
Jesus answered, "I am the way - the means of access to God, I am the truth - the truth of God, I am life - God's gift of life to the whole world. No one of you can find your path to the Father apart from me. As you know and trust me you will know my Father also."
It was critically important that they understand that through their particular experiences with Jesus, walking the pathway of selfless love and radical hospitality they had seen God. They had encountered the presence of God the Father.
Now this, of course, is spiritual language and Philip still doesn't get it as he says, "Lord, just show us the Father and we will be satisfied." He wants to see and touch a physical being.
Jesus sighs, "Phillip, You've been with me all this time and you still don't understand? To see me is to see the Father."
In all those years spent with Jesus, the disciples had seen the miracles, the feeding of thousands, the healing, the hospitality and complete acceptance of societies’ outcasts and untouchables. Yet they didn't realize they were seeing the power of God manifest in Jesus.
We have an extremely challenging story today. I'm sure everyone has had the experience of being in a classroom or a lecture hall listening to a teacher or presenter who seems to speaking in a foreign language. You aren't able to connect with the meaning or the message of the speaker. I wonder if that was the experience of the disciples as they listened to Jesus.
I still have a vivid memory of a particular High School English teacher. It was humiliating to sit in that class where most of the other students understood the lessons but her words were just flying right over my head. Fortunately for me, she was patient and soon had me up to speed. Some of her words still live in my head.
We only have a piece of the story as Jesus continues for several more chapters speaking with his friends. It was much later before these words actually took root in the minds of the disciples. It was after his death and resurrection when they were finally able to live into the assurances of his words empowered by his continuing spiritual presence.
The Class of 2011 will soon be saying goodbye to their home away from home. Many years have been spent in the public school classroom of Montesano. Some will remain in this community others may be moving away to a new place where a new home awaits. Most likely parents have begun preparing their graduates for that next move with words something like this - "Remember what we've taught. Remember the joys and the sorrows shared in our family home. Remember we love you even when you mess up. Remember your home, your place of belonging will always be here for you. Remember to love God and neighbor and yourself.“
Words of guidance and love from parents and mentors will ring in your head for years to come. In the same way Jesus farewell message gave strength to his disciples enabling them to continue his good works.
Some say, "Home is where the heart is". Robert Frost once wrote, "Home is the place where when you go there, they have to take you in." St. Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God." Jesus offers that safe place, that home where we all belong as we heard in his words from the scripture with which we first began. "I will come again to take you to myself, so that where I am, you will be also."