17 July 2014

With Open Hearts and Empty Hands: Living from our truest Home

The Son of Man has no place to lay his head. We heard that reminder just a couple of weeks ago.  It is a poignant reminder of  the degree of exile and self-emptying required by the Christ Event and also, a poignant reminder of the situation of so many poor among us.

But for many of the rich this is also a poignant reminder of the situation in which they find themselves --- though I admit this is often harder to see clearly. After all, they have homes -- often several in various regions and climates -- and they do not want for warmth (or coolness) or food or medical care, or even a way to bury their dead as so many do today. Many may even be unaware that their own prosperity is often only achieved by taking away the little that the poor actually do have. Still, despite superficial comfort and security they have no way to lay down the burden of securing themselves, making themselves acceptable or successful, filling the deep emptinesses in their lives, or laying aside what has become their fruitless quest for something that nourishes their souls. Deep down they are hungry and insecure and that insecurity drives their own ambition for wealth and comfort. And so they continue the struggle to become richer at the expense of others, to shore up their own wealth and power bases, to legislate on their own behalf, and to administer the law in ways which are to their own advantage.

It is among this group of socially, and materially advantaged folks that the Pharisees in Friday's Gospel pericope stand as representatives. Having forgotten that 1) the Sabbath is created for man, not man for the Sabbath, and 2) that Law is meant to serve love and make mercy possible, the "sacrifice" they require, of course, is not their own; it is the oppressive sacrifice that leaves people hungry and homeless in a number of ways, but not least by depriving them of a place in God's own People and all that means.

"The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" is a description which should resonate universally with the experience of  every single person, the materially and socially rich and the materially and socially poor. After all, every person has known to some degree or another the same lack of peace and freedom, the same inability to lay down and truly rest that comes not only with the insecurity of poverty and enervation, but also with the insecurity of wealth and ambition. Many, whether materially rich or poor will have known the lack of peace that comes from feeling unloved and unlovable, from being different and perhaps disliked or even distrusted, from never ever feeling like they have belonged or can belong. Grief, our inability to really be in ultimate control of our lives and the struggle to hope in spite of loss, tragedy, cruelty and even the simple shortsightedness of others know no financial or material barriers. Illness, tragedy, death, and the yearnings and anguish they bring strike everyone in this life. In other words we all know the insecurity of sin and separation from God and the yearning for something else.

The Other Side of the Human Story:

But there is another side to the story of the Son of Man. Friday's Gospel also shows Jesus and his disciples tramping through grain fields talking, laughing, and --- like all the poor allowed in Jewish Law to glean from the margins of others' fields, taking what they need for the moment --- never mind that it is the Sabbath --- or perhaps precisely because it IS the Sabbath! For it seems to me that, Pharisees aside, this picture from Matthew's Gospel is precisely a picture of Sabbath rest in God's good creation.

Yes, it is also a portrait of Jesus' unique authority as mediator of the New Law and its higher ethic, but in my lectio today I mainly hear the notes of joy and self-confidence, the echoes of a freedom and sense of easy celebration Jesus and his disciples demonstrate in being together. The Son of Man has nowhere "to lay his head" and he and his disciples may be poor men alienated in some cases from their families and at odds with the civil and religious leadership of the day, but in this moment they are also at rest. They belong to God and to one another and we have the sense though they are hungry and homeless on one level, most profoundly they are more truly at home and want for nothing essential. They are genuinely free and so we see them simply and joyfully being themselves together in the power of God's love and the presence of the Lord of the Sabbath.

One of the realities which hermits are meant to live and witness to is called "the silence of solitude". It is a rich symbol that points above all to the peace that comes from Communion with God alone. The silence it speaks of is not merely the absence of external noise though it includes that. More importantly it is a silence which reflects a kind of inner quies that exists in the midst of the storm --- any personal storm, tragedy, loss, grief, etc --- when one is secure in God. This silence of solitude is the quies that comes from being secure in God's love; it allows one to feel "at home" wherever one goes. It is that essential well-being or shalom which is a function of the state of one's heart, not of external place or changing circumstances, the same, "being-at-homeness" that Jesus and his disciples manifest in tomorrow's Gospel.

A Personal Note:

(Not Stillsong Hermitage!!!)
This last week and a half, without preparation or warning the trees which provide a significant degree of quiet, shade, protection, and privacy for my hermitage were cut down. There will be more devastation to come -- and much of it is simply bureaucratic senselessness. The reasons given do not satisfy (no more than the Pharisees' legalisms convince in Friday's story!) and in the past few days I have found there is no part of my life, work, prayer, rest, or ministry that has been left unaffected by the changes --- especially by the loss of privacy and natural environment. It has been upsetting and promises to be more upsetting in the future.

But in my own story too there is something deeper than the sense of disruption, violation, grief, or the loss of place I am experiencing. For I too have found what rich and poor alike hunger for, what rich and poor alike really need most fundamentally. Because I know the God who loves me with an everlasting love, at the core of my life there is, in the midst of the storm, "the silence of solitude" and --- though not without some real challenge in the days and months ahead --- I will rest there in the company of God and glean what good and nourishment I can from and despite my surroundings.

The Real Point: Living from our Truest Home

Rich or poor, hermit or not, I think this is the challenge and struggle which faces each of us. We experience, sometimes more painfully and cruelly than others, what it means to have no place to lay our heads in this world, but we are invited in every case to know the deeper hospitality of God's own heart and to rest there. My prayer is that each of us, no matter the storms, tragedies, or other significant changes that also come our way, can find and reflect in our own lives something of the freedom and easy celebration that comes from being those who know Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath first hand. I pray that I and all of us can find (or remain in) the sense of "quies", shalom, or "at-homeness" which allows us to walk through our world as pilgrims with both open hearts and empty hands --- just as Jesus and his first disciples did in Matthew's Gospel lection.