St John’s Kirkland
The Kingdom of God is like a pretty little brown sparrow with a little cap of red on the back of her head. She was plump and round, with shiny soft feathers and a bright black eye. She was looking for a place to make a nest and raise her family. She stopped first in the rafters of a little house at the outskirts of a bustling city, the house was neat and tidy and the eves were deep and there was a perfect little niche to start her nest. And so she did, but she’d gotten only half way through building it when a woman came out the door yelling and waving a broom. With a slap and a swipe the little nest was scattered all over the neat yard and the sparrow had to duck and flutter or she would have been scattered with it.
Shaken but determined she flew on, this time she stopped to rest on the support poles of a striped awning in one of the city’s bustling market places. Below her the merchant was laying out shining silver bowls and jewelry that sparkled in the sun. There was a perfect spot here too, up in the awning, to start a nest. But no sooner had she gathered two sticks than the merchant began shouting “go away you filthy bird! You will ruin my fine things!” and he picked up rocks and threw them at her until she leapt into the air and flew away in fear.
She was now deep into that sprawling city, far away from all the things she knew. She was tired and discouraged and just wanted a place to make her home. She flew and flew, past grand homes and lush gardens, full of people who shoed her away or shouted, or big strong birds who bullied and chased. Her little feathered breast felt ready to burst with sadness. Finally she came upon a huge building with many courts. The outer courts were filled with people and animals, noise and smoke. She was so tired, but there was no where to rest. But at last she found herself in the very heart of this huge building, she fluttered through a doorway, past a heavy curtain and silence fell. Here all was quiet.
No one noticed her go in and out, carrying little sticks and bits of straw and she built a tidy little nest right up under the top of a huge altar in the middle of that quiet room. There she laid her eggs, and there her babies hatched. One day a man in fancy robes came into her quiet sanctuary carrying a smoking pot and chanting solemnly. When he saw her nest against the pure expanse of altar he shouted in anger and her heart leapt. But as he stepped forward, his fist raised, the silence became so deep that it was echoed like thunder, the air grew thick and hard and the sparrow thought, though certainly it couldn’t have, that the whole building shook except for the little spot where her nest huddled.
The man stopped, he looked around him in awe and back at the little sparrow and then he bowed low to her and backed slowly and silently out of the sanctuary, leaving her, and her three little ones, in peace. The kingdom of God is like temple priests who shared the crumbs from their bread with a family of sparrows who every morning welcomed back the sun with their morning hymn.
Home. It means more than simply where we live, a building, a room. Home is that elusive place where our hearts are at peace, where we know we belong, where even alone we feel surrounded by love. Since the days of the Psalmist (and long before) we’ve been looking for home. For a place of comfort and safety that couldn’t be snatched away. Much of the history of human kind is about that search, and all the wrong places we try to label “home.”
The Hebrew people found their home around God. Around the tabernacle tent that moved with them, home on the road. Eventually in the solid walls of the Temple in Jerusalem, where God took residence on Earth, where the center of all the world turned on the axis of the altar. And when the Temple fell, the Jews, like the Jesus followers, discovered that God’s place on earth was not in one location at all, but a thousand different places wherever they were. They discovered that God followed them, proceeded them, turned up in every place they went and in all those places where they found God: they found home.
We have been discovering, and forgetting our true home for generations. We often mislabel home, thinking it was a building, a place, a person, a perfect future. Today God says: welcome home. If you have been nested with God all you life, welcome home. If you have never set foot in a church before or aren’t even really sure why you are here today, welcome home. If you have been thrown out, kicked out, rejected, welcome home. If you have fled, are hiding, are still running, welcome home.
There is a place here against God’s altar for you to build you nest. There is always room for one more in God’s house. For the sparrows, and the swallows both. For the refugee who is still wearily looking for a place to stop, and the young professional half a world from the place she grew up. For the weary among us wondering where the world they knew went, and those who are glad it’s gone.
The home God offers is one of radical love, that welcomes us home with wide open arms no matter where we’ve come from or how far along the road we are. That welcomes our mess, that sees our beauty. But nestling up against that altar comes with obligations too. God’s home expands to fit all who need shelter, that means there are hungry swallows to be fed, and rooms to be swept out of the mistakes of the past to make room for those who are still on their way. There is work to do once we’ve healed enough to do it.
Those of us who have found a home up against the altar, in the house of God have a duty to welcome everyone who comes looking for home. We who share a home with God, who have found refuge for our hearts have an obligation to put no barriers between home and those still searching for it. To welcome all who come looking for springs of water, for safe haunts, for a place to lay down their weary selves and rest. Today you are perhaps very familiar with God’s house, you know it well and you feel totally at home. Good, roll up your sleeves because there is work to do sharing the good things we have found. Today perhaps you are not so sure and that too is good, take off your walking shoes and cool your feet. Take a moment from the hurry and the busy and rest.
I don’t have fancy theology for you today. I have a sparrow, building her nest in the holiest of places because that is where she belongs. Because that is where we all belong, all of us, without exception.