Home Is Where the Heart Is
December 02, 2012
So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ “I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’ “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
(Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67)
When you go to a conference or start a new job or go off on vacation—any place where you are meeting people for the first time—people ask you things like “What’s your name?” “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” But what everybody really wants to know, and what they will actually most likely remember, is where you’re from.
Maybe you’ve noticed this too. I think we have an easier time remembering where people come from than we do remembering what their names are. You know, you go out to lunch with your spouse later on and you say, “Remember that girl with the blond hair, the one from Texas?” Her name is long gone, but you remember where she’s from because when you know where a person is from, you think (whether this is true or not) that you know something about that person.
“Oh, he’s from Myrtle Beach; he must love to golf.”
“They’re from California; they must enjoy computer programming and surfing.”
“They’re from Colorado; I bet they’re rock climbers or crunchy granola types.”
“New York? Gosh, I hope they’re not Yankees fans!”
“Where are you from?” is a pretty loaded question, and as the world grows smaller and smaller and our opportunities for mobility grow greater and greater, that question gets progressively harder to answer and understand. How many of you were born and raised here in the Pioneer Valley? Okay, so for you perhaps it’s not so complicated. For others of you, though, the question could have multiple answers, depending on how many times you have moved.
And then there’s the whole problem of trying to understand what it is that the person asking the question really wants to know. Is he or she asking you where you live now? Where you were born? Where you spent the bulk of your time growing up? About that place that, for you, was most formative? What do we even mean anymore when we ask this very common, very loaded, and increasingly complex question?
“Where are you from?” Sometimes it’s hard to say.
Looking at our scripture reading for this morning, I began to wonder what Abraham would have said if you had asked him this question. Of course, I really don’t know how he would have responded, because he did move around a lot; but I think if you pressed him, he probably would have said, “Ur.”
The response “Ur” would not have been a grunt or a one-syllable plea for you to please speak up. “Ur” was a place, “Ur of the Chaldeans.” It was the land of Abraham’s father, which they all left at some point for a place called Haran.
But Abraham didn’t stay in Haran. At the age of seventy-five, in obedience to a call from God, Abraham picked up his belongings, his wife Sarah, and their nephew Lot, and they left Haran for Canaan. But as soon as they arrived in Canaan, the land God had promised Abraham, they had to leave and head down to Egypt because there was a famine. Over the next hundred years (and we know the number, because we know Abraham lived to be 175), he and his household wandered all over, in and out of Canaan, wherever the Lord led, and there was food and water available for their flocks and their household.
It was, of necessity, a nomadic existence. So you can see that the question of where he was from might have been difficult for Abraham to answer. But I still think he would have said, “Ur.” I think that Abraham, over that century of wandering, probably never lost the feeling that he was a stranger in a strange land, a man wandering far from home. Perhaps some of you can relate.
You see, in a spiritual sense all of Canaan was his. It was the land the Lord had promised to him and to his descendants. But in a practical sense, it was never his at all. In the chapter before this one, there is a very poignant scene where Abraham buries his wife Sarah—but in order to do so, he needs to purchase a cave from the locals. I think perhaps that tomb was the only piece of land that Abraham ever technically owned.
And so, with all this in mind, I am not at all surprised that when the time came to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham sent his servant, not to Haran or Egypt, not to Mt. Moriah, Beer-sheba, or Beer-lahairoi, but back to Ur, Ur of the Chaldeans, back to his kin, to his brother’s household. I think when the time came to find a wife for his son, Abraham sent his servant home.
There is something deeply precious about this part of the story. It tells us that where we are from may be as much a spiritual place as a physical one, a place defined as much by blood and bone and ancestry as it ever could be by geography.
Abraham sent his servant home, home to Ur, and you know the rest of the story. The servant meets Rebekah, and she is the answer to his prayers. Her family, of course, doesn’t want her to go right away, but the servant is eager to return. He feels that Yahweh has blessed this marriage, and he wants to complete his task.
Rebekah seems to understand this too. She may be from Ur, but she too seems to feel that her destiny lies with Isaac. She doesn’t waver but goes forward bravely and leaves her home, her family, her kin, to become part of the story of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. She leaves her home to create a new one, and in so doing she becomes, quite literally, the mother of Israel.
It’s a beautiful story—one in which we can see that the idea of home is not only primal but also fluid. Home is a concept everyone carries within, and therefore something different for everyone. Home is the place where you can say anything you want, because no one is listening to you anyway! Home is the place where you can be who you are, because everyone loves you anyway. Home is not just the place where you were born, or even the place where you now reside. Perhaps it is not even a physical place at all, but something else entirely—a state of being, or, if you will, a place of the heart.
In some sense, I think we are all from some place we are trying to get back to—a place of innocence we would return to if we could, only we can’t quite find our way, and we wouldn’t know what to do there with our older and wiser selves, even if we could get there.
That’s where grace comes in, those moments of grace when we catch a glimpse of what was and what will be, those mystical moments when we brush up against God almost in spite of ourselves and realize that the place we are searching for—our source, our origin, our true home—is not so much a place as it is a person.
A person who has been whispering from our very beginning, “Come…come unto me, all you who are weary… and I will give you rest.” “Come, take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” “Come, for he who cometh to me shall never hunger. Come, for she who believes in me will never thirst.” Come. Just as you are. Back to me. Back to this table. Back home.
As I was meditating on these ideas of communion and homecoming, I was reminded of an interview I once read with a woman named Rosalyn Williams. For Rosalyn, the concepts of home and the beauty of the Lord’s Supper are inextricably intertwined.
This has a lot to do with her experience growing up in the 1960s. As a young African American woman in that tumultuous decade, Rosalyn would often babysit for white families in her neighborhood. When she did and her time there would extend through a meal, she remembers that she always set a place for herself in the kitchen while the family ate in the dining room.
All this changed, however, when Rosalyn went to babysit at the home of Bob and Ellen Thayer, the new pastors of the First Congregational Church in her town. When they asked her to stay for dinner, Rosalyn automatically set her own place in the kitchen. But this time it was different.
“Ellen said, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘That’s my place,’ and Ellen picked up [my place setting] and moved it into the dining room, and I just was really stunned by that. Then she asked me how I liked my steak. I didn’t have any idea how you’d answer, I was so shocked. So I said, you know, ‘Cooked!’”
Shortly after that dinner, Martin Luther King came to speak at the Thayers’ church. Rosalyn went home afterwards and read Stride Toward Freedom. For the first time, she realized that she mattered, and not only to herself and her people; she mattered to America. “King not only said that we count, but that we count most profoundly because we hold clues to the soul of America, to redeeming that soul.”
These two events—taking her place at the Thayers’ dining-room table and hearing MLK speak at their church—marked a turning point in Rosalyn’s life. She came to see that not only did she matter, but she also had as much right and as much responsibility to take her place in society as any other person, regardless of gender, color, politics, or religion.
Rosalyn said, “From my various families (not just biological but through my experience with the Thayers), I have learned that home is where I’m invited to the table. Home is pretty critical for me because of my upbringing—it is the big myth I strive for.”
She paused in the interview and then quoted Douglas Meeks: “‘Home is the place where there will be a place for you at the table, what is on the table will be shared, and you will be placed under obligation.’ Continuing, she added, “Communion has always been really important to me, because it’s a leveler. There is nobody with any more sin or less sin than anybody else when you’re around that table, and the whole world is invited there.”
And then, remembering the Thayers, she said, “When people pour themselves out for you, that really is home and family; it teaches you the miracle of transformation and makes you really understand what could happen if you could pour yourself out for somebody else” (Daloz/Parks, Common Fire, pp. 125- 126, 130).
For Rosalyn, Communion is a form of homecoming, a symbol of home, and perhaps it can be that for us as well.
I know we all sometimes come to the Communion table with very little awareness of what we are about to do. We come because it just happens to be the first Sunday of the month, and here we are in church.
But a gift awaits us here. The desire for home is a fundamental part of what it is to be human. It is the gift Abraham and Rebekah and Rosalyn were searching for, and a gift we long for too. If we can quiet our hearts this morning, perhaps this time we will taste and see that this gift is right before us in the Holy Supper we have come to celebrate together.
For when we come to this table with the right spirit, when we come and lay our burdens down—as He has said that we can—when we give over our worries and our concerns, confess our sins and lay them down as well, then we can come—if only for a moment—back into that place of innocence, that place of new beginnings, that place where we are who we are—nothing more, nothing less—imperfect children of a perfectly loving God, beloved children who have found a place we can all call home.
Oh Lord, we come now and pray that you would receive us, that you would cover us in the shadow of your wings and hold us close. Help us to lay down those things that separate us from the fullest experience of your loving presence in our lives, that we might find our rest and our peace in you. Amen.
Rev. Sarah Buteux