Sunday, November 22, 2015

Home (Genesis 2)

Let me talk to you for a minute about households.
In ancient times, the primary social unit was the household. Scripture talks about Abraham’s household, Isaac’s household, Jacob’s household…and in some cases each household was really an entire community or tribe. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the heads of their respective households, which made them something like tribal leaders.
And it was the responsibility of the head of the household to ensure that everyone in the tribe was taken care of. Everyone was fed, everyone was loved, and everyone contributed to the wellbeing of the entire household.
Some of the earliest depictions of God are as the head of a household. And in Genesis 2, we see that God goes about the work of building a home, furnishing it, and providing for those who are a part of it.
Imagine Genesis 2 as the bulding of a home. It starts with a plot of land: the house has not yet been built. No plant in the field, no rain upon the earth, and no one to till the ground. Just a field of dirt.
From that dirt, God created a human. Heads of households often had stewards who took care of the day-to-day operations of the household. That is what this human is.
God created this human from the dirt. The human’s name reflects this. In Hebrew, the dirt is called adamah, so the human is called adam. Eventually adam becomes a proper name, but it’s not a proper name yet, here in Genesis 2. It’s just a word that means “human.” Or perhaps more accurately, “dirt-creature.”
God created this human, and God breathed into the human, providing the human with life.
Now that God has a steward to take care of the home, God begins construction. God plants a garden; the garden is the home. And in that garden there are plants to look at: pictures on the walls; and also plants to eat – this must be the kitchen.
There is a tree of life: that must be – I don’t know – the bedroom? And there is a tree of knowledge, which is the library.
But a house isn’t a home without love. Right? I recently asked on my facebook page, “What does HOME mean to you?” Almost all the responses I got mentioned love.
“It’s where your loved ones are.” “It’s where you find everyone you love.” “It’s where you don’t have to hide, where you feel at peace and safe and loved…”
The human God created was alone. The human didn’t have anyone to love. So God decided to create a companion and helper, someone who could be the human’s life partner.
First, God created the animals, and allowed the human to name them. Naming things helped the human personalize the house, make it feel more like home.
But this was not enough. No true life partner could be found among the animals.
So God created another human. This was a suitable companion, someone to love.
And the house became a home.
One of the things I am thankful for, especially during the holidays, is home. Most of my earliest memories, and most of my best memories, take place at home, or at some place where I was truly made to feel at home. Welcomed. Accepted. Loved, unconditionally.
Certainly this included the home I grew up in, with my parents and my sister, in a little apartment in a building that no longer exists… and then later, after we moved into a house, with another sister.
It also included the houses of my grandparents, where holiday gatherings often took place.
It also included, to some degree, the preschool I attended. I remember we were allowed to paint the walls outside our classroom, which really made us feel that we were contributing to the “household,” even though – unbeknownst to us - the “paint” in our buckets was just water.
Old memories of home are almost always good memories. Often they are romanticized. They are often better as memories than they were in reality. The truth, of course, is that home can sometimes be… well, a mess.
We remember the home that God created for humans to live in, and it sounds wonderful. Eden is paradise.
But it really wasn’t so perfect, was it?
Into this household appeared temptation, jealousy, envy, deceit, embarrassment.
It turns out that the perfect home… wasn’t.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the household I grew up in wasn’t perfect, either. My parents were doing their best to play the role of perfect parents in a perfect household, but for one of my parents at least, it wasn’t a role that was meant to be played. It became too much, trying to be the family that society said we should be, trying to live up to society’s idea of a perfect family.
We see in society and in the media an idea of what a perfect family is like, what a perfect home is like. The images are all around us. The script is written for us.
We try to follow the script, but we become disillusioned when our lives deviate from what society says is ideal. None of us could have imagined that there would creep into our perfect homes things such as divorce or addiction or eating disorders or abuse or insecurity or mental illness or unemployment or medical crises or times of great stress.
The pressure is on to hide such things. After all, all those youtube stars and instagram celebrities with the endless stream of perfect pictures showing their perfect lives never had to deal with any of this. Right?
Essena O’neill is a beautiful teenage model who for some time has posted pictures to her 800,000 followers on instagram. Whether posing by the beach or the pool, or in a candid photo in her backyard, everything about her life seemed perfect.
And her 800,000 followers wanted their lives to be just as perfect as hers.
Except that her life wasn’t perfect.
A few weeks ago, Essena O’neill deleted her instagram account. Now she talks about what was really going on behind the scenes of those perfect pictures: The insecurity. The self-imposed starvation to have the perfect bikini body. The loneliness. The exhaustion. The clothes she was paid to wear. And how all of it was so fake.
Even the so-called “candid” photos actually involved hours of preparation to get just right, and hundreds of photos taken to get one that looked just the way she – or the photographer – wanted. She says she was addicted to appearance and to getting more people to “like” her social media posts.
She was trying so hard to live by the script… but it wasn’t her. It was all fake. Finally, she had enough. She wanted her life back.
Imagine if Adam and Eve were on instagram. In the pictures they post, you wouldn’t see the temptation. You wouldn’t see their embarrassment when they realized they were naked. You wouldn’t see their longing for knowledge, their longing for something more to life than just looking pretty in paradise. You wouldn’t see them hiding from God in shame.
And their kids! Oh my gosh! Instagram would show them as being the pefect family. But in reality, you know there was a sibling rivalry between their first-born and their second-born so fierce that the first-born ended up murdering the second-born. Their grief, their anguish – none of that would be on instagram.
So from the beginning of creation, there has been a temptation to portray our homes, our families, and our lives as perfect, when really, more often then not, they are a mess.
(Well, that’s the end of the sermon…)
For most of us, even though things are a mess, there is still much that is good. There is still love to be shared.
In the movie Lilo & Stitch, when Stitch was about to be forcibly separated from his family, he said: “this is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken… but still good. Yeah. Still good.”
There is a lot of brokenness in our families. But they are still good. Home isn’t a place where you escape from the brokenness. Home is a place where you find the goodness and the love in the midst of brokenness.
And home is something to be shared. Many of us have opened up our homes to welcome in those who needed a home, needed a family. Whether it’s for an evening or for a season, many of us have welcomed others into our families.
It’s something we do as a church family. We’re not perfect. We don’t try to be. There are already too many perfect churches in the world. But still, we are called to be a place of welcome, a place of hospitality, a spiritual home for all those who need one.
Our faith tells us that, ultimately, our home is with God. Home is where the love is, and the Bible says that God is love.
The U.S. Catholic Conference of bishops has said that “humans are never so much at home as when God dwells with them.” So make your heart a home for God. God knows you’re not perfect, yet God still thinks you are good.  God still welcomes you to take your place at the banquet table. God still loves, and always will love.
Make your heart a home for God, and you will find your home in God. No matter where you are, or what you are dealing with, you will find your home in God.
God is our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.

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