A Homely God

A Homely God

Sixth Sunday of Easter. Fr Peter Clarke preaches on the God who makes his home in us.

Many’s the time I’ve been asked to bless a newly-built house. The query ‘Do I have to be present at the blessing?’ comes as a surprise. It would seem that the chief purpose of the blessing is to obtain protection from hazards such as fire, floods, and burglary. In our area of the Caribbean we could include earthquakes and hurricanes.

I see here the need to point to the difference between erecting a structure, decorating and furnishing it, and making a home where people are comfortable with one another, move well together, and settle their quarrels amicably. What we would describe as a community of life and of love. This live-in experience surely merits a blessing whereby God is sought to be lovingly involved in bringing this about.

In today’s gospel we hear Jesus telling his disciples, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him and we shall come to make our home with him.’ The Father and his Son Jesus want to be at home with us. They want us to be at home with them. And lest we might think that the Holy Spirit is being left out, we shall recall that, as St Paul wrote, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

So the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wish to make their home with each of us individually. Dare we say in an easy-going companionable friendship, in which we are at ease with God? And this on a permanent basis, so that wherever we are God will be part of the action of our lives. This would make us rather like the travelling community in their caravans. Their home is one locality for a time. Then they will move on to somewhere else. Home is where they are at the moment. The Trinity wants to be where we are at any particular time.

God is no intruder. He does not force himself into the intimacy of our personal lives. Remember what is said of Jesus?

Look, I am standing at the door knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in and share a meal at that person’s side. (Rev 3:20)

Jesus respects our privacy, but he would welcome our hospitality. Ours is the freedom to ignore his knocking. Or, after opening the door to him for a while, we could always hustle him on his way. Or we could make him at home with us.

To some this idea of a ‘Homely God’ may seem a travesty of what it means to be a Christian – far too cosy, far too undemanding. But is it not true that it takes a great deal to convert a dwelling into a home – be it the domicile of a family or of a religious community? At the very least it calls for sensitivity, with the focus being on the well-being of others rather than primarily on that of ourselves. Unless, of course, we find that our contentment lies in making others contented. Here we are talking about self-giving rather than self-seeking. Surely we all know of those in families and religious communities who are preoccupied with themselves and their own agendas. They use the facilities but have little use for others, unless they can be of use to them!

It is all very well to take satisfaction from the idea that God wishes to make his home with us. The idea of a domesticated God is very convenient to those who see that he can be useful in furthering their interests, meeting their needs. Much like people who take advantage of those who share their home. There’s not much love in this. Jesus makes it clear that this will not do.

If anyone loves me he will keep my word.

This is a precondition of the Father and the Son coming to make their home in him. For us, to live according to the expectations of Jesus is exceedingly demanding. It would be a mistake to see this as arid obedience. Rather, it is our loving response to the God who loves us. Domestic ground-rules are not mere legalism – as any home-maker will assure us.

And so will God who wants to make his home with us. On reflection it now appears as though we have to be willing to allow God to take over the home that is our individual self, rather than expect God to conform to our scheme of things. Unwise, however, to ask God, our guest, ‘Whose home is it, anyway?’ He might just clear out!

Readings: Acts 15:1-2,22-29 | Rev 21:10-14,22-23 | John 14:23-29

Fr Peter Clarke worked for many years in the English Province's mission in the West Indies. May he rest in peace.