Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor

The Way Home

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

Coming Home – over the last four weeks we have explored this theme in the Gospel according to Saint Luke. We have watched Jesus particularly, this one born through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, born of his mother Mary. We have seen Mary assent to bearing God’s son – to allowing him a home on this earth. We have seen this Jesus who is utterly at home in his father, God, this God who named him “Beloved” at his baptism. All Jesus’ earthly life is lived out of his closeness to God. All his encounters with human beings. And his journey to Jerusalem, a journey that ends in death, is walked in God. Jesus lives this life and dies this death that we and all creation too might find our home in God.

We have looked at different aspects of Jesus’ ministry – his living a life of prayer, infused by the Spirit, prayer that we thought of as taking “a long loving look at the real.”[1] We have explored his healing, through the faith of those who cry out to him, and through his own compassion, his long loving look at those who are suffering. We have witnessed his love of meals with, particularly, those whom society shuns. We have wrestled with the parables he told. And we heard in the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the dishonest manager, stories about two characters who, having squandered the life given to them, made extraordinary efforts to get home. And we heard Jesus say through these parables, “Do anything to get home.”

Jesus is about salvation. God intends peace for our earth and salvation for all, particularly those on the margins. Mary’s song that we hear sung each night at Evensong, leaves us in no doubt that God’s embrace is wide and reverses the values of our world. God’s project is to bring all creation home.

Over the past four weeks, we have watched Jesus at work, but what of us? What is required of us as we journey, and encourage others on that journey, home?


Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ (Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus met a lawyer who asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer in this story would have been one well versed in the Law of Moses. Jesus, as was often his way, answered the lawyer’s question with another question. And so this teaching that combines two verses from the Jewish Law to love God and neighbour came from this lawyer’s lips not the words of Jesus. (Luke 10:25-8) We see the integrity Jesus gives to those who dare to engage with him – that the answers to such critical questions come from within themselves.

The lawyer goes on with the questions, though. “Who is my neighbour?” he asks and Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The lawyer seems to be asking for some sort of boundary to place around the idea of neighbour. Some restriction on those to whom Jesus might expect him to offer his neighbourly love. No restrictions here, though. Jesus tells a parable that seems to invite us to view this question from two perspectives. Firstly, we might ponder the experience of the beaten, half dead, man at the side of the road who watches two devout Jews pass by on the other side and then finds himself cared for by an outsider who views him with deep compassion. If we follow the questions, from the opening question “Who is my neighbour?” to Jesus’ question at the end of the parable, “Which of these three was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” we find that we are the wounded man and the Samaritan is our neighbor. And we find that the parable seems to be challenging us to love the utter stranger who cares for us in a time of need.

The second perspective in this parable is that of the passers-by. The priest and the Levite, strict followers of the Jewish law, would have been concerned that contact with this wounded man would have rendered them unclean. It is left to an outsider, a Samaritan, to show a different motivation. Jesus’ audience would have been deeply shocked that it is a Samaritan used by Jesus to illustrate neighbourly behavior. Brendan Byrne states, “At the end of the parable it is not a question of where and how far I should draw the limits of the notion “neighbour” – to see how far my obligations of “love” extend. It is a question of imitating the hospitality shown by the despised alien who broke through the barriers of ethnic and religious prejudice to minister to a fellow human being in need. The concept of “neighbor” shifts from being a tag that I may or may not apply to another, to being a quality or a vocation that I take upon myself and actively live out.”[2]

The concept of neighbor is a vocation. And part of our way home is found in allowing this vocation to neighbour to infuse our lives.

And then we come to loving God. For loving God, living in the love of God, knowing ourselves enfolded in that love of God, somehow trying to return that love of God – is it possible that this is both the way home and that it is home?

Jesus is seen by the disciples praying in a “certain place” and they ask him to teach them how to pray. How do we love God, is it in prayer? Pray, I think. Pray at all times and in all places. Tell God the truth. Know ourselves as children of God and live and breathe in that knowledge.

But who is this God? And will some sense of God help us as we try to pray?

Jesus knew God as Father and the first words of the prayer he gave us has us name God “Father”. God, then, is like an utterly trustworthy parent. Jesus, when he spoke to the disciples about how to engage in this mysterious way of prayer said to persevere, he told parables to encourage us to persevere, and he described God’s longing to give the Holy Spirit to his children.

Rowan Williams describes God as an unconditional witness. He writes of “the unconditional witness to which/whom [we] seek to be open”[3] and of “the ‘infinite resource’ of God, the reality or presence that has no interest to pursue and no selfhood to defend.”[4] All human beings, no matter how caring, have an interest to pursue and a selfhood to defend. Can we imagine being in the presence of God who, free from all self-interest, opens his arms to embrace the truth of our lives.

It is Jesus who teaches us to pray. Rowan Williams describes Jesus’ own prayer at the time of his temptation in the desert:

Jesus in the desert …looks towards God and there’s nothing there that will solve a problem, nothing there that will sweep away all the questions. What there is is truth and love and patience and endless welcome. In due course that will transform us, it will bring us to joy, it will make our problems …fade away. But first of all we have to get used to a new climate, we have to breathe a new air, …the air of the Holy Spirit …[we have to] get used to the idea of God quite different from what we expected and yet at the same time ringing bells with what we most care about and most deeply long for.[5]

An unconditional witness with no interest to pursue, no selfhood to defend. Truth and love and patience and endless welcome. Loving God involves getting used to a new climate, breathing a new air, …the air of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in which Jesus prayed and which Jesus promised us God longs to give.

Head for home, home in God. Do anything to get there. It may be that we think we’ve failed at our vocation of loving God and loving neighbour but it doesn’t matter. Remember the stories of the son and the manager who squandered their property. Jesus in those stories affirmed their heading for home by the strangest of means. Head for home, for we’ll find there a table, a welcome, healing, stories to be told, a place to tell our stories. And we’ll find forgiveness too. Forgiveness for the way we’ve made a mess at times of the loving of God and neighbour.

We’ll find forgiveness there. We haven’t heard that story yet. That story is to come. For it is in the Gospel according to Saint Luke that we will hear Jesus say on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. That story is to come. For Holy Week is coming soon. Holy Week and Good Friday and the crucifixion and the extraordinary story of Easter are coming soon. Let us settle down to hear those stories. The stories of God’s redemption of all things in Christ – the story of God’s bringing all creation home.

[1] Walter Burghardt – quoted in James Martin, SJ The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life

[2] Brendan Byrne The Hospitality of God p101.

[3] Williams, The Edge of Words p89.

[4] Ibid, p90.

[5] #BigRead13: “Why study C.S.Lewis for Lent” with Rowan Williams YouTube video, 7.22. Jan 30, 2013.