Of Home, and Work, and Idols

Sermon for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Evensong YrC 2019

Hos 10:1-8,12
Gal 4:8-20

Things that enslave take us away from home

One of my earliest memories of parish ministry involved a difficult situation regarding a request for a baptism. The circumstances are now certainly immaterial, but what stuck with me was the words of the father of the child – ‘everything I do, I am doing for my children’.
He was referring to the seemingly endless hours he spent working, away from home. It is perhaps as Martin Luther put it, we sacrifice our children to our gods, or perhaps our idols. those things which ensnare us. Perhaps in the depths of our story, a story of our being alienated from home – we discover that we lose home because we want. . . we know not what . . . somehow ‘it is out there’ We leave home chasing a dream ‘to be like gods, and discover the world of ‘work’

cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread The work of Home is one that we have forgotten

Working away from Home is in many regards a powerful expression of our Modern lostness. Indeed it would perhaps not be putting it too strongly to say that ‘homelessness’ is our contemporary condition. We too readily assume that owning a house is the same as ‘being at home’. I think it not too much to contend that unless we give ourselves to the work of home making, we are all lost in every sense of the word.

This condition of our leaving home in pursuit of a delusion – is powerfully evoked in the words of Wendell Berry. Berry, for those who do not know him, and I recently heard him referred to as ‘the most important writer no-one seems to know about’ is a farmer. From his farm in rural Kentucky he looks out at the world – and writes of our modern condition. Not least on the relationship between work and Home.
Amongst his many insightful comments, Berry says that that he is unaware of any man who considered himself to be liberated because he had to leave home to find work . . . leaving home is not a good thing.
Some folk don’t have the choice, indeed much of the history of the human race is that of people being displaced – leaving home to find . . . yet Home is where we belong. The Story of God’s people is a story calling them to home, from Abraham on, and yet they are constantly lured away, not finding home beneath their feet

And I suggest that we have lost our sense of home. Certainly it is hard to think that any rational being would treat their home as we have treated the earth . . . whilst we chase after . . . what? Berry in his poem ‘The Timbered choir’ calls ‘it’ ‘the objective’ – what follows are extracts from a longer piece.

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

. . .

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, . . .

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

Looking for ‘the objective’ ‘which they did not yet perceive in the far distance, having never known where they were going, having never known where they came from . an idea, an idol . . . our hearts set on . . .

The story of GOd’s people is exactly this – of chasing after idols – and the consequence is they find themselves far from home. Enslaved in Egypt, and as we heard tonight exiled from the land . . . perhaps the perversity of our age is that we have grown so accustomed to our exile from the land? When in England I worked closely with a drug rehab centre – those most resistant to change, even thought they looked their plight full in the face were the insitutionalised, those who had spent so login prison it had become their safe place, from which they durst not emerge . . . our idols enslave, not just the drug users

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, . . .

And in leaving home, we discover a horrifying truth – the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Home now must be found in a different way

The parable of the Prodigal is this story writ small, into the story of the son who leaves home for the sake of ‘the objective’, yet ‘comes to his senses’ and sets off to discover that which he had sought was to be found in the place he had left.

The ‘solution’ is to Know God – to be known by God. St Paul as he writes to the Galatians is utterly distraught. They had it all, yet have now abandoned home in the pursuit of idols. He points out that before coming to faith in Christ Jesus, they were ‘enslaved to those things that by nature are not gods. Now however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again . . .? He goes on to speak to them of those people who only wish to use them for their own purposes, ‘They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them’ those who sought to manipulate the world to their ends, to ‘the objective’ become once more enslaved, become themselves manipulated . . . a simple contemporary example would be ‘The Screen’ to use a word which covers a wider area of devices which we thought served us, but to which we have become enslaved and distorted, not least for whilst we are in our houses, we are still at work – away from Home.

Ultimately, as Berry says quoting one of E.M. Forster’s characters, ‘it all turns on affection’. Our homelessness is the fruit of distorted Love. We do not know where we are, for we do not properly Love where we are.

Finally the Truth of our Lives is found in ourLife in God. To find our Home in Him, to Love him in all and through all and above all, is to be Home

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