Several years ago, I was part of an intentional community of young men who served the church called the Brother’s House. My position, as the oldest, was as the head brother, and the three others living with me were all aged 19 – 21. I was in my early thirties. You can imagine that living in the same house together with these young men didn’t always go as I would have hoped. Sometimes, I had prepared food, only to find that at the moment that I wanted to eat this food I was looking forward to, someone had beat me to it. Or I would vacuum the floors, only to have someone track mud into the house. Or one of them would fail to pay rent, and we would find ourselves without services. Not the best arrangement, but certainly an opportunity to grow my ability to forgive.
Every time we live with others in community, we open ourselves up to growth – opportunities to expand as people, as spiritual beings; we learn to live together as a beloved community with those on the same journey toward God.
As we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers that if they keep his commandments, he and the father would come and dwell with them. In a sense, God becomes our housemate, and the house in question is our soul, our mind, our heart. God wants to live in community with us, and make a home with and within us.
For those of you who know that you’ve lived with anyone else, you know that the best relationships are ones in which there is no deception, no lies, no lasting secrets. We get an idea of what it means to live with God in the reading from Revelation today. In the place where God dwells, the streets and homes are illuminated with the light of God. There is no darkness at all. To expand our metaphor of a home, if God dwells with us, our souls themselves become illuminated, and darkness and falsehood are cast out.
These readings are a foreshadowing for what we – and the lectionary – celebrate in two weeks: Pentecost. The arrival of the Holy Spirit to guide us, to illuminate our paths, and to move us into a state where falsehoods and lies can not find any shadows in which to lurk.
It is a slow process. Changes developed through a life together.
God will never push, but God will prompt. God will not demand, but God will suggest. God will not nag, but God will remind. God will seek to shine light on anything that we might wish to keep secret, so that we might draw ever closer to a relationship with the Divine.
Imagine, then, a home, filled with rooms, and God has come to dwell with you. As you show God around the house, you point out the beautiful view from the balcony, overlooking the mountains across the valley from where you are. You show God all the beautifully decorated rooms and let God know that you are pleased to share your home.
And things go well. You wake up in the morning and spend time on the balcony, drinking your coffee and having deep and meaningful conversations with God. And you feel God’s love and closeness, as though you alone are God’s most beloved.
Until one day, God says, “What’s behind this door here? You’ve never shown me what’s in this room.” And you respond, “You don’t need to see that room. Come, let’s go to the balcony and talk a bit. I’ve got a new bottle of wine I’d like us to try out.”
But God persists, and eventually you open up the room, pull back the curtains and reveal a room covered in cobwebs, filled to the ceiling with old boxes of junk of things you know you need to get rid of but somehow cannot bring yourself to let go of. But God brings the light to it, helps you throw out what needs throwing out, and with other items, God dusts them off, and helps you use them to decorate other parts of the house.
And this happens over and over again, with different rooms, as God shakes out those things we would rather keep hidden, and renews those things we may have forgotten.
This is transformation. This is growth. This is a refining of our lives so that we more closely reflect the image of God as the light of God’s love permeates our hearts and minds.
Imagine, however, one day, walking through the living room, and, turning, you see God sitting on the balcony with someone else. And God is laughing and joking, and talking with the other person just as God does with you.
So you confront God, asking, “How can you love this other person and spend time with them when they are clearly not keeping your commandments? They are not worthy of your love.”
And rather than answer you, God takes you to one more room, and opens the door. And in this room, God pulls open the curtains and reveals duct tape on the floor, separating the room in two. “Okay,” you say, “But that’s just because my brother will make a mess of things if I don’t set some boundaries. He is not like me.” And God leads us out of the room, showing us the duct tape lines that divide the hallway, the living room couch, right over the top of the kitchen table, all the supposedly shared spaces of the house, and we protest all the way, saying that we need these dividing lines, because God’s love simply cannot be for those that don’t keep his commandments, right?
We enjoy seeing our own lives transformed by God’s love, as we slowly shape our lives to reflect the will of God in this world. We are fond of seeing our lives change as we slowly transform into “good people.” And somehow, we always seem to think that those commandments that we keep are the only ones that make us worthy of God’s love.
We, as a people, like to be curators of the commandments that we believe will please God. We have lists of rules, and catalogs of morality, and we like to be the ones to enforce it all too. Because, isn’t that what makes a person worthy of God’s love? Isn’t keeping God’s commandments the prerequisite for God making his home in and with us?
We forget, however, that others are being transformed through the light of God’s love just as we are. And we forget that our understanding of God may be out of sync with theirs. What has been revealed to them may not yet have been revealed to us. And the opposite is also true: what has been revealed to us may not have yet been revealed to them.
God dwells with them, just as God does with us; God loves them, just as God loves us; God forgives them, just as God forgives us.
There can never be a beloved community – a community that includes all God’s children regardless of any differences that might keep us apart – there can be no peace, no living together in harmony, unless there is forgiveness and understanding.
This is not easy, and it doesn’t have to happen immediately. In my own life I have people that I still think are evil. Who have wronged me, done much to disparage me and cause me harm. And yet, I know that if they are actively trying to love God, then God will dwell with them, just as God dwells with me when I seek to love God.
At some point, the light of God’s love will shine deeply enough into my own heart that I will find the strength to forgive them, understand them, and reconcile. But today is not that day. Not yet.
It is also never easy when in this world we are confronted by war, genocide, violence and hatred. When we see people being murdered for the crime of being different. When we see people pushing for laws that make life more difficult for others simply to suit their own morality; when we see hatred showered upon some people in the name of a loving God; when we see people cast aside and deemed unworthy, simply because of who they are.
It is never easy to respond to those hateful actions with love, when we would rather respond in kind. We see so much of this world that still needs to be transformed by God’s love, and it seems so overwhelming. What can be done? How can the world be changed when there is still so much desire for power and control – and the ensuing hatred that springs from it?
But we are not called to change the world.
At least, not all at once.
We may get caught up in the idea of what makes a person worthy of God’s love, pulling out those lists and catalogs again, and running down the checklist to determine someone’s qualifications for becoming God’s beloved.
But God doesn’t care about any of that. God doesn’t care about the commandments and rules we come up with. Because the commandments that please God are only two:
Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
There can never be a beloved community – a community that includes all God’s children regardless of any self-imposed differences to keep ourselves apart – there can be no peace, no living together in harmony, unless there is forgiveness and understanding.
God makes a home with us, so that God’s love will transform us. And God transforms us so that we might transform the world – slow and difficult as it may be.
We are called to throw open windows and allow God’s light of love to shine in the dark places. We are called to rip up the duct tape that divides our living spaces between those worthy of God’s love and those deemed to not live up to all the requirements. We are called to stand in the face of hatred and power armed with nothing more than God’s love.
We are called to allow ourselves to be transformed by God, so that through God’s love working in us, we can transform the world.
And if we continue with this path, then slowly, ever so slowly, we may see the world transformed into one that resembles the heavenly city of God. A world in which there is no darkness at all.[This sermon was delivered at The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew in Tucson, AZ on May 22, 2022.]
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.