25-26 Jan 2020, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Isaiah 66, selections (inserted)
Children, Matthew 12.46-50 (My Brother and Sister and Mother)
Message, Revelation 21.1-8 (dwelling place of God is with humanity)
Years ago, I went through an exhaustive and exhausting personal and professional assessment for serving as a church planter in our region of The United Methodist Church. Jim Griffith, who was conducting the screening process, sat down across from me and Robin and looked at my standard personality inventories: “Well, we’ve got an ax murderer here.” Those were his first words.
As I talked about my long-term dream to start a church, he stopped me and asked, “Why haven’t you done it already?” Being more vulnerable and exposed than usual, and being pushed into extensive self-reflection, I said something I had not prepared or anticipated. “Because I did not have a home.”
We’ve all got “stuff” to work through, and I’ve got my share. Adopted siblings who had been victims of abuse and who when puberty hit … well, enough about that. It was hard on them, it was hard on me, it was hard on our whole family. I insulated myself with Scripture and hymn and prayer and fasting. I left for college, my parents rented out my room, and I never came back except to visit over holidays. Then, when I became a United Methodist, my parents were sure I had lost the true faith and my salvation with it. Fortunately, I’ve worked through most of that stuff, except the ax murderer part, and I’m as normal as can be.
We began this message series two weeks ago focused on the question of John to Jesus at his baptism: “Do you come to me?” The answer in the story was a decisive Yes. Jesus unites himself with outsider sinners in need of grace, Jesus determines to be with us. Jesus has “friends in low places” and that means you and me.
In the second message, we heard the LORD’s questions to the couple in the garden and to Cain after he killed his brother: “Where are you?” “Where is your brother?” The questions highlight our conflict with God and our conflict with our sisters and brothers and call us to reconcile. Today’s question comes from the prophet Isaiah, the text we read at our opening, “Where is the house you will build for me?”
“Because I did not have a home.” It was no indictment of my parents or family. It was no symptom of the fact that I had spent my whole life on the move, as the US Government moved our family around the globe. I moved so frequently that itinerancy in The United Methodist Church – pastors moving when the Bishop calls upon them to move – seems like a settled lifestyle by comparison. “I did not have a home.” I have learned that home has nothing to do with a building or a geographic region. Home is all about the people. As a young person, I learned to find myself at home in solitude, alone with Jesus. Over the past almost thirty years of marriage with Robin, we have made a home wherever we are together. In fact, Robin can be present in my solitude without disturbing it in any way. There is no one else who can be home to me in the way that she is.
Then, there is the mystery of God, the Holy Trinity, one God eternally existing in three persons. Well, that sounds like the right number for “home” to me. Yet, the story the Scripture gives us is that God wanted something more, that God being with God was not enough, that God wanted kids, “offspring units” that bear God’s image and that will hopefully grow up and still want to be with God. “In the beginning God created.” Samuel Wells describes it this way, “God originally made a decision never to be except to be with us” (27).
With those original humans, we are told that God showed up in the garden to walk with them “at the time of the evening breeze” (Genesis 3). A one-liner is stuffed into a Genesis genealogy, “And Enoch walked with God, and he was no more, for God took him.” As if one day on that walk, God said, “Hey, we’re closer to my home than yours. Why don’t you come to my place?”
In Exodus, as God makes covenant with Israel in the wilderness, the LORD makes this promise: “And I will dwell in the midst of the ⌊Israelites⌋, and I will be their God. 46 And they will know that I am Yahweh, their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt in order to dwell in their midst. I am Yahweh their God.”
The most famous prayer in the Psalms concludes with the line, “And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23).
As the prophet Isaiah imagines the new heavens and new earth, the renewal of all things in the coming reign of the LORD, he hears God declare that buildings don’t make a home for God. “Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?” God has made a home in all that is, and God is determined to inhabit this wild earth. And, God is particularly concerned to be with the humble and contrite.
The apostle Peter echoes this theme, telling us that we are “living stones” that are built into a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2). The apostle Paul speaks of us as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians, twice). Jesus, when told that his family is waiting to speak with him, redefines what makes a family, what makes a home and says, “Behold my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.” 
On the night he is betrayed, Jesus tells his disciples that there are many rooms in his Father’s house, and that “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may also be” (John 14).
John the Revelator takes Isaiah’s new heavens and earth and unites them, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, that place Jesus prepares “for you,” “coming down out of heaven from God,” and a loud voice declares the covenant making words from Exodus:
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with humanity,
and he will take up residence with them,
and they will be his people
and God himself will be with them.” 
If you read further in the Revelation you see a description of the city’s Central Park, the river of the water of life flowing out to the world, its banks lined with the Tree of Life from that paradise Garden of Eden. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations (including all our conflict and need for reconciliation) and it bears twelve fruits, a different fruit for every month. “And there will not be any curse any longer.”
From beginning to end, the biblical story is clear: God is determined to be with us, to make God’s home among us, to “dwell in the midst” of us. For God, that’s “living the dream,” that’s Paradise.
But have you looked around you? Would you really want to make your home among us, dwell in the midst of us, be with us? I appreciate Mark Twain’s remark, “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” As an introvert who did not have a home, I invented cocooning. As much as I like you, I need my space, my solitude.
I imagine a conversation taking place at some point in eternity, “But, Lord, the last time you were there they crucified you.” “I know! I can’t wait to go back!” “God originally made, and endlessly reiterated, a decision never to be except to be with us.”
“Because I didn’t have a home.” Many of us here have experienced a moment like that, if not a significant portion of our lives. Many of us have found that our only home was shaped by pain, pain that we would never choose and often enough pain we never caused. Psychological pains from abuse or addiction. Physical pains from cancer or arthritis. Social pains as we struggle to redefine and create circles of family and friendship.
It is God’s dream to be with us. As messed up as we are, as much pain as we experience, as often as we fail. It is God’s dream and God’s delight to live among us. “Where is the house you will build for me?” This is what dignifies all human struggle and pain – that God is with us. This is what makes being human more than the survival of the fittest – that God is with us. This is what makes it possible to hope and love and risk – that God is with us. We – we’re the home God has made. We might need some fixing up, but God’s not waiting to move in. And when we say “yes” something amazing happens: We find ourselves at home.
Samuel Wells, The Nazareth Manifesto: Being With God.