Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service today, the theme for our worship today is being at home with God. And so I've titled My homily this morning. “There is no place like home.”
There's no place like home! That’s the truth. And of course, we all know that quote from The Wizard of Oz. It's one of my favorite spiritual stories of all time. Now, I know that many of you think that the Wizard of Oz is merely a children's story, but it is actually a very profound and very powerful spiritual story. It's a story that has its roots right here in West Michigan.
Some of you may know that before the pandemic, the city of Holland, Michigan, unveiled a brand new permanent Wizard of Oz display at Centennial Park in their downtown because the author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, wrote this story during the summers he spent here in West Michigan. He wrote it in a cottage on Lake Macatawa. And it is said that he based the Emerald City on Castle Park in Holland, which is pretty cool. Now, The Wizard of Oz, of course, is all about four people who are trying to get something from the Wizard.
L. Frank Baum grew up as a Methodist, but in his adult life, he considered himself a theosophist. He studied theosophy. The word theosophy translates into “Divine Wisdom.” Theosophists believe that all of us have access to the Divine Wisdom within us, that all of us can make contact with God, intimately and personally.
And so we see those four characters from the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy, they're all going to see the Wizard, to gain the wisdom, what they need, what they're lacking. And their journey down the yellow brick road symbolizes our spiritual journey.
But notice what they discover. When they get to the Wizard, they discover the wizard is a fraud. Because the wizard you see was an outside person, they were going to an outside person to get the things that they thought they were lacking. And what did they discover at the end? That they had those things all along!
They already had brains and a heart and courage, and a home. That's why Glinda the Good Witch says to Dorothy at the end, “You had the power all along, my dear.” She says you always had the power to go home. All you need to do is click your heels three times and say there's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home.
And wow, isn't that such a beautiful and powerful mantra for us? That regardless of what's happening in the world outside of us. There's no place like home. And of course I'm not talking about an external place. I'm talking about that internal place.
You know, in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, we heard that beautiful quote from the poet Wendell Berry, who said that, “The journey of life isn't a journey of miles. It's a journey of inches, in which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and we learn what it means to be at home.”
That's the spiritual life. If you look up the term “at home,” in the Merriam Webster's dictionary, it means to be in harmony. At balance, at peace. It means it's a place of safety and security. And my friends, regardless of what's going on, outside you, in the world around you, you have this place of peace, of safety and security within you. And that is God's dwelling place.
I've shared with you before God's dwelling place is not up in the clouds. God isn't an old man with a long gray beard up in the sky. Jeff Spangler is going to sing a really fun song after my homily today called “God is not a white man.”
God is not a man up in the clouds. God is the presence and power of peace, love, and joy that makes its dwelling place within you. And I don't know about you, but sometimes when I contemplate that in meditation, I get so emotional, it brings me to tears sometimes, to think God loves me so much that God makes its dwelling place within me.
And you know, the Bible speaks of this so many times, from the very first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, when Jacob wakes up from his dream, he says, “oh, The kingdom of God is here. And I didn't recognize it.” He says, “This is the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.” And in Psalm 91, we hear that this place is known as the secret dwelling place of the Most High. in First Corinthians 3, Paul says, “Don't you know that you are the temple of God, and that God makes his dwelling place within you?” And of course, Jesus famously said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” And again, he repeated himself so many times, because he wanted to make sure that we got it. So he said things like, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed in the ground.” “It's like yeast in bread.” “It's like a pearl in his shell.” “It's like a treasure in a field.” He gave us example after example after example. He wanted us to understand that the kingdom of God is something hidden within, for us to discover.
So that kingdom, the kingdom of God within us, is always available to us. It's right here and right now. That's what Jesus said. But as we heard, in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, that contemporary Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said, “Yes, it's true. That kingdom is always available to you. But are you available to the kingdom?” And what he meant by that is that yes, the kingdom of God is within you, but are you dwelling there?
Because so many people aren’t dwelling there, they're dwelling outside of themselves, they're looking for things outside of themselves for their fulfillment, like those characters from the Wizard of Oz, they went on a journey outside of themselves to discover that they had everything already within them.
Now, our work is to get in touch with that dwelling place and to live from that place. So how do we do that? Well, I told you before, we have an internal GPS, and I told you that GPS stands for God Positioning System. So you know how in your car, if you're lost, and you want to go home, you just hit the Home button, and it gives you the directions to get home. You have the same thing within you. You want to get home to God's dwelling place. You already have that programmed within you. And you get there through prayer and meditation.
I'm so grateful that you come to church on Sunday. But if this is all you do for your spiritual life, you will never experience that peace that surpasses all understanding, that kingdom of heaven within you. You must develop a daily spiritual prayer practice. That's what scripture means, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We have got to get still and attune ourselves to that internal GPS, which is always leading us home.
The 13th century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart said, “We must become heaven so that God can make its dwelling place here.”
We must become heaven, meaning that if you're not dwelling in the kingdom, if you're dwelling in worry, and fear, and resentments and lack, there's no room for God to make a dwelling place within you. You must become heaven so that God can make its dwelling place -- meaning you must become peace, in order for there to be peace. You know, there will not be peace in the world, until people can find peace within themselves. So we must become peace. In order for peace to dwell inside us, we must become love. In order for love to dwell here, we must become joy. So that joy can dwell here. In other words, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Now, most of you know one of Jesus’ most famous parables is called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the son who is returning home. Now this son already lived in the kingdom, his father was rich, he had everything he wanted, all of his needs were met. But that wasn't good enough for the son. He had to leave the kingdom and go out by himself in search of what he thought was better. And of course, he gets there and is miserable. So he decides he's going to return home. And what does the father do? The father sees him from a distance and runs to embrace Him and to hug him and to kiss him. And to give him a beautiful robe and a ring and to throw a party for him. Do you understand what Jesus was trying to say? When you are ready to return home, God rushes to meet you, to embrace you to hold you in her arms. That's the beauty of prayer and meditation. Those of you who have developed a daily prayer and meditation practice, you know that when you are in the silence, sometimes you are overtaken with this sense of great bliss. The sense of great peace that surpasses all understanding, because God is rushing to meet you, is so grateful that you are returning home.
And so that's what I want to encourage you to do this week, to find time each and every day. Whether it's like the writer this morning, who finds God out in nature, maybe go for a walk in nature, or maybe just to sit in your meditation chair, but to be still and to knock on the door of the gate of heaven. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be open. You've been given the keys to the kingdom. So find time each day to enter into that kingdom of God within you. For only in God will your soul find rest.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
By Katherine Towler
The poet, Wendell Berry, writes: “And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.” Learning to be at home is not easy, whether it’s being at home in one’s own skin or in the time and place in which we find ourselves. In our restless, striving American culture, in an age of radical change and redefinition, the very concept of home is under assault. In so many ways, we are spiritually homeless. The Vietnamese monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it: “Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment. The kingdom of God is available to you in the here and the now. But the question is whether you are available to the kingdom.” In the developed world, we seem to be particularly afflicted by this illness, always projecting our needs and desires onto any experience, never content with what we have. If there is a spiritual home I can turn to most consistently, it is out in nature, walking the woods in northern New England up on the Canadian border, where I am as apt to encounter a moose as another person. The silence of these wild places is like the silence of a sacred temple. In the stillness, I am reminded to let the voices in my mind go quiet, to stop longing for more. I am reminded to let the present moment be enough. That’s how I’ve learned to be “at home.”
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