Caramelized Onions

Sixth Sunday of Easter C, May 5, 2013, on John 14:23-29

First, the text:

John 14:23-29

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and

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make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

“You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

Caramelized Onions

I have always thought that when you walk in the door and smell onions in the process of being caramelized, it smells like home.  And if you are home, no matter how the day has been, you can kick off your shoes and relax.  Home is where it is OK to be yourself – in fact it’s important, at home, that you be yourself.   You have an identity at home, created by the bonds of the relationships there: you are father, or mother, or son or daughter, wife or husband.  No matter what you do or say, no matter what happens to you, these relationships stay indelibly true.  Home is where you are connected in a family – no matter how big or small.

(At least all these things are how it ought to be; victims of abusive homes have another experience of home, and I’m profoundly sorry for the suffering they have experienced.  Today, when we speak of “home” we mean it in the ideal sense.)

There’s no place like home” – as Dorothy said about Kansas, in the Wizard of Oz, and it’s true.

God’s “home”

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Where is God at home?  How do you picture God’s home?  In the book “How God Changes Your Brain” the authors report about experiments in which people of various ages are asked to draw pictures of God.  It’s interesting to think about: if I were to try to picture God, where would I put God?  Where is God’s home?  In a church?  In the sky somewhere just above the sun?  In outer space?

Some of the most remarkable words ever written are in our text for this morning.  Jesus tells his disciples where God’s home is:

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Deep and Personal: Trinity and home

This is about as theologically deep as it gets, and at the same time, as practical and personal as it can get.  The theologically deep part is the the mystery of the Trinity.  Here we have Jesus the Son, talking about God the Father, saying “we,” and in the next line speaking of the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  Trinity is as deep as it gets.

And yet, the concept of “home” is as personal as the smell of caramelized onions is to me or as Kansas to Dorothy.  What could it possibly mean that God makes his home in us?  What could it mean that I could experience God’s presence as the ultimate “at home-ness;” as family?

“Love” and “With” in the Trinity

I asked a question of my Facebook friends recently: which is the most important word in the bible: “love” or “with”?  Of course it’s a bit of a tease.  In a way, they are inseparable.

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Imagine the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – before the creation of the physical universe.  Already, the words “love” and “with” are there.  The Son loves the Father, the Father loves the Son, and they love the Spirit who loves them back.  They are not isolated, they are in relationship with one another.  Some have pictured this relational Trinity like a whirling dance of three partners; loving each other, and being with each other.

The Cosmic Christ: Creator Word

Then at some point a world is made.  Who makes the world?   Where does it come from?  The gospel of John, from which our text comes, speaks cryptically of Christ as the Cosmic, Divine “Word,” existing from the beginning, and John describes the physical world coming into being through that Divine “Word,” or as some say, the “Cosmic Christ,” the second person in the Trinity.

Theologian Richard Rohr, speaks of the Big Bang as the “first incarnation of the Cosmic  Christ.”  He has a point.  The world exists from God; the source of everything goes back, ultimately to God. No matter what else you can say about us, it fundamentally true that we are a part of this universe.   We belong.

Physicist Lawrence Krauss says that our bodies are made of the carbon of the stars that exploded those 14 billion years ago in the big bang.  He, being an atheist, does not take the final step back to God in the causal chain, but we do.  In either case, we are a part of everything – stars, stones, oxygen and water.

All of this comes from one Source and from one and only one possible motivation: the source is God, the motive is love.  The reason for the desire of God to have a physical world to be with and to love is also a mystery.  But once having set a world in motion, God loves what he made, including us, and is resolutely for us.

Our Place in the World

What is our place in this world God has made?  The Genesis story speaks of God making humans, male and female, in his image.  Humans of both genders uniquely bear the image of God; not only do we belong in this world, as much as the trees and the stars, we belong as God’s special creatures; the ones with the capacity to know God and to love God in return, freely, without coercion.

Before we leave this grandiose level of Creation, let’s remember where all of this is going.  God’s Grand Design was not just that the eternally existing Cosmic Christ create a world, but that one day, the whole world would be gathered back to himself.  Remember how Ephesians says it:

“9 [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,  10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (chapter 1)

All things in heaven and earth,” as Rohr reminds us, come from the “Cosmic Christ” and will one day again be “gathered up” in ultimate unity.  The unity of all of creation is not a hippy thought or a new-age concept.  These are not the fantasies of environmentalists: this is the fundamental reality of a God-made world.

Enter: Dual Consciousness

In the mean time though, we image-of-God bearers, we free and un-coerced creatures have broken that essential unity of the world and all of creation.  In our quest to “know good and evil,” as the original temptation is described in Genesis, we have become people of “dual consciousness.”  We want ourselves to be the independent arbiters of what is good and evil; of course we call ourselves good and we freely identify the evil in others.

Alienation from “home”

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And the result is that we are now strangely not at home in this world we were made for.  We have experienced alienation as the direct result of our quest to be independently god-like.

There is a song by a group called the Snow Patrol in which he sings, “all these places feel like home.”  I first thought that was a beautiful thought – all places being “home.”   But then I wondered; if everyplace feels like “home” then “home” must not be that one, unique special place of safety and acceptance.

Maybe the song was expressing the problem that we all feel.  Even “home” isn’t all that we want and need it to be.  There is alienation in every family.  In fact there is alienation in every soul.

How many times have you heard someone remark that a person is lucky because “s/he feels comfortable in her own skin”?  No one could have that thought or understood that phrase without knowing how uncomfortable we all feel at times, even in our own skin.  It’s like the world we were made for, and fully at home in, is somewhere else.

The Bible’s Grand Narrative Arc

This is why the great story that the bible tells is all about God’s uncanny desire to be “with” the creatures that he made, even after they became estranged from God.

The great arc of the bible’s storyline is amazing.  The story starts with the creation of the world and humans, in the perfect Garden where God walks with Adam and Eve every day.  The final vision, in the last book, Revelation, is of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, whose defining characteristic can be summed up in the words “home” and “with.”

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

welcome home
welcome home

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
and God himself will be with them;” (Rev. 21:3)

The Incarnation of the Cosmic Christ

In between the Garden, where God is at home with Adam and Eve, and the new Jerusalem, where God is at home among mortals, is the story of when the Cosmic Christ, the Word of God, became, flesh and dwelt among us, made his home with us, pitched his tent on our campsite in the form of one of us creatures, whom we know as Jesus.

It is impossible to adequately picture the pre-creation Trinity, in that three-partner dance of mutual love and community.  Trinity is the essence of mystery.  But we can understand what it means to be “at home” with people who are family, maybe even in places like Kansas, as someone caramelizes the onions for supper.

Jesus came to make his home with us, so that we could be at home with God. He came to show us God, and to reconcile us to Godself, to end our isolation and alienation forever.

“With” and “Love” and “Yes”

If it is hard to know which word is best, between the choices of “with” and “love” it is not hard to know what word is the best word of response.  It is simply “yes.”

This is our invitation: to say “yes” to the offer of coming in the door and knowing it as “home.”  God calls us home daily; to make our home in God, just as God longs to make a home in us.   “Yes” is what lovers say to each other.

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

This is what faith is all about: simply relying on the truth that when we say yes to God and open that door, there is someone there on the other side, and that God invites us in – it’s home.  We are loved.

This is just a scratch of the surface of this topic, but this is where we must leave it for now. There is plenty of mystery that remains.  The vastness of the mystery of Trinity is rivaled by the mystery of evil itself.  Bombs explode at the finish line.  Loved ones die.  Accidents and disease leave people in tragic conditions.  We keep asking the “why?” questions, along with the rest of humankind.

There are many things we do not know – perhaps cannot know as mortals in this life.  But the one thing we can know for certain is that we are not alone.  God is with us, loving us.  God is with us in our worst valleys of despair and hopelessness or pain.  He is with us, at home with us, to be there for us at every moment, simply waiting for our “yes.”

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