Home


I think that what each of us want is home. We make a house, a home. Home. That is what we want. Most of us here have at least houses and some have homes. We are busy building 50 homes across 14th street for people who, last night, slept on sidewalks. Perhaps this will be their last winter on a sidewalk. Perhaps we can given them homes.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…mercy will follow me”

My dog Kai follows me around like God’s mercy, always about two inches back, stopping every time I do, looking up and wagging his tail. “Hi! I’m right here. Not leaving.” My dog Kai is God’s hint that mercy is soft but strong. Following us. It has our back. My black lab is m icon of mercy. Soft. Warm. Strong. Something that can bark a warning; and then spoon me. I love him. He loves me. We have a deal, the two of us. Me and my dog.

Mercy is a complicated word. “Mercy” in western speech, has developed a decidedly negative, patronizing connotation. We think of it as a paternalistic doling out of something that is desperately needed by a masculine, arrogant God whose demeanor is rather too casual, occasionally rage-filled, forgetful. A God who tweets the Old Testament at 3:00 am. It can easily feel, when watching CNN that God is either wildly creative and mischievous – or God is simply a sociopath. But not so in our scriptures. Mercy follows us not because God gives us what we want, but because God becomes one of us, dies at the hands of power, and shows us how to face that power silently and with dignity. The prophet Hosea tells us that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.[1] While Micah says God would have us to love mercy and walk humbly with our God.[2] And of course our roots in Judaism, and our Semitic cousins in Islam, all call God “Mercy” as their foremost name.

The word “Mercy” comes from the ancient Etruscan word “merc” which is the root for com/merc/e and merc/hant. So, central to this idea of mercy is what? Central to this idea of mercy is an exchange between two parties – a relationship. Each has something to give and to receive – a want. Let go of one thing and gain another. Mercy is about relationship and its give-and-take between we and our God.

“I shall not want.”

We are a culture of want. Even a culture of craving – which is “want” expanding the way cancer cells kill their host simply by duplicating.

The Hebrew of this psalm is best translated as “I shall lack no good thing.” What is a “good thing?” This psalm, in this Lent, asks “What really matters that I do not have?” What, at the hour of death, would I dare not lack? The answers aren’t clothes and furniture, titles and retirement packages, candlesticks and chalices, dishware or vacation rentals.

When Jesus heals the blind man, he is revealing that He is the light of the world. He is poking power in the eye. Even the blind man’s parents are terrified, unwilling to get involved in the power struggle. Jesus wants so much to be with us that he heals with his saliva and his fingers. You don’t get much more intimate than that.

The one thing which you and I often lack, in the speed of life and mired in possessions, power and lust for prestige, is intimacy with God. Allowing Jesus to spit and then touch and heal us. The only thing we lack is God and intimate time with God. Nothing else. God is our only abundance and our lust for possessions and the status we think comes with them, is simply a lust for a counterfeit God. As Lent comes to its close, the mercy we want is who God is, not what God gives. So, to get the home to which the psalmist refers as he ends, we need to be in a mercantile exchange with God. There is commerce (“merc”) between God and we, his beloved ones. Jesus donates some spit and what Jesus wants in return is connection. The spit and the warmth of those fingers on our eyes is a hint of what Jesus wants.

Even when the way goes through

Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

makes me feel secure.

Of what are you afraid? I mean really afraid? Is it financial collapse of our fragile systems or human body? Is it flood and storm? Is it obscurity? Is it humiliation? Is it loneliness?

There is the story of the little fish in a deep ocean who swam in a panic to his mother’s side. “Mother, mother,” he cried, “that shark over there told me that without water, I would die a horrible death – I am afraid! Where can I find this water Mother?! You have to help me find it or we will surely die!”

Do we realize that what we desire is much more than the job or the house, the money or even the cure – what we desire is God’s mercy – that is our hope and our home – our longing for the presence of God. And like that little fishie, frightened by that mean shark – our life-long task is to come to the awareness that we are suspended in God’s mercy the way a fish is suspended in water, even while panic-stricken and searching for it. Our only home is God. We live the life we live with God the way our bodies are made in their first nine months– floating inside the source of life.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…mercy will follow me…I will dwell in the house of the Lord”

That house is our home. Our only home.

We may live or we may die. We may have what we want or we may be asked to give it all away. We may know the love of the person for whom we long or we may never find that person or we may have them ripped from us too early or we push them away. We may feel happy or we may feel sad – indeed many of us may have a lot about which to be sad. But Psalm 23 is calling us to speak those groanings to God; and step into the dark, floating house of life in blinded by the light of God’s mercy.

In this present planetary blindness, we are being held by a vibrancy and light we cannot always see, a gentle harmony we cannot always hear, a gorgeous palette of colors we can’t always differentiate, a succulence we cannot always taste, a vastness we cannot always feel, an intimacy we cannot always touch.

No matter what happens to us, inside God we are finally and only “at home.” It is not that the shepherd will lead you to home. The shepherd is home and we are within the shepherd. The mud on your eyes is so that you keep them closed. And in closing them, you will see that you are home.

Author’s note: One of my heroes, Eugene Peterson, a Hebrew scholar, translates it this way:

 

1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

you let me catch my breath

and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through

Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner

right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head;

my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me

every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God

for the rest of my life.”

 

Excerpt From: Eugene H Peterson. “The Message.”

 

[1] Hosea 6:6

[2] Micah 6:8

 

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