How lovely is your dwelling place, O God of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of my God; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O God of hosts, my Ruler and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
O God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
For God is a sun and shield who bestows favor and honor. No good thing does God withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O God of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.
Good Morning, people of Prospect UCC! It is good to be together this Sunday morning. Pastor Meighan is away today and so I have the good fortune to be here with you.
Today we read Psalm 84 from the lectionary. I picked the psalm, rather than the Gospel or Hebrew Scriptures portion, because of the psalm’s use of a beguiling metaphor—the metaphor of God as our true home.
This metaphor is used many times throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament—as for example when, in John’s gospel, Jesus invites us to Abide in Me. In Eugene Peterson’s Version, The Message, Jesus speaks even more plainly, inviting us to make ourselves at home in God—to make ourselves at home in God’s love.
What might happen if we accept that invitation? How would it change us? Who might we be? Who might we become?
Will you pray with me? Holy One, May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock, and our redeemer.
So what might it look like if we were fully at home in God? The psalmist tells us: Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. But what kind of happiness are we talking about?
If we lived into the reality that God is our true home, I imagine that might lead to happiness—but a happiness very different than the one advertised and touted by the modern world.
The scriptures tell us, God’s ways are not our ways. And I would suggest God’s happiness, and the happiness of making ourselves at home in God, is a very different happiness. God’s way is a more peaceful, more courageous, more generous way. Marcus Borg once wrote that our world values the three A’s—affluence, appearance, and achievement, but God calls us to something different. God’s happiness is not so much about how we look, how much money we have, or even what we have achieved. Rather, God’s happiness might be about letting God make more of us than we could ever make of ourselves!
Happy at home in God, could we be more compassionate? Would we see more clearly? Understand more deeply? Would we be able to follow our call more fully? Would it help us to become the people God dreams we might be?
Happy at home in God, we could rest in God, be fed at God’s table, and wake in the morning with a song in our hearts and on our lips. Happy at home in God, we could be healed. We could be transformed.
If that seems a bit far-fetched, let me tell you a story.
About three years ago, I decided it was time for another dog. And I knew just what kind of dog I wanted—a male dog, some kind of shepherd, preferably with a black coat so his fur wouldn’t show up so much on my pants.
So my husband, our younger daughter, and I went to the Seattle Humane Society one Saturday. That morning there were no dogs of the kind I was looking for. Nonetheless, the woman at the counter suggested we go and look at the dog in cage 11.
The volunteer led us to the kennel and introduced us to Mellie, a female, snow white pitbull with a pink speckled nose. We went into one of the cages to get to know her a bit. We took a ball and began to play fetch. Although the dog was willing to bring the ball back again and again, there was no connection.
To begin with she was all wrong—wrong breed, wrong gender, wrong color. But worse than that, she seemed damaged. Although she was physically beautiful (in that goofy pitbull kind of way) she couldn’t make eye contact and she never wagged her tail. She wasn’t aggressive, exactly, she just didn’t seem all that interested in people. After a session of fetch, we returned her to her kennel and went back inside the office.
There we were given the dog’s history. She was a purebred with papers and was a few days shy of her first birthday. But she had already had three homes. If we adopted her, we would be her fourth home in a year! There was no indication of why she had been given away so many times, but we imagined it was bad—house soiling, destructive behavior, maybe worse.
Yet somehow my daughter and husband were in favor. She’s going to need a special home, they argued, someone who knows about dogs and knows training. We are the only kind of home that might work for a dog like this.
In the end, they won and we brought her home. I attached her lead to my belt and walked all around the house with her, letting her explore the place. By the time we were done with that initial tour, the lead was unnecessary—she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. I was her person, claimed.
But even though she had decided to claim me, she didn’t really trust me. Her attachment to me was extremely anxious. And for a very long time, she refused to attach to anyone but me. I had to take her with me to school and work, because anytime we were parted, she acted out and her training took a big step backward.
The first time I left her for a weekend, she moped by the door waiting for me, uninterested in food or any of the other people or dogs in the household. But when I returned and when all the other dogs swarmed me tails wagging to welcome me home, Mellie hung back. I called to her but she wouldn’t look me in the eye. And when I went to our favorite place to cuddle, and patted the seat beside me, she turned her back on me.
Okay, I said. And I picked up my book and started reading. After a moment, I looked up and found her staring at me with sad eyes, filled with longing. Come here, sweetie, I said, patting the seat again. And then she was in my lap, licking my face, and pressing into me with all her weight. The message was clear—I was not to leave her ever again!
I didn’t know if her fear of abandonment would ever loosen its hold. Even so, Mellie was devoted to me, and I came to see her as a kind of spiritual teacher. I remember telling a friend, I want to be with God the way Mellie is with me. She follows me everywhere I go, is content to lay down nearby, loves me unconditionally. She is loyal and devoted and happy just to be wherever I am and to go wherever I lead. That is how I want to be with God. To follow God wherever, content to be in the Holy One’s presence; I want to be loyal, devoted and loving.
Today, as we explore Psalm 84, Mellie is once again my spiritual teacher, but this time she is showing me how finding our true home can be a powerful force for transformation. Because in the four years since we brought her home, she is a changed creature. Slowly but surely love has healed her; slowly but surely, love has allowed her to become the dog she was always meant to be.
And if coming home to my house, imperfect, yet loving, where a dog might get a second chance, has transformed a neurotic, neglected, and heartbroken dog into a goofball who dances playfully around, covers my face with kisses, wags not only her tail but her whole body with joy and welcomes all visitors with a grin and doggy kisses, if coming home to her true home has healed Mellie, what might happen to us, and for us, if we make God our true home.
Our true home
People tell us that home is where the heart is.
Consider that wisdom in light of the theologian’s observation that our heart is restless until it rests in you, God.
It seems many of us have restless hearts. Perhaps like Mellie, we have been misunderstood, hurt, or abandoned. Perhaps like Mellie, we find it hard to trust in a love that will not let us down.
We are invited to rest in God, find refuge in God, make our home in God.
Can we accept that invitation?
If we can, as much as we can, I believe that accepting that invitation can bring about deep and lasting change, healing, salvation. I believe it can bring about a deep and true happiness, and abiding joy.
When Mellie came home, she was so high strung, so tense. But she would settle next to me on the couch and put her head in my lap. I would rub her gently, and in particular, I would firmly but gently rub her ear from the base all the way up to the tip. And like magic, she would let out this sigh, and the tension would drain from her body. And my heart would lighten—I loved this crazy dog.
And my love for Mellie is just a glimpse, just a hint of the kind of love God has for us. And the healing she has experienced is just a glimpse, just a hint of the kind of healing that can follow when we make ourselves at home in God, and when God’s love becomes our dwelling place.
God’s love can heal us,
Happy indeed are those who live in the house of God, sings the psalmist.
So what are we waiting for?
Why should we tarry when Jesus is calling, calling oh dear one, come home! Amen