First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Returning Home

Returning Home, Psalm 36:5-9; John 15
Plymouth First United Methodist Church, August 1, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer

This is our last week talking about Travel as a Spiritual Act, and this week our attention is focused on Returning Home.

Whenever Scott and I have headed off on an adventure, he always tells me after maybe a week that he’s ready to go back home.  For me, it’s taken about that amount of time to “let go” of the “to do” lists that never seem to get fully done and so my brain starts churning again, like the “pop-up” reminders that keep appearing on my computer. [Not his fault, that’s just the way it works].  I’ll have to intentionally hit the “dismiss” response, though I know it’ll soon reappear. Before long it’ll be time to throw the suitcases in the trunk and head back home where it’s all waiting for me.  Isn’t that the nice thing about our “to do” lists?  They’re one of those replenishing resources not destined for extinction. 

Still, for me, and I hope for you, too, home is a good place.  It’s the place where I hang my hat, where I can be who I am, where I know people and they know me, where everybody knows my name (wait, is that home or someplace else?).  Home for me, has less to do with a place than it does with people who I love and who love me—which is perhaps related to the fact that I resided in 10 different places (at least that I can remember) and attended 11 different schools before I graduated from high school. And yet here I stand, a picture of mental health!

That’s a longer story than we’re going to talk about this morning.  But I always say that was God getting me ready to marry an itinerant preacher and then calling me to be one myself, since that has added another 16 homes to my list since Scott and I were married.  Itinerant meaning that we move “at the bishop’s pleasure.”  Over the years, we seem to have brought our bishops much pleasure.

But thankfully, even in the midst of those moves, in our context today, we’re going to talk about home as being a good place.  A place we come back to after stepping out into the world.  Although home is changed somewhat because of our stepping out experiences.

We’ve read two lessons from scripture this morning.  The first is from Psalm 36, which we might describe as a love letter about God’s hospitality.  Here we read about how we’re surrounded by God’s love and care that extends to the heavens: it is like the mighty mountains, and like the great deep.  It’s worth mentioning that the writer notes that God saves humans and animals alike.  If you’ve ever wondered about that, it seems a good answer would be, “why not?” 

The Psalm speaks of a steadfast love, a feast of abundance, a drink from the river of delight. All good things, offered to us by God.  Things that we, as followers of God’s Son ought offer to those who don’t yet know God, who haven’t experienced these things, who are strangers in this big world without a connection to hold them up and to offer them care.  Verse 9 proclaims that with God we have this fountain of life, and in God’s light, we see light. 

Those images are beautiful in my mind’s eye.  They’re good things to share…blessed things to offer to someone else…blessed to be a blessing is a good way to say that.  Something good given to us that can go through us and to another, as we spoke of last week.

In John 15, Jesus reminds us that we’re connected to one another. “I am the vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”  It follows, I think, that we are the branches, though I kind of like to think of myself as a leaf fluttering in the wind (connected yet free); a leaf surrounded by others—all of you, and even more leaves, on different branches of the tree. Whether we’re branches or leaves, we can see that there is this deep connection that we share: we are a part of one vine. 

And so, what affects one, affects us all. 

  • Think about how the wildfires out west are blowing this way.  As of July 15, 2021, over 34 thousand wildfires impacted nearly 2.3 million acres.  I thought that was a lot until I looked at 2020 figures: 58,950 fires burned 10,122,336 acres.  What is happening in California and Oregon impacts air quality here.  Something about the Jetstream carrying the smoke, dropping down and moving on.  I’ve read that the haze from the fires out west is now seen in New York State.  That sometimes here, one might catch a faint scent of ash, that people with certain allergies have been affected thousands of miles away from the source.  We’re connected. 
  • Think of your decision of whether or not to take the vaccine, it’s a decision that not only affects you, but affects others.  My 4-year-old granddaughter’s classroom of children in a large day care in Fort Wayne have been sent home for the next 2 weeks because their teacher is sick with Covid. So far, 2 children in that classroom are ill, as is another child in a school-age classroom.  We vaccinate to protect—not only ourselves, but others—especially those who are vulnerable and too young to be vaccinated themselves.
  • Think of the physical cost of secondhand smoke, a spouse who never smoked themselves, but who now suffer with COPD or emphysema because their partner once did. 
  • Think of your decision to deal with your anger, or your addiction, or to figure out your finances or whatever it was that was holding you back…  That decision didn’t only affect you, but it affected others.  Dealing with those issues was to your benefit and to others, as well. 
  • Think of your decision to stay in school or to go back to school—you served as a role model to someone else, you were able to get a better job.  That decision impacted others.
  • Think of that decision to change jobs, to move, to stay close to your roots. Maybe there were some short-term sacrifices but they paid off later. 

Your decisions, your actions, impact others.  Near and far. In big ways, in small ways. We’re connected.   

Jesus addresses two additional actions we’re to take: we’re to bear fruit and we’re to love one another.  What kind of fruit?  The veggies that some of you are sharing because you’re having an abundant harvest is way cool, but the fruit Jesus is talking about is the kind that lasts—that is shared and multiplied in community.  Think about the “Feed Thy Neighbor” project sponsored by Social Concerns to help provide needed items for members of the Plymouth community who can’t afford it.  And what about loving one another?  Well, it’s so important Jesus commands it.  “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  And so you are to love on another.”  Doing that brings joy.  It brings Jesus joy, and it can’t help bring us joy, as well. 

So, keeping these things in mind (that we’re connected, we’re to bear fruit, and we’re to love another), I want us to turn back to the subject of Travel as a Spiritual Act, and consider some of the benefits of travel. 

  • Maybe you just thought you were headed off to have some fun. An adventure!  There’s nothing wrong with that.  We all need a break.  Sometimes a change in scenery is just what we need to re-charge and re-new, to start again having had the cobwebs blown away and returning with a new perspective.  Nothing wrong with that.  That benefits you and others who get to (or have to) spend time with you. 
  • Here are some more benefits that come to my mind.  I’m sure you can think of others:
  • Seeing God’s beauty in a new place, and letting it bless you…
  • Meeting new people…discovering the places where we connect and are alike, and seeing, accepting and learning the places where we’re different, unique…
  • Learning something new: about history, or science, about faith, other cultures, about art or *whatever* comes your way that interests you or someone else in your household. 
  • We’ve talked about how our presence can offer hope to people who may feel hopeless, who need to be able to share their perspectives, their experiences, their concerns and know someone cares enough to listen, and perhaps to tell others…

I want to remind you once again, that travel doesn’t have to be a far-away place.  There is so much we can learn right outside our doors, just beyond our own front porches.  There’s beauty in this place…what if we look once again, with wide-eyed wonder out into our world right here: in Plymouth, in our own yards, in our parks, in the countryside and surrounding towns and communities…I’ve come to better appreciate Indiana’s flora and fauna in recent years.  There are benefits of living in a place where its hot and muggy and might cause us to believe we’re living in a greenhouse for days on end during the summer.  See the beauty God created and nurtures right outside your door.

Meet the people.  You can start with the folks in our church, or with whom you work or go to school…  Participate in a ministry inside or outside the church that will put you in the path of people you wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to meet or know.  The neighborhood center, the senior center, Heartland Artists, the food bank, spending an hour with the Adam Street Kids some Sunday evening.  (That won’t just benefit them, you know.)

Learn something new.  Take that class you’ve been thinking about. Read that book you bought, dust it off and see where it leads you.  Join that Bible study. Let me know which ministry group has always sounded intriguing to you, but no one knew to ask you to join…

Listen: to a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or someone you haven’t met before, or someone who you haven’t spoken to for awhile.

Listening is an awesome way to bring hope.  To show you care.  To offer your love.

The most important traveling you and I will ever do is a journey of love.  It’s a journey to which we’re all called, as followers of Jesus Christ. It takes us different places, introduces us to different people, and reminds us how connected we truly are.  It inspires us to open our doors, our hearts and our minds to others.  And ultimately, that journey will bear fruit.  In us and in our fellow travelers. 

Take delight in your journey.  May it be blessed.  Amen.