[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The following sermon was presented today prior to the beginning of the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis IN, July 5 through July 12.
The Rev. Gregory S. Straub to the Secretariat, Coordinators and Supervisors of the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis, IN, 2 July.
There are few words in the English language that connote as much as the word home. Home and the expressions that derive from it exert powerful pulls on our emotions. Going home expresses welcome, completion and rest. Far from home expresses distance, loneliness and disconnection. Homecoming expresses reunion, comfort and celebration.
One of the privileges of being a layperson is shopping for a church home. When lay persons move to a new place, they try out various churches, often within a denomination in which they have been comfortable in the past, but sometimes among several denominations, until they find one that feels like home. When I was a rector, I once walked into the church on a weekday to find a woman sitting in one of the pews. She told me she was in town, looking at houses, but wanted to see first if this would be a church in which she could worship. She wanted to know whether or not it felt prayed in over sufficient time. (At the time the church had been prayed in for over 200 years.) The woman did buy a house, joined the church and became an active, engaged communicant.
A convention center is the antithesis of home. It is one-size-fits-all. It has no personality, no charm, no warmth. It has seen countless number of conventions and shows. And not one of them changed it for better or worse. The convention center is just raw space, ever ready to be adapted to the next group’s needs. And, yet, for the next ten days it will be the location of the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. Its halls will resound with prayer, with the reading of scripture and with singing. Within its walls will take place elections and debates. The church’s direction for the next three years will be set here. It will be, for a time, the home of the church’s governance.
The fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John contains Jesus’ promise that he and the Father would make their home amongst his followers. Jesus reiterates the ancient Jewish belief that God’s home is in the midst of God’s people. To symbolize God’s presence among them ancient Jews carried with them in their wanderings a leather case, which contained the tablets of the Law Moses had delivered on Sinai. Later Jewish thought located God in the temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus hearkens back to the older tradition. God has no particular home. God dwells wherever God’s people dwell. In myth this is illustrated in the story of Jesus’ birth. Jesus is born in a stable; he has no home. During his adult ministry he is an itinerant, a wanderer without a home. He makes his home among those who follow him like Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany. Their home becomes his home.
Like the people of Israel, we believe that God is with us in convention. We believe our deliberations to be God-centered and our votes to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Because we are here, we believe God is here, and where God is, there is home, wherever that may be. To make the Indiana Convention Center a home for God and God’s people requires homemakers, and that’s where volunteers come in. You are the convention’s homemakers. You provide the services that transform empty space into the church’s convention home. Yours are the human faces that personify conventioneers’ temporary home. It is you who make the beds and set the tables, you who lay the hearthstone fires and set up the buffets, you who greet at the door and provide a word of welcome. If the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church comes to regard this place as its home-away-from-home, you will have done your homemaking tasks well.
Houses, whether human habitations, places of worship or convention centers, are just empty space until we make them our own. We invest our homes, whether residence, church or convention center, with our precious emotions that include memories of our past, love for the people we associate with them and hopes for the future. Let Indianapolis be our Jerusalem, at least for ten days, and let it be our happy home.