The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Note: This text is a transcription from the recorded audio.
Gracious God, from whom every good gift comes, send your spirit into our lives, and by the flame of your wisdom open the horizons of our minds, loosen our tongues to sing your praise in words, and to go beyond speech, praising you in the silence deep within our hearts.
Have you ever had to leave home to find home? For some of us that may mean geography, but I think more often we think of home metaphorically: where we’re deeply rooted, grounded, have a sense of belonging, our spiritual home, if you will. In today’s gospel lesson we encounter the holy family literally as refugees on the run. Joseph is warned by an angel of the Lord that he has to flee, that he has to take Mary and Jesus because Jesus is threatened by Herod, who is in turn threatened by Jesus and worries about his power and his authority.
Joseph, being faithful, follows what the angel has told him to do. He leaves home—all that’s familiar to journey to an unfamiliar place and he stays there faithfully until he has another dream, and the angel of the Lord tells him that it’s okay to go home because Herod is dead. So once again Joseph faithfully takes his family to journey back from Egypt to Judea, to his home, reminding us and recalling for us Moses bringing the people of Israel out of exile and bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. And, of course, they believed they’re going home to Judea, but then they learn that Herod’s son is now ruling over Judea and he’s as dangerous as his father was. So the angel warns them to go a different way: to go to Nazareth in the Galilee for safety.
They were on a journey, leaving home to find what would become their home. But it was not a journey without some uncertainty. And you recall when Jesus in his adult ministry was going about his ministry that it was a journey. He was on the move. He didn’t stay in one safe and secure and familiar place. And I think that’s a good lesson and precursor for us in our own walk in faith, our own journey. That it calls us to be on the move. We don’t have the luxury of staying static and in one safe and familiar place. Sometimes God calls us to leave the safe and the familiar to journey where God is calling us to be, to be who God is calling us to be, and to be busy about the business of doing God’s work. We don’t always get to stay home; sometimes we have to leave home to find home.
And how do we do that? I think sometimes we discern where God is calling us to be within community. I’m going to presume by virtue of the fact that you’re in church this morning, that you were desirous of being in community, not just to worship God, but to discern where God is calling us. Where God may be calling you. Where your journey may take you.
In her book The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd talks about a journey. The story is set in 1964 at the height of the civil rights movement in South Carolina. The primary narrator of the story is a 14-year-old girl, by the name of Lily Owens. Lily lost her mother when she was 4 years old, under rather mysterious circumstances. Lily has been raised by her harsh and neglectful father, which is the nicest thing I think we could say about him. One of his favorite forms of punishment for Lily, when she got out of line, was to make her kneel on uncooked grits just long enough for them to really penetrate the skin of her knees. A tough life.
Now the other person who was around to help raise Lily was her African-American nanny, Rosaleen. Lily longed for home, and what that meant for her, longed to be loved, longed to be nurtured. She missed her mother, longed for her mother, but all she had of her mother’s effects in her life was the little box that had been her mother’s, and within it were a pair of her mother’s gloves, a brush, a pin, and then a very curious thing. It was an icon of a Black Madonna and written on the back was simply “Tiburon, South Carolina.”
Well, the story takes a dramatic turn when Rosaleen decides to exercise her long-fought right to vote. Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act, and she proudly was going, for the very first time, to vote. Along the way she encountered three racists who hurled insults at her. A confrontation occurred, and the long and the short of it was that Rosaleen was jailed and badly and brutally beaten, so badly that she had to go to the hospital for stitches. Lily’s father told her that they’d probably go back to kill her since they weren’t successful in doing it at first, and Lily knew that was her time, her moment, that she had to leave home, hopefully to find home. She had to save Rosaleen. She had to help her flee from danger, so she snuck her out of the hospital and this unlikely couple, a 14-year-old girl and her African-American nanny badly beaten, were refugees on the run. Lily didn’t have a great plan, but she knew that there was something instrumental about that Black Madonna in Tiburon, South Carolina. So she left the familiar to go to the unfamiliar, to journey to Tiburon because she knew that there was something about that that would unlock the mystery of her life, that would connect her somehow with her mother, and that somehow she would find safety there.
When they got to Tiburon, they saw in a store the most amazing thing: a jar of honey whose label had a Black Madonna. So Lily finds out who’s producing this honey, namely the Boatwright sisters. These three African-American sisters were beekeepers. So they seek refuge with the Boatwright sisters who take them in. When Lily first encountered the Black Madonna statue in their house she didn’t know what to make of it. She said that it was simultaneously mighty and humble. And she didn’t know what to think, but she knew what she felt. It was magnetic. It was so big that it made her ache, as if the moon had entered her chest and filled it.
That’s not a half-bad description for when we open ourselves to the light of Christ. We open ourselves to that illumination, to that empowering and emboldening to take us on a journey where God calls us to be, and to let the healing balm of Christ wash over us. Wash over those pains, and those hurts, and the holes gouged into us by the miasma of life. Lily encountered the Divine. Lily encountered transformation and love as expressed by those three faithful sisters in their experience through the Black Madonna, and she was transformed. The story is not just about coming of age. It’s a story of how love has the ability to transform us, and how the love of Christ will change us.
It’s a new year, and I suspect some of you have made a few New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps some of you, like me, have resolved to lose the same perpetual 10 pounds that you resolved to lose last year. How about a spiritual resolution? A time that you, this year, commit to deepening your relationship with God. To understanding, even through community, what your journey is to be. Who God is calling you to be. Where God is calling you to go. What God is calling you to do. If you’re a member of this Cathedral community or live in the Washington area, this Cathedral has myriad ways in which you can engage in taking that journey. Coming up just this month is a 16-week series led by our dean called Disciples of Christ in Community. Sixteen evenings out of 365 doesn’t seem like too big a commitment to change your life. We’re offering Transforming Literature of the Bible as a series. There are retreats, courses you can take, ways to be in community and discern together where God is calling you. And if you’re visiting the Washington area, when you go home to your own community of faith, look for ways to deepen that relationship.
Sometimes, yes, finding your home means leaving what’s safe and secure and venturing forth into unknown waters and territory, and yes, it may be scary, but remember what God told Moses when Moses was frightened receiving God’s call to take the Israelites out of exile in Egypt and into the Promised Land. God said, “Be not afraid, Moses, for I will be with you.” Amen.