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No place like home

“There is no place like home….

    or

Let the force be with you”

When my children were younger, they attended a school K thru 12th grade where every day the whole school learned a WOD. “Word of the Day” We often talked about these words, the meanings and usage. One day I remember (and this is a true story) that the boys came home and shared with me that the WOD was “orthopraxis”. Grabbing onto the ending of the word as a way to explain and knowing that “doxy” is about belief and that “praxis” is about doing, I began to construct an explanation. Now, one way to understand the meaning of a word is to contrast that word with another, more familiar word, which is what I did. “Orthodoxy is what we believe,” I told them. “So, orthopraxis is what we? That’s right. What we do.” Orthodoxy is what we believe and orthopraxis is what we do. Simple. After a moment of silence, absorbing the deeper possibilities of this new understanding, one of my sons ventured, “I think I know what you believe, mom. But what do you do?” Good question, I remember thinking. I cannot now tell you how I slithered away from that piercing question, I can only share that I never forgot it. 

This is where we find Jesus and the disciples in today’s gospel reading. He has had these followers with him for some time now; he has reason to hope they may know something about what they believe. He is about to give them instructions for what he hopes they will do. Jesus is working from their orthodoxy, turning it into orthopraxis, because at the end of the day, Jesus knows that what we believe means nothing if it does not find expression in what we do. 

He begins with a clear instruction about who the disciples are supposed to go to first: The lost sheep of the house of Israel”, he tells them. “Don’t go to people who don’t speak your language or understand your ways, go to your own first. Learn the trade from people like you before you try to share it beyond your natural boundaries of community. Take it home first.” As I thought through this admonition, it became clear just how simply sensible this advice was and still is. What we believe here, in this place, we take out into many communities. And just like the disciples before us, we are to heed the instructions to go to the lost sheep of our own homes, our own hearts, to the lost sheep in our own families, to the lost sheep of Prince William County, to the lost sheep of America. Start here at home first. 

Human beings love one-liners. Those simple, memorable short phrases that say it all. When Dorothy is wandering around Oz trying her darndest to get home, she believes with her whole heart and soul that someone has the means to get her home. This is her orthodoxy, she believes it. We all know that actually getting home requires her orthopraxis – closing her eyes tight, clicking her sparkly red heels together while repeating, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home….” Her orthopraxis will get her home, but she has to do it. Roll the camera forward a few years to another famous believer – Luke Skywalker. He believes, he knows….what? “Let the force be with you.” However much Luke believes this, knows this, he must pick up his light saber, close his eyes and start swinging that thing around to actually learn it, to make it real. Luke must take his orthodoxy and turn it into orthopraxis. It’s just the way the world works. Jesus understands human beings so well, he loves us, has compassion for us so he tells us just what to do. This is his version of “there’s no place like home” and “let the force be with you.” 

Jesus' version is just as simple, just as short and very, very clear. “Proclaim the good news,” he tells them, “ the kingdom of heaven has come near!” Wow. This is no small thing. Tell them the Kingdom of heaven has come near…to them. That must mean that the kingdom of heaven is not some far off place we are unable to see or touch. It must mean that this kingdom is close, very close, so near we can know it, see it, maybe touch it or feel it moving in our chest where our hearts beat. What is this kingdom? What does a kingdom imagined by God look like? 

Jesus said, “I came so that you might have life.” And then he went on, “and that you might have it abundantly”. Abundant life is what God imagines for us. Wholeness, fullness. Shalom. Do you know that the Hebrew meaning of the word ‘shalom’ is best understood as “wholeness”. God imagines a life for us far greater than we can imagine for ourselves. And that imagining takes its shape in wholeness, fullness, and abundant life – shalom. This is good news. This is good news for every single man, woman and child. “Take this good news of wholeness to everyone. Take it to yourself first, know the taste of it, recognize the smell, get familiar with the feeling of it. Do this so completely that you can share it with anyone who might not know how to touch it or see it or even know it is there.” The kingdom of heaven has come near to you….. 

Well, just how does Jesus intend for these eager disciples to take this good news to those lost sheep? He is quite clear about that too. “This is what I want you to do. First, heal the sick; second, raise the dead; thirdly, cleanse the lepers; and fourth, cast out demons.” Fair enough, you may be thinking. Sure, people may have gone around 2000 years ago doing stuff and such like this, but surely this particular set of instructions is not, cannot be meant for us today, here in this place. The truth is far more stunning. It does not make sense for Jesus to issue a set of instructions meant only for one group of people in a particular place and time. He will not turn our hearts and set our sights on something we cannot do. Jesus will not command or instruct us to behave in ways we are not able to achieve. So what might this look like for us? Here? Today? 

Maybe healing the sick might look like making sure every single person, all the lost sheep of America have real health care, affordable medicines and accessible doctors; that all the lost sheep of Prince William County who have no where to lay their heads might sleep in a bed tonight; that no child in the most affluent nation in the world goes hungry today or tomorrow; maybe it looks like making sure every young woman who is pregnant has adequate pre-natal care. Maybe it looks like really taking care of those who have less than we have. 

Raising the dead? I am thinking that like me, you know people who are walking around, their eyes are open and they appear to be breathing, but they are dead. They are dead to hope, they are dead to believing they are loved, they are dead to their own worthiness. Raising them from the dead might look like walking along side them long enough for them to feel loved for one moment; offering hope by offering yourself; showing them in some small way that they are worthy. Gently waking them up to life, to the love of God, to the knowledge that the promise of abundant life is meant for them too. 

Cleansing the leper? Well, in those days lepers were those unfortunate souls with a disease so terrifying no one wanted to come near them. Stay as far away as possible, because what they have might just jump off their body onto yours! Lepers were set apart, marginalized, segregated from the greater community. They were excluded in everyway possible. We no longer fear lepers in this same way; we know this is a skin disease. However, not so long ago we often treated folks with the diagnosis of cancer in a similar way. Afraid to come too close….that cancer might just jump off them onto us. Thanks be to God, we no longer have this reaction or fear. Who are the lepers today? Who is it that you are afraid to touch? Might this be those who suffer from AIDS or HIV? I don’t know who the lepers are in your life, but you do. Reaching our arms out in an offer of acceptance and love, letting go of our fear and revulsion in order to see, really see, the person who hides there scared and rejected, this would be cleansing, would it not?

Cast out demons? Ha! Now, you are thinking, she can’t make this one work! Actually, this one is my personal favorite and quite possibly the easiest one at that. In order to cast out a demon one has to name it – we have many and they are so very present with us. Greed. Pride. Arrogance. Or this one, one of the worst, apathy – “it is not my problem, there is nothing I can do, I am not responsible.” Abuse. Violence of any kind. Neglect. Addictions of all sorts. Fear. We can start with our selves and our personal demons, be what they may. Get honest and name them. Work to get them out of our lives and then be willing to love some lost sheep through the painful, scary process of naming the demons they live with, casting them out through our commitment to loving each other no matter what.

Last week you may remember a sign up for a project called Mend A House. Well, many folks signed up to help and the project turned out to be building a handicap ramp. Good project, helpful. It turned out to be a handicap ramp for a nine-year-old girl. A little girl who lives her life in a wheel chair. And as that ramp was coming together board by board, with each hammer of a nail, she knew, without anyone telling her, that the kingdom of heaven had come near to her. She could see it right outside her front door. The whole world was opened up for her that day. The fullness of her own yard became a real possibility for her in a way she had never known before. She was healed, she was raised from the dead, she felt cleansed and that old demon sadness was sent packing. A few hardy souls took their orthodoxy and turned it into orthopraxis and the kingdom of heaven was brought near, to a lost lamb in Manassas, Virginia.

 Week after week we come together to hear the Word, to encourage our understanding, to affirm our faith and expand our belief. We come to feed our orthodoxy. But Jesus is clear – we are to go out from here to engage orthopraxy. I cannot know the ways you and I may be called to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, or cast out demons. I just know we will. Often this orthopraxis will be difficult, maybe scary, different for certain – it is just that to be claiming the label Christian, we don’t have a lot of choice. So, close your eyes, remember there is no place like home, let the force be with you and know that the kingdom of heaven has come near…..to you.

Amen.