What does it mean for you, to come home? Think about that for just a moment. Think about walking in the door after a full day, entering your own familiar space, setting your keys in the dish on the table, kicking off your shoes, sorting through the day’s mail, opening the refrigerator, thinking about what the plan might be for dinner…
Whatever your own variations on that theme are, what word would you attach to that daily ritual? Return? Refuge? Rest?
And how does that translate to your life of faith, as you live it out here at St. Augustine’s? Walking in the door on a Sunday morning, entering this familiar space, being welcomed by someone who knows you, or hopes to, entering the rhythm of worship that works its way into your bones, praying the prayers we learn by heart, singing on the same breath and with many voices as one, being fed…
What word would you attach to that weekly rite? Return? Refuge? Rest?
Whatever that word may be for you, welcome home. Welcome home on this Homecoming Sunday at St. Augustine’s. Welcome home, to those of you who are returning to what is familiar after a summer away. Welcome home, to those of you who were here all along. Welcome home to you who seek to find a new place that will become familiar for you.
Welcome. We’re glad you’re here.
And welcome to the feast of our patron Augustine of Hippo, one of the great theologians of the Church. We’ve transferred his feast day a bit liberally from August 28 to today, so that we might celebrate even more fully.
It’s especially fitting to celebrate this day of return on the same day we celebrate Augustine’s life, because in many ways what he is known for is wandering and striving. You can see it in the glass doors recalling his life at the entrance to the church: the path he follows, and that most famous quote of his: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Restlessness and relentlessness are two words that fit well who Augustine was. Born in north Africa in the fourth century, educated in rhetoric, Augustine learned early and well how to craft an elegant argument. He taught others to do that too, first in Carthage, then in Rome, then in Milan. He sought after truth in the stars of the night sky, talked with astrologers who promised him answers. When that fell short for him, he listened instead to Manicheans who told about a cosmic battle between the spiritual realm of goodness and light and the material world of wickedness and dark. From there he became a Neoplatonist, seeking truth through philosophy. He loved a woman he would not marry, fathered a child whom he adored. And finally, after a lifetime of his mother Monnica’s prayers, Augustine found his way to Christian faith. Agonizing again and still over truth and how that truth can be seen and lived, he walked through a garden. He heard a voice say, ”Take up and read,” opened to Paul’s letter calling him to “put on Christ.”
“I have read in Plato and Cicero things that are wise and very beautiful,” Augustine wrote in his Confessions,” But I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden.”
Something within those words encompasses something real about who Augustine was, about the namesake of this Church. He sought and sought and sought after truth – in the life of the mind, in the life of the body – and finally, at least in that moment, he found it, in the promise of refuge. At least in the breath of the moment he wrote those words, our patron Augustine found his way home.
Home is something I have found myself thinking about often, lately. We have been blessed with great growth at St. Augustine’s in these past several years, and I have been blessed to have conversations with many of you who have recently joined the parish, and with many of you who have been here a very long time. You have told me what you sought in this church that you make your home. And this is what you’ve said, the truth of what you have been looking for: “A place where people know me, and they know my kids, and I know them…A place to be nurtured, to grow…A place to serve…A place where people tell the truth about what matters…A place to worship God together with others…A place where different kinds of people really are welcome…A place where I still get to think for myself…A place where I can ask questions that maybe don’t have answers…”
Home is something that many of us are thinking about right now, with the news unfolding in the world. I thought about home this week as I read the story of a mother of three children. They fled Syria, eventually found their way to Hungary; they may have been part of the same group walking toward the Austrian border that Bryan spoke of last week. The mother pushed her toddler in a stroller as her other two small children walked next to her. They had been walking for eight hours along the side of a highway in Hungary. The woman’s daughter sobbed as she walked next to her mother. “I’m so tired,” she cried.
What word might that mother attach, for her self and her family? Home as a place to rest? Home as refuge?
And home is what I thought of as I heard a 13-year-old Syrian boy standing before the press, saying that he didn’t want to have to go to Europe. He didn’t want to be a refugee. “Stop the war,” he said to the people and the cameras. “I want you to stop the war. I want to go home.”
I thought about those words, about what home means: a landscape of familiarity, a place where it’s safe to rest awhile, a place where you really are welcome, and known, and cared for, nurtured and encouraged to grow. And I ached for all those things, for a mother walking alongside a highway pushing her children toward safety, for her daughter sobbing from exhaustion as she walked, for a defiant 13-year-old boy speaking before news cameras. For a little child lost to the waves.
Home means different things in this restless and sometimes relentless life. Yes, refuge and safety and renewal. And not only those things, but those things in the service of return and offering, in co-creating a future that will be greater than the sum of all its individual pieces, with a God whose dream is more. That little girl needs to rest. And there will be a time when she’s done resting, when what she needs is to begin again, to forge ahead in whatever it is that is hers to do.
My prayer for us is that we as this Church, as this Home, will live into the mission to which we’re called. My prayer is that we will invite you into this place, and if what you need is a space of rest for a time, I hope you’ll find that here. I trust that you will feel connected – that our children will grow up within a circle of folks who have known them for a long time, and where we will all be encouraged to grow as well. And for that, we’ll equip ourselves, together, in preparation for whatever ministry we’re called to, asking God to send us out in service to this beloved world, until we return once more. I, and we, will do these things imperfectly…as is the nature of what it means to be human. And we’ll do them with the goodness in which Augustine argued that God created the Church to do and to be, that divine spark that inhabits and pervades.
Augustine never really did stop striving. He battled with those he considered heretics, fought about sacraments and goodness, crafted (no doubt, elegant) arguments over salvation and grace, about what he believed was original sin and what he thought constituted a just war. And whether it was in the stars or in an explanation of the cosmos that didn’t stretch far enough, or in wisdom that was finally incomplete, or ultimately, in the faith that became a kind of pavement upon which Augustine could trace his journey, that sacred relentlessness with which he lived also became a kind of testimony to the One he sought: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” And that all became a kind of testimony to the One I trust he found, ultimately, face to face: “I have read in Plato and Cicero things that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come to me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Welcome again and still and always to this familiar landscape. Welcome to people who have known you for a long time, or who hope to. Welcome to a space in which we worship the God who has known you from the time you were knit together in your mother’s womb. Welcome to a church where you can rest in grace, and where we will strive together when it’s time.
Welcome. We’re glad you’re here.