Text: Psalm 84
“Welcome home.” Those two simple words conjure up a rush of images. Many images are from my childhood – images of loved ones now gone, long hours playing games inside on cold, rainy days and even longer hours of playing games outside.
“Welcome home.” Those two simple words conjure up not only memorable images, they taunt my senses with the lingering aromas of childhood – of cornbread baking, of my grandmother’s collards assaulting every olfactory nerve, of the unmistakable smell of cider wafting through the house at Christmas.
“Welcome home.” That is precisely where the singing pilgrim is headed in Psalm 84. He is heading to the Jerusalem Temple, his spiritual home, the place where God is most real to him. He is not alone. He leads a chorus of believers, singing: “Lord of Hosts, how dearly loved is your dwelling place!”
For this singing pilgrim, “home” is a dwelling place where even sparrows feel welcome to nest and where swallows feel safe to brood their young. He sings of a safe and welcoming “dwelling place,” a loving home where no children are left in ruts of poverty and ignorance, sickness and apathy.
In Psalm 84, the pilgrim sings of a safe, nurturing haven, a divine home for all the young of God’s creation to dwell. I fear that song is endangered in America today, for too many of our nation’s children and grandchildren “dwell” in the dark shadow of extreme poverty and ongoing domestic abuse. Did you know that 30 percent of all African American children live below the poverty line, more than 1 in 7 of all children in America live in “food insecure” homes or in simpler terms, most nights they go to bed hungry, and in the summer months, 6 out of 7 children do not get the meals they need in order to thrive. (No Kid Hungry website). Sociologist Alex Kotlowitz writes, “By the time [poor children] they enter adolescence, they have contended with more terror than most of us confront in a lifetime” (Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here, p. xi).
I can sing this pilgrim’s song with mostly happy memories from my own blue-collar childhood. I can be quietly content that my two grown children are now safe and secure. That, though is not the song the pilgrim invites us to sing. His song is not a solo; it is a chorus, a chorus of pilgrims looking for home, a safe and loving “dwelling place”, not only for themselves but for all God’s children, for those who can soar and those whose wings have been clipped by the toughest tests of life.
Psalm 84 is a song for communities of believers to sing, communities that know God intends a better world for children than the one that we now provide, pilgrims whose personal spiritual journey does not end until there is a just and merciful “home” for all children of God, including a safe and loving “dwelling place” for every child and grandchild of every gender identity, race, income level, health status, who come to Cove and who will never know Cove even exists.
Now, this ancient pilgrim is no naïve dreamer. He knows the great challenge before us. He sings, “Happy are those whose refuge is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrim ways! As they pass through the waterless valley the Lord fills it with springs, and the early rain covers it with pools” (Revised English Bible).
Ever walk through a waterless valley where not only your mouth gets parched, but your spirit is bone dry? You have a hard time listening to preachers talk about “heading home to God,” when you know how many people, especially children, nearby and worldwide are hungry and dislocated and have no place to call home, and have given up on God and on God’s people.
The pilgrim sings to those who are living in that parched place, no matter their age. He sings, “As they pass through the waterless valley, the Lord fills it with springs and the early rain covers it with pools.” No matter how fond or how horrible our childhood memories of home, this Psalm sings of a homecoming for children of every age and nationality, every ability and disability, every color and gender.
The pilgrim goes on to sing, “The Lord God is a sun and shield.” Our God does not hide behind bushes or even within a burning bush, but finds us even in parched places and welcomes us home.
Now, sometimes, oftentimes, I mistake home for that place where Jennell and I keep making renovations and repairs. Home, then, is the perfectly groomed yard and painted house. Nothing could be more laughable for this traveling pilgrim or for our Lord, for that matter, who once spoke of not having a place to lay his head.
Home is not found in any building, be it the Jerusalem Temple or Cove’s sanctuary or even in a brand-new affordable Habitat house. In his essay, “The Longing for Home,” Fred Buechner writes: “Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all – the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be . . . Christs.
“I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home . . . I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it” (Buechner, The Longing for Home, p. 28).
The season is fast approaching when you and I will ponder what present to get for our children or grandchildren. What can we give that will make them happy for more than a fleeting moment? I doubt that we will find that enduring present as we leaf through catalogues, visit Amazon Prime, or go to an Outlet Mall. The enduring present for which we look will not wait until Christmas arrives this year and yet it will last long after all of the tinsel is gone. The enduring present that you and I can give is an unstoppable dedication to making sure that no child is hungry, no child is forced to sleep on the streets, no child fears for her safety, no child is deemed expendable because they do not carry the right papers, no child is turned away because we cannot afford to treat them when sick and educate them when well, no child feels like this sanctuary is a place only for adults.
It might seem as though I am wasting our time today by celebrating a Children’s Sabbath, urging us to welcome home and to provide safe and loving homes for children here at Cove. After all, we are not exactly overrun with children in these pews or even grandchildren. The Psalmist, though, invites us expand our vision, to see “our” children as not only those who visit this sanctuary or are cared for in Cove Hall by Shafiq and Eva.
“Our” children live out there, children waiting for us not to let them go hungry, not to let them live unsheltered, not to let them live without proper medical care and a robust education, not to let them live as though God and God’s people do not care about them.
“Our children” are out there and are waiting for us to live out the words of the lullaby that the singing pilgrim sings – children of God, children beloved by God, children who are never forgotten or forsaken by God, welcome home.