There Is No Place Like Home

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian R. Wallace
Associate Minister
July 23, 2020

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. These iconic words from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz sum up what many people feel when they think about home – there truly is nothing like it.

A few weeks ago, after cautious and careful planning, my family ventured to my hometown in upstate New York to visit my parents. As we made the right-hand turn onto the street where I grew up, one thing always stands out to me: the trees. They’ve grown – a lot – in the past eighteen years. I also noticed that there were quite a few strollers on the street, definitely more than I remembered from previous trips home. As I drove through my hometown, I noticed all the changes. The old post office is now a subway and tanning salon, the family diner moved, and there is now a gas station in its place. Once a familiar place to me, my high school has a new addition and is strikingly unfamiliar to me now.

There are probably many reasons for the excess of nostalgia I felt on this most recent trip. Perhaps the uncertain times we’re living in made me more aware of how much has changed. Maybe it was the reality that my parents will probably be moving out of my childhood home in the next couple of years. Or perhaps it’s the reality that my days as a parent of “little kids” are over, as we’ll have two kids going off to middle school next month. Whatever it was, I was feeling it strong on this trip. As I reflected on these thoughts and emotions, something occurred to me: “Home”, as I remember it, doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, the place I grew up is still there, but the people, the places, and the community I grew up in don’t exist anymore. It is, at this point, a relic abandoned to the halls of fond memories.

Speculating about history is, by its very nature, a risky proposition. That notwithstanding, I suspect that in years to come, those who come after us will ask about the year 2020. Between the coronavirus pandemic that has brought the world to a halt, the protests and social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, and the financial uncertainty brought about by the economic fallout from the mandated shutdowns, we are living in unprecedented times. With unprecedented times comes a complete loss of certainty. As someone who does a fair amount of planning, both personally and in my vocational work, I feel completely unable to plan anything beyond even tomorrow, or at best next week. What will it be like in August? What about Thanksgiving? What about next summer? The questions go on and on.

If there is good news in any of this, it’s this: the bible specializes in people living in uncertain times and facing an unknown future. From the Old Testament stories such as Noah, Abraham, the Hebrew people in Egypt coming back from exile to New Testament figures such as Mary, the disciples, Peter, and Paul, we’ve got lists of people who were facing uncertain times. So, what can we glean from them? There are four core truths I see in scripture.

  1. The calling of God’s people is ever-present. No matter the circumstances, we’re called individually and corporately to be the people of God, making disciples, proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God in the world.
  2. Going back is not an option. Just as the world I knew of as “home” doesn’t exist anymore, the pre-pandemic/pre-George Floyd world doesn’t exist anymore. We cannot go back to February 2020; we can only go forward into a new reality. God didn’t let the Hebrews go back to Egypt, the disciples couldn’t just “go back” to who they were before they met Jesus, and Peter couldn’t return to a time before he met Cornelius. We’re not “going back” either, we’re moving into an uncertain future.
  3. We can only go one step at a time. As frustrating as it may be, we can only move through this season one step at a time. But again, when we look at scripture, we see a formula where God shows his people the big picture and then just one step. Take Mary, the mother of Jesus, for example. An angel appears to her and announces that she’s going to give birth to the Messiah (the big picture) and the one step (seek out Elizabeth). That’s it. Nothing about the suffering and rejection she’d experience. Nothing about watching him die on the cross; all that gets left out. This formula makes a lot of sense, too – after all – can you imagine if God showed them everything that was ahead of them at the very beginning? All the challenges Abraham would face along the way? The suffering and loss Mary would experience? The persecution and suffering Paul would experience? I know even in my own life, I’m grateful to God that when I was called to ministry, I got the big picture (serve me in ministry) and just one step (change your class schedule for next term). I cannot imagine if God had shown me everything that was ahead of me in ministry at the outset.  In hindsight, I’m glad he didn’t – because I wasn’t ready for it. We’re not ready to know everything that is ahead of us, we’re only ready for the next step.
  4. We must prepare to embrace change – radical change even. One of the stories about our Christian heritage I most appreciate is how what started as a small group of Jews in the 1st century that transformed into a worldwide movement. Initially, the followers of Jesus remained where they were and continued to keep their Jewish traditions. But the decision in Acts 15 to welcome non-Jews into their movement, coupled with increasing persecution from Roman authorities, set off a series of events that would change the world forever. Our forebearers in the faith were forced out of Jerusalem and into the surrounding areas. They embraced this change and found ways to spread the message of Jesus in their new places. That decision, to embrace where they had been sent, is why you and I call ourselves Jesus’ disciples today.

One of my favorite benedictions comes from Rev. Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate:

You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you there. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there. Christ, who indwells in you, has something He wants to do through you, wherever you are. Believe this, and go in His grace, and love and power.

The times we find ourselves in, as uncertain as they are and amid the uncertain future we face, are not an accident. We are here because God has put us here and has a purpose in us being here. May we be people who remember this, who boldly look forward, knowing we can’t look back, taking things one step at a time, and embrace the radical change that is before us.

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