Readings: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 66 (67); Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
One of the warmest welcomes I ever received was on arriving at the house of a Polish friend who had lived in Scotland for many years. He opened the door wide, stretched out his arms, and in an inimitable accent that mixed his Polish origins with his years on the Clyde said 'my house, your house'. Think of how different that is to its opposite, 'your house, my house'. The latter means occupation, oppression, colonialization: can I push my way in? The former means welcome, sharing, hospitality, mutual abiding: please make yourself at home.
In these weeks after Easter we often hear texts from St John's gospel that speak about the mutual abiding of God and human beings, something made possible by the work of the Son, Jesus Christ. My Father and I will come to the one who believes in me, Jesus says in today's gospel reading, and we will make our dwelling with him. In sending the Son and the Spirit, the Father has opened wide the door of His heart, he has stretched his arms from one end of creation to the other, and he has proclaimed through the passion and glory of the Son: 'my house, your house'.
We find it very difficult to accept this divine hospitality. It is too good to be true. We would prefer to build houses (and temples and institutions) for God. But the Bible reminds us more than once that it is God who is building a house for us. The Tower of Babel represents all human efforts to build a stairway to heaven, to say to God 'your house, my house': can I push my way in? But the promise of God is that he will give us a city, coming down out of heaven: my house, your house; please, make yourselves at home in the house I am building for you. King David is keen to build a house for God, a temple fit for the Ark of the Covenant and for the Divine Presence it supports. Once again the response from God is 'no, you will not build a house for me, rather will I build a house for you, and a kingdom that will have no end'.
Is it that God is cranky and petulant, jealous of his prerogatives, and determined not to be outdone? No, it is simply that God is God, God is love, and so cannot act otherwise than as He does. God's actions can only originate in love, can only be acts of love through and through. When these actions are for the salvation of human beings, the divine love then takes the form of grace. We spend our lives learning what grace means, learning how to be in relation to God. We want to count for something in the sight of God but that is not the direction in which we learn how to relate to a God who is love. We need to learn how to receive gifts, to allow God's generosity, hospitality and welcome enfold us, rather than striving to be somebody and to do something. If only we could allow God to get on with the work He wants to do in us, dwelling in us and with us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God who is love come to abide in our hearts and minds: then we would be preparing ourselves to receive the tremendous love which God wants to share with us.
God's house is no ordinary dwelling. God is not an object in our world, a part or aspect of the universe, dwelling here or there. God is not alongside anything or over against anything but is all through, present everywhere, all within, more intimately in things than they are in themselves. The house God builds for us is mapped completely on to our life, our city, our community. There is no temple in the city of God, no special place where we find God. God Himself is the Temple in the city He is building. There is no sun or moon in this city but the Lamb is the lamp of the city, the only light we need. It is not that we find a place for God in our house, our world, our universe, but that God finds a place for us in His house, the place of truth, justice, love. So the boundaries of our new habitation extend infinitely beyond our need, our understanding and our desire. We are brought to dwell within the house of God which is the Blessed Trinity, enfolded in its arms. 'My house, your house.'
There is actually one human construction that does reach heaven although this was not the intention of its builders. The cross of Jesus reaches heaven, it penetrates beyond the clouds and beneath the earth and out of time. The blood shed on that cross is carried by the Son into the heavenly sanctuary, forever pleading there for us at the throne of grace. The pride of man is undone by the humility of God: 'not as I will but as thou wilt', the Son says to the Father in Gethsemane. Here I am, come to do thy will. It is not a question of 'your house, my house', as if we could take the kingdom by storm, force our way into the sanctuary, bend God to our will. It is always 'my house, your house', an invitation, a welcome, embracing arms, hospitality beyond our imagining, a presence of God in us, a union with God made possible for us, no longer I who live but Christ who is living in me.
The first thing my Polish friend offered me was a glass of strong vodka. It would have been rude to refuse. This aromatic and fiery water (to which I was not accustomed) shook me to my foundations as it burned its way through all of me making me gasp and come alive, like a startled infant ready for its first breath and its first cry. May the Spirit promised by Jesus, aromatic and fiery water, shake us to our foundations as it burns its way all through, make us gasp and come alive, awaken our senses, open our minds, stretch our imaginations. 'My house, your house.' Come, eat and drink, live and grow into Him.