Creating a Home
Interior design books, magazines, and websites are full of lists about how to make your home “homey” or cozy. Start with good curb appeal, have lots of plants, throw blankets over the back of every couch, light a candle, and be sure to have nice throw pillows. Be sure your house smells nice and that things aren’t too messy. Use certain color palettes and avoid others. You may have heard of the Danish word hygge which means something like “extreme coziness” or being content due to the space around you. Hygge is all about making a house that feels utterly welcoming, restful, and peaceful. The idea of hygge became incredibly popular worldwide about 5 years ago- trends in interior design were connected back to how to make your house cozier, warmer, a more restful place to be. Consumerism and capitalism made hygge something to buy, but that really misses the point.
The word hygge itself comes from a much older word that means “to give courage, comfort, joy.” It may also be related to the word “hug” which… you already know. It means “to embrace” and is related to the idea of giving and receiving comfort. In 1957, The New Yorker published a letter from Robert Shaplen explaining the quality of hygge he experienced in Copenhagen. Shaplen wrote, ““The sidewalks are filled with smiling, hyggelige people, who keep lifting their hats to each other and who look at a stranger with an expression that indicates they wish they knew him well enough to lift their hats to him, too.”
It’s a lovely way of being, right? A lovely way of thinking about home as a place to give and receive courage, comfort, and joy. Home is the place to feel held and safe. For just a moment, think back to the places where you have felt the most embraced in your life. What did it feel like? What did it smell like? What colors and textures did you feel? You see, our culture wants to suggest that we can buy our way into the feelings of home- that with a swipe of a credit card, we can put together just the right items in such a way that we will have just the right feelings. But of course, what we know deep down in the truest place is this- home is where love lives, where we get fed and filled and held so we can make it through. And since the moment the Spirit of God hovered over the dark and formless void and called out something from the nothingness, God has been building a home for us. God is a homemaker.
Of course, in our busyness and distraction, we often fail to see the home God has made for us. Perhaps in the same way no one noticed that June Cleaver was keeping a lovely home, we rarely stop to pay attention to the home God is keeping for us. We forget to notice how utterly perfect the earth is for humans to live here and how perfectly we are created to live on earth. The universe is vast beyond our understanding; billions of stars and planets swirl through space. And yet, to our knowledge, we are on the only planet that can sustain life. The Homemaker has made a perfect home for us. And not only has God created the right kind of home for our bodies to survive and thrive, God has created a home for us that is populated by people we love, things that make us happy, access to all that we need. God is creative, God repairs what is broken, God keeps what needs sustained.
In the creation poem in Genesis 1 we read that “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” In the beginning earth was, as the Hebrew says, tohu va-bohu- a wet, formless void, a watery chaos. But the breath of God hovered over the waters and called forth order from that chaos. On the second day of creation, according to Genesis 1, we find God creating something that is often translated as a “dome.” Scholar Karla Suomala says she tells her Bible students to imagine that during creation, God blows a bubble and within that bubble begins to create. Inside the bubble- life, home, goodness. Outside the bubble- nothingness.
All of human history with God is telling us who God is- the one who creates, the one who repairs, the one who keeps. We even use similar language when we refer to the Trinity as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Every version of the way we understand God is a different expression of creating, repairing, building. Every version- including the version that helps us to understand who God created us to be. You see God the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, God the Creator, Repairer, Keeper looks to us and says, “go and do likewise.” God the Homemaker says “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Friends, Jesus looks at us and says, “I go to prepare a place for you… You know the way to the place where I am going…If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and “this is my commandment: that you love one another.”
And so, throughout this stewardship season, this is what we will be reimaging together. How do we put God’s grace towards us in action? How do we live out that call to be homemakers in the world, to offer grace to the world, welcoming all of God’s children into the hope, peace, and joy that we have experienced in Christ? How do we, like Jesus, prepare places for others?
In Genesis 1:26 we hear God say “Let us make humankind in our image.” This idea, called the imago dei or image of God, is something that theologians have wandered about forever. What exactly does it mean for us to bear the image of God? One possible way of understanding this is to remember that the very first thing we know about God is that God creates- “in the beginning God created…” God is fundamentally a creator. And so, perhaps being made in God’s image is to say we too are creators. You may not be composing music or writing a novel, but you are still a creator. Perhaps you can look at an engine, see what’s wrong, and create a solution. Perhaps you can understand how to make sense of a spreadsheet and use that data to tell a bigger story. Perhaps you can create a delicious meal, or find a way to stretch a dollar. Perhaps you can help people feel loved. Whatever your unique version of it is, you are a creator.
Us being homemakers in the model of God is certainly not about us being perfect. It’s not about having a perfect spread of snacks, lovely candles and lovely fresh cut flowers. It’s about us offering hospitality and welcome. I have always been interested in interior design, and so I have amassed a bit of a collection of interior design books. One of my favorites of these is by Mary Randolph Carter and is entitled A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life. I’ll say that again because the wisdom in that title may be enough for me to wrap up this sermon- “A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life.” The title probably originated from a quote by Dame Rose Macaulay who wrote, “At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.” Mary Randolph Carter and Dame Macaulay are speaking literally- they trying to tell us that living life is more important than having a perfect home and, in fact, that lived-in, comfortable, welcoming homes are better than perfectly tidy and lovely homes.
I tell you about this book not because I am secretly waging a war against tidiness. I tell you this because if we are working towards being homemakers like God, our metaphorical houses will be, should be, unkept. We’re dragging every extra chair to the dining room- it won’t look pretty, but there’s a seat for everyone. We may be adding stock to the soup to make sure it stretches to feed everyone, but we won’t send anyone away hungry. The floor might be sandy, and the shelves might be dusty, but we will stay up late talking and laughing. The sheets are mismatched and threadbare, but there is a bed for everyone. There won’t be a mint on your pillow, but you will fall asleep feeling loved, knowing you were seen, welcomed, wanted. And we’ll leave the porchlight on long after the moths come flapping their wings. And yes, if you need it, I am giving you permission to not have a perfectly organized and spotless house if you don’t want one.
Bishop Steven Charleston of the Episcopal Church is a member of the Choctaw Nation. In his book, Ladder to the Light, he writes about faith as the means by which we can imagine a better world. Bishop Charleston writes, “we do not believe because we see; we see because we believe.” He continues, “the more we trust in the Spirit, the more we trust in ourselves. Faith gives us both the energy and the ability we need to believe in the possibility of change.” Bishop Charleston asks us, “Do we trust our own vision? Do we trust in love? Do we trust in a truth great than ourselves? …we begin developing our spiritual vision. Even if we cannot yet see the light, we imagine it. We believe in what is not visible, trusting that our own spiritual instincts, our own sense of love and justice, will reveal to us a light that can change our reality.”
Here’s his point: faith gives us eyes to see a better home in this world. A home not just for us, but for all of creation. Faith helps us to see it and faith helps us to get to work. God has shown us what it means to create, has given us the ability to create, and has called us to create. And this is the invitation- go into the world and make a home. A home for all of God’s children, a home full of courage, comfort, and joy. A home full of grace. Amen.