How to Make a House a Home

July 21, 2013

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Homes often get confused with houses which often get confused with REAL ESTATE and rents. I want to set the idea of home free today by giving it a new context. Homes are houses. And they are real estate. And they do involve rent. And they are something more. Homes are also the place where you see and hear, if you can see and hear. Yes, Jesus was being pugnacious in this advisory, which occurs in so many texts, at the end of so many parables, that it is hard to even source it. Because the Internet allows us to do wild and crazy researches, we can observe that in the four gospels, Jesus says, “Let those who have eyes see and those who have ears hear” 47 times. Maybe he means it.

It is hard to see and hear if you are not at home. Many do receive epiphanies on remote islands or while on the vacation of their dreams. Most of us know that epiphanies are like the retreat hangover. We don’t know if they are true till we take them home. We may travel to realize new experiences and personal transformations but home is where they happen. I have it on good authority that the front sign used to read on our retreat weekends that the church has left the building for the weekend. Nice idea right?




Homes are not just buildings, although they are buildings. They are also places where our spirits see and hear. They are the places where we receive the pugnacious invitation of Jesus. Let, he says, let those who can see and hear. This association of the Christian gospel with common senses, with two particular common senses, is really quite brilliant. Jesus is testing us with an invitation. Can you see? Can you hear? If so, do so. And do so well, with vigor, unafraid of what you will find once your common senses are commonly employed. So today let’s think of our common spiritual home as a sight for seeing and hearing. Let’s see what we see and hear what we hear.

This building, “The Judson,” is our spiritual home. We tell the children on Agape to surely go to the four corners of the earth and to always know this place is one of your spiritual homes. A spiritual home is often simultaneously a physical home, a place that speaks more than you could ever truly hear. An outsider gave me quite a treatise on Judson as a physical space just the other day. He hadn’t been here for a while, he left Judson many moons ago to be a successful entrepreneur. He was the type who couldn’t stop giving advice, so, because I have ears, I heard him out. First of all, he pontificated, you have to do something about your entryway. Too dark, too foreboding. Looks like you really don’t want people to come in. The side entrance is terrifying. By the way Tina Packer in her exit memo after Shakespeare said the same thing. The entryways are not inviting. Let’s not discuss the lift this morning. We are a congregation with a sort of working lift, a non working baptistery, a non working fountain, now obscured by a hot dog truck, who I move every morning and every afternoon, whose proprietor’s name is Abraham, and who wants to give us 15% of the cut. I said no we don’t want the cut, we just want you to move to the other side of the street. Obscure the Catholic’s architecture, not ours. Anyway, back to my bossypants friend. He also said that the lack of maintenance on our bulletin board is shocking and that we shouldn’t allow other people to show their stuff on our table, only show our stuff on our table. There should be a large glossy explanation of what Judson is and we should only self-promote, not cross promote. Finally, and this of course got my gall as the chief housekeeper around here, there is stale energy everywhere. No clear lost and found. Leftover hoodies from February, refrigerators overflowing with dead energy in food. By the way I clean the refrigerators regularly on Fridays. Anyway, I could go on, telling you what bossypants sees and hears about Judson. I will tell you instead what I see and hear. This is by way of an invitation to you to do the same.

The reason our housekeeping skills are not up to snuff is that we are scared of finishing, we refuse to let the energy in the building lie and so we keep it going. One event flows into another, then another, then another. I see and hear activity.

I told my friend that the front entrance was so mightily improved that he should have seen it a couple of years ago. He replied with a long treatise on
The Most Beautiful House in the World by Witold Rybeznyski . I know the book. It speaks about architectural transitional spaces, like a foyer. Something should be done about the foyer and I understand the buildings committee is already looking into a glass door that would present our foyer to the street, as well as the dark and imposing one. Big doors would be open, glass would allow see through. A Both/and kind of solution. Nice, more of the fomenting flow, right.

Also we are constantly battling the cross promotion/self-promotion question around here.
I told my friend that he saw an ethical and identity dilemma correctly when he pointed it out. Judson has in its core this dilemma; To be here for ourselves or for others or for both? Sounds like the golden rule writ large to me. Or at least that is what I see and here. I am pretty sure that Jesus’ invitation to see and to hear is also to say what you see and what you hear and that all of is not necessarily flattering. I often see and hear conundra. Are we here for us? Or them? Or both? And for who and how? An internal conflict is a good thing to see. Nice to know it shows up on our literature table too.

He also thought that it was freezing in our meeting room, which it was that day. How many of you can remember when we worshipped without air conditioning? We also see and hear the temperature in the room. My friend saw that we were wasting energy. He didn’t know that we can’t be in church of our steam or cooling, that it comes from NYU, our neighbor. But I’ll bet a lot of people worship with high-minded Judson and wonder why we are wasting energy. That same quarrel erupted over our bulletins, another thing we should see and hear well. Again what we see and hear is what we see and hear. Jesus wasn’t talking about prettifying or criticizing: he was teaching us a method of living within the reality of our homes. He was honoring observation as a spiritual practice.

I told him that we haven’t been able to manage the fountain and the baptistery and the small kitchen because we were just too busy having fun and having parties and weddings and funerals and last minute events for Trayvon Martin. He recommended focus. Where have I heard that before? He said we should decide whether we are an attic or a basement, a living room, or a kitchen, a front porch or a study. I said we are all those things. An attic where we keep the old stuff we just can’t get rid of. A basement where there are some dark and gloomy things. A living room, where the Village comes to meet and quarrel and make up to meet and quarrel again. A spacious place for a spacious movement. A kitchen, God knows we are a kitchen. A front porch? A study? Yes, in the sense that new ideas flow from here and to here and out of here in a relaxed, almost expected way. You come to the Judson or Judson to look over horizons.

So let me make one more turn with you about this house that is our home. Please don’t take personal offense at what our visitor saw and heard. I sort of did but then I got over it. He only saw what he could see. No more, no less. The scriptural admonition has a lot to go with getting over defenses. It could also say, “Stop defending, start seeing. Stop speaking. Start listening.

Home is also where the keepsakes are. Where the photos are. Where the ghosts are. One of our beautiful windows tells a scriptural story about home and who gets to go there. The Centurion at Prayer Memorializes James Knott 1859 – 1906, proprietor and sometimes call Sexton at the Judson Hotel. From a sketch of the centurion done in 1488 by a sculptor Longinus. The story it commemorates is that of the centurion coming to Jesus and asking that his servant be healed. Jesus says he will come. The centurion says I am not worthy of such a visit. In other words, he is overcome and wants to merit grace and healing. The story never tells whether Jesus went to the house, just that the centurion considered himself unworthy. What the window tells is a very interesting story: it keeps in the final passage, where Jesus is also overcome by the centurion’s overcome. “I have not seen such humility in all my travels,” he says.

Interesting you’d think these windows would all be for the fancy people. Like Judson itself, they are not. Saint George, the East Wall, for the manager of the Hiram Deats Memorial Home for Children in Somerville, NJ. The hotel proprietor also called the Sexton, Mr. James Knott. Lily Holme Bryan 1871 0 1888, put up from her parents’ grief that she died at age 17; a man who donated a house in Hamilton New York to be used as a retreat home for children from NYC Tenements, Saint Stephen on the East Wall memorializes Reverend George Dana Boardman who with his wife Sara Hall, later Mrs. Donora Judson, spent much of their lives as missionaries in the wilds of Burma. Saint Paul memorializes a Baptist preacher. St. John memorializes two missionaries who worked in Jamaica, Wales and Sumatra. Saint Peter memorializes a clergyman who was also very involved with the Berean Baptist Church as were many of these people. Christ the Redeemer memorializes two more Burmese missionaries. The Musical Angel, another Tondo in the West wall, memorializes a soprano soloist with the Judson church choir for thirteen years. This by the way is the only window in the church pledged by the congregation as a whole. Edward Judson was great at organizing campaigns. Let’s hear it for sopranos.

I could go on and on about what I see here. I’d love to know more about what you see. We are getting better at throwing away the dead flowers. We have begun to make our worship more beautiful, thanks to Bart and Bill and Jean and more. Coffee Hour and potlucks remain an absolute miracle, as far as I can see, given how small that kitchen is. It frightens me sometimes how much food comes in and out of it.

Let those who have eyes see and those who have ears hear. But hear into what we are trying to do here and let our purpose attend our practice. Our “space” “use” policy if you will. We exist to provide spiritual nurture for public capacity, to send you , and hundreds of others, out strong for your work in the world. We build people who build movements who build people. We use this space to do those two things. Ponder them. Repeat.

Often our architectural practice and our purpose coincide, as when we fill up all the chairs for bailout or for a wedding or for a baptism. Sometimes we forget to keep house in such a way as to constantly realign our mission and our spaces. Some of us see and hear that these alignments are not important. That the space is just a space. Others see and hear more critically, and go in. Some can only think of individual solutions. Others don’t like them and see the need for more collectivity about how we use and tend the space. I often call my ministry housekeeping around here, a word that I have come to hear with respect. We keep this house, this real estate, and this home.

Terry Eagleton “The good news about the citizens of this kindly, violent, bigoted, generous-spirited nation is that if ever the planet is plunged into nuclear war, they will be the first to crawl over the edge of the crater, dust themselves down, and proceed to build a new world. The bad news is that they will have started the war.”

There is nobody else in charge of this space but us. The ghosts are gone. Let us see and hear how unworthy we are to let Jesus come into this home, and let’s see if he will show up anyway.

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