I’d like us to consider what it is that reminds us of home. In the name of the blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What reminds us of home? The food we ate there! Certain aromas and tastes bring back memories of our early years. Special dishes, the favorites of our childhood, can bring a gentle smile to our faces, no matter how young or old we are.
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The influence that this food can have on us appears in a Chinese story originally told by Linda Fang. [She presented this story at the Smithsonian Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C., March 19, 1988.]
At the foot of a great mountain in China lived a father and his three sons. They were a simple and loving family.
The father noticed that travelers came from afar eager to climb the dangerous mountain. But not one of them ever returned!
The three sons heard stories about the mountain, how it was made all of gold and silver at the top. Despite their father’s warnings, they could not resist venturing up the mountain.
Along the way, under a tree, sat a beggar, but the sons did not speak to him or give him anything. They ignored him.
One by one, the sons disappeared up the mountain, the first to a house of rich food, the second to a house of fine wine, the third to a house of gambling. Each became a slave to his desire and forgot his home. Meanwhile, their father became heartsick. He missed them terribly. “Danger aside,” he said, “I must find my sons.”
Once he scaled the mountain, the father found that indeed the rocks were gold, the streams silver. But he hardly noticed. He only wanted to reach his sons, to help them remember the life of love they once knew. On the way down, having failed to find them, the father noticed the beggar under the tree and asked for his advice.
“The mountain will give your sons back,” said the beggar, “only if you bring something from home to cause them to remember the love of their family.”
The father raced home, brought back a bowl full of rice, and gave the beggar some as a thank-you for his wisdom. He then found his sons, one at a time, and carefully placed a grain of rice on the tongue of each of them. At that moment, the sons recognized their foolhardiness. Their real life was now apparent to them. They returned home with their father, and as one loving family lived happily ever after.
Today we gather in this church to receive a reminder of home, a taste of food that will help us remember who we are. I mean the bread of life, our Father’s gift to us. This is the food of God’s kingdom, and reminds us that this kingdom is our true home.
We need this reminder of heaven because we are like the sons in the story. We have left home to climb a fascinating mountain. We are unwilling–or unable–to return home. And so our Father grieves for us. Our absence fills his heart with sadness.
What is the mountain we have climbed? It is the mountain of illusion. We know that many have lost their way there, yet we insist on exploring it. The story mentions three danger spots on the mountain: the house of rich food, the house of fine wine, and the house of gambling. Each of these dangers is alive and well in contemporary America. A word about each of them.
As a society, we are obsessed with food. For increasing numbers of people, food is no longer a simple pleasure and a means of nourishment. It has become the exact opposite: a source of intense confusion, guilt, and conflict. Many of us see ourselves as controlled and defined by what we eat or what we refrain from eating. Yes, many of us have climbed the mountain of illusion, and through one door or another, disappeared into the house of rich food.
As a society we are also obsessed by drink. The problem is not the stuff in the bottle, but unhealthy attitudes and patterns of misuse. Some people suffer from a disease called alcoholism. Excellent help is available if they will accept it. Others simply drink irresponsibly, whether because of inexperience or some other reason. All of us are caught in a culture that sometimes tells us it’s better to drug ourselves up than to recognize life’s problems and work through them. It’s no wonder then, that many climb the mountain of illusion and disappear into the house of fine wine.
And as a society, we are obsessed with gambling. Gambling readily becomes a lifestyle and a mindset when it is legal and heavily advertised, when lottery tickets are sold at the convenience store, and a casino beckons just across the river. Gambling leads to a reliance on luck, on the numbers, on the laws of chance. The turn of a card labels us a loser or a winner. So gambling reduces our reliance on two old reliables: divine grace and human effort. See how many of us climb the mountain of illusion and disappear into the house of gambling.
Gambling, drink, food. Perhaps we have chosen one of these houses, or perhaps some other, up there on the mountain of illusion. However intense our pain, we will not–or cannot–find our way home. But someone senses our pain even more deeply than we do: our Father.
He finds us where we are, and places on our tongue a particle of that food from home. We recognize our foolishness, how we have left home and come to a lifeless place. At the same time, we remember our true home. Once again we can smell it, taste it, see it.
The heavenly bread we receive in the Eucharist helps us come to our senses. We recognize both our disorientation and our Father’s invitation to return home.
It would seem like a nice ending if we then left the mountain and went to live forever in a loving family. But while we still draw breath, the time to do so has not yet come.
What happens instead is that we realize our Father is with us right here on the mountain. Because he is present, we are home already. No longer is this mountain simply a place of darkness and danger. Once we eat what he gives us and open our eyes, we discover that even this mountain shimmers with the light of heaven. Home is where the Father is, and since he is with us, we are home already.
Again and again we eat the bread of life, lest our eyes grow dim and we fail to see his splendor, lest our minds grow dark and we forget the joys of home.
I have spoken to you in the name of God the ever-blessed Trinity.
Copyright for this sermon 2008, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals,” (Cowley Publications).