There’s no place like home. Home sweet home. Home is where the heart is. Home is where you hang your hat. 

We know from someplace deep in our gut that home is a place of warmth, safety, love, and belonging. Last week, as the IFFP community began preparing for Lent, Reverend Julia shared with us about finding a home in God’s shelter, and today I want to talk about how our faith traditions give us the tools to create home wherever we are.

The Torah portion read in synagogue on February 29 was Terumah (Exodus 25:1- 24:18). In this part of the book of Exodus Moses begins collecting the materials that will be used to construct the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. These materials were not collected by tax or levy. They were gifts. God commanded Moses to: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them.” The home they were building as the center of the religion, the literal home for God’s spirit, would be built by voluntary donations. It would belong to the community.

There is a saying from Pirkei Avot (The Sayings of the Fathers) and it reads: The world stands upon three things: Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Hasadim. This is a recipe for creating a home.

Torah is literally the books of the bible, and the laws and commandments — and from that we can extrapolate, the ability to act thoughtfully. A midrash, an ancient commentary on the Torah, says that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai not just to the people who were physically there, but to all people who have accepted its teachings throughout time — it is the fabric of tradition that binds humanity as one community.

Avodah is translated in modern Hebrew as work. In ancient times, the word had a different meaning. It was the work of the priests, rites and rituals of their Temple duties. Rabbinic Judaism took avodah to mean worship, but not just the passive recitation of liturgy. Prayer is not merely thanking God or asking for assistance. Prayer is also taking action. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said that while he was marching to Selma his feet were praying.

Gemilut Hasadim are acts of loving kindness are the actions taken when you give your heart and mind to the well-being of another person. These acts are about engaging with the community in the way we wish our community to become. 

Moses Maimonides (a Jewish scholar of the 12th C) interprets the saying that the world stands on Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Hasadim –that with wisdom and prayer and acts of loving kindness there will be a continuous refinement of the world and ordering of its existence in the most complete way.

If we can organize the world according to these principles, we can most certainly create a home using them.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke tells of a wayward son who leaves his father’s home and squanders his fortune. He decides to return home and plans to beg his father to take him on as a servant, but even as he begins his journey back he finds his father on the road, and his father welcomes him back home with no reservations.

This story has the three elements of wisdom, prayer and acts of loving kindness. The father has the wisdom to see his son’s return as the opportunity to mend the community of his family. When the father meets his son on the road, he acted on the prayer of hope by going out to find his son. And finally, the father opens his heart fully to welcoming his son back, an act of loving kindness. The physical household was not changed, but the prodigal son was given the gift of returning home.

A home is more than a physical place of four walls and a roof. Home is an idea made real. 

We each have the ability to our wisdom to see the fabric of our community, to behave in accordance with our prayers and to commit to acts of loving kindness. To make a warm, loving, accepting home.

This ability is a gift we can give to others. A way of seeing the world. It isn’t just for family, home is for whomever we wish to welcome, and those we need to welcome.

Robert Frost wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

In my brief time so far at IFFP I have found a warm, loving, accepting community based on principles of respect, and making acts of loving kindness come to life.

I have to say, it’s nice to be home.