Ezra 1:1-7 1In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: 2 "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of those among you who are of his people-- may their God be with them!-- are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel-- he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4 and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem." 5 The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites-- everyone whose spirit God had stirred-- got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. 6 All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. 7 King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods.
Ezra 2:64-68 64 The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred sixty, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty-seven; and they had two hundred male and female singers. 66 They had seven hundred thirty-six horses, two hundred forty-five mules, 67 four hundred thirty-five camels, and six thousand seven hundred twenty donkeys. 68 As soon as they came to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the heads of families made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site.
This summer, I was away from home for just over three weeks. Three weeks of sleeping in a bed that wasn’t mine, in a house that wasn’t mine, in a city that is no longer mine. As good a time as I had, it was still good to return home.
I’m sure we all know how good it feels to come home after a trip, whether it is a long or short trip, no matter how much we enjoyed ourselves while we were gone. When we come home, we are in a familiar place again, we can sleep in our own bed again, and get back into our daily routine.
Just over three years ago I’d never even heard of Waldorf College or Forest City and now, here I am, a member of the Waldorf Family, and it is Homecoming, a time when people come home, when they feel as if they are seeing long-lost family and friends. This is a place that means something to them; it’s where they learned, lived, and served for two to four years of their lives. For so many alumni here at Waldorf, Homecoming is very much like coming home after a trip. Waldorf has been a home for so many people over the years. One of the number one things that people love about Waldorf is how close of a community it is. Not all schools are like that. I graduated from a large university and while I loved my time there, it wasn’t a home in this same sense. And at Waldorf, there are even multiple generations of family members that attend. Parents encourage their children to attend the same college that they did because they want to share that same experience.
In our scripture reading today, we see more than 40,000 people returning to the land from which they or their ancestors had been exiled about 70 years before. Many of them may never have known the land that were now returning to. But they’d been told about it. Throughout the years of exile, the people who had known their land kept the dream of returning home alive, telling stories about the land in which they’d lived, giving hope to future generations that one day, they would return.
And return they did. God uses a pagan king, King Cyrus, to do His will and let His people return to the land He’d given to them. The temple that had been destroyed in the expulsion (2 Chronicles 36: 19) would be rebuilt. It was a promise of hope to the people—that their God would once again dwell among them. This was so important to them that once they arrived, they freely offered what they could in order that the Temple would be rebuilt, and, eventually, it was.
But it wasn’t exactly the same as the old temple. We see in Ezra 3:10-13 that 10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the LORD with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
So we see that some people were happy about the new Temple, and some people were sad. Because they had been away, things had changed, things were now different, and they would never be the same as they remembered. But despite that, many people were still so joyous that they had returned and that the Temple had been rebuilt, even if it was different, that the sound of their joy was “heard far away”.
The Waldorf of today has been through many changes and will continue to go through changes. For many alumni returning this weekend, Waldorf was a junior college. Those alumni have returned to a Waldorf that is a four-year institution. For many alumni that did not know Waldorf as a two-year institution, it has always been a four-year institution in their eyes, and as they continue to return home, they will see changes too. But one thing remains: this place is Waldorf, whether it is Waldorf Junior College, Waldorf College, or, at some point in the future, maybe Waldorf University. The people who come here, to learn or to teach, will all be connected; they will all be part of the Waldorf family.
Just like Israel had to adjust to changes when they came home, so do we all. We can join with those who lament the changes, or we can join with those who shout with joy to be home, no matter what the change. Because at its heart, for Israel, being home meant being God’s people in God’s land with God dwelling among them. What the temple looked like was external, cosmetic. So what does it mean to you to be home at Waldorf, with Waldorf people? Think of the connections you have made or are making during your time here as a student or employee or new connections that are made when returning to Homecoming.
I want to read another Homecoming story that I think goes along with this theme. It’s from the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke. I’m sure you’ll recognize it.
11 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-- the best one-- and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
This weekend, Waldorf welcomes its alumni home. There are special events, and people are made to feel welcome. If an educational institution can do this for its alumni, how much moreso can God do this with His children? And, not only does He welcome anyone home, but He meets them on their way home. And not only does he meet them on their way home, but he runs towards them with open arms. That is what we see in the story of the prodigal son.
Homecoming is fun, yes, with a parade and special events and a football game, but beneath those external events, there is a deep connection between this institution and its students and alumni. For some, Waldorf is the place where they first met God, or where they grew much stronger in their faith, and so the connection to this place is even deeper. Homecoming is a reminder of that time, a reminder of the knowledge of God running out to meet them when they were ready for it.
Everyone who returns here has different memories, different experiences, and different expectations. But the common tie that binds all together is the sense of Waldorf being a home. And so, students, alumni, staff, faculty, administration can all join together, shouting with joy, together celebrating that bond.