Sunday, August 29, 2010

14 Pentecost


August 29, 2010

Luke 14:1, 7-14

+ As you know I was in Minot Friday and Saturday at the meetings of Commission on Ministry and Diocesan Council. Saturday night several of us went out for a much-needed drink and during the course of our conversation, I proudly proclaimed that I had completed my sermon for today on Tuesday.

“So, what are you preaching about?” one person asked.

“I am going to preach about humility,” I said.

There was a very long pause and then, finally, someone, obnoxiously I have to say, said, “You? Are preaching about humility?”

And then they all laughed uproariously.

I still don’t understand the joke.

But, yes, today, we get to hear about humility. For those us who were listening closely to this morning’s Gospel—and I hope you were—we might find ourselves struggling a bit with Jesus’ words. And if we aren’t struggling—if those words don’t make us uncomfortable—then maybe we should be. They are uncomfortable words, after all. Jesus is making clear to us that, if we neglect the least among us, if we consistently put ourselves first—if we let our egos win out—we are truly putting ourselves in jeopardy.

What we do here on earth—in this life—does make a difference. It makes a difference here, and it makes a difference in the next world. It makes a difference with those we neglect. And it makes a difference with God. And we should take heed. We shouldn’t neglect those who are least among us.

But probably the most difficult aspect of our Gospel today is when Jesus summarized everything in that all-too-familiar maxim:

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus is not pulling any punches here. He is as clear as day.

Humble yourselves. If you do so, you will be exalted. If you are arrogant and full of yourself, you will be humbled.

I will admit, there have been times when I have been a bit arrogant. There have been times when I have been a bit full of myself. And I can tell you that each time I have, I have been very quickly put in my place. I have been humbled in those instances. As I rightly should have been.

Humility and pride are too often huge issues for all of us Christians, whether we are laypeople or clergy. For those of us who have spent a good part of lives in church, we have known too many arrogant, self-centered, conceited Christians in our lives. They sometimes are on the Vestry, in the pews, in the kitchen, or in the pulpit.

Pride is ugly. It doesn’t do anyone any good, especially the prideful one. But to be fair, it’s easy enough to do. It’s easy enough to fall in that ugly trap of pride. When we encounter those prideful Christians, we need to be careful how we deal with them. Because we need to remind ourselves: “there but for the grace of God, go we.”

Sometimes, the most prideful Christian we encounter, isn’t in the Vestry, or around us in the pews, or in the kitchen or, even, the pulpit. Sometimes, the most prideful Christian we know is the one we find staring back at us from our mirrors.

Pride is an easy trap to fall into as Christians. We know we are loved by God. We know we, as Christians, through our Baptisms, have a special place in relation to God. It’s easy sometimes to feel smug and self-assured. And when we are fully immersed in Church work, it’s easy for us to think that the success or failure of the ministry of the Church depends on us.

We’ve all heard it, “If I didn’t do it, who would?”

“If I didn’t do it, everything will fall apart.”

And sometimes, this might be true. But, it is a dangerous road to take when we start thinking everything revolves around us.

And for clergy, they are in an even more vulnerable place. As often as I fall into the pride trap in my life, I am lucky because I have a very clearly defined circle of family and friends who put me in my place very quickly whenever I find my head getting a little too big for its own good. Whether it be my parents, my friends and colleagues, or any number of you, I can always depend on them to either subtle or not so subtly remind me when I am getting a bit too much for myself.

As clergy, we occasionally find ourselves being praised and treated with a sometimes undeserved respect. And although I have found my vocation to the priesthood a very humbling experience, there are times when we might find ourselves feeling very smug over a job well done.

That’s true with all of us, as Christians. It’s easy to fall into that ugly trap of believing everything is about us. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the world revolves around us and only us. Life, after all, is a matter of perspective. And from our perspective, everything else does in fact revolve around us.

But our job as Christians is to change that perspective. Our job as Christians is to, always and everywhere, put Christ first. It is not all about us. We are just a breath. We are just a blink of the eye in the larger scheme of everything. We are born, we live, we die. And then we are gone. And, without Christ, that is all we are. There is no hope, there is no future, there is no us, without Christ.

Christ gives us our definition. Christ gives us our identity. Christ gives us our purpose. This is what it means to be a Christian.

And this is what Jesus is getting at today, when he talks about the humbled being exalted. Who knows better than Jesus about humility? He, who humbled himself by becoming one of us, who humbled himself to the point of actually being betrayed, humiliated and murdered, knew a few things about humility.

When dealing with my own pride, I have found a very helpful exercise based on a saying by one of my patron saints, the priest and poet, Blessed George Herbert. George Herbert would pray, each time he preached, that he would be the window pane through which the Light of God might shine. Or, as he himself put in the opening stanza to his poem “The Windows”

Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.

I love that image. And we can do so much with it. The idea of being a window through which the light of God shines is wonderful for us. Because we realize that no matter how dirty the pane is, no matter how cracked or warped the glass might be, God’s light can always shine through. We don’t have to be the clear, clean window pane. We only need to be enough of a “brittle crazie glass” that God’s light will get through in some way. And by letting Christ’s light shine through us, we are truly putting Christ first.

So, when we find ourselves falling into the pride trap, we need to stop and remind ourselves to put Christ first. When we find ourselves seeing the world as revolving around the all-mighty ME, we do need to stop and remind ourselves that Christ is at the center of our lives and, as such, our world revolves around Christ. When we find ourselves shining with the glow of self-pride and self-contentment, remember that the light shining through us is not your light, but the light of Christ and that any reflection others have of our works is accomplished only through that light. When we find ourselves becoming prideful, stop and listen to the voice of Christ as he says to you, “those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Christ wants you to be exalted. Christ wants to exalt you. But this can only happen when you come before Christ as his humble servant, as his humble disciple, as his humble friend, serving Christ in those poor and needy people around you. This can only happen when we place Christ at the forefront of our lives

So, let us put Christ first. Let us humble ourselves before Christ. And let the light of Christ shine through us in all that we do.

Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

13 Pentecost


August 22, 2010
The Baptism of Beck Nathan Kost
Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo

Isaiah 58.9b-14; Hebrews 12.18-29



+ I am so happy to be here at Gethsemane Cathedral again this morning. It has been almost two years since I’ve been here. And a lot has happened in those two years. A lot of growing has happened, a lot of learning, a lot of change. To say that I am not the same person now that I was two years ago is quite the understatement.I am not. But then…none of us are. And in more ways than one, for me anyway, it’s a doubly true statement.I weigh 75 pounds less than I was two years ago.

But when I look back at the last two years, I realize that I have grown into my priesthood in ways I could never have imagined for myself. Being Priest-in-Charge at St. Stephen’s has been a growing experience for me—and one that I am truly thankful for. So, it is good for me to be back, to be with all of you and to be celebrating with you this morning.

And we have a lot to celebrate this morning. I have had the rare pleasure this week of presiding over two baptisms. On Thursday, I presided over the Baptism of Phil Stafne’s grand-niece, Sadie Paloma Bravo.And this morning, I get to preside over the baptism of Beck Nathan Kost, which is why I am here this morning.

Baptisms are one of those events in my life as a priest that I particularly rejoice in. I love baptisms. For me, the two things I love doing most as a priest is celebrating the Eucharist and celebrating baptisms. But what I always find so interesting is how Christians—even good Episcopalians—don’t quite understand what Baptism is. I still hear people—even good Episcopalians—call Baptism a “Christening.” They equate Baptism with something like christening a new ship.

But Baptism—at least for us Episcopalians—is much, much more than that. One thing I enjoy doing occasionally at St. Stephan’s is inviting people to explore other areas of the Book of Common Prayer. I think we take for granted this book we find in our pews every Sunday. We don’t realize that it’s more than just a worship book. It has a variety of resources for us to access any time we need them. And when we have those difficult questions we might not be able to ably articulate in some way, there’s a wonderful addition to the Prayer Book called the Catechism. In this Catechism, we get our questions answered.

Such as the question: “What is Holy Baptism?” If you look on page 858—I know many of you might not have even ventured this far back into the Prayer Book—there you will find the somewhat “official” answer. On page 858, we find this answer:

“Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and make us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.”

It’s a really great definition. Holy Baptism is not then just a sweet little service of sprinkling water on a baby’s head and dedicating them as we would a boat. It is a service in which we are essentially re-born. We have been washed in those waters and made new—specifically we have become Christians in being baptized.

So, this is a momentous day. But, the one point I really want to drive home this morning is that last part of the definition from the Catechism. In baptism we become “inheritors of the kingdom of God.” We are given a glimpse of this Kingdom of which we, the baptized, are inheritors in our readings from Isaiah and Hebrews today.

In Isaiah, we hear the prophet saying to us: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”

Now, that’s some beautiful poetry, if you ask me.

“…your gloom [shall] be like the noonday.”

But more than that, it’s just so wonderfully practical. Our Baptismal Covenant, which, in a few moments, we will say together, renewing the vows made at our own baptisms, echoes these words perfectly. In a few moments, I will ask you, among others, these questions:

“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”

”Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

And, finally, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being?”

When we answer, “I will, with God’s help” to these questions, we are recommitting ourselves to being inheritors of the Kingdom of God. When we strive to live out these baptismal promises in our every day lives—which, as baptized people, we are called to do—we are truly saying, “Yes, we are inheritors of the Kingdom of God.”

But, what does it mean to be an “inheritor of the kingdom of God”? Being an inheritor of God’s kingdom does not allow us to sit smugly and complacently by. It does not mean that the battle is won and all we have to do now is sit around and wait for God to take us up to this mythical, magical Kingdom. Being inheritors of the kingdom means living out those promises we make in our baptismal covenant. It means proclaiming by word and example the Good News of Christ. It means seeking and serving Christ in all persons and loving everyone as we desire to be loved. And it means striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of the every human being.

It’s not easy to do any of that. In fact, it’s downright hard. But it is what we are called to do as baptized Christians. And when we do it, we are brining God’s Kingdom into our very midst. And by doing so, we are truly being the inheritors of that kingdom. This is what it means to be a Christian.

It is not just saying, “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” as the televangelists on TV tell us we must do (and which really has no scriptural basis—Jesus is not anyone’s personal Lord and Savior) Being a Christian does not mean just coming to church on Sundays. It does not mean just being nice and thinking good thoughts all the time.

Being a Christian means both believing and acting like one. Being a Christian means that we understand fully that something truly wonderful and amazing happened to us when we were baptized. It wasn’t just some nice, sweet dedication ceremony. In that baptismal font in which we were baptized we were truly “buried with Christ in his death,” as we will hear in the Baptismal service later. In those waters, we shared “in his resurrection.” And through those waters we were “reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

This is not light and fluffy stuff we’re dealing with here in baptism. It is not all about clouds and flowers and sweet little lambs romping the meadow. It is not just “feel good” spirituality. It is a huge event in our lives. It is important. And it is life-changing.

And this God we encounter today and throughout all our lives as Christians, as inheritors of the God’s Kingdom is truly, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us today, “a consuming fire.” God doesn’t let us sit back and be complacent. God is like a gnawing fire in us. God shakes us up and pushes us out into the world to serve others and to be the conduits through which God’s kingdom comes into this world.

Baptism is a radical thing. It changes us and transforms us. And it doesn’t just end when the water is dried and we leave the church. It is something we live with for ever. In Baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. Forever. For all eternity. And nothing we can do can undo that. That’s why I love doing baptism so much.

One my personal heroes in the Church is the great (probably one of the GREATEST) Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey. I love the story of how, when Ramsey, after he become a Bishop in the Church, visited Horbling church in England in which we was baptized. There, he asked to see the baptismal font. Standing there, he began to cry and was heard to murmur:

“O font, font, font, in which I was baptized!”

As Geoffrey Rowell wrote of that incident: “[Ramsey’s] deep sacramental sense and understanding of baptism as being plunged into the death and Resurrection of Christ, which was [and is] at the heart of the Church’s life, comes out in that moment of time.”

My hope is that , one day, Beck will look at this font here in the Cathedral with special appreciation and will be able to recognize, in some way, the beauty of the event hat happened here in his life on this day. I hope we can all look at that place in which we were baptized with deep appreciation of how, there, on the day of our baptism, we were changed and made “inheritors of the kingdom of God.”

We are inheritors of that unshakeable Kingdom of God. For that fact let us, as the author of Hebrews says to us today, “give thanks, by which we offer to God, an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

12 Pentecost/St. Mary the Virgin


August 15, 2010

Luke 1.46-55

+ I belong to a very, strange, very mysterious sub-culture in the Church. Or maybe I should call it counter-culture. I am a very proud, very unapologetic follower of this strand of belief. And although there are some people who instantly look down their noses at it, or quickly stereotype anyone who claims this brand of Christianity, I proclaim it loudly and gladly.

And yes, I know it is Pride Week and that instantly thoughts may be heading in that direction, but that’s not necessarily the direction I’m heading (though the two really aren’t that different in some ways).

What I loudly and boldly profess this morning is that I am…an Anglo-Catholic. I know I comes as a huge surprise to you.

“What?” You might “Father Jamie? An Anglo-Catholic? I can’t imagine!” Yes, it’s true. For those of you in the know, immediately, when I say Anglo-Catholic, some negative images might pop up in your minds. Thoughts of spiky, overly-conservative, misogynistic forms of Anglicanism immediately come to mind. And when that happens, I quickly have to add that some of the greatest liberal, progressive, social and justice-minded people in the Anglican Church throughout history were Anglo-Catholics.

It was the Anglo-Catholics who labored in the slums of the East London in the nineteenth century. Throughout history famous Anglo-Catholics have also included none other than people like poets Christina Rossetti and T.S. Eliot, one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury (in my humble opinion anyway), Michael Ramsey and Frances Perkins, who was Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the first woman to hold a cabinet position in the U.S., just to name a very few. And modern Anglo-Catholics encompass such people as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Louie Crew.

And I am a fairly new member of an order of progressive-minded Episcopal clergy (which include a good number of women clergy) called the Society of Catholic Priests, as well as a member of Affirming Anglican Catholicism, which represents progressive Catholicism in the Anglican Communion.

Anglo-Catholics have a rich liturgical history, as most everyone knows. We call the Eucharist “Mass,” we like incense and vestments and all the other “smells and bells” that go along with so called “Hugh Church liturgy.”

But they also have a rich spiritual history. Two areas of Anglo-Catholicism that I cherish above all others is the centrality of belief in the Blessed Sacrament—and in the True Presence of Jesus in the Bread and Wine of our Eucharist—and in the honor shown Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Which is why, today, although it is Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, I have chosen to peach about Mary today. I choose to preach about Mary because she has a lot to teach all of us as Christians.

But first, we do need to acknowledge the fact that Mary makes a lot of us non-Roman Catholics a little nervous. My very Lutheran grandmother, who, as many of you know, was a long-time member of St. Mark’s Lutheran for many years ago, would be somewhat upset I imagine to know that I would be preaching in St. Mark’s pulpit about, of all people, the Virgin Mary. Let’s face it, when most of us non-Roman Catholics think of Mary, we think of how the Roman Catholics honor her. Visions of plaster statues in backyards, or on dashboards of cars or on the side altars of churches no doubt go through our minds. After all, as my grandmother would say, they “worship” Mary.

Every Roman Catholics I know denies that they worship Mary, though they certainly do not deny that they honor her greatly and place a quite a bit of importance in her intercession. And I, as an Anglo-Catholic, can say the same thing. But I think that stigma of Roman Catholics having the market cornered on the Virgin Mary is still very much a reality in the Christian church as a whole.

The fact is, all of us who are Christians should honor her and should remember at times how important she is to our faith in Christ. It is a good thing to honor Mary and who she is. And certainly it’s nothing new in the church as a whole.

The honor paid to Mary goes back to the very earliest days of the Church. In fact, it goes back even further. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear Mary say, "From this time forth, all generations shall call me blessed."

Certainly that prophecy she made on that very momentous day when the Angel came to her and told her she would bear the Son of God has come true. Mary is by the far the most honored saint in the Christian Church.

But who is this Mary that is so honored? Well, when we meet Mary, she is a simple Jewish girl. It’s believed that she was about fourteen when she became pregnant and bore Jesus, which, at that time and in that place, would not have been by any means unusual. Outside of that, not a whole lot is known about her life. We know for certain of the words she spoke to the angel Gabriel, to her kinswoman, Elizabeth, when she visited her not long before she gave birth. But outside of the words we hear in the Gospels, there isn’t a whole lot we know she said. The only other instance in which her words are recorded are at the wedding feast at Cana, when she instructs the servants there, regarding Jesus, to do “whatever he says to you.”

But the story of Mary becomes very interesting in the years following the Gospels. It is here that we see the fulfilling of her prophecy. It is here that we find that she truly does become blessed for all generations. If we don’t believe that, then let’s take a look at the Creed which we will recite together later this morning. Besides Jesus, there are only two other people mentioned in it. The first is Pontius Pilate. The other is Mary.

It specifically says, he was “born of the virgin Mary." That’s an important phrase. On one hand, what this phrase says to us is that Jesus was really a human being. He was born of a woman, just like all of us were born of a woman. He did not simply come down out of heaven like an angel, or like the gods of the Romans or Greeks. He was born, like any other human being. On the other hand, the phrase tells us that although he was born like us of a woman, unlike us he wasn’t born in an ordinary way. He was born of a virgin. This virgin birth puts a whole new light on who Jesus was and who he claimed to be. He was like us. He was a human being, like us. But he also was not like us, because he was at the same time God. So, we can see how important Mary’s role is in our own views of what we believe.

In a sense, she appears to us as a kind of “hinge” in our understanding of Jesus. Without her, Jesus would not have been able to come to us. She literally bore Jesus to us. The Greeks call Mary the Theotokos, or God-bearer. And she really is. If we believe Jesus was God, then she did, in a very real sense of the word, bear God. Through her, God came to us in the person of Jesus. She was the Mother of God, as hard as it might be to wrap our minds around that phrase.

Now most of us here can agree with those statements. But still, even despite that, most of us who are not Roman Catholic still have a hard time with Mary. The fact remains that Mary needs to be honored by all of us who call ourselves Christians.

So, what do Lutherans believe about the Virgin Mary? Well, here’s what one very prominent Lutheran said about Mary:

"men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her 'Theotokos'. No one can say anything greater of her or to her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees, or grass in the fields, or stars in the sky, or sand by the sea. It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God."

Do you know who made that comment? That’s right. Martin Luther. I think a lot of good Lutherans would be shocked to know that many of the early founders of the Lutheran church had a deep affection for Mary. For example, in Article XXII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Lutherans testify that

blessed Mary prays for the church

Now listen to that.

blessed Mary prays for the church.

That’s a present tense verb. She prays. Right now. Those Lutherans truly believed that Mary was in heaven at that particular moment praying for the church. The Apology goes on to state that Mary

is worthy of the highest honors
and desires
to have her example considered and followed

So, the founders of the Lutheran Church held her in high esteem. They commended her as example. OK, so the early Lutherans honored her.

What about the Episcopalians? Well, for Episcopalians such as myself—for Anglo-Catholics—we see a Church without due reverence for Mary to be a pretty bleak place.In many Episcopal churches I’ve visited, there are statues or paintings of Mary.

There are side altars—so-called “Mary Altars”—in their churches, or even Lady Chapels (which I often jokingly threaten our Senior Warden Laura Nylander that we should build at St. Stephens—much to her chagrin and adamant protests). I even know of many Episcopalians—including, yes, yours truly—who pray the Rosary on a regular basis. So, as you can see, we Episcopalians do honor Mary greatly and we love her dearly.

So, I am adamant in my view that we should reclaim Mary’s role in our life as Christians. We should not fear her, or let her be pigeon-holed in some dusty corner that we imagine belongs only to Roman Catholics; nor should we worship her or hold her in any higher than she merits. Still, she is, without a doubt, a vital person in our Church and in who we are as Christians.

Mary continues to speak to us, not in supernatural visions necessarily as she did to St. Bernadette or any of the other visions of Mary we hear about occasionally, but in her words recorded in scripture. Remember what Mary said at the Wedding in Cana. Those words are just as clear to us today. She is still saying to us, "Listen to my Son. Do what he tells you."

This is the heart of Mary’s continued role in the Church. She is the example. Just as Mary said “Yes” to the angel when he brought her his good news, we too can say yes to God and, in saying yes, we can bear God within us, as she did.

Like Mary we can be bearers of Jesus to the world, to those who need Jesus and long for Jesus. We too can carry Christ into the world and let him be known through us. Just as Jesus found in Mary his first earthly dwelling-place so, following Mary’s example, Jesus can continue to dwell on earth within each and every one of us as well.

So bear Jesus to the world as Mary did. Carry him within you where you go.And let his light and his presence be known through you to everyone you encounter and serve.
Amen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

11 Pentecost

August 8, 2010
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
Fargo

Luke 12:32-40

+ Last week, at St. Stephen’s, I mentioned that very rarely do I preach about things I hate. And one of the things I hate to preach about is money. I just don’t like it. It seems I end up offending someone somewhere along the lines when I preach about money. And money really is a very touchy subject for most of us.

So, this week, I thought I was off the hook. Then, on Tuesday, I read the scriptures for today and there it was: a continuation of what we heard last week in our Gospel reading. Here we find Jesus continuing his talk about giving up our earthly treasures, so we can gain heavenly treasures. And we know that when we hear that word “earthly treasures,” our minds instantly go to thoughts of “money.”

But, just when I was ready to despair, I really let the Gospel reading sink in and I realized that he is telling us two things that strike us at our very core: first, he begins with “Do not be afraid.”
We love hearing that. Those are the words we want Jesus to say to us and those are the words he tells us again and again in the Gospels. And those are words I love to preach about. If I could peach on nothing else but Jesus’ commandment of “Do not be afraid” I would be very happy.

Do not be afraid.

Second, he tells us “where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” At first, we might find ourselves nodding in agreement with this. But when we start thinking about what he’s truly saying, we might find it a bit more difficult to accept. It starts sounding a bit like we’re talking about “money” again.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Now, to be clear, when we hear Jesus talking today of where your heart is there is your treasure, he isn’t talking so much of a our material treasure. He is saying that where your heart is, that is where your passion will be. There is where your attention and your fulfillment will be found.

Now, for me, I have two passions in this life. I have, of course, my vocation to the Priesthood. And if I had to get real specific, I would say my passion was in liturgy—in the actual service I have at the altar and in the services of the Church.

And, of course, my other passion is poetry. If I was asked where my treasures are on earth, I would say it was squarely within those two areas.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This might not be as easy for us to accept, because we know it is a very true statement And few of us can say with all honesty that our treasures are built up enough in heaven that there too is our heart. Our treasures, for the most part, are here on earth.
So, we do have to ask ourselves that very hard question: where is our treasure. Or maybe the questions: what is our treasure? What is our passion? What is that drives us and motivates us? Has it been money? Has been fame? Or has been things like family and spouse? They are hard questions to ask and they are hard questions to answer.

But Jesus is clear here that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about what our treasure is. Rather, he says, we should simply shift our attention, shift our focus, and center ourselves once again on the treasure that will never disappoint, which is, essenitally, him and all that he stands for. When we find our treasure in Jesus, we find that that treasure is more than just a sweet, pious, Jesus-and-me kind of relationship. Recognizing Jesus has our treasure means making all that Jesus loved and held dear as our treasure as well—primarily, loving God and loving others as we long to be loved.

It seems that when do that, it all falls into place. I don’t mean that it falls into place in a simple, orderly way. It definitely does not do that. More often than not, when we recognize all that Jesus encompasses only frustrates us and makes our lives more difficult.

Rather, even despite the frustration and the difficulty in seeing Jesus as our treasure, we find strangely more fulfilled. Despite its up-in-the-air quality, we quickly realize it’s a treasure that sustains and lifts up when we need it.

“Where our treasuries , there our hearts will be also.”

Jesus is where we should find our treasure—our heart. But even if we are not there yet, spiritually, it’s all right. We should simply cling to that command he made to us: “do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid of where our passions and treasures lay. Do not get all caught up in the things of this earth.

Instead, just love your neighbor as you would love yourself. And love your God who provides for you everything you can possibly need. And know that that Jesus, our true treasure, whom you love and who loves you in return, has a place prepared for us with him.

Remember the words of Jesus, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
We simply have to receive it gratefully and humbly and with true joy and gladness in our hearts.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

10 Pentecost



August 1, 2010

Luke 12:13-21

+ On Sunday mornings, you will, of course, often hear me talk about the things I love to preach about. You very rarely ever hear me talk about the things I hate to preach about. Probably because I don’t usually preach about things I hate to preach about. But one of the things I really do hate preaching about is, of course, money. It is one of those touchy areas. Preaching about money almost inevitably offends someone somewhere along the way.

But, today is one of those days that I simply cannot avoid it. Our Gospel reading this morning just demands to be preached. And so, I find myself sucking it up, taking a deep breath and just doing it.

Now, the first reaction we probably have after hearing this morning’s Gospel is the fact that this “someone” just isn’t quite getting it. This “someone” just hasn’t quite understood what Jesus is saying when he says “do not be afraid,” which is what he was telling them right before this particular incident. But as easy as it is to judge this poor person quarreling with his brother—as much as we want to say—“look at that fool, bringing his financial concerns before Jesus,” the fact is, more often than we probably care to admit, this is the person we no doubt find ourselves relating to. I certainly do.

As someone who is the youngest of five—three of whom are my older brothers—I can tell you that if I were one of the followers of Jesus at that time, I probably would’ve gone before him once or twice complaining about my brothers a bit as well. And I probably would’ve maybe at least talked with him once or twice about finances.

In this society that we live in, in this country we live in, we naturally think a lot about money. We spend a lot of time storing our money, investing our money, making more money and depending on money. None of which, in and of its self, is bad.

But, we also worry about money quite a bit. For those who don’t have much, they worry about how to survive, how to live, how to make more. For those with money, they worry about keeping the money they have, making sure their money isn’t stolen or misused.

And we don’t just worry about the money in our lives. We worry about all our material “treasures.” We worry about protecting our possessions from robbers, or fire or natural disaster. We insure them and store them and we spend time planning how to pass our treasures on after we die. We are concerned about what we have and we might even find ourselves looking for and seeking those things we don’t have. And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this either. It’s good stewardship to take care of what God has blessed us with and take care of those things.

What Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel is greed, or as older translations used, covetousness. Greed and covetousness are not the same thing. They are actually two different things. Greed involves us—it involves us wanting more than we need. Covetousness is wanting what others have. Covetousness involves envy and jealously. It involves looking at others and wanting what they have desperately. And at times, we’ve all been guilty of both of these things.

In our society, we are primed to be a bit greedy and we are primed to covet. Look at some of the ads we see on TV. We are shown products in such a way that we actually come to desire them. And they are shown in the context of some one enjoying them so much that we should want them too.

And, in this society, we are primed to want more than we need. We’re all guilty of it. And it should be aware of this fact in our lives. And in being aware of this, we need to keep Jesus’ words close to heart.

Because Jesus is clear here. There are two kinds of treasures. There are those treasures we have here on earth—the ones we actually own, the ones we might need and the ones others have they we want— and the ones we store up for ourselves in heaven. And, let’s be honest, those treasures we are expected to store up for ourselves in heaven are not the easiest ones to gain for ourselves. And they are not the ones we probably think about too often in our lives.

Jesus isn’t too clear in today’s Gospel exactly what those treasures are, but it won’t take much guessing on our part to figure it out. The treasures we store up for ourselves in the next world are those that come out of loving God and loving each other. But we have to be careful when considering what it is we are storing up for ourselves. It is not necessarily the idea that good deeds will get us into heaven.

We need to be clear here. Jesus is not at any point saying to us that what we do here on earth is going to guarantee us a place in heaven. But what he is saying is that we don’t get to take any of our possessions with us when we leave this world. All of it will be left behind.

However, Jesus says, if you do these good things in your life, you will be closer to heaven. By doing good things for one another, you will be brining heaven closer into our lives. I can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of the treasures we have on earth. We should always be thankful for them. And we should be willing to share them as are needed. Our job as Christians is to take care of our possessions here on earth—with whatever God granted to us in our lives. And it involves building up treasures in heaven.

Even our Prayer Book encourages us to look after our earthly treasures and to share them in a spirit of goodness and forbearance. Once more, I’d like you to take a look at a section of the Prayer Book you probably have never even explored. On page 445, you will find something very interesting. It says this,

The Minister of the Congregation is directed to instruct the people, from time to time, about the duty of Christian parents to make prudent provision for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.
I always encourage people—no matter where they are financially in their lives—to make out a Will. Wills are more than just a means of giving away our earthly possessions when we die. They truly can be a practical expression of one’s faith and a positive acknowledgement of our own mortalness and dependence upon God. I was inspired by this suggestion from the Prayer Book and had my Will done seven years ago. For me, there was a sense of accomplishment in knowing that what I had will be distributed to those people and those organizations that I know would appreciate them and benefit from them. And it was also a relief to be able to put in that Will such practical instructions as my funeral arrangements (which again I highly encourage everyone to consider and write down in some way or form).

By arranging for our Wills to be made, by being generous with our gifts and with the instructions we give our loved ones who survive us, we are truly responding to today’s Gospel. By being generous with our gift , and by being generous to those who share this earth with us, we are building up treasures in heaven.

In all of this, listen in a way the anonymous person in today’s Gospel did not. Listen to Jesus’ words of “do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of what will happen to the possessions you have on earth. Do not be afraid by letting greed and covetousness rule your lives. Do not get all caught up in the things you have, or the things your neighbors have. Instead, let us love our neighbor as we would love ourselves. And let us love our God who provides for us everything we can possibly need. And let us know that that same God whom we love and who loves us in return has a place prepared for us which is full of riches beyond our comprehension.

For, as Jesus was clear in pointing out, our lives do “not consist in the abundance of our possessions.” We are more than our possessions. We are more than what we have.

In that place to which are going, we will go empty-handed. We will go shed of all attachments and possessions. We will go there shed even of our very bodies. But we will go there, unafraid and gloriously radiant with hope and joy and love.