Sunday, 11 August 2013

Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?

(Genesis 15.1-6; Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16; Luke 12.32-40)

          Few possessions: a chair,
          A table, a bed…

That’s the start of R. S. Thomas’s poem, At the end. It came to mind for me during the time which my father has been spending in respite care during the last month. It’s a question that so often strikes me when I’m visiting in a residential care home. What are the things that you can take with you, salvaged from a long life? For my father for a four-week stay, it was a small suitcase, a couple of carrier bags, and a jacket – not that he used the jacket, because he never went out. For those staying longer it might not be much more – perhaps their own television, some photos, a special picture and a few books? But there’s no room for anything else.
At the end, what can we take with us?... what do we need?
When I go to visit my parents, one of the things they ask me is to take away “all those old records of yours.” Nearly 40 years after I left home they still think of them as mine to take away. Perhaps two or three of them are – a couple of Beatles records on 45rpm vinyl, though I don’t think that “Man of Mystery” by The Shadows ever did belong to me. They’ve already had me remove piles of sheet music which I suspect were simply dumped on us when I was learning to play the piano – and those piles now languish on my piano in the Vicarage, unplayed. I admit that there’s probably a lot of my childhood stuff in their loft – old issues of Look and Learn and The Eagle and a lot of ancient school reports and exercise books. The thought of them waiting to be cleared at some point, I find rather oppressive – except for the prospect perhaps of being able to sell some of those old magazines to a collector. But I doubt anything is of any great value. And why didn’t my parents just get rid of them, if they didn’t want them there? Even worse, why have they allowed accumulations of other possessions elsewhere in the house? A garage full of stuff that’s no longer fit for purpose – tools that just don’t work, a bike that might be too old even for Beamish Museum. A bedroom which hasn’t been usable since my brother left home over 30 years ago, because it’s full of his old books, clothes, records and other things which he’s never going to take away to his home in America. He’s left it all behind. He doesn’t need it. It was even, perhaps, holding him back. But they’ve still got it.
What do we cling on to? What do we really need?
It’s a natural thing to accumulate possessions. But then what do you do with them? That’s a question that was beginning to trouble Abram in today’s Old Testament reading. He’s just won a great victory in battle. He’s been honoured by the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek. He’s seeing the fruits of God’s promise that he would lead him into a land of plenty where he would have riches, flocks and many servants. But what is he going to do with it all? Who can he leave it to? He’s got no children and his natural heir is the otherwise unmentioned Eliezer who lives far off in Damascus. Abram is thinking about his “things.” You can’t take them with you – and he’s not very happy about who might inherit them. But God has different ideas. God’s promise is not about the material things he wants Abram to have – it’s about his purpose for Abram’s life and about the purpose he has for his descendants, the lives that may be touched by God’s presence in them.
Abram is anxious about his stuff. Jesus addresses the anxieties of his followers in today’s Gospel:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What we read today follows on from what Jesus tells his followers about their worries concerning life’s daily needs. Just, don’t worry! Look at the birds of the air which find their food day by day. Look at the flowers in the field which are beautiful just as they are. So consider your priorities. What do you really need in the way of possessions? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I don’t think Jesus is saying everyone has to go out and sell everything they have. He’s talking about calling and purpose in our lives, not advocating a course which would lead to economic meltdown if everyone took it literally. But if you’re going to hear the call of God, you need to ask what should I do about it? – what do I really need? What action is God calling me to take?
Much of what Jesus says to the disciples seems to tie in with the life they are called to lead. His first words to them are, “Follow me…” And theirs is a life lived on the road – following Jesus, going out on their own with a mission to proclaim his Kingdom. It’s a calling which I find a challenge. I love being a follower of Jesus, but I also love living in that wonderful big, inconvenient Vicarage of mine. Stuff accumulates. I have to ask if it holds me back from doing the things I should. How many pre-occupations do we each have which get in the way of listening to God in prayer, even before we try to make our response to his call? What are the things that might be holding you back on your journey?
One of the people who has really made me think in recent months is Pope Francis. Almost immediately after his election he called on Christians to be a “Church of the Poor.” Straight away people began asking what that means in a Church which is so evidently wealthy. But at least something can be seen in the way he lives. He’d already refused to live in the Archbishop’s Palace in Buenos Aires – and he’d travelled not in a chauffeured limousine but by public transport. Now he lives in a simple room of a hostel for clergy and gets driven around in a Ford Focus. I wondered what it had been like for him as he found himself stuck in Rome with only his travelling bags. Wouldn’t I want to go back home to be given a few weeks to pack everything up? Instead he simply went back to the Casa del Clero on a bus with some other cardinals, picked up his suitcase, paid his bill and got on with his new job.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where is your heart? Where is my heart?
However we answer, Christ calls us always to be ready for him. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit…” Be like the servants waiting for their Master to come back from a late night banquet. They couldn’t just leave the lights on so that he could let himself in. Oil lamps needed to be kept topped up and their wicks trimmed. Elsewhere Jesus asks just what you can expect of the relationship between a servant and his master. But today’s Gospel has a twist. The servants wait up, the Master finally comes home – but then he gets them to sit down, and he serves them, bringing food himself for them to eat. We are called to do the work of proclaiming Christ’s Kingdom. But it is a Kingdom like no other, where the King himself is the servant to his people.
Jesus calls us to follow him. Christ commissions us to go out and travel light in proclaiming his Kingdom. And Jesus Christ is the King who serves his people, who sits us down to eat and nourishes us with his love.
What more do we need?


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