Saturday, 10 August 2019

Where your treasure is...

Trinity 8 - Year C – Eucharist – 11.viii.2019

(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. A year ago, instead of going away, I spent much of my summer holiday period looking for a residential care home for my mother - visiting four different homes with her, wondering how much persuasion she’d need to go, and then having the decision taken away when yet another of a series of falls landed her in hospital with the emergency doctor saying, “Here’s your answer!” I still think of the day she finally went into the Care Home where she still lives. An ambulance was to take her from the hospital. I went via her house and faced the question: What are the things that you can take with you, salvaged from a long life? The answer was: the clothes I could fit into the two suitcases she would use to go on holiday, her Bible and a couple of magazines, her television, and a few pictures. There would be no room for anything else.

At the end, what can we take with us?... what do we need?

A year after my Mother went into care, I still have the problem of what to do with my parents’ house. When I used to visit my parents in their home, one of the things they would ask me would be to take away “all those old records of yours.” Nearly 40 years after I left home they still thought of them as mine to take away. I finally did and now they sit unplayed in carrier bags in my dining room – in fact except for a couple of Beatles records on 45rpm vinyl, I don’t think most of them ever did belong to me. They’d 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 have a fear of what I’d find if I ventured into their loft: there’s probably a lot of my childhood stuff – old issues of Look and Learn and The Eagle and a lot of ancient school reports and exercise books. The thought of them still waiting to be cleared, I find rather oppressive. But I doubt anything is of any great monetary value. 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 hadn’t been usable since my brother left home over 35 years ago, because it was full of his old books, clothes, records and other things. I tried tidying the room with a friend a couple of months ago - and when my brother was back in England last month I showed him what we’d picked out. He wasn’t interested in any of it. He’s left it all behind. He doesn’t need it. It was even, perhaps, holding him back. But they had hung on to it all those years.

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 things Pope Francis did after his election was to call on Christians to be a “Church of the Poor.” What does that mean in a Church which is so evidently wealthy? The Pope has given something of an example 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 small car. 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?

That’s a question that faces us in our own Church… in our own lives, in our priorities, in our readiness to hear what God is saying to us and discover where he is calling us to go.

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?

Here’s that poem with which I began: At the End…

Few possessions: a chair,
a table, a bed
to say my prayers by,
and, gathered from the shore,
the bone-like, crossed sticks
proving that nature
acknowledges the Crucifixion.
All night I sit at
a window not too small
to be frame to the stars
that are no further off
than the city lights
I have rejected. By day
the passers-by, who are not
pilgrims, stare through the rain’s
bars, seeing me as a prisoner
of the one view, I who
have been made free
by the tide’s pendulum truth
that the heart that is low now
will be at the full tomorrow.

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