St Bride's: Sermons

Something to treasure

Genesis 15: 1-6 & Luke 12:32-40

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After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

 

32 Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

35 Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;

36 And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.

37 Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.

38 And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.

39 And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.

40 Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.

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In our readings this morning we heard words of great comfort against fear.  In the Old Testament reading the Lord said "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" and in our Gospel reading Jesus said "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom".  Elsewhere in scripture there are similar instructions, for example in Isaiah "do not fear, for I am with you".

But there are also words of challenge in this morning readings.  We heard the instruction to sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves with a treasure in the heavens and be ready, stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning for the Son of man cometh at an hour when you do not expect him.

These are instructions to faith; to faith in our heavenly destiny.  In our reading from the letter to the Hebrews we heard of Abraham's example - "by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going".   Elsewhere in the same letter we read "faith is the substance for things hoped for, evidence of things not seen".

The teaching about being ready isn't an instruction against being caught appearing uninterested when the master returns.  Rather its emphasis is on where our focus rests, where our hearts lie, where our treasure is.

Implicitly we are warned to be careful of what we treasure.  I recently read a poem by Ellis Evans better known under his pen name "Hedd Wyn" which means "blessed peace" in Welsh.  He died in the First World War and was posthumously awarded the bardic chair, the poetry prize, at the National Eisteddfodd, the annual festival of Welsh culture, in 1917.  His poem "War" speaks of man treasuring power and usurping the divine with his own "gross authority".  Here is some of it in translation:

 

Bitter to live in times like these.

While God declines beyond the seas;

Instead, man, king or peasantry,

Raises his gross authority.

 

When he thinks God has gone away

Man takes up his sword to slay

His brother; we can hear death's roar.

It shadows the hovels of the poor.

 

In addition to treasuring 'gross authority' there are those who treasure war itself.  I think the sense of insecurity we have today is the consequence not only to the regularity of horrific events around the world but also to the recognition that there are those who very clearly treasure conflict and division; who treasure terror and treasure death.

Gillian Clark wrote a poem in memory of Hedd Wyn in 2013.  I found it striking because in reading it I recognised how we can also treasure our pains and our losses.

 

In a letter from France, he writes

of poplars whispering, the sun going down

among the foliage like an angel of fire,

and flowers half hidden in leaves

growing in a spent shell.

'Beauty is stronger than war.'

 

Yet he heard sorrow in the wind, foretold

blood in the rain reddening the fields

under the shadow of crows,

till he fell to his knees at Passchendaele,

grasping two fists-full of earth, a shell to the stomach

opening its scarlet blossom.

 

At the Eisteddfod they called his name three times,

his audience waiting to rise, thrilled,

to crown him, chair him,

to sing the hymn of peace,

not 'the festival in tears and the poet in his grave',

a black sheet placed across the empty chair.

 

Whilst the poem ends on notes of loss, the festival in tears, the poet in his grave, a black sheet placed across an empty chair, it's that reference to flowers growing in a spent shell, an illusion that she borrowed from Hedd Wyn's letters to his family, that offers hope. "Beauty is stronger than war" she notes.  In Greek thought and later in Christian theology there has been the association between beauty, truth and all that is good.  Our society tends to elevate beauty and often a much distorted understanding of it.  For far too many, beauty is skin deep and not only superficial but often oppressive, the basis for affirming a lack of self-worth.   As Christians though, we proclaim the beauty of each and every one of God's children.  We are each made in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made and Christ's love for us is victorious over sin and death.

There is of course a particular warning in the Gospel about not being trapped by material treasures, by material possessions - "sell that ye have, and give alms" and this reflects other passages of scripture such as Jesus' instruction to the rich man and his explanation to his disciples "it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the Kingdom of heaven".

St Francis of Assisi provides the classic example. Although born to wealth and privilege he renounced all of that, he embraced "lady poverty", "the queen of virtues" and placed himself completely in God's hands.  I must admit I find his story inspiring but disconcerting; the idea of completely dispensing with any kind of financial safety frightens me.  I recognise there are many people who live without any financial security but I strive to secure some for myself.  Reflecting on this I also recognise that my fear reflects my own harshness.  My own lack of charity effects my expectations of others.  My prayer for help overcoming this is rather half hearted.  St Augustine famously prayed "Lord make me chaste but not yet" so there's nothing unusual about our half hearted attempts at bettering ourselves.

The Lord is generous with us though and his love unbounded. It's the recognition of that, and its acceptance, that frees us from our self grasping, from our efforts to somehow create some security for ourselves. As the Psalmist says "The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?".  The freedom from fear helps us to give of ourselves and in doing so we come to know and share in Christ's love more fully.  That's something to treasure.  Amen.

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