Sermon by The Rev. Christopher Hogin, August 11, 2019
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The Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
Jesus said to his disciples, “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.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The Reverend Christopher HoginTreasure of GraceLuke 12:32-40The Episcopal Church of The AscensionAugust 10, 2019
In 2004 I took a two-week trip to Italy. I strolled the cobblestone streets of Florence marveling at the profound beauty of the city: Canals stitched throughout; sloping stone bridges; towering cathedrals and buildings. Florence embodies the height of Italian Renaissance art and culture. The family most responsible for that art and culture was the Medici family.
The Medici family were wool merchants and bankers. They were extraordinarily wealthy and powerful, ruling the city-state of Florence for over two-hundred years. They influenced almost every aspect of Italian life and culture. They patronized artists and commissioned elaborate buildings. Michelangelo lived with the family for a while. They supported the sciences. In fact, Galileo was a family tutor. On the religious front, not one, not two—but four popes came from the Medici family, as well as two queens of France. Their political and religious power cannot be understated. Their wealth was enormous. Few families in the history of human civilization can rival their power and influence on the world stage. Think of the powerful families today: the Rockefellers, Kennedys or Vanderbilts. None of them comes close to the Medici family in terms of power and influence.
And yet, there on that cobblestone street marveling at all the Medici family accomplishments, I asked myself, “Where are they now?” Do they still hold power, influence and wealth? Turns out the Medici dynasty lasted until about the mid-1700’s. It was then the last remaining descendants died without heirs. Today a few wealthy people claim the last name of Medici, but it’s more of a novelty than of any real substance. For all practical purposes the tide of history rinsed away the Medici family by the 1800’s.
It’s an important lesson to grasp. It’s a lesson Jesus repeats over and over in the Gospels: Be careful where you store your treasure, because where your treasure is there your heart will be also. His point is that everything is fleeting. All this is temporary. It doesn’t matter how much wealth, power or fame we accumulate on this earth, it all gets washed away. Even the most powerful family, one that dominated the arts, sciences, politics, and even religion, lasted for only two maybe three hundred years at most. It ended. Here’s another somewhat disturbing fact: All this will end one day. The world itself will end—maybe not for another billion years or so, but it will end. This is both a theological and a scientific fact.
Knowing that nothing lasts forever, whether influential families or even the world itself, Jesus’ words are powerful. He proclaims in Luke’s gospel that all of us must reorient our perspective. We must see the larger picture rather than focusing on the immediate present.
What do I mean by that? Let me offer an illustration. As a former long-distance runner here’s a trick one uses to avoid what’s known as “hitting the wall.” Hitting the wall is when a person breaks down mentally. He stops running and simply gives up. Hitting the wall usually happens when a runner becomes so consumed by his present circumstances, such as thinking about how hot and tired he is. He focuses only on what’s immediately around him. To avoid hitting the wall, one focuses on a point far off in the distance. As a runner you say to yourself, let me just make it to that telephone pole. Once at the telephone pole, the runner then says, Okay, now I’ll run to that sign way off in the distance. The perspective is forward directed.
That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, maintain a forward perspective. Be very careful about getting caught up in obtaining wealth, power and possessions letting those be the immediate focus in one’s life. Those are treasures that don’t last. Those are treasures where moths destroy. It’s where one will hit the wall. Instead, recognize the treasure of God’s grace beckoning us onward despite our own pain and our own frustrations. Keeping that grace in sight and moving toward that grace little by little, bit by bit, the same as a runner, is imperative.
It’s funny, but ancient pilgrims knew this trick. In the Medieval period, pilgrims walked long distances as a means of physical and spiritual renewal over a period of months, often times cold, hungry, and weary. What kept them going was focusing on a point in the distance, such as a monastery or church where they would soon find rest and refreshment. For them those points along the path were a material representation of God’s grace giving them strength and endurance to press on. They had a broader perspective. Their perspective was not only on their immediate surroundings. It was focused on something greater.
It’s the same for all of us. Jesus calls us to a broader perspective. To avoid becoming consumed by immediate comforts, or immediate sufferings of the present world. None of them last. Like the fortunes and power of the Medici family, whatever we attain or achieve in this world is fleeting. It’s all temporary: Our health, our illness, our fortune, our misfortune—all temporary. And yes, even our lives here on earth are temporary. Because of this, may we follow Jesus by looking ahead to that next point that next milestone. Knowing that through this life journey, we are moving ever closer towards understanding and receiving God’s healing, God’s light and God’s grace. That’s where our treasure is.