Monday, August 8, 2016

FAITH AND TREASURE: "..Each person is asked to think about where their treasure is and what they really treasure in life." John+

"Faith and Treasure"
After twenty one years in the Coast Guard, a short stint working for The Boeing Aircraft Company, my dad became a mail man. He loved walking his mail route and meeting his customers along the way. I think he was well liked and occasionally he would receive a present or two. When he got home he would show my mom and me what he got. One time is was a new translation of the New Testament called "Good News for Modern Man." It was really neat, with cartoon-like drawings throughout, and it was easy to read. My dad, who went to church every Sunday with my mom and me, knew all the bible stories, but he really didn't "read" the bible, so guess what, he gave it to me.

I treasured that New Testament. I got a hi-lighter and started to mark my favorite texts. One of the first ones I hi-lighted was the line that begins our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews today:

Now faith is the assurance if things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Wow! This was the first definition of faith that I had ever heard. It made sense to me. Faith was living day to day prayfully with the assurance of the things Jesus promised me and living with this conviction even when I don't see the road ahead clearly. We can trust completely and loving God and believing God loves us is enough.

We're going to be reading from the Letter to the Hebrews for a few weeks so it might be good to understand the context of this Letter, or, as it might be, a long sermon. It was written to the first converts or followers of Jesus, almost all Jews. Their hearts had been opened to Jesus' message of love and mercy and to a whole new relationship with God as a loving Father. As they moved away from the synagogue they began to experience real persecution for their new, expanded beliefs. As practising Jews they had been outsiders, but now as followers of Jesus, they were on the outside. For the first time they feared for their lives and considered going back to the synagogue. Many of those who didn't go back were led to their deaths and were told:

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. They couldn't see the Risen Jesus, but they clung to the assurances they were given with courageous conviction.

The whole Letter to the Hebrews seeks to build up the faith of those who came to believe in Jesus and can help us in our own trials that we go through today. Abraham in our Genesis reading today had to trust God completely. It was not easy to leave his own country and go where God was sending him. He and Sarah were way beyond child bearing age, and when God promised to make him the father of a multitude, he had to dig down deep to trust God's promise with conviction.
With this understanding in mind, I'm always eager to read the Gospel and see what Jesus is saying to his disciples, the crowds, and by extension, to all of us:

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 yourself 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.

This last part of the verse I underlined as well: 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. These words come here in Luke's Gospel, and the same words are in Matthew's Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. There is only one difference in the Greek text: the word "your." In Matthew's Gospel the "your" is singular and in Luke's Gospel it is plural. I love these little differences. It shows how each writer uses the saying of Jesus in different contexts. The singular use in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus addressing each individual present. Each person is asked to think about where their treasure is and what they really treasure in life. What do they think about Jesus who is speaking to them? Will Jesus be their treasure or not?
Luke's use of the plural of "y'all" is more political. Where's y'alls treasure? What do value in y'alls society? Are y'all taking care of each other? Are y'all with more of the world's goods sharing with those who don't have the basic necessities? Are y'all just saving more for yourselves and building bigger barns for all your stuff like the guy I told you about before?

Where's y'alls treasure? In the early church, as in some places even today, deacons (the early Roman church had seven deacons) were in charge of the church's assets and treasure. In the early times, rumors started that the church (because believers did sell their possessions and gave them to the church) was very rich and had a lot of gold, etc. The Roman Emperor, Valerian, I think, demanded that Lawrence, the Deacon of Rome, bring him all the church's treasure. Valerian couldn't wait to see what he would get. Finally Lawrence arrived and the palace doors were opened. Valerian was expecting carts of gold and other valuables, but instead, surrounding Lawrence was a huge crowd of Rome's poorest citizens, quite a rag tag bunch. "Explain yourself," the Emperor demanded of Lawrence. Lawrence, looking around him, simply said: "Emperor, these are the treasures of the church."

As we listen to Jesus in the Gospel, he is always trying to perform heart operations on us. Where is our treasure? Lawrence got it right. Many don't want to hear the Gospel, it's too hard and challenges our values and the convictions we develop "talking to ourselves" and hardly ever, "talk to God" except in crisis, or when we want something from God real bad. If we move in the Lawrence's direction, treasuring the poor all around us, we'll have treasure in heaven, right here on earth!

(That "Good News for Modern Man" was the first New Testament I ever had (we had a huge family bible of course, but it was so heavy and hard to read, it mostly collected dust). I think my dad thought that I would make use of it. It probably was instrumental in my call to be a priest. That paperback New Testament was a treasure that pointed the way to where true treasure is found!
(emphasis added/lr)
St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.

The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)


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