Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sunday Sermon

July 24, 2011

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

I've discovered some interesting ideas about treasure in our culture. We live in a recyclable era, and we have names for what we throw away and recycle. On one level we call it junk and garbage, on another level we call it second-hand furniture, and on the highest level we call it antiques. At different phases in the life of the same thing, as it is recycled, it may be perceived as garbage, as second-hand or as a priceless antique.
“One person's junk is another person's treasure”, we have all heard. Oh, and how true it is. Often treasures come to us, garbed in some other vesture that allows us to see them for what they really are. All things have a value when they are prized; the game that elevates some things from junk to second-hand to antiques is a game that is played in a lot of fields. One week’s hero in the art world is next year's wash up.
The Lord knows you can get to feel that way about yourself. You can begin to think that you have no value because you're not popular or not as successful as the next person. Value seems to be so relative that you end up judging yourself in relation to others, and of course you always come up lacking.
The Epistle and Gospel speak as one to this point. The Epistle is Paul’s testimony to the process whereby he was declared valuable in the eyes of God. He was chosen, predestined, called into this life together with God in Christ, in order to be glorified; he will know the weight of glory, because the presence of God will penetrate, sustain and support his life completely from past to present. As I was performing a baptism yesterday on a wonderful infant girl, I was reminded that we are all conformed to the image of Christ by baptism, we all passed through the process which God has in mind for us; we are transformed by the renewal of our minds in Christ. Our value is given us before we begin to search for it; we have been declared valuable and thus we need no longer compare ourselves to others in order to determine our value. The greatest point of comparison has been given to us and that is our relationship to God in the light of which nothing and no one is without value.
If we compare ourselves to others, some of us will need to be recycled. The rest of us will wind up either as junk, or as second-hand, or as antiques. But we are determined that the value will have been our own, and we will go on to market ourselves or to manipulate others into seeing our value or to write advertisements for ourselves. This, however, is the path of delusion.
The Gospel bids us to seek for that Pearl of great price which is called the dominion of God, a mysterious reality which sounds alive and true and full of hope. We are bothered deep within by the prospect of a life in which we must always be on our toes, comparing ourselves to others in order to discover our value. Yet our only hope is to relinquish this comparison. The dominion of God exists, we know, wherever Christ has created the space for each of us to be most truly ourselves, where our value is underwritten by the love and the creative energy of God, and where we can find our Sabbath rest.
The search for the dominion of God is valuable because in the search itself we may find our value. In seeking we find. The object of our search is found on the road. We are tempted to look constantly beyond ourselves, and so we never realize that the search, once undertaken, is the fulfillment and the joy which is promised to us. If we are to pray, then we begin by saying Our Father. If we are to enter the dominion of God, then we begin by entering the dominion of God. Seems so simple when said, yet it seems so hard when we attempt to carry it out.
The invitation to enter the dominion of God is perennial and eternal. Christ invites us from a place beyond place and a time beyond time. His invitation comes to us here and now. But the dominion of God comes garbed in some vesture that hides it from us so that we need to search to see it. The Holy Spirit says, come, let us look. Just as God hid Himself in the burning bush to Moses, so He presents Himself to us today garbed in a vesture for us to see.
In the dominion of God, we are all of value. We are all blessed by God to be citizens of this dominion; but since the dominion of God cannot be seen, we have to hear of it in ways that will make us see it even when we cannot see it. We must be invited into the deepest reality which cannot be seen. And so Jesus used parables to invite us; the dominion of God comes garbed in a vesture that hides it from us so that we can see it.
Here today is bread and wine. Shortly we shall pick up the bread and the wine, and we shall taste it and take it into ourselves. We shall do this after having been cautioned, that this bread and wine is something more than bread and wine. Something is hidden in, with and under the bread and wine. It is also the Body of Christ, and it is also the Blood of Christ poured out for us. Christ comes to us in garbed in a vesture that hides His presence from us so that we can see it.
Someone's true values can easily be discovered, especially by simply observing what is around the home. If every corner is filled with things, the person values inanimate objects. If the walls shine forth with pictures of family and friends, the person values relationships. If there are healthy green plants about and perhaps fresh flowers, the person values growth in life. If the space is uncluttered, the person values simplicity and silence. This Sunday's Gospel speaks to the value of the kingdom of heaven; the dominion of God. How might this be captured in one's home? Maybe by a crucifix on the wall or a piece of religious art or a statue. But more important, we know the kingdom of heaven is present when God is present, and this is manifested by the “treasures” of God. These treasures are simply hospitality and kindness, joy and love, wisdom and understanding. These expressions of divine presence are no less real than the furniture, decorations or dishes about the house.
The three comparisons in the Gospel point to the incomparable value of the dominion of God. But God's kingdom is not fully revealed by images such as earthly treasure, priceless gems, an abundance of sumptuous food, or the things we might have in our house. The dominion of God is fully revealed in those people with hearts so wise and understanding that they know what is right and judge justly. Discipleship means searching for this treasure of incomparable value in giving all we have to become part of it. We disciples seek continually for that which we want more than anything else.
The treasure we go out to seek isn't some thing or in some place; it is nothing less than the very presence of God that is breaking in upon us now but is only fully realized in the future. As the Gospel tells us, the dominion of God isn't some object or realm that we can identify physically; instead it is the gift of divine presence God gives us. God's presence to us is a free, unexpected, and invaluable gift.
This gift does have its cost. We must actively search for it, recognize it when we find it, and sort out all the distractions that keep us from recognizing it. In the Gospel the seekers go out in obvious places to find treasure. For us, the discovery of the dominion of God is most often in our everyday circumstances when we experience overwhelmingly the in-breaking of God's presence. This may be something so simple as the smile of a person's grateful thanks or the sense of righteousness that comes with fidelity to daily prayer. It may be something more challenging, as admitting that we've hurt another. It may be demanding, such as committing time to help those in need. The issue is to recognize that God chooses to be present to us and wants us to seek that presence with all our hearts.
It's a kind of trick to keep you from falling into a place we can only value yourself in comparison to other people. You have to stay focused on the road and not on yourself. The Christian community is an odd one, in that its focus is not upon itself, certainly not on self-improvement so much per se’, but on the praise of God who has come to us in Christ to free us from the pain of creating our own value, who has surprised us with the presence of the One who valued us before we were born. God comes to us garbed in a vesture that hides God's presence from us so we can see it.
Now look once more at the bread and wine and remember, here Christ and the dominion of God come to you garbed in a vesture which hides them so that you can see them. And, finally, if the truth were to be known, we come to this meal garbed in a vesture, the white robe of baptism, which hides us from ourselves in order that we might know who we truly are. And that may be the deepest mystery of them all.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.