Sermon: "Longing for the Things of God – Heavenly Treasure"
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Genesis 15.1-6; Psalm 33.12-22; Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16; Luke 12.32-40
Longing for the Things of God – Heavenly Treasure
Our readings have a lot to say about fear, faith, and preparation as they relate to the promises of God. In Genesis 15, we read, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Vs. 1; NRSV). God invited Abram outside, to look at the stars, and promised Abram his descendants would be as the number of the stars. Note that Abram “believed the Lord [trusted God, placed his faith in God]; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Vs. 6; NRSV). Nonetheless, Abram still had questions about those promised descendants, for as the author of Hebrews states, Abram was “one as good as dead” (Hebrew 11.12; NRSV). How was this going to be? Although his hope was in God, Abram longed for fulfillment of the promise.
The psalmist reminds us “the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, on those who wait upon his love” (Psalm 33.18; BCP). Sometimes the word “fear” is better understood as “reverentially trusting in God.” This accords with the idea of waiting upon God’s and God’s love, and with the closing verses of the psalm: “Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, for in his holy Name we put our trust. Let your loving kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you” (Psalm 33.21-22; BCP). Here we also find a longing for affirmation, for confirmation of God’s promise – “Let your loving-kindness . . . be upon us.”
Hebrews 11, perhaps the greatest expression of the nature and role of faith, tells us “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Vs. 1; NRSV). Again, we encounter a reference to longing, to hope.
In 2001 I was living and working in Moscow as Provost of the Russian-American Christian University. I, and many of my colleagues, had hopes for Russia and for the Russian people. I recall a conversation in which a few of us discussed the biblical sense of hope by examining scriptures related to hope. As the discussion ensued, I set about writing a definition for the biblical sense of hope. That definition is still in one of the folios I frequently carry, so I share it with you: “Hope is a present belief, trust, and expectation of a future fulfillment that is grounded in the grace of God.” We find our hope in the promises of God and in God’s grace.
After having set forth examples of the faith of several Old Testament figures such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Moses, the author of Hebrews states, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland . . . they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11.13-16; NRSV). Note these heroes of the faith died without having received the promises! I suspect each of these heroes had many questions, yet they stood firm in their faith convictions and their hope for the coming of the kingdom of God. They trusted God.
Remember, God’s words to Abram: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Our reading from Luke begins with Jesus telling his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12.32; NRSV). Remember, Jesus and the disciples are on their way up to Jerusalem. Earlier in this gospel, Jesus told the disciples, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9.22; NRSV). From the standpoint of this world, the disciples had good reason to be afraid. Would they suffer the same fate as their leader?
But Jesus was not thinking in terms of this world! Having told them not to fear, that it is God’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom, Jesus adds: “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 will your heart be also” (Luke 12.33-34; NRSV). The purse that matters is a heavenly purse; the treasure most to be desired is heavenly treasure. No thief can rob us of, nor can any moth destroy, such treasure.
Jesus further advised the disciples, “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” (Luke 12.35-36; NRSV). What does it mean to be dressed for action? Remember, a loose flowing robe was, and in some places still is, traditional Middle-Eastern garb. One dressed for action by tucking the ends of the long robe into their belt. This action was commonly referred to as girding one’s loins.
We have examined these topics of fear, faith, preparation, and the promises of God. But how does all of this relate to us? What does it mean for us?
First, we need to remember that as children of God, God has promised we are heirs of the kingdom. Like the heroes of the faith, we may not see this promise fulfilled in this life. Nonetheless, we are to remain steadfast.
Second, we are called to live in faith, hope, and love. We are to believe in God’s promise; we are to place our trust in God. And no matter how bad things become, and some days we think they cannot get any worse, we need to live in hope – in a present belief, trust, and expectation of future fulfillment that is grounded in the grace of God.
Third, this means we reject the values of this world and adopt kingdom values. As we mature in the faith, the desires of this world should slowly fade as they are transformed into desires related to the kingdom of God. What does this mean? It means we are dressed for action! It means taking action! According to Gerald Darring, a theology professor at Spring Hill College, “It means combatting poverty; ending the hatreds that divide us; establishing peace among individuals, within families, in society, and among the nations of the world; curbing the pride that causes us to be confrontational with God and with each other; building social structures that respect the dignity of individual humans” (http://liturgy.slu.edu/19OrdC081119/reflections_justice.html).
Our contemporary national agenda is essentially the exact opposite. Instead of combatting poverty, we are maximizing benefits for the rich thereby creating even greater disparity and inequality. Instead of ending the hatreds that divide us, we are promoting white supremacy and racism, and the associated violence that accompanies them. Instead of establishing peace among individuals, within families, and among the nations of the world, we promote differences which divide us, engage in perpetual warfare, and place our confidence in a strong military. Instead of curbing our pride, we promote materialism and encourage the development of one’s self at the expense of others. Instead of building social structures that respect the dignity of individual humans, we choose to separate families and cage children.
As Christians, we are called to be counter-cultural; we are called to long for the things of God – to store up heavenly treasure.
“Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”