Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sermon for 8th August 2010, The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota, FL

Sermon for 8th August 2010. The Revd. J. Michael Povey, at St. Boniface Church, Sarasota, FL.

Luke 12:32-40 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be 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. 37Blessed 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. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“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. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

There is an old one-liner which asserts that an “Englishman is a self-made man who worships his creator”. The very wise Canon Ed Rodman of the Diocese of Massachusetts also has a one-liner. “Do not”, he says, “believe in your own propaganda”. We’ll get back to those one-liners in a bit.

During the first full year of my retirement from full time parish ministry I rarely attended Church. I made this conscious choice as I needed to re-discover two things.

The first was “who am I when I am not in a pulpit or at an altar?” It was utterly important for me to know if I had an identity other than the one created by my professional life.

The second was “If I am not paid by the Church do I want to be part of a congregation?”

I needed to play around with all the reasons why a person might, or might not attend Church. (I am not referring to St. Boniface in particular, but to Church in general).

The reasons are myriad. We sometimes attend because of the Rector, or despite the Rector! Good music attracts many to Church. Some are entranced by the dignity of the Liturgy or the beauty of a building. For yet others, Sunday Church provides an opportunity to make new friends, or to enjoy old ones. There are other reasons, and I had to weigh them all.

I rejected two possibilities.

One was “to have my spiritual needs met”. I believe that it is infantile and immature to believe that any Church should “meet my needs”.

It is the spiritual baby who believes that Church is here to meet her or his needs. Christian life for grown-ups is far richer and more challenging than that.

I also rejected the idea of coming to Church to “stay on the right side of God”. Human relationships are toxic when it is the role of one person always to “stay on the right side of the other”. In the same way, God does not call us to stay on her “right side”, but rather to have a mature partnership.

In the end, the reason I came back to Church is summed up in two words from the opening hymn. They are “ponder anew”. 

I came to understand that there are two parts of my life which I need to “ponder anew” on a regular basis.

The first is that I am NOT a self made man. The wealth of my life is not of my own creation. Rather, it is rooted in matters over which I had no control. For example, I did not choose my parents. But it was they who set me out on a life which has been filled with unmitigated blessings. And again, so many of those blessings came not because I had deserved or earned them, but because along the line this person or that person “took a chance on me”, and in doing so showed me that what I thought were barriers were no more than doors - doors which they opened!

The second is that my own propaganda is most often self serving and self-deceiving.

I began to understand that It is vital that I hear voices other than my own,  so that I do not begin to believe my own lies. (The most dangerous lies are those we tell to ourselves).

The voices I need most are the ones I hear from Holy Scripture. That’s why I am glad to be part of a Church.

It is in Church that I hear the Word of God, a Word which enables my life to be constantly re-aligned with God’s will. I need to hear this Word of God, particularly when that Word is challenging, difficult, uncomfortable and troubling.

I need, let’s make it “we need”, to hear such troubling words as the ones we read this morning about possessions. Hear them again “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven”

Ponder anew. Ponder about our possessions. Do we hold on to them so tightly that we discover that in fact we are not holding them, but they are holding us; we do not own them, they own us. Are any of us trapped by what we have? What do we own, but do not need? Would our lives be poorer or richer if we dared to sell a possession or two and used the money to give alms?

Ponder anew. Ponder purses that do not wear out.
If purses are designed to carry treasures, what are the incorruptible treasures borne in purses which never wear out? Here we are talking about priceless intangibles.

Let’s think of a few. There is character. There is integrity. There is truthfulness. There is graciousness under pressure. There is humility. There is the willingness to name our own wrongs. There is the discipline of forgiveness. There is the practice of the presence of God.

These are some of the assets which can never be destroyed. They are assets which will serve us well even if we are stripped of all earthly wealth and possessions.

They will testify not about what we have, nor about what we do. They will be a witness to who we are.

Many years ago I was interviewing for a new job. I was being questioned by a panel of four or five people.

One of them asked n important question. She said “just who exactly is Michael Povey?” 

That question has stayed with me.

It has moved me to be part of a congregation where I nwill hear the troublesome Word of God, a word which consistently asks: Who are you?


First ending: This is how I ended the sermon at the 7:45 a.m. Eucharist. I wasn’t too thrilled about it, so I changed the ending for the two later services.

Clayton Christensen is a Christian. He was a Rhodes Scholar and a business man. He is now a Professor at the Harvard Business School. David Brooks, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, relates that Prof. Christensen speaks of the “Summoned Life”.

According to Prof. Christensen, in a “summoned life” the vital question is “what are my circumstances summoning me to do?” That’s a grand question.

I come to Church to hear the gospel of Jesus. That gospel asks the deeper question: “What are my circumstances calling me to be?”


Second ending:

Recall with me a snippet from the biblical fairy tale about Adam and Eve.

When they had messed up, they ran to hide from the Lord in the trees. (There is a comical element to this in the very thought of Adam and Eve playing “hide and seek with God!).

In that tale,  the Lord God comes to the garden in the cool of the evening and cries out “Adam, where are you?”

I come to Church to hear an even more important question. I need to hear the Lord God askingwho are you?”

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