What Really Matters?

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The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 14
August 7, 2016
The Rev. Glenn Chalmers
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

Whether we are visiting Rome or whether we call it home, there is no doubt that it is a fascinating place.  So much to see and experience.  So many places to visit and explore.

One of the most interesting sites is found within walking distance of the parish.  It is a monastic crypt created in the 17th century.  There the earthly remains of 4,000 friars are arranged in floor to ceiling displays of skulls and bones. It’s a sight that is hard to forget.  I’m sure that my reaction on seeing this is shared by many other visitors.  A reaction best summed up in one word: Why?

A clue to the answer is found on a plaque that is placed among the dead.  It reads: “What you are now, we were; what we are now, you shall be.”

That quote reminded me of similar ones etched on colonial tombstones in New England.  If you wandered one of those cemeteries, you would discover similar wording on several old stones: “As I am now, so you will be.  Prepare for death, and follow me.”

Now all this may seem to be a particularly morbid way to start a sermon on a beautiful sunny August day in Rome.  But there is an intimate connection between this, our lessons, and even our showing up here this morning.

The rather gruesome art found in that nearby crypt and those words carved on many an old tombstone are designed to do one thing.  And they both do it very, very well.  They are crafted to get our attention and to keep it.

Facing such stark language and images, we are stopped in our tracks.  Our perspective is inconveniently altered.  The fact of our mortality pushes aside the everyday cares and worries and joys of our lives, places all our common routines to the sidelines.

We find ourselves asking: “What really matters?

I suspect that question also has to do to what has drawn many of us here this morning.  In a city full of options, we chose to be here.  To sing hymns.  To offer prayer.  To hear ancient words.  To hear yet again of God’s love for us, to share in the Body and the Blood.

In a word, we are here to worship.  To carve out a time in our busy lives to pay attention to that which is worthy of our attention; to be stopped in our tracks, to alter our perspective.

Today’s Gospel from Luke continues Jesus’ teaching to his disciples.  In a time of persecution, they are afraid.  Promises have been made about the coming Kingdom of God and the early Christians were living between what was and what is and what will be.

Jesus gives them – and us – some practical guidelines on how to live in the meantime.  How to pay attention to what really matters.

Hearing the words from the Gospel of Luke is a bit like standing in that underground crypt.  We are not what we possess.  We certainly can’t take it with us.  We are instead invited to give what we can to those in need.  To measure our actions, to evaluate our lives, not by what we receive but by what we give away.

The truth is this: what we hold onto most closely, what we value most highly, what we grasp most tightly, is revealing.  Very revealing.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We are challenged to examine what really matters.  How do our lives bear witness to what we treasure most.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.’  Jesus adds these words to the advice he gives to his disciples.  And we find it echoed throughout the New Testament.  As we live in light of the Kingdom of God, we wait…we wait…

Now this is not easy.

I am reminded of the prayer of a fellow New Yorker:  “Grant me patience, Lord… and grant it NOW!”

Waiting is hard.

It was for those early disciples; so it is with you and me.

We strive for justice in a world increasingly divided by race and clan.  We proclaim the primacy of love and compassion, even amid all the violence that fills the headlines.  In a world consumed by the pursuit of possessions, we stand with those who are who are dispossessed.

Our refugee center here at St. Paul’s has been welcoming people for thirty years.   Yet the violence and oppression that drives men and women and families from their countries goes on unabated.  The need undiminished.

Waiting is hard.

We come together this morning not as people who have all of the answers but are attracted to the same vision, sustained by the same faith.

Whether it is the message conveyed in a monastic crypt or in the words of Jesus, we are drawn to what really matters.  To place our treasures – our work, our possessions, our life – in the service of a God who came among us and who will come again.

It is that faith and that hope we place before and above all else.

AMEN

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