notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Treasure and heart
Good Shepherd 8/8/2004 (Morning Prayer)
Isaiah 1.1, 10-20, Luke 12.32-40
Last week we heard the story of two brothers who asked Jesus sort out their financial differences and got told to sort it out themselves. Jesus guided them only by telling them this: they should aim, in life, to be rich towards God.
If you were here you may remember the list I read out about the difference between just being rich, and being rich towards God, that with money we can buy:
a bed, but no dreams;
books, but not intelligence;
food, but not appetite;
adornments, but not beauty;
medicines, but not health;
entertainment, but not fun;
a crucifix, but not a Saviour...
So being rich towards God is about putting away our cares about money, or our obsessions with things and valuing instead those things which make life special, wholesome, good - and pursuing them.
Today's reading carries this theme on.
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"
That's astonishing, when you stop to think about it.
If your treasure - your money, your possessions - is mainly in stocks and shares then your heart - your mind, your obsession - will be taken up with the ups and downs of the stock market.
If your treasure is mainly in your home then your heart will be wrapped up with keeping your home going.
If, when you get money, you immediately spend it, then you are a person who is wrapped up in the moment.
If you're saving for your family's future then it's your family's future which means the most to you.
Where's your treasure, I wonder?
Sometimes it's hard to know what our treasure is or where it is, until it's gone. We've been having a lot of funerals recently, and in some of them it's very clear, very quickly, that for the partner left behind, they've just lost their treasure. Their love for that person was where their heart was.
For others it might be that when the house is burgled that they realise where their treasure is: in the hi-fi which they saved up for for so long, or perhaps in a ring that belonged to their grandmother.
Or when the car is stolen. Or when their health and mobility goes and all seems lost.
Sometimes though we realise where our treasure is at happier times. When we hold that new-born baby for the first time and we realise that nothing on earth matters more than precious human life. When a long-lost friend calls. Or when someone gives us a gift which is just exactly what we've always wanted. These are our treasures. They fill our hearts.
Think for a moment about what your treasures are, where your heart is. I'm not going to ask you to talk about it out loud because it may be deeply personal;
Two questions to help you:
First, what are the things you have, that you are glad you've got, that you'd find it hard to be without? They may be things money can buy, they may not. These are your treasures.
Second, what are the things you'd like more of? Same rules apply - could be a new mobile phone, could be more world peace. These are where your heart lies.
Where your treasure is, there your heart is also. Where's your heart today?
(pause for thought)
I imagine a lot of us would have thought of people or relationships - these are the things which we most value and we put our heart into.
And that agrees with God, whose scriptures are full of concern for people, especially about how we treat others.
Today's reading from Isaiah makes that clear. "I don't want your religious ceremonies any more," says God, "I'm not listening to your fancy prayers. Because you are mistreating people. Your treasure is in your own gain and your heart has closed to the needs of those around you."
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Jesus put it a different way to his disciples, but it amounts to the same thing:
Be dressed for action ... like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet ... be alert ...
Jesus knew that what was in people's hearts affected what they did with their time. And so being alert, being dressed for action, should involve our living lives of goodness, justice and generosity towards others. If our treasure is in God.
Sometimes it's the people who don't have a very explicit Christian faith who you look at and see God in.
Last week Margaret Simey died. You may know her. One of Liverpool's finest champions, and specifically a champion of the people of Liverpool 8, that area much-maligned by outsiders who only see it through a framework labelled '1981 riots', but much-celebrated by generations of local people who know it as a lively, vibrant place; a poor area, always vulnerable to crime and manipulation by city leaders.
Simey did her best, in her 98 good years, to challenge that. She became famous throughout the country for insisting that the police accounted for their actions in the wake of the riots, but she was better known locally known for her tireless work campaigning alongside the people of the area on issues that mattered to them.
The Echo got the title of her obituary right: A life lived for the good of all. It's full of tributes from ordinary folk who saw her (unpretentious to the last) as one of their own, and it put her in perspective among the other great women of modern-day Liverpool: her philanthropy influenced by working alongside Eleanor Rathbone in Margaret's early years in the city, her political radicalism shaped during her apprenticeship with the formidable Bessie Braddock.
Margaret Simey did all she could to try to give the people the power to change their own lives. She was tough on Thatcher's messenger-boy Heseltine when he came to straighten Liverpool out: "I kept telling him that if he just listened to Toxteth, they could teach him. But he told me there was no room in his plans for anyone like me." But she was equally tough on local people who for too long, she saw, had become 'welfare-dependent' and thus disempowered. She called us all to take collective responsibility for our community's life - something which had been a strong feature of Liverpool's civil society in the past.
I met Margaret once or twice - no great boast for she was always on the streets of Liverpool 8, if I'd been around more I'd have seen more of her. Sat in community meetings which she would liven-up even in her great age; meetings between hard-nosed politicians, tired and disenfranchised local campaigners and the business classes there to get their hands on new European money, and she would command respect from all of them.
I would say that Margaret Simey's treasure was the people of Liverpool 8. Her heart was devoted to their well-being. I doubt she'd like being called a saint but I think she is a fine example of what Jesus was getting at when he called on us all to be dressed for action ... to be alert ...
It is about our money; but not just about our money. It's also about our time and who we devote it to.
Contains references to last week's sermon, 1st August, and my Margaret Simey obituary blog, 6th August